The most impressive moment at the Balmoral meeting at Easter 1912 was when the vast assemblage, with uncovered heads, raised their hands and repeated after Sir Edward Carson words abjuring Home Rule. The incident suggested to some of the local Unionist leaders that the spirit of enthusiastic solidarity and determination thus manifested should not be allowed to evaporate, and the people so animated to disperse to the four corners of Ulster without any bond of mutual obligation. The idea of an oath of fidelity to the cause and to each other was mooted, and appeared to be favoured by many. The leader was consulted. He gave deep, anxious, and prolonged consideration to the proposal, calculating all the consequences which, in various possible eventualities, might follow its adoption. He was not only profoundly conscious of the moral responsibility which he personally, and his colleagues, would be undertaking by the contemplated measure; he realised the numerous practical difficulties there might be in honouring the bond, and he would have nothing to do with a device which, under the guise of a solemn covenant, would be nothing more than a verbal manifesto. If the people were to be invited to sign anything of the sort, it must be a reality, and he, as leader, must first see his way to make it a reality, whatever might happen.
For, although Carson never shrank from responsibility, he never assumed it with levity, or without full consideration of all that it might involve. Many a time, especially before he had fully tested for himself the temper of the Ulster people, he expressed to his intimates his wonder whether the bulk of his followers sufficiently appreciated the seriousness of the course they had set out upon. Sometimes in private he seemed to be hypersensitive as to whether in any particular he was misleading those who trusted him; he was scrupulously anxious that they should not be carried away by unreflecting enthusiasm, or by personal devotion to himself. About the only criticism of his leadership that was ever made directly to himself by one of the rank and file in Ulster was that it erred on the side of patience and caution; and this criticism elicited the sharpest reproof he was ever heard to administer to any of his followers. His expressions of regard, almost amounting to affection, for the men and women who thronged round him for a touch of his hand wherever he appeared in the streets might have been ignorantly set down as the arts of a demagogue had they ever been spoken in public, but were capable of no such misconstruction when reserved, as they invariably were, for the ears of his closest associates. The truth is that no popular leader was ever less of a demagogue than Sir Edward Carson. He had no “arts” at all—unless indeed complete simplicity is the highest of all “arts” in one whom great masses of men implicitly trust. He never sought to gain or augment the confidence of his followers by concealing facts, minimising difficulties, or overcolouring expectations.