It seems appropriate to publish a long meditation on the nature and history of federalism on the day of a British election where Brexit is the pressing issue and the likely result will be that the Scottish people vote yet again for a majority of pro-independence representatives. Owen Dudley Edwards muses federally …
THE MOMENT WITHIN A MOMENT
The great defining moment in the history of Federalism really was momentary, in fact micromomentary, since it all took place in a fragment of a moment as small as could be without easing to exist. It is not to be confused with the famous impossibility on which Geometry was based for so long, viz. that a point had position but no size. God knows how many unfortunate schoolchildren were abused verbally and physically for questioning this nonsense. But ultimately that particular Emperor was agreed to be wearing no clothes.
The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America contained much that was impossible, such as the crimes for which it indicted George III which would have been far beyond George’s limited abilities however much he might have wanted to perpetrate such.
But the constitutional act it declared was real, however micromomentary. It was ostensibly based on fake news, but if the past and the present it asserted were partly fake, they would be proved true in the future. The fake past was whatever it claimed in the history it told which was not true, although at least some of its assertions were not certainly known to be either truth or falsehood, and some portion of them are still openly disputed. The fake present was its claim to be expressing the will of the inhabitants of the thirteen British colonies lying from what is now northern Maine to the Georgia-Florida border.
The authors of the Declaration were desperately hoping that the Declaration would ultimately prove itself true by its enemies leaving its soil or otherwise capitulating, and seven years later most of them had. But the Declaration itself was micropolitics with a vengeance, and since its action changed the peripheral status of the thirteen colonies to their discovery that independence declared them self-centred with prospects of worlds to win, there were decades of imperial patronising to avenge. What actually happened was that the thirteen colonies declared themselves thirteen independent entities and then —with the briefest of all time-measurements for ‘then’ — they became a federal union of thirteen states.
KILLING MR BUNBURY TO IMPROVE A CONSTITUTION
They had plenty of time to think about it before and after. John Adams’s Novanglus papers were written early in 1775 before fighting broke out on Lexington Green on 19 April, starting the war of independence in which both sides fought under the flags of George III until the Continental Congress declared that independence on 4 July 1776, and in the early twentieth century UK historians realised that Novanglus had anticipated the mid-twentieth-century British Commonwealth in still honouring the King but rejecting the authority of Whitehall and Westminster. 1776 was the Revolution of the Intellectuals but with little time for theory while the war was on. On 15 November 1777 Congress declared the USA under Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, to be effective when ratified by all thirteen states the last of which (Maryland) complied on 1 March 1781 seven months before the final British surrender (by Lord Cornwallis, at Yorktown, Virginia).
Arguably the rule of the Articles was ineffective, apart from their having hosted the finale of one of history’s most successful rebellions in history as well as the Northwest Ordinance (1787) establishing new states north of the Ohio River when each was settled by 60,000 free adult white maleswith public support for education, freedom of worship, trial by jury and prohibition of slavery. But while relinquishing their individual claims to land captured from the French in 1763 and thence from the British in 1783, the individual states seemed at times to see one another as hostile powers. A new strong government in the UK under the younger Pitt, and the bankruptcy and changes of government among European powers who had been the USA’s allies during the war looked potentially neutral from a British military viewpoint and the retired US commander-in-chief George Washington, now a national hero, hosted a conference at his home determining needed reforms which would ultimately evolve into the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of May-September 1787, the Continental Congress having authorised state delegations to revise the Articles which easily became a search for a new Constitution, duly ratified in 1787-90.
