This speech, intemperate even for Kipling, seems to show, if nothing else, that though he was irresistibly attracted to political questions he was incapable of thinking about them in any but a partisan way. The proposals for Home Rule, to him, were unrelievedly bad; therefore bad men had made them for bad motives. This was consistent, no doubt, but more interesting for what it says about Kipling’s notions of political life than for anything it says about the Irish question.
The fate of Ulster, if, as seemed inevitable, Home Rule should come about, had been the passionate obsession of Kipling and his fellows in the “British Covenant,” a group sworn to defend Ulster by direct action when political means failed (see Letters, IV, 222-23). Kipling’s poem called
“Ulster” (1912) expresses the inflamed feelings of the anti-Home Rulers:
The dark eleventh hour
Draws on and sees us sold
To every evil power
We fought against of old.
The meeting at which the speech was made was held on Tunbridge Wells Common on a Saturday afternoon, when, Mrs. Kipling recorded in her diarv, “Rud makes his long-proposed Ulster speech to 10,000 people.”
It was reprinted in pamphlet form by the League of British Covenanters as “The Secret Bargain and the Ulster Plot” and bv the Daily Express as “Rudyard Kipling’s Indictment of the Government.”
When I was a young man in India, I used to report criminal cases for the newspaper that employed me. It was interesting work because it introduced me to forgers and embezzlers and murderers, and enterprising gentlemen of that kind. Sometimes, after I had reported their trial, I used to visit my friends in gaol when they were doing their sentences. 1 remember one man there who got off with a life sentence for murder. He was a clever, smooth-spoken chap, and he told me what he called the story of his life. It wasn’t a very’ truthful account, hut he finished by one true sentence. He said: “Take it from me, that when a man starts crooked, one thing leads to another till he finds himself in such an awkward position that he has to put somebody out of the way to get straight again.” Well, that exactly describes the present position of the Cabinet. They started crooked: one thing led to another till they found themselves in such an awkward position that they had to put some one out of the way to get straight again.
Nearly all practical and constructive crime—that isn’t done for the sake of a woman—is done for money. I won’t make wild statements about other peoples characters—we can leave that to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—but I should like to draw your attention to these plain, acknowledged facts. We know that, with a few exceptions, the members of the Cabinet are not men of large private means or independent incomes. We know that two, at least, of them found it necessary to supplement their official incomes of £7,000 and £5,000 by taking part in a Stock Exchange flotation which was floated (about the time that the “Titanic” sank) in a way that was too much even for the Stock Exchange. We were not permitted to know how many of their colleagues took part in that ramp; but we do know that their colleagues upheld their action both in the House of Commons and out of it. It is not too much to assume then that the bulk of the Cabinet, and certainly the most notorious persons in it, are dependent largely on their official salaries plus what they make in tips. People who are dependent on their salaries take good care to make the billet that gives them their salaries as permanent as possible. One thing naturally leads to another. A good deal of crooked work- on the part of the Cabinet assured itself a straight run of at least five years’ salary. The Parliament Act provided that under no circumstances should the House of Lords be allowed to refer any legislation to the electorate, and that the length of a Parliament should be five years. Of course, the Cabinet promised on their word of honour that a Second Chamber should be created as soon as possible. But that was another bit of crooked work. Tbe Parliament Act meant that if their majority could be kept together, the Cabinet stood to make over £400,000 in salaries alone during their term of office. But still there was a danger that the unsalaried individual Member of Parliament might object to passing legislation that struck him as too corrupt or too dangerous. It was necessary to give the private member a direct financial interest in voting for Cabinet measures. That interest was at once supplied. The House of Commons voted itself £400 per head per annum out of the nation’s money. It was crooked work, but as the Premier has pointed out, the House of Commons was supreme and ultimate master of the situation. Therefore it embezzled public funds under trust, well knowing that it could not be called into account. The meanest sneak-thief takes his chance against the laws of civilized society. The House of Commons took none. As long as the Cabinet stayed in office, every coalition Member of Parliament knew that he would get his cheque for £100 every quarter. If the Cabinet were defeated he knew that the money would stop. Men will do a great deal for the sake of £400 a year certain for five years.
You see how one thing leads to another. The Parliament Act and the fact that no Second Chamber had been created prevented the possibility of any interference by the electors outside; payment of members prevented any revolt on the part of members inside the House. The Cabinet were in the position of a firm of fraudulent solicitors who had got an unlimited power of attorney from a client bv false pretences and could dispose of their client’s estate as they pleased. The only drawback to the situation was that their majority was not big enough to make them independent of the Irish Nationalist vote. If that vote were not bought the Cabinet would lose their salaries as well as the chance ol supplementing those salaries, which we know was a valuable chance, and the private member would lose a very comfortable income.
So the Irish Nationalist vote was bought by means of the Home Rule Bill. One thing led to another till the Cabinet found themselves in an awkward position. The Home Rule Bill, as they thought, was the easiest way out of it. Up till that time the Cabinet’s legislation had been nothing more than corrupt or reckless or dangerous. The passing of the Parliament Act had, of course, destroyed the Constitution of this country, and the law of the land had been made to fit the needs of the Cabinet. Our country bad been openly degraded in the eyes of all nations who value the purity of their justice or the personal honour of their administrators. But so far that had been all. Till the Home Rule Bill was produced the Cabinet had done nothing which fatally and irretrievably compromised the unity of Great Britain or the safety of the Empire, or made existence unendurable to any large section ol the King’s subjects.
The Home Rule Bill broke the pledged faith of generations; it officially recognized sedition, privy conspiracy and rebellion; it subsidized the secret forces of boycott, intimidation, outrage and murder; and it created an independent stronghold in which all these forces could work together, as they have always and openly boasted that they would for the destruction of Great Britain.
Understand, gentlemen, that I do not for one instant blame the Nationalists. They are what they are—what their particular type of their race has always been since the beginning of recorded history. They have done nothing, and, as far as in them lies, they have suffered nothing to be done for the peace or the material advancement of their land. They have imposed their own ancient form of tribal administration on large tracts of Ireland—the despotism of secret societies, a government of denunciation by day and terrorism by night. You can see the fruits of their work within a few hours of where we stand if you choose to visit the cities or the countrysides that they control by their peculiar methods—by the only methods they have ever understood—by the methods of fear, oppression, and hate. To do them justice, they have never faltered in their passionate and persistent hatred of England. They have preached it and practised it by every means in their power. They have prayed for the success of England’s enemies in every quarter of the world; they have assisted those enemies with men and arms; they have jeered at England’s defeats; they have befouled the honour of England’s army, and they have mocked England’s dead.
It was to men with this record of crime and hatred that the Cabinet prepared to hand over a portion of our United Kingdom for no other reason than that they might continue in the enjoyment of their office. They were warned from the first of the certain consequences of their action; they were entreated—abjectly entreated, as I think—to refer the matter to the electors, they were even offered the lives and fortunes of the Loyalists in the South and West of Ireland if they would leave the North and East out of their Bill of Sale.
You know their answer. You know Ulster’s answer. You know with what devotion and self-sacrifice Ulster has set her house in order to avert this crime. Ulster is the first community in our realm to realize that this Home Rule Bill means life or death, and better death than the life it will impose upon her sons. But, gentlemen, the Home Rule Bill is equally one of life or death to every free man in the kingdom. Ireland is sold today. Tomorrow it may be the turn of the Southern counties to be weighed off as make-weight in some secret bargain. Why not? Three years ago you would have said that the Marconi scandals and the appointment of the present Lord Chief Justice were impossible. Three months ago you would have said that the plot against Ulster was impossible. Nothing is impossible to a land without a Constitution—nothing except peace. We may believe that President Huerta would not sell a province of Mexico to the United States. We have no right to believe that of our own country. For what are the reasons that have called us here to-day?
A province and a people of Great Britain are to be sold to their and our enemies. We are forbidden to have any voice in this sale of our own flesh and blood; we have no tribunal under Heaven to appeal to except the corrupt parties to that sale and their paid followers. And what has happened within the last two months? One thing led to another till the Cabinet found tliemselves in such a position that they had to put someone out of the way. With this object they secretly prepared the largest combined expedition of both arms that has been launched since the Crimea—a force of horse, foot, field guns, howitzers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers. If these Ulster cattle could not be sold on the hoof they should be delivered as carcasses. Then they made a slip. It takes nerve to organize such a cattle killing on a large scale. They gave the officers told off for the business their choice—whether they would first provoke collision with, and then loose death and destruction on, the one loyal, the one prosperous, the one law-abiding portion of Ireland at the order of a secret Cabinet committee, or whether they would face the ruin of their careers as officers in his Majesty’s army.
The choice was not so easy as it sounds. For, remember, that though the Constitution had ceased to exist; though the men who were planning these infamies had put all methods of civilized government behind them; yet the old trappings of constitutionalism, the old forms of conventions of civilized government still existed. They were a valuable asset to the Cabinet. They were the cloak under which the conspirators could operate, under which they could threaten. These men who met to arrange the massacre of decent citizens; these men who would bombard an open town of loyal subjects sooner than risk the loss of thirteen guineas a day while they asked the electors for leave to kill; these outlaws were still his Majesty’s Ministers, powerful heads of great Departments of State. They could make or break the careers of honourable men. Our officers took their choice of the alternative so brutally presented to them. They elected to forfeit their pay and position rather than to do this work to save the pay and position of his Majesty’s Ministers. By their choice—to their eternal honour and glory be it recorded—the Army saved the Empire.
What has happened since? The Cabinet and the House of Commons have drawn eight weeks’ more salary. If the Cabinet do not go forward with the Home Rule Bill they will cease to draw any salary. Therefore, they must go forward with the Home Rule Bill. We know, all mankind knows, they did not shrink from attempted murder to overcome beforehand the opposition which they were warned the Home Rule Bill would meet. Through no fault of the Cabinet that attempt failed. But don’t be under any delusion. Do not be deceived by any talk of arrangements or accommodations in the House of Commons. If the Cabinet thinks that murder will serve the Cabinet’s turn again, they will attempt it again. And they will go further. In the light of their record two months ago, we are justified in believing that, if bv any lie, by any falsification of facts, speeches, documents or telegrams, by any bribe of money, title or promotion, by subornation of evidence or prearranged provocation, the blame of causing bloodshed can be laid upon Ulster, the Cabinet will, openly or secretly, lend itsell to that work.
Ulster, and as much of Ireland as dares to express itself, wishes to remain within the Union and under the Flag of the Union. The Cabinet, for reasons which I have given, intend to drive them out. The electors of Great Britain have never sanctioned this. Ulster has made every sacrifice, save one, to make effective her intention to remain in the Union. She stands ready to make the last sacrifice. How do we stand in the matter? Our forefathers who were no strangers to tyranny would have set their house in order long ere this, but we, who encounter it for the first time in generations, are slow to realize that civil war is possible. For civil war is possible. Civil war is inevitable unless our rulers can be brought to realize that, even now, they must submit these grave matters to the judgment of a free people. If they do not. all the history of our land shows that there is but one end—destruction from within or without.
—“Rudyard Kipling’s Indictment of the Government,” London, Daily Express, 18 May 1914.
The Liberal newspapers were less impressed. This was the response of the Westminster Gazette: on 21st May: