Home Rule

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Home Rule, in Irish and English history, political slogan adopted by Irish nationalists in the 19th cent. to describe their objective of self-government for Ireland.

Origins of the Home Rule Movement

A basic theme in the history of Ireland through the centuries of English dominance was the desire for control over its domestic affairs. The modern Home Rule movement began in 1870 under the leadership of Isaac Butt, whose program appealed most strongly to the Irish middle classes. The long agricultural depression beginning in 1873 increased economic stimulus for Home Rule, and under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell the movement gained support from the agricultural laborers and erstwhile members of the Fenian movement. In this period only a minority had recourse to violence, and Parnell disavowed the murder of two British officials in Dublin in 1882 (see Phoenix Park murders).

The First Home Rule Bill

In 1886, William Gladstone committed the Liberal party to Home Rule. His bill of 1886 would have established a separate Irish legislature, while reserving many powers, including taxation, to the British Parliament at Westminster. The bill failed to pass, and the incoming Conservative government developed a policy of land reform (see Irish Land Question) to mollify the Irish. The unity of the Irish party in Parliament collapsed after Parnell was ruined by a divorce scandal in 1890.

The Second Home Rule Bill

In 1893 the Liberals passed the Second Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons, providing a bicameral legislature for purely local matters and Irish representation at Westminster to vote on Irish taxation. While unsatisfactory to Home Rule advocates, the bill was, nevertheless, defeated in the House of Lords. Advocates of constitutional means to Home Rule began to lose ground to republicans and revolutionaries. The ideals of an increasingly self-conscious Irish people, expressed by the Gaelic League and Irish Ireland culminated in the founding (c.1900) of Sinn Féin. The Irish Council Bill of 1907, which was to establish a purely Irish body to direct the spending of Irish tax proceeds, failed to pass because of Irish dissatisfaction with the plan.

The Third Home Rule Bill

In 1912 the Third Home Rule Bill passed the House of Commons. The most notable difference from the bill of 1893 was that it would have eventually given control of the police to Ireland. A tremendous outcry arose in Protestant Ulster, which feared Roman Catholic domination. Private armies—the Ulster Volunteers (in the North) and the Irish Volunteers (in the South)—were raised, and civil war threatened if the bill became law. In 1914, Commons again passed the bill, but the House of Lords excluded Ulster from its provisions. The Commons voted to allow Ulster to vote itself out of Home Rule for six years. At the outbreak of World War I the bill was passed once again with the proviso that it should not go into effect until after the war. The law never took effect.

The Irish Free State and the Fourth Home Rule Bill

By this time Irish labor leaