How Successful was Edward Carson in His Defense of Unionism During The Third Home Rule Crisis?

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Question: Unionism was Edward Carson’s “guiding star”. To what extent did Carson successfully defend Unionism during the third home rule crisis?

This piece of work will demonstrate how effective Edward Carson was in his defence of Unionism in Ireland during the third home rule crisis.  It will examine events from Carson’s rise to the mantel of Unionism to how the crisis emerged and the resulting events from this and ultimately answering the question of how successful he was.

Edward Carson was born into a Dublin upper class family on the 9th February 1854. Educated at Trinity College he was there after called to the Irish bar in 1877 and began a highly lucrative and successful career. His achievements were noticed by Arthur Balfour and in recognising his talents recommended him for the position of Irish Solicitor-General in 1892. He moved his practice to London in 1893 and quickly made a name for himself with his abilities in cross examination and mastery of orating. He soon became head of the English bar and one of his most high profile cases was the trail of Oscar Wilde. At times, Carson was receiving fees in excess of £20,000 for his services, demonstrating the calibre of ruthless lawyer that his reputation afforded him. (Lyons, 1973, p. 299)

Caron had famously said that Unionism was “the guiding star of my political life” (Lyons, 1973, p. 300).  This asks the question? Why did he believe in the Union and what are the religious, political and economic motives? Carson’s own politics were rather more perplexing than either his detractors or supporters could grasp.  Carson had unwavering support for the Union and truly believed that any attempt to introduce home rule in Ireland was a serious threat which he would block. He also accused the Liberal government of corrupt dealings with John Redmond, the leader of the IPP in trying to push through a new home rule bill. (Rees, 1998, p. 149) What was politically alarming to Carson was that prominent members of the conservative party such as F.E. Smith were seriously considering the possibility of devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The mere mention of this infuriated Carson. With that said, with the new form of Unionism and the establishment of the Ulster Unionist Council in 1905, Carson had found and “energetic, grass roots movement, ready to resist any attempt to impose home rule and only requiring direction” (Rees, 1998, p. 149) .To fully understand the intensity in which Irish Unionists rejected home rule, it is imperative to understand the history of the Union as a whole. This is a history that has been steeped in blood whether it is agrarian or nationalist. Whether or not nationalism took the form of constitutional nationalism or in the form of physical force republicanism, the Unionists however did not distinguish between them as they believed that they would use the introduction of home rule as a stepping stone to independent Ireland. If total separation was the intended aim, Unionists could argue that they were fighting a just cause, not just on a regional basis but for the safety of the empire as a whole. Religion would present itself as the most difficult aspect in which to measure. (Lyons, 1973, p. 289)To the ordinary Unionist and indeed across the spectrum, home rule translated into Rome rule. It can be said that the Unionist population’s fears stemmed from their numerical inferiority to Catholics. Not only were they outnumbered why considering the whole of Ireland, they had to contend with a large Catholic population in Ulster. Protestants already had seen the Catholic Church as having a major influence in nationalist politics and felt that this would be exasperated should home rule be introduced. Their concerns would be, to them, realised in reality in the renowned McCann case. In 1910 Mr McCann (a catholic) had abandoned his wife (a protestant) and had taken the children with him. The fact that any marriage not solemnised by the Catholic Church was null and void was exploited by Unionist propagandists. To them it showed that Rome could dictate their lives. To them, it perpetrated rank hypocrisy that the Catholic family was the only family was the only family. (Lee, 1990, p. 11). Economics also had a divisive role in Irish Unionist politics. For the most of the nineteenth century, the connection with England had given Ireland economic success. The Unionist landowners had received quite favourable terms under legislation introduced in 1903 and 1909 which had benefited the, greatly. More so was the industrialists of the north east who were directly reliant on the British free-trade area and the exposure to other markets. For these people, home rule was views with a great deal of contempt and suspicion. To them, home rule indicated rule under a protectionist regime offering little solace to the world outside of Ireland. (Lyons, 1973, p. 289)

The Home Rule crisis came about from a very British constitutional problem. Years of bitter disappointment for Redmond and the Home Rulers ended in 1909 when Lloyd George proposed a budget that would send shockwaves through the House of Lords who could not ignore it. There had been tensions between the upper and lower houses ever since the rejection of the second Home Rule Bill in 1893 which now dominated the relationship between the two. This was a situation that Redmond and nationalists would be quick to exploit. With the House of Lords rejecting the budget a general election was called in January 1910 which produced a hung parliament. After a series of elections,  Asquith had the majority in parliament that he needed, he was able to press ahead with the Parliament Act which was introduced on the 21 February 1911. The bill contained three main clauses. It stated that the Lords should not be able to reject or amend any money bill: that if any other type of bill was to be rejected by the Lords that it would become law in 2 years and the maximum term a government could sit at one time was to be reduced from seven to five years. The conservatives were determined to fight this but were met with a problem when Lord Lansdowne had been told that the King was prepared to create the necessary liberal peers. (Rees, 1998, p. 147) This then created a spilt in the conservatives, the “hedgers” who would not vote against legislation as to avoid the large creation of liberal peers and the “ditchers” who were prepared to fight the bill all the way. The conservative party was already deeply divided over the issue of tariffs, but the issue of the Parliament Bill was to cause major divisional problems for them. When the vote finally took place on the 10th August 1911, the bill was passed 131 to 114 with the hedgers abstaining and over 30 conservatives voted with the government. The Parliament Act was now on the statue book and home rule seemed to be certain. In the end the conservatives were left reeling from a third consecutive election defeat and a divided party, the liberals on the other hand were confident and had succeeded in putting their plan in to action with military efficiency. (Rees, 1998, p. 148)

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To say Unionist reacted negatively to the Parliament Act is an understatement. Their mood was palpable. The introduction of the Parliament act in August 1911 galvanised Unionists and gave great importance to a campaign of resistance to home rule. Even before the Home Rule Bill had entered the House of Commons, the Ulster Unionist Council had begun to organise it’s response by rolling out the propaganda machine and with a deepening of relations with the conservative party. In order to organise the best possible support, Carson turned to Ulster, after all it was this part of Ireland ...

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