Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

PREFACE

The great length of this book demands an apology and an explanation.

Mr. Gladstone's great Irish effort, which began in 1868 when he carried his first Resolutions on the Irish Church in the House of Commons and ended in 1893 when his second Home Rule Bill was destroyed by the House of Lords, was an uphill battle against two of the deepest instincts in British politics; one the belief that the English social system was suitable to Ireland; the other that Ireland could remain what she was when the Union had been made, a country governed by England through the agency of the Protestant ascendancy, without danger to the Empire or unhappiness to herself. Those were the fixed ideas of most politicians down to 1868. We may perhaps describe Mr. Gladstone's career by saying that he used the democratic forces created by the second and third Reform Bills to break down the prejudices that had governed England's treatment of Ireland during two-thirds of the nineteenth century.

To describe his difficulties, the nature and extent of his success, the sources of his belief and his strength, it was necessary then to give a survey of earlier social history, an account of his education, temperament and individual views, and an interpretation of the special character of his sympathy with democracy. These are all complicated topics and no writer could do them justice in a short or summary sketch.

The large politics of the subject therefore required a full book. But there were special reasons why detailed treatment of the kind that readers are apt to find irksome was essential.

Mr. Gladstone's difficulties as a pioneer in Irish reform were closely concerned with his personal relationships; with

-vii-

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