The demise of the Articles recalls Algy’s assurance to his aunt in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest(1895) as to the fate of his (imaginary) friend Mr Bunbury ‘The doctors said that Bunbury could not live. And so Bunbury died.’ Washington’s prestige across his country and the world was unequalled since he was the only supreme national commander of rebel troops in history who having won retired homeward, unlike the Julius Caesars and Oliver Cromwells who made themselves dictators for life. (Intellectuals could cite the probably mythical precursor in infant republican Rome’s Cincinnatus, enhancing Washington’s classical contours in a Revolution constantly retelling itself inspirational stories from Virgil’s Aeneid to the speeches of Cicero.) The new Constitution itself gave power to the centre of authority — President, 2-chamber Legislature, and Supreme Court — if they could keep it, and so far it has lasted 230 years. Yet while it is a suitable example for well-planned federalism — what with preliminary experiment, intense intellectual analyses of pasts and futures, and a Constitution able to fulfil many quests not noticeably suspected of existence when it was drawn up and rapidly received its first ten amendments — the miracle remains the micromoment of birth.
THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND AS ITS NATION’S WASHINGTON
Scotland provides a parallel when in 1989 the Church of Scotland opened its Assembly Hall to a Constitutional Convention. Both subjects — Washington in 1785-9, the Church of Scotland in 1989-95 — show a great and somewhat ghostly presence aware of its place in a Federal polity and conscious of danger to its own identity. Washington was the hero of his country, but that country was still limited largely to coastland settlement, he had held firm in 1777 when morale during the Revolutionary war was ebbing and his support from Congress in funds and supplies wretchedly inadequate, he had won victories but his total success turned on his mastery in manoeuvre, and so little was he known in general that to this day he is best remembered for something he never did: his hack biographer the Revd Mason Weems needing fresh material for his salesmanship of Washington’s Life entering its third edition (1803) imagined an old lady to tell the biographer how when a child George possessor of a new hatchet destroyed his father’s favourite cherry tree but insisted on telling the truth when his father made formidable enquiry for the culprit.
So Americans eat cherry pies on Washington’s birthday to celebrate the Boy Who Could Not Tell A Lie, which if true would have disqualified him from his actual military mastery in deceiving the enemy. Few give Washington enough credit for realising that the USA’s survival was most endangered by the freedoms retained by the individual states in their excessively loose Federal system. Similarly the Church of Scotland was known as a symbolic pillar of the place Scotland held in a federal system, and it also saw its work endangered by a reinvigorated English regime. It held its public place partly on myths, that it had sponsored Scottish democracy rather than that it had somewhat responded to some democratic Scottish impulses. Its reputation for anti-Catholicism had been destroyed when its Moderator in 1960 the Revd Archie Craig flew to Rome to meet Pope St John XXIII, and a subsequent Moderator (Revd William B. (‘Bill’) Johnston) had been vital in persuading Pope St John Paul II to visit Scotland a prospective event endangered by the Falklands War, and Scottish Catholics such as Father Anthony Ross had played a critical part in encouraging Church of Scotland attacks on the gospel of greed perpetually peddled by Margaret Thatcher and her Tories. The Church of Scotland was particularly offended when Thatcher got herself invited (by her nominee the Lord High Commissioner Sir Iain Tennant whom she had made a Knight of the Thistle in 1986) to speak at the General Assembly in 1988 at what her entourage in her deification alluded to as ‘the Sermon on the Mound’. By suitable misquotation of St Paul to the Thessalonians she seemed to implicate the Church of Scotland in her attacks on the welfare state. So to vindicate its belief in the social gospel preached by Jesus Christ, and to reject its own enslavement as a Thatcherite fat-cat church, the Church of Scotland in 1989 summoned its fellow-churches and all the political parties to a Constitutional Convention initially chaired by the Methodist Canon Kenyon Wright.
The Tory Government attempted to rebuke the Church of Scotland by saying that as a state church it must do what the state told it. In reply, the Church of Scotland took obvious pleasure in correcting the ignorance of the state, in which it had had much previous experience: the state was confusing it with the Church of England, which as an Erastian church founded and headed by successive English rulers was at least officially subject to government rebuke, whereas it was for the Church of Scotland to tell rulers what to do. The Church of Scotland did not tell the UK government to stuff its remonstrance under Pontius Pilate, but it essentially came to that and was about as welcome a response.
