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The "Unionist" Position
by [?]

There is no need to quote Mr. Gladstone’s declarations on the Irish question at the General Election of 1885, and previously. He has been accused of springing a surprise on the country when he proposed Home Rule in the beginning of 1886. That is not, at all events, the opinion of Lord Hartington. In a speech delivered at the Eighty Club in March, 1886, his Lordship, with his usual manly candour, declared as follows: “I am not going to say one word of complaint or charge against Mr. Gladstone for the attitude which he has taken on this question. I think no one who has read or heard, during a long series of years, the declarations of Mr. Gladstone on the question of self-government for Ireland, can be surprised at the tone of his present declarations…. When I look back to those declarations that Mr. Gladstone made in Parliament, which have not been unfrequent; when I look back to the increased definiteness given to those declarations in his address to the electors of Midlothian, and in his Midlothian speeches; I say, when I consider all these things, I feel that I have not, and that no one has, any right to complain of the tone of the declarations which Mr. Gladstone has recently made upon this subject.”

So much as to the state of Liberal opinion on the Irish question at the General Election of 1885. The leaders of all sections of the party put the Irish question in the foreground of their programme for the session of 1886. We all remember Sir Charles Dilke’s public announcement that he and Mr. Chamberlain were going to visit Ireland in the autumn of 1885, to study the Irish question on the spot, with a view to maturing a plan for the first session of the new Parliament.

What about the Conservative party? Lord Salisbury’s Newport speech was avowedly the programme of his Cabinet. It was the Conservative answer to Mr. Gladstone’s Midlothian manifesto. He dealt with the Irish question in guarded language; but it was language which plainly showed that he recognized, not less clearly than the Liberal leaders, the crucial change which the assimilation of the Irish franchise to that of Great Britain had wrought in Irish policy. His keen eye saw at once the important bearing which that enfranchisement had on the traditional policy of coercion: “You had passed an Act of Parliament, giving in unexampled abundance, and with unexampled freedom, supreme power to the great mass of the Irish people–supreme power as regards their own locality…. To my mind the renewal of exceptional legislation against a population whom you had treated legislatively to this marked confidence was so gross in its inconsistency that you could not possibly hope, during the few remaining months that were at your disposal before the present Parliament expired, to renew any legislation which expressed on one side a distrust of what on the other side your former legislation had so strongly emphasized. The only result of your doing it would have been, not that you would have passed the Act, but that you would have promoted by the very inconsistency of the position that you were occupying–by the untenable character of the arguments that you were advancing–you would have produced so intense an exasperation amongst the Irish people, that you would have caused ten times more evil, ten times more resistance to law than your Crimes Act, even if it had been renewed, would possibly have been able to check.” Lord Salisbury went on to say that “the effect of the Crimes Act had been very much exaggerated,” and that “boycotting is of that character which legislation has very great difficulty in reaching.” “Boycotting does not operate through outrage. Boycotting is the act of a large majority of a community resolving to do a number of things which are themselves legal, and which are only illegal by the intention with which they are done.”