The Irish Unionists blocked the first two Home Rule bills using constitutionalism. Unable to frustrate the third bill by constitutional means, the Irish and Ulster unionists, with Tory backing, devolved to unconstitutionalism - the threat of arms. John Redmond, the Parnellite and resolute Irish constitutionalist, had broken the Lords veto and put Home Rule onto the statute book. Facing a Dublin parliament, an "assembly of cattle drivers in dublin" (Ronald McNeill), Carson formed a provisional government and threatened rebellion.
Joseph Devlin called Carson "that academic anarchist". Many commentators credit Carson with inspiring Eoin MacNeill, Pearse and Connolly. The main who triggered a chain of events that led to the Easter Rising, the 1918 election, the war of independence, the Government of Ireland Act, The Anglo-Irish Treaty, partition and the civil war. If the unionists were going to arm in defiance of English rule, why not the nationalists? Did Carson open the gate to tribals passions, disorder and the hysteria of "Ulsterics" (as George Bernard Shaw called the psychosis of the Ulstermen)? It is clear that the passion of Ulster was reciprocated and replicated in mirror form. Things were a little more complicated however. Alvin Jackson wrote:
"[The] Carsonian manner… Public belligerence and private moderation."Contrast unionist gun-running with nationalist gun-running. The April 24 1914 gun smuggling run by Unionists, importing 25,000 German rifles, the most modern available reputedly procured at half-price, met with no intervention from authority. The July 26 2014 running by nationalists, 900 German rifles, was met by the King's Scottish Borderers.
In Ireland the was a face off between two paramilitary forces with the blessing of two parliamentary leaders, Carson and Redmond. However, Carson's actions allowed Irish revolutionaries to outflank Redmond. John P. Hayden, MP for south Roscommon said in 1921, Edward Carson is one of the greatest enemies of his country.
Edward Carson made an emotive appeal to the American lobby when he said it was Ulstermen who drew up the US Declaration of Independence. More than that, he was justifying revolt. He wrote:
"It was the Ulstermen who, when driven by bad trade to leave Ulster, and go to the United States, and being unfairly treated there, drew up the Declaration of Independence."
In a Times leader article of 1912 it was suggested that the Ulster pledge of resistance was the same as the Glorious Revolution of 1688:
"We remember no precedent in our domestic history since the Revolution of 1688 for a movement among citizens, law-abiding by temperament and habit, which resembles the present movement of the Ulster Protestants. It is no rabble who have undertaken it. It is the work of orderly, prosperous, and deeply religious men."
John Joseph Horgan wrote in ‘The Complete Grammar of Anarchy’ (1918):
"It is not often that political chickens come home to roost as quickly as those which were hatched in North East Ulster during the years1912-14. Rebellion was openly preached, men were drilled, arms were landed, the assistance of the Kaiser was invoked, the forces of the Crown were defied, and their commanders seduced from their allegiance. Nay more, the Protestant Church of Ulster, through the mouths of its leading dignitaries, solemnly blessed and consecrated these criminal performances. No one was prosecuted, no one was interned, the criminals are still at large posing as pillars of the law, and acting as guardians of the State. Nor was this conduct confined to Ulster. The platforms of England rang with the protestations of Mr. Bonar Law and his party, that if Ulster resisted the law she would not be alone. No wonder that German statesmen, ignorant of the cant, insincerity and humbug of English politics, believed that England was so divided and rent with domestic discord that the time had come to make a bold bid for the dominion of the world."The Spectator Magazine wrote about Edward Carson and the probity of Ulster’s armed resistance to Home Rule in June 1920 (also here).
It was Carson who was responsible for the Larne gun-running in April 1914 in defiance of a government ban on importing arms into Ireland. Radical action that provided radical inspiration for a radical reaction from his Irish enemies. As could be expected, Nationalists replicated the Larne gun that summer, importing the weapons that would be used during the Easter rising.