It remains one of the most fascinating examples of Federalism in the world that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England, Supreme Head of the Church of England, is the only human being on the surface of the globe whose religion changes with her geographical latitude when she travels to Scotland where she is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I, a communicant of the Church of Scotland though not its ruler. She is entitled to address the Church of Scotland in what is nevertheless a Fringe meeting at the General Assembly to which she has delegated her son Charles, and later her Daughter Anne, to speak in in place of her as Lord High Commissioner: failing a nominee from the Queen the Prime Minister appoints the Lord High Commissioner. Ancient Scottish ecclesiastics may faintly hear the ghost of the Reverend Andrew Melville telling the Queen’s ancestor James VI (in England James I) that he was ‘God’s sillie vassal’. The moral authority of the Church of Scotland was thus a force in UK federal politics, as Washington’s was. The leading Scottish authority on nationalism, Tom Nairn, declared in 2007 that he withdrew his famous declaration of 1967 that Scotland would not be free until the last Church of Scotland minister had been strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post: that is to say, he withdrew it as far as the Church of Scotland was concerned.
FEDERALISM AS AN IMPERIAL FUTURE
Federalism in various forms had existed long before the USA, but where it found its federalism in its micromoment their process was usually long and involved, frequent examples being Switzerland and the northern Netherlands (often called ‘Holland’ by Anglophones which is about as accurate and as courteous as calling the UK ‘England’).
The Swiss and the Dutch won and maintained independence in national struggles heavily mixed with commercial skills and ambitions, and salted though not dictated by religious conflict. The American experience of Federalism (including the great Southern Confederate rebellion against it in the Civil War of 1861-65) was naturally if deplorably available to UK legislators and civil servants, particularly in the Colonial Office. It had an eerie affinity to rebel nationalist insistence that UK imperial policy meant ‘divide and rule’. Nigeria having won independence suffered from the sequels of UK-made Federalism notably in the 1960s with massacres of the eastern Igbo Catholics by northern Muslim Hausa and in the Biafran revolt. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland ultimately became Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, but its career from 1953 to 1963 reflected UK Tory Whitehall civil servants nursemaiding a local white policy of white supremacy with grim effects hardening the independence struggle and the leaders it created.
The Second British Empire learned some lessons from the disasters of the First. Britain lost the 13 American colonies partly because of imperial contempt for the Loyalists who had often sacrificed all in the imperial cause, and who knew far more about the country, the climate, and the people than most of the British politicians, their aristocratic officers and administrators, and their mercenaries. There was an obvious choice there for ’divide and rule’, the non-white Americans — natives and slaves — ready to fight secretly or openly against the rebels, but few British made use of them. ‘Divide and rule’ usually meant favouring one group of residents or natives, sometimes the products of cultivated mass movement of British peasantry and local clansmen to displace inhabitants, most obviously in recently subdued Ulster from 1607. Sir John Robert Seeley,
Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, produced the great historical ode to empire in The Expansion of England (1883) which became famous for its almost whimsical ‘we seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind’, which might sound like an optimistic classification of rape, piracy and burglary under the plea ‘somnambulism’. In fact this was intended for sarcasm: Seeley was actually attacking the indifference of his fellow-historians in the UK to the imperial experience: ‘we continually betray by our modes of speech that we do not reckon our colonies as really belonging to us’. Well might a robber baron feel irate at the indifference of his heirs and assigns to the source of the wealth they would inherit, not to speak of the slaughter and swindling entailed in its acquisition. Apart from anything else, Seeley saw Empire as the means of keeping the UK a Great Power: ‘England may prove able to do what the United States does so easily, that is, hold together in a federal union countries very remote from each other. In that case England will take rank with Russia and the United States in the first rank of states, measured by population and area, and in a higher rank than the states of the Continent.’
This might resemble an American tour-guide speaking of the unbroken descent of English monarchy, oblivious to civil war and regicide. But its criteria are important as creed for the imperial age under Prime Minister Lord Salisbury. Federalism was the preferred means of ensuring that what we have, we hold. But the implicit assumption that the first rank must be limited to white rulers eliminates Japan and China. Russia, whatever its racial mixing, was a white power, having genealogical links to Queen Victoria. Seeley had doubts about the UK retaining India: its enormous non-white population meant that such self-government as it might acquire would not be likely to maintain white rule unlike Australia, New Zealand, Canada, &c.
