From a psychology so bred and nourished sprang a political temper which, as it hardened with the passing years, appeared to English Home Rulers to be “stiff-necked,” “bigoted,” and “intractable.” It certainly was a state of mind very different from those shifting gusts of transient impression which in England go by the name of public opinion; and, if these epithets in the mouths of opponents be taken as no more than synonyms for “uncompromising,” they were not undeserved. At a memorable meeting at the Albert Hall in London on the 22nd of April, 1893, Dr. Alexander, Bishop of Derry, poet, orator, and divine, declared in an eloquent passage that was felt to be the exact expression of Ulster conviction, that the people of Ulster, when exhorted to show confidence in their southern fellow-countrymen, “could no more be confiding about its liberty than a pure woman can be confiding about her honour.”
Here was the irreconcilable division. The Nationalist talked of centuries of “oppression,” and demanded the dissolution of the Union in the name of liberty. The Ulsterman, while far from denying the misgovernment of former times, knew that it was the fruit of false ideas which had passed away, and that the Ireland in which he lived enjoyed as much liberty as any land on earth; and he feared the loss of the true liberty he had gained if put back under a regime of Nationalist and Utramontane domination. And so for more than thirty years the people of Ulster for whom Bishop Alexander spoke made good his words. If in the end compromise was forced upon them it was not because their standpoint had changed, and it was only in circumstances which involved no dishonour, and which preserved them from what they chiefly dreaded, subjection to a Dublin Parliament inspired by clericalism and disloyalty to the Empire.
The development which brought about the change from Ulster’s resolute stand for unimpaired union with Great Britain to her reluctant acceptance of a separate local constitution for the predominantly Protestant portion of the Province, presents a deeply interesting illustration of the truth of a pregnant dictum of Maine’s on the working of democratic institutions.
“Democracies,” he says, “are quite paralysed by the plea of nationality. There is no more effective way of attacking them than by admitting the right of the majority to govern, but denying that the majority so entitled is the particular majority which claims the right."
This is precisely what occurred in regard to Ulster’s relation to Great Britain and to the rest of Ireland respectively. The will of the majority must prevail, certainly. But what majority? Unionists maintained that only the majority in the United Kingdom could decide, and that it had never in fact decided in favour of repealing the Act of Union; Lord Rosebery at one time held that a majority in Great Britain alone, as the “Predominant Partner,” must first give its consent; Irish Nationalists argued