However. Edward Carson rejected any suggestion he was fomenting chaos and revolution, as cited by Ronald McNeill in 'Ulster’s Stand For Union', (Chapter IV), the leader of the Ulster Unionists said in 1911 in Portrush:
"Some people say that I am preaching disorder. No, in the course I am advising I am preaching order, because I believe that, unless we are in a position ourselves to take over the government of those places we are able to control, the people of Ulster, if let loose without that organisation, and without that organised determination, might in a foolish moment find themselves in a condition of antagonism and grips with their foes which I believe even the present Government would lament. And therefore I say that the course we recommend—and it has been solemnly adopted by your four hundred representatives, after mature discussion in which every man understood what it was he was voting about—is the only course that I know of that is possible under the circumstances of this Province which is consistent with the maintenance of law and order and the prevention of bloodshed."McNeill commented:
"Superficially, these words may appear boldly paradoxical; but in fact they were prophetic, for the closest observers of the events of the next three years, familiar with Irish character and conditions, were in no doubt whatever that it was the disciplined organisation of the Ulster Unionists alone that prevented the outbreak of serious disorders in the North. There was, on the contrary, a diminution even of ordinary crime, accompanied by a marked improvement in the general demeanour, and especially in the sobriety, of the people.
The speaker then touched upon a question which naturally arose out of the Craigavon policy of resistance to Home Rule. He had been asked, he said, whether Ulster proposed to fight against the forces of the Crown. He had already contrasted their own methods with those of the Nationalists, saying that Ulstermen would never descend to action "from behind hedges or by maiming cattle, or by boycotting of individuals"; he now added that they were "not going to fight the Army and the Navy ... God forbid that any loyal Irishman should ever shoot or think of shooting the British soldier or sailor. But, believe me, any Government will ponder long before it dares to shoot a loyal Ulster Protestant, devoted to his country and loyal to his King."
In newspaper reports of public meetings, sayings of pith and moment are often attributed to "A Voice" from the audience. On this occasion, when Sir Edward Carson referred to the Army and the Navy, "A Voice" cried "They are on our side." It was the truth, as subsequent events were to show. It would indeed have been strange had it been otherwise. Men wearing His Majesty's uniform, who had been quartered at one time in Belfast or Carrickfergus and at another in Cork or Limerick, could be under no illusion as to where that uniform was held in respect and where it was scorned. The certainty that the reality of their own loyalty was understood by the men who served the King was a sustaining thought to Ulstermen through these years of trial.
This Portrush speech cleared the air. It made known the modus operandi, as Craigavon had made known the policy. Henceforward Ulster Unionists had a definite idea of what was before them, and they had already unbounded confidence both in the sagacity and in the courage of the man who had become their leader."In October 1912 Carson said, responding to the English Attorney-General who charged him with preaching anarchy:
"He said that my doctrines and the course I am taking lead to anarchy. Does he not think I know that? Does he think that, after coming to my time of life and passing through the various offices and responsibilities I have accepted, I did this like a baby without knowing the consequences… All this chopping of logic is so much nonsense. We at prepared, if we fail, to take the consequences. The whole of this matter is to me one of the gravest responsibilities I have ever had in my life. I am no thoughtless lad, trying to inflame bigoted passions. I loathe them. I know what I am dealing with."Edward Carson described walking around Belfast in 1912:
"My own people in the North of Ireland come up to me and say - they don’t argue much - ‘I should like to tell you, Sir Edward, what they were saying about you after your speech last night.’ I asked them what it was, and they say, 'Well, a good many of us think you are going too slow.’ Then sometimes, as I walk through the streets of Belfast, a man will come up to me - mind you, they are a serious lot of people - and without any idea but extreme gravity, he will say, 'When are you going to give the word, Sir Edward?’ I tell him to go home and behave himself, but I don’t know how long I shall have the power."Edward Carson told the Unionist Council a few days before the memorable date, September 28 1912, Ulster Day:
"How often have I thought over this Covenant—how many hours have I spent, before it was published that we would have one, in counting the cost that may result! How many times have I thought of what it may mean to all that we care about up here! Does any man believe that I lightly took this matter in hand without considering with my colleagues all that it may mean either in the distant or the not too distant future? No, it is the gravest matter in all the grave matters in the various offices I have held that I have ever had to consider."He advised the delegates:
"Responsible men from every district in Ulster, that it is your duty, when you go back to your various districts, to warn your people who trust you that, in entering into this solemn obligation, they are entering into a matter which, whatever may happen in the future, is the most serious matter that has ever confronted them in the course of their lives."ATQ Stewart wrote that Carson was replicating the precedent set by his Irish unionist antecedent, Colonel Saunderson:
"It was in 1886 that the first co-ordinated proposals were made by Ulster Unionists, led by colonel Saunderson, for resisting Home Rule by force…
The intensity of feeling against the bill was considerable, and in Belfast it took a markedly sectarian turn. The riots that broke out in the summer of 1886 were the worst the city had experienced, and many people were killed and injured. Saunderson’s idea of organising opposition on military lines was, like Carson’s later, as much to impose discipline and order on such mobs as to make his determination clear to the government. The actually extent of protestant military preparation at the time has been much underestimated."Judge Rentoul, a protestant Irishman, who in the 1880s said Ulster would fight said in 1906 that "'Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right,'was a wicked and lying cry."