AMERICAN FEDERALISM AND ITS PRODIGAL SON
‘Get the US out of the UN and the UN out of the US!’ was a standard US slogan from the hard Right in the 1960s and beyond. Yet the United Nations Organization is more obviously an American child than reflective of any other parent. It was founded as the natural continuation of the wartime alliance of the US, the UK, the USSR, France, and China, all of which therefore have permanent seats in the UN Security Council, contrary to the frequent superstition that the UK only holds that seat while it has nuclear weapons (produced for our enlightenment by Ms Emily Maitlis of BBC Newsnight and comparable luminaries). Its structure reflects US Federalism in 1945 rather than the Russian or UK Empires. The US Constitution centralised American power and knew that it would be viewed with suspicion by the more locally nationalist state politicians. So it gave the greater control of state rights to the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate, to which each state sends what are in fact two ambassadors, but all of these ambassadors make policy and can block treaties, &c, by insistence on a two-thirds majority for endorsement.
Similarly the UN is the sum of its individual powers, supposedly a post-imperial Federalism guided by the Security Council and more particularly the Secretary-General partly playing the role of the US President and is intended to be primarily guided by him. The UK found it somewhat humiliating to be an obvious junior partner, but Eden’s Suez debacle ended any illusion of equality in alliance, as the Korean War ended it for the Russians. The tragedy of Brexit was created in the first place because UK leaders really believed in the ‘special relationship’ up to Suez (ironically, the real — but chiefly ceremonial — special relationships since 1956 have been Harold Macmillan’s being John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s brother-in-law’s uncle-in-law, and Margaret Thatcher’s film fan cult of Ronald Reagan). Macmillan seems to have dreamed of the UK becoming something of a Federal outpost of the USA, but was firmly limited to special agent status in ‘Europe’ whence de Gaulle’s veto on UK membership. This was humiliating, inducing UK performance Bottom-style on playing the Lion, roaring, &c (it’s all right if it’s Shakespeare). Peripheral figures on the fringes of the UK such as Ian Paisley and John Hume of Northern Ireland and Winifred Ewing of Scotland quickly learned the dynamics of small-power humility and made the most of it for their constituencies. But the UK remained enslaved to its own shadow. The UK ultimately thought it wanted to leave the EU by however slender a majority because, obsessed as it was by being on top of it, it had never really been in it. Federalism to succeed must maintain the illusion of accepting equality.
Federalism therefore existed in the UK as an imperial idea at least for the purpose of dividing and uniting bits of Africa and their contents. Arguably it had received a powerful practical evangel in Daniel O’Connell’s movement for the Repeal of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland which proposed something like John Adams’s belief in loyalty and retention of allegiance to the Crown but without any London government above the restored Irish Parliament and government in Dublin. He had favoured this when as a little-known 25-year-old Catholic barrister he had opposed the enactment of the Union, rejecting the promise of Catholic emancipation which otherwise drew major Catholics into support for the Bill going through the Irish Parliament abolishing that Parliament.
