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The "Unionist" Case For Home Rule
by [?]

I am often asked, What are the best books to read on the Irish question? and I never fail to mention Mr. Lecky’s Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland and the History of England in the Eighteenth Century ; Mr. Goldwin Smith’s Irish History and Irish Character, Three English Statesmen, The Irish Question, and Professor Dicey’s admirable work, England’s Case against Home Rule.

Indeed, the case for Home Rule, as stated in these books, is unanswerable; and it redounds to the credit of Mr. Lecky, Mr. Goldwin Smith, and Mr. Dicey that their narrative of facts should in no wise be prejudiced by their political opinions.

That their facts are upon one side and their opinions on the other is a minor matter. Their facts, I venture to assert, have made more Home Rulers than their opinions can unmake.

To put this assertion to the test I propose to quote some extracts from the works above mentioned. These extracts shall be full and fair. Nothing shall be left out that can in the slightest degree qualify any statement of fact in the context. Arguments will be omitted, for I wish to place facts mainly before my readers. From these facts they can draw their own conclusions. Neither shall I take up space with comments of my own. I shall call my witnesses and let them speak for themselves.


In the introduction to the new edition of the Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, published in 1871–seventy-one years after Mr. Pitt’s Union, which was to make England and Ireland one nation–we find the following “contrast” between “national life” in the two countries:–

“There is, perhaps, no Government in the world which succeeds more admirably in the functions of eliciting, sustaining, and directing public opinion than that of England. It does not, it is true, escape its full share of hostile criticism, and, indeed, rather signally illustrates the saying of Bacon, that ‘the best Governments are always subject to be like the finest crystals, in which every icicle and grain is seen which in a fouler stone is never perceived;’ but whatever charges may be brought against the balance of its powers, or against its legislative efficiency, few men will question its eminent success as an organ of public opinion. In England an even disproportionate amount of the national talent takes the direction of politics. The pulse of an energetic national life is felt in every quarter of the land. The debates of Parliament are followed with a warm, constant, and intelligent interest by all sections of the community. It draws all classes within the circle of political interests, and is the centre of a strong and steady patriotism, equally removed from the apathy of many Continental nations in time of calm, and from their feverish and spasmodic energy in time of excitement. Its decisions, if not instantly accepted, never fail to have a profound and calming influence on the public mind. It is the safety-valve of the nation. The discontents, the suspicions, the peccant humours that agitate the people, find there their vent, their resolution, and their end.

“It is impossible, I think, not to be struck by the contrast which, in this respect, Ireland presents to England. If the one country furnishes us with an admirable example of the action of a healthy public opinion, the other supplies us with the most unequivocal signs of its disease. The Imperial Parliament exercises for Ireland legislative functions, but it is almost powerless upon opinion–it allays no discontent, and attracts no affection. Political talent, which for many years was at least as abundant among Irishmen as in any equally numerous section of the people, has been steadily declining, and marked decadence in this respect among the representatives of the nation reflects but too truly the absence of public spirit in their constituents.