Ronald McNeill in 'Ulster's Stand For The Union' (1922) responded to the suggestion that Carson inspired and ignited the rebels to rise in 1916:
"Of course, men like Sir Edward Carson, Lord Londonderry, Mr. Thomas Sinclair, and other Ulster leaders were too far-seeing not to realise that the course they were taking would expose them to the accusation of having set a bad example which others without the same grounds of justification might follow in very different circumstances. But this was a risk they had to shoulder, as have all who are not prepared to subscribe to the dogma of Passive Obedience without limit. They accepted it as the less of two evils. But there was something humorous in the pretence put forward in 1916 and afterwards that the violence to which the adherents of Sinn Fein had recourse was merely copying Ulster. As if Irish Nationalism in its extreme form required precedent for insurrection! Even the leader of “Constitutional Nationalism” himself had traced his political pedigree to convicted rebels like Tone and Emmet, and since the date of those heroes there had been at least two armed risings in Ireland against the British Crown and Government. If the taunt flung at Ulstermen had been that they had at last thrown overboard law and order and had stolen the Nationalist policy of active resistance, there would at least have been superficial plausibility in it. But when it was suggested or implied that the Ulster example was actually responsible in any degree whatever for violent outbreaks in the other provinces, a supercilious smile was the only possible retort from the lips of representatives of Ulster."
Though Timothy Bowman, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Kent said:
"It can be argued that the original Irish Volunteers of 1913 owed more to the influence of the Fenian movement than to the inspiration provided by the Ulster Volunteers."
Ronald McNeill in Ulster's Stand For The Union' (1922) also justified Carson's resistance:
"A story is told of Queen Victoria that in her youthful days, when studying constitutional history, she once asked Lord Melbourne whether under any circumstances citizens were justified in resisting legal authority; to which the old courtier replied: "When asked that question by a Sovereign of the House of Hanover I feel bound to answer in the affirmative." If one can imagine a similar question being asked of an Ulsterman by Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George, or Sir Edward Grey, in 1912, the reply would surely have been that such a question asked by a statesman claiming to be a guardian of Liberal principles and of the Whig tradition could only be answered in the affirmative. This, at all events, was the view of the late Duke of Devonshire, who more than any other statesman of our time could claim to be a representative in his own person of the Whig tradition handed down from 1688. Passive obedience has, indeed, been preached as a political dogma in the course of English history, but never by apostles of Liberalism. Forcible resistance to legally constituted authority, even when it involved repudiation of existing allegiance, has often, both in our own and in foreign countries, won the approval and sympathy of English Liberals. A long line of illustrious names, from Cromwell and Lord Halifax in England to Kossuth and Mazzini on the Continent, might be quoted in support of such a proposition if anyone were likely to challenge it.
When, then, Liberals professed to be unutterably shocked by Ulster's declared intention to resist Home Rule both actively and passively, they could not have based their attitude on the principle that under no circumstances could such resistance be morally justified. Indeed, in the case in question, there were circumstances that would have made the condemnation of Ulster by the English Liberal Party not a little hypocritical if referred to any general ethical principle. For that party had itself been for a generation in the closest political alliance with Irishmen whose leader had boasted that they were as much rebels as their fathers were in 1798, and whose power in Ireland had been built up by long-sustained and systematic defiance of the law. Yet the same politicians who had excused, if they had not applauded, the "Plan of Campaign," and the organised boycotting and cattle-driving which had for years characterised the agitation for Home Rule, were unspeakably shocked when Ulster formed a disciplined Volunteer force which never committed an outrage, and prepared to set up a Provisional Government rather than be ruled by an assembly of cattle-drivers in Dublin. Moreover, many of Mr. Asquith's supporters, and one at least of his most distinguished colleagues in the Cabinet of 1912, had themselves organised resistance to an Education Act which they disliked but had been unable to defeat in Parliament.