For the next 28 years O’Connell led mass movements growing larger and larger demanding Catholic emancipation which had been denied in spite of the younger Pitt’s promise of its enactment when the British and Irish Parliaments would unite. He returned to active advocacy of Repeal after a period of alliance with Lord Melbourne’s Whig government in the late 1830s, and despite his utter opposition to violence was prosecuted for addressing huge meetings for Repeal by his old enemy Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. Something closer to federalism was put forward after O’Connell’s death by his former opponent the barrister Isaac Butt in the 1870s advocating a subordinate Irish legislature under the slogan Home Rule. That title unfortunately led Irish Protestant Unionists to identify it with ‘Rome Rule’. When the much more formidable Charles Stewart Parnell became the Home Rule and land reform leader for the 1880s dominating and sometimes deciding UK Parliamentary politics, English Unionists after some mild flirtation with the Home Rulers became their hardline opponents. Gladstone introduced Home Rule Bills in 1886 and 1893, the latter passed by the Commons
and only defeated by the House of Lords, which was still able to veto. Young middle-class Scottish Unionists might sometimes prove more constructive critics, especially when also being pragmatic businessmen such as the Glasgow industrialist Andrew Bonar Law who became UK Tory leader in 1911, and the head of the drapers Debenham and Freebody, Frederick Scott Oliver, of Jedburgh on the borders. Oliver’s Alexander Hamilton (1906) firmly studied the role of Federalism in making the USA, especially as formulated by Hamilton Washington’s invaluable aide during the Revolution who then played a vital part in bringing about and drawing up the US Constitution. Together with the Virginian James Madison Hamilton helped win New York’s ratification of the Constitution in 1788 by a series of essays published as The Federalist and making the supreme intellectual realistic case for a strong central government in the federal Union.
In the Washington Presidency of the early 1790s Hamilton, the first US Secretary of the Treasury, established US international credit by redeeming federal and individual state war debts at par, advocated protective tariffs to foster infant American industries, centred US finance around a First National Bank, encouraged the rapid development of transportation and proposed bounties for agriculture. Although Hamilton had been a fervent revolutionary and unrivalled economic propagandist as a teenage college student and charismatic colonel in the struggle against Britain, he saw the old enemy as the best trading partner available and agreed with its hostility to Revolutionary France. In so doing he deepened lines of domestic argument which became political parties, his being the Federalists. After his death his ideas would be championed and furthered by Chief Justice John Marshall (serving from 1801 to 1834) who ensured that his Supreme Court had the right of declaring acts of Congress and state legislatures unconstitutional, and used his judicial power to eradicate obstacles in the way of Hamiltonian Federalism, even though the Federalist party had vanished by 1820. Oliver followed Hamilton in making federalism the servant of Union, but also in rejecting unthinking conservatism which put the Union in danger, writing to his brother William that ‘the desire for Union, the grand federal idea, comes first, and a long way first, among my motives’. He put his beliefs in imperial terms harmonising with Seeley: ‘the Union of the British race, the firm and effective federation of our people in all quarters of our earth appears to me a matter of such transcendent importance as a matter of both morals and politics that if achievement of it required sacrifice instead of gain, I should be prepared to make it’. Significantly, Oliver like many other Tories detested democracy — Robert Cecil third Marquess of Salisbury (Prime Minister 1885-6, 1896-92, 1895-1902) had declared the American Civil War proved the evil of democracy and passionately opposed the Reform Bills of 1867 and 1884.
How democratic were Federalists? Hamilton, the American exemplar, certainly was not, quoting Virgil Aeneid III.658 to liken the people to the blinded Cyclops Polyphemus ‘A monstrous bulk, deformed, deprived of sight’ in 1802 (when his party was out of Federal office), although he could be infuriated by swaggering fellow-Federalists openly wallowing in privilege to debase workers. Oliver found his most congenial collegiality in commercial colleagues, notably the Chamberlains — Birmingham screw-manufacturers — who had broken with Gladstone over Home Rule early in 1886, Joe Chamberlain having previously written (on Boxing Day 1885) to his fellow-Radical Henry Labouchere:
There is only one way of giving bona fide Home Rule, which is the adoption of the American Constitution.
There is a scheme for you. It is the only one which is compatible with any sort of
Imperial unity, and once established it might work without friction.
Chamberlain specifically broke with Gladstone on the questions:
