- The Ulster Crisis in Transnational Perspective:Ulster Unionism and America, 1912–14
“The Ulster breed has never known defeat,” proclaimed Andrew Long Horner, Member of Parliament for South Tyrone, at the second reading of the Home Rule bill in 1912. He expounded:
We are scoffed at as a minority. We admit inferiority in numbers, but nothing else. In a miserable minority in former times, we yet changed the dynasty of this country. In a miserable minority our race played the most conspicuous part against the mad legislation of the British government that led to the foundation of the American republic. Take care where this mad legislation of yours today will lead you. We have done more as pioneers and colonists than any part of the United Kingdom. Do you think the men who are of our blood and race, controlling, as they do, the greatest interests in our colonies, will stand by and see you coerce us, your oldest colony, by force to leave the shelter of the imperial parliament and accept the government of men whose whole careers have been abuse and hatred of us and you?1
Through examples of historical and colonial influence Horner emphasized the power of the Ulster “race,” which he portrayed as “plain, blunt, practical people” responsible for the material welfare and industry of Ireland. He drew on their connections to the American colonial and revolutionary periods. Like the American colonists in the lead-up to the War of Independence, Horner asserted that the Ulster people faced “mad legislation” and coercion from the British government. The Home Rule legislation, forced upon Ulster, was a betrayal by the British—an instance of the British turning their most loyal subjects over to the domination of men who had abused and hated them. [End Page 118]
In his speech Horner described the “secret, bitterly sectarian,” American-dominated Ancient Order of Hibernians as poised to rule in a new Irish parliament, imperiling the civil and religious liberties of Protestants and ravaging commerce and industry in Ireland. He emphasized the themes of liberty, coercion, betrayal, dangers from Irish nationalists, and the loyalty of Ulster unionists in order to lend legitimacy to his threats of violence and defiance of the British government policy of Home Rule. He avowed that people of Ulster descent abroad would come to the aid of unionists if called upon and would join in war with those already actively participating in armed drills. “We have close to 200,000 men enrolled in our unionist clubs,” he asserted. “Ordinary drilling is actively carrying on. … In two years’ time a passive resistance movement can readily be transformed to an active one, and this is your message of peace. I tell you it is a declaration of war.”2
From the time of Horner’s speech in 1912 to the passage of Home Rule in 1914, Ulster unionists’ threats of militancy intensified, pushing the United Kingdom to the brink of civil war. The crisis unfolded on the ground in Ulster with volunteers drilling and amassing arms in anticipation of defiance of Home Rule’s implementation. As Patricia Jalland, Gary Peatling, and others have shown, the crisis also played out in the high political realm, with the Liberals under the leadership of Prime Minister H. H. Asquith attempting to navigate a path to defuse the opposition of Edward Carson and the Ulster unionists while maintaining the support of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).3 British unionists, under the leadership of Andrew Bonar Law, threw their support behind the Ulstermen, [End Page 119] endorsing their threats of militancy and attempting to use the issue of Irish Home Rule to unite the Tory factions and return the party to office.4 In the sphere of popular politics Daniel Jackson has highlighted the ways in which unionist leaders orchestrated anti–Home Rule agitation so as to achieve high levels of support from the British public, particularly by drawing upon religious sentiments and British imperial patriotism.5 Ulster unionists were also attuned to the potential of support from the dominions, surrounded as they were by images of empire in every aspect of their daily lives in...