Nevertheless, it must, of course, be freely admitted that the question as to what conditions justify resistance to the legal authority in the State—or rebellion, if the more blunt expression be preferred—is an exceedingly difficult one to answer. It would sound cynical to say, though Carlyle hardly shrinks from maintaining, that success, and success alone, redeems rebellion from wickedness and folly. Yet it would be difficult to explain on any other principle why posterity has applauded the Parliamentarians of 1643 and the Whigs of 1688, while condemning Monmouth and Charles Edward; or why Mr. Gladstone sympathised with Jefferson Davis when he looked like winning and withdrew that sympathy when he had lost. But if success is not the test, what is? Is it the aim of the men who resist? The aim that appears honourable and heroic to one onlooker appears quite the opposite to another, and so the test resolves itself into a matter of personal partisanship.
That is probably as near as one can get to a solution of the question. Those who happen to agree with the purpose for which a rebellion takes place think the rebels in the right; those who disagree think them in the wrong. As Mr. Winston Churchill succinctly puts it when commenting on the strictures passed on his father for "inciting" Ulster to resist Home Rule, "Constitutional authorities will measure their censures according to their political opinions." He reminds us, moreover, that when Lord Randolph was denounced as a "rebel in the skin of a Tory," the latter "was able to cite the authority of Lord Althorp, Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Morley, and the Prime Minister (Gladstone) himself, in support of the contention that circumstances might justify morally, if not technically, violent resistance and even civil war."
To this distinguished catalogue of authorities an Ulster apologist might have added the name of the Chief Secretary for Ireland in Mr. Asquith's own Cabinet, who admitted in 1912 that "if the religion of the Protestants were oppressed or their property despoiled they would be right to fight;" which meant that Mr. Birrell did not condemn fighting in itself, provided he were allowed to decide when the occasion for it had arisen. Greater authorities than Mr. Birrell held that the Ulster case for resistance was a good and valid one as it stood. No English statesman of the last half-century has deservedly enjoyed a higher reputation for political probity, combined with sound common sense, than the eighth Duke of Devonshire."
When Catholic Emancipation became imminent (1820s) the Orangemen talked exactly as Captain Craig spoke, it was said.
Craig said to the Commons in 1920:
"With impunity, and that covers a whole lot of things. If the hon. Member would like to know exactly what I mean, I will tell him. If the Ulster Volunteers had come into contact with the forces of the Crown, and I thank God they never did, I believe that the very first loyal Ulsterman who would have been shot and the very first drop of Protestant Ulster blood which would have been shed would have aroused such a howl of indignation, not only over England, but throughout the whole British Empire, that the Radical Government and the then Prime Minister would have been swept away like leaves before the wind."
John Redmond said:John Dillon spoke here about the efforts travelled to neutralise armed separatism:
John Dillon said "the 29th September 1914 is the root and source of all the Irish trouble":
"My suggestions have been rejected, and my profound conviction is that if we had had the power and the responsibility for the Government of our country during the past two years, recent occurrences in Ireland would never have taken place."John Redmond said on October 6 1916:
"We have taken a leap back over generations of progress, and have actually had a rebellion, with its inevitable aftermath of brutalities, stupidities and inflamed passions."
"On the 29th September, 1914, a great meeting was held in Belfast. The Leader of the House will remember it was at a time of terrible crisis. The battle of the Marne was hanging in the balance; the fate of Europe was in doubt... Here is something of what was said at that meeting by the Leader of the House, at a time when the battle of the Marne was on, and the War was in a much more critical stage than it is to-day: You remember that the pledge I gave at Blenheim had a condition attached to it. The message I bring to you to-night comes not from any party leader, but from the whole of my party. Remember what was that pledge. It was a pledge of rebellion. Why are you complaining so much of the Sinn Feiners?"He also said:
"He said at Blenheim he would not encourage any civil war if as a result of a General Election Great Britain had decided against Sir E. Carson. But at Belfast, on the 24th September, 1914, [in Belfast] he withdrew that pledge, and, while this country was in its agony, he gave a pledge to the Ulster rebels that if they decided to rise in rebellion he and the whole Tory party would be at their back. Then, said the right hon. Member for Dublin University: I undertake that when we have beaten the Germans, and we undoubtedly are going to do that, we shall turn again and defend Ulster; we will beat Ulster’s enemies, I promise. Who are Ulster’s enemies? That is the way in which the right hon. Gentleman interprets his duty to maintain loyalty to the Crown. That was the time when he refused to stand on the same platform with the late Member for Waterford. He went on: I promise you that the so-called scrap of paper (the Home Rule Act) will be taken into consideration with all due respect as is due to a document of fraud and treachery and that the first Act of your provisional council— a council, let the House remember, which is still in existence: The first act of your provisional Government will be to repeal the Home Rule Act so far as Ulster is concerned."