4. Whether the Irish Parliament was to have authority in every matter not specifically excluded from its jurisdiction?
Gladstone answered all four Yes, Chamberlain No. Question No. 1 actually revealed Chamberlain more progressive as well as more businesslike than Gladstone. Gladstone’s First Home Rule Bill was the product of five years’ constitutional warfare against Parnell and his Home Rulers at Westminster, culminating in Parnell’s overthrow of Gladstone’s second Administration, collaboration with the Tories (comparable to the Democratic Unionist Party of today keeping Theresa May Prime Minister from 2017 to 2019) and instruction to the Irish in Britain to vote Tory at the 1885 general election (in which a Home Ruler (T. P. O’Connor) won as MP for Liverpool (Scotland) thus likely to inspire other Home Rule victories in Glasgow (Govan), Manchester (Exchange), Liverpool (Exchange), London (Camden Town) &c at Liberal expense at future elections). But the 1885 election had returned Home Rulers and Tories together equal in Commons divisions with the Liberals, followed by Salisbury’s break with Parnell, and Unionist Liberals’ defection to alliance with the Tories resulting in their defeat of the First Home Rule Bill and of its proponents in the 1886 general election. Neither Parnell nor Gladstone can have expected Home Rule Bill victory in Parliament where the Lords would sink them even if the Commons did not: what they achieved was a ‘union of hearts’ between Gladstonian Liberals and Parnell’s Home Rulers.
The 1886 Home Rule Bill’s exclusion of Irish MPs from Westminster (however welcome its Irish Parliament) would probably have led to endless friction from the Irish when governed from London apart from local issues but would release Westminster from their endlessly troublesome presence. Chamberlain would have expected Irish support for his own Radical proposals in calmer Westminster weather and so saw loss of his own power in the Liberal party if Home Rule removed the Irish from Westminster. Perhaps the real division was Gladstone’s assumption that the Irish could be left to play by themselves while the great power decisions were made by the great power, while Chamberlain wanted them kept under supervision. In retrospect it might seem that little divided Chamberlain from Gladstone on Home Rule in 1886, and that Chamberlain’s Boxing Day federalism offered a more promising constitutional future for Britain with its Welsh and Scots Parliaments. Gladstone implicitly came to adopt it, but in his eighties was too old to bring it about.
There were personal antipathies: Chamberlain’s achievement of urban reform in Birmingham culminating in his mayoralty 1873-76 marked him for advancement in a culture whose landed aristocrats were still clinging to political and social power long after the waning of their economic primacy. Gladstone’s career had been a exceptionally self-assured transition from Tory to Liberal, but for sentiment as well as seniority when re-elected Prime Minister in 1880 he gave the plumbs to the Whig lords in his cabinet and kept Chamberlain at the Board of Trade (where admittedly Gladstone himself had served his time) and the Local Government Board regardless of the Birmingham Radical’s yearnings for the Colonial Office which he ultimately won after ten years’ service to the Tories.
Chamberlain in the early twentieth century turned to Protectionism in the belief that the UK could only preserve its great power status by imperial economic consolidation, and his son Austin’s friend Oliver produced a best-seller in his Hamilton by likening US Federal unification to an agenda for UK empire. It was grounded in his own shop’s necessities, and it may be hard for our world where ‘business’ is the most sacred word in political adoration to realise that a hundred years ago social inferiority was declared by the designation ‘in trade’. He kept up a fire of letters to The Times signed ‘Pacificus’ book-published as Federalism and Home Rule (1910) — dedicated ‘To the Young Men who See Visions’ — where as one of the disciples of the influential imperialist (and businessman) Lord Milner he formed one of the ‘Round Table’ group of diverse and fairly original publicists. He wrote there:
The spirit of Liberalism is the love of freedom, of Socialism protection of the weak, of Unionism union.
It was characteristic of Oliver as a writer that he could see so deeply and empathetically into the motivation of potential enemies. A Liberal should be proud of what he saw as their claim, as should a Socialist of theirs — and it is hardly Oliver’s fault if they forget it so often. The Unionist claim is a little more delicate: Oliver was a tradesman — although not restricted to the tradesman’s entrance — but his ‘union’ did not seek identification with trade unions. But as a tradesman he knew his business. The customer must be convinced he was always right, although having sold the customer on that, what was also sold to him might not be quite what he had imagined when hearing the shopman’s deferential reassurances. Oliver continued with apparent frankness:
Each of us chooses his part, freely as he thinks, and according to what appear to him to be the needs of the time. …
My choice was made long ago for union, as the need of my country which seemed to be most urgent. The union of the United Kingdom is a great thing, and to impair that would be to lose all. But with the progress of years the meaning of Unionism has grown and widened beyond what it was at first.