"It is the first rebellion that ever took place in Ireland where you had a majority on your side. It is the fruit of our life work. We have risked our lives a hundred times to bring about this result. We are held up to odium as traitors by those men who made this rebellion, and our lives have been in danger a hundred times during the last thirty years because we have endeavored to reconcile the two things, and now you are washing out our whole life work in a sea of blood.
If it had not been for the action of John MacNeill you would be fighting still… he broke the back of the rebellion on the very eve of it, and he kept back a very large body of men from joining in.
I say I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you would have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having… ours is a fighting race… The fact of the matter is that what is poisoning the mind of Ireland, and rapidly poisoning it, is the secrecy of these trials and the continuance of these executions... I do not think Abraham Lincoln executed one single man, and by that one act of clemency, he did an enormous work of good for the whole country… why cannot you treat Ireland as Botha treated South Africa… victims of misdirected enthusiasm and leadership."
The Easter Rising of 1916 was the "natural outcome" of Carson's Rising, said Michael Slattery in May 1916:
"In common with the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, we condemn the recent outbreak in Dublin, which we regard as the natural outcome of tactics adopted by Sir Edward Carson and his followers in 1914."V.S. Pritchett wrote in 1967:
"Once Ulster, back by British Tories, had raised their armed volunteers in the north, the raising and arming of Volunteers in the south was inevitable."Stephen Gwynn wrote:
"[Liberal statesmen] did not guess at the potency of new forces which only in these months began to make themselves felt, and which in the end, breaking loose from Redmond's control, undid his work. A new phase in Irish history had begun, of which Sir Edward Carson was the chief responsible author."Stephen Gwynn explained that Ulster belligerence, intolerance and threat of rebellion cast liberal unionists into the arms of Home Rule. Gwynn wrote in his biography of John Redmond:
"A very strong British feeling against Sir Edward Carson and his Belfast following had been generated by the expulsion of Catholics from the shipyards and in general by the advocacy of civil war. In October 1912 several notable men who had previously counted as Unionists—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Frederick Pollock, Sir J. West-Ridgway—all declared for Home Rule."
Gwynn also wrote:
"Mr. Larkin set it out. They must no longer be "content to assemble in hopeless haphazard crowds" but must "agree to bring themselves under the influences of an ordered and sympathetic discipline." "Labour in its own defence must begin to train itself to act with disciplined courage and with organized and concentrated force. How could they accomplish this? By taking a leaf out of the book of Carson. If Carson had permission to train his braves of the North to fight against the aspirations of the Irish people, then it was legitimate and fair for Labour to organize in the same militant way to preserve their rights and to ensure that if they were attacked they would be able to give a very satisfactory account of themselves."
Thus began in a small sectional manner a national movement which led far indeed. Mr. O'Cathasaigh, from whose Story of the Irish Citizen Army I quote, attributes the failure of that purely Labour organization chiefly to the establishment of the Irish Volunteers.An anonymous man from Cork and a unionist in 1921 said:
"Everybody’s taken a step to the left. Your old Nationalists have joined pacifist Sinn Fein; pacifist Sinn Fein has become active Republican; we Unionists take our stand on the old Nationalism. Although, Dillonism is dead."
Wilfred Ewart wrote in 1921:
"That evening I talked over dinner with a Dublin Castle official employed on local business, who gave a not uninteresting summary of the last seven years in Ireland. The failure of the 1914 Home Rule Act (he said) was the direct cause of the 1916 Rebellion. Up till about the spring of 1915 there was real enthu siasm for the war in Ireland."
Read my previous post on the Irishness of Edward Carson here.