The Unionist party came into being to withstand the disruption of the United Kingdom which was at that time threatened, and which is still threatened. Unionism stands by its original purpose, but it has assumed a new task — to bring about the union of the Empire, a thing which is still to make.
This formed a useful basis for bold but unsuccessful conferences in 1910 after a January general election affirming the re-election of the Liberals to power, pledged to break the House of Lords veto (a precedent worth bearing in mind amidst today’s sheep-like repetition that democracy requires implementation of Referendum 1916’s result without any further referendum to confirm the result, a usual precaution in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere). George V had succeeded his father Edward VII after the first 1910 election and requested another election to ensure confirmation, getting almost exactly the same result. In 1913-14 the entire Tory party was pledged to resist a Home Rule Act by force if necessary having thousands of Protestant Ulstermen eager and ready to defy the UK army.
Oliver rightly counted the embattled Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson among his closest political intimates. Imperial Federalism ensuring Imperial Union came to the same thing, a conviction that power must be kept in the hands of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants using far-flung branch offices to strengthen control from London. But conferencing stalled and by mid-1914 the Ulster Unionists, followed by the Dublin extreme nationalists, were doing business with German tradesmen happy to sell them arms for mutual homicide until August when tradesmen and workers of the German and British Empires began to shoot one another. Much UK propaganda argued that it was a democratic war but Oliver insisted it was no such thing, and was vehemently for conscription to replace volunteer recruitment which he believed ‘neither honourable to the nation, nor adequate to the needs’. (He got what he had demanded in January 1916.) In fact, conscription is dishonourable: the first duty of human beings is to protect their partners and families.
But Oliver’s assumptions accorded with the prevalent ruling-class view that private soldiers ought not to have private judgment. During the war Oliver insisted ‘I have always been for Home Rule’ by which he meant a delegation of powers to England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland — the more efficient for conscription, presumably, together with the assumption shared by his counterparts in Ulster capitalism that business would control the recipients of delegation. To accomplish federation along these lines his letters, pamphlets and books denounced the party system and did so by making such use of his opponents’ talents as was available: his method worked in the wartime coalition intrigue displacing Asquith from the premiership in favour of the once-hated Lloyd George now chiefly buttressed by Tories. Oliver was still writing to Carson on 11 February 1918 on prospects for post-war Ireland: ‘force the hand of the Prime Minister and make Federalism a practical way out’ but Lloyd George reverted to the older form of ‘divide and rule’ leaving postwar Irish regimes north and south in as much mutual hatred as possible rather than interaction among separately devolved countries. But at least the bourgeoisie were now firmly in control, so much so that in 1940 many reacted with horror at the idea of reversion to aristocratic leadership as embodied in Winston Churchill.
FEDERALISM — THE IRISH ANSWER?
W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman satirising conventional English history-books and schoolboys’ memories of them in 1066 And All That (1930) footnoted:
NB — The Irish Question at this time [c. 1200] consisted of:
With their customary deadly accuracy they were chartering the survival of anti-Irish attitudes, still with us today when outsiders are specifically termed ‘beyond the Pale’ although the user seldom knows the origin of what is now a cliché. James VI having become James I in 1603 needed to clear out the frontier tribes whose valuable barbarity had sometimes protected Scotland from England, and from 1607 planted them in Ulster in land recently rid of its chieftains after their Nine Years’ War against Elizabeth I. James’s plantation transferred borderers of all classes from the larger to the smaller island where the Tudor Queens before him had simply endowed upper-rank conquistadores like Edmund Spencer and Sir Walter Raleigh in Munster where Irish Catholic identity remained in the majority somewhat limited in power between rebellions. The Ulster settlers were sometimes faced by massacre as in 1641 with the original Catholic inhabitants claiming the true ownership of the confiscated land, and as was feared in 1688-90 until William III reached Ireland and won the Battle of the Boyne.
The pattern was repeated when many of the eighteenth-century Ulster Scots were resettled on the American frontier mostly in permanent enmity to native Americans. British borderers, Protestant Ulstermen and pioneer Americans were frequently mutually murderous, but their lifestyle bred democratic instincts as hostile to central government (British or American) as to natives (Irish or American). Irish democratic demands became a political reality on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1820s when Andrew Jackson of Tennessee and Daniel O’Connell of Kerry became leaders, manipulating the masses winning the Presidency for Jackson, and Catholic entry into the Westminster parliament enabling O’Connell when elected to show himself its finest orator, thereby defeating another Irishman, Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Democracy and the political machines it spawned became standard organization in the US, usually involving close co-operation between US Protestants and Catholics (US anti-Catholicism throve in the 1830s, 1850s, and 1890s but not through urban political machines). US Federalists in their contempt for democracy in the 1790s identified it with Francophile Revolutionary Protestant Irish, but Hamilton and each President Adams had some sympathy with Irish resentment against Britain as did prominent Whigs. In fact Irish Catholic immigrants notably Mathew Carey aided US Federalist thought, deployment of economic resources through tariffs &c. But however much such reasoning might be deplored by other Irish such as Andrew Jackson, everyone knew it was a debate within a Federal structure now accepted by all US citizens present and future.
The UK had hardly won its Unions of 1707 and 1800 in fits of absence of mind, and however much it mimed equality of Scotland and England in the pageantry of 1707 the chief eighteenth-century image of Scotland in England after their Union was one of rapacious immigrants ever-ready to cut English throats or steal English jobs and funds. In fact the Union of 1707 was probably more widely detested by a larger percentage of the English than is the European Union at the present day. The Union with Ireland may have been more popular with Irish Catholics many of whom had bitter memories of eighteenth-century Irish Protestant rule but that evaporated when Pitt’s promise of Catholic emancipation was dishonoured until it was forced by O’Connell, and the great famine of the late 1840s negated the Union assumption of competence to meet Irish necessities. O’Connell’s use of democratic pressure educated Irish emigrants including migrants to Britain or emigrants to the USA and the UK Empire, and democracy was consequently a dirtier word among UK patricians in both islands.
A hundred years ago, Federalism whether from Oliver or other conservatives had the anti-democratic disdain alienating it from Irish Catholics and Ulster Protestants to whom their leader Carson’s affection for Oliver was irrelevant. Would it be possible today? Federalism in the British Isles has always emerged from patrician thought rather than from popular demand, complicated by assumptions from all parties that land rather than people was the cause of conflict, whether as payoff for English economic adventurers, relocation for Border frontier folk, awards for British army veterans, memories of former Catholic possession, &c. The mid-twentieth-century anti-partition propaganda from Dublin used information of ill-treatment of Northern Ireland Catholics, but its essential argument was one of unity for the entire island of Ireland regardless of its inhabitants north and south who became less and less serious to achieve it.
Margaret Thatcher appropriately reached the nadir of official stupidity when she wanted to change the existing Irish border and substitute nice straight lines and right angles such as they have in Canada and the USA imposed on largely uninhabited territories (save for the native North Americans). Her friend Ronald Reagan, coming to power in 1981, could have told her that US federalism had succeeded because most people wanted it, as shown by the Constitution’s ultimate ratification by voters in the original 13 states, by the adoption of the Constitution by US settlers spreading into the new territories, and by the secessionists in the Confederacy in 1861 framing their own Constitution as close as possible to the one which they had nominally abandoned and which their President, Jefferson Davis, could proudly recite by heart. A UK Federalist solution is a patrician solution, conceived in dislike of democracy. Its most obvious application would be for Mr Dominic Cummings — or whoever the UK Prime Minister might be — to remove all the inhabitants of the island of Ireland, draw a sufficient number of lines of no colour across it, and repatriate the survivors wherever the Premier (by then perhaps Fuehrer) thinks best. As his puppets will readily assure us, the EU and the Irish will no doubt be delighted to accept it as the logical Backstopping of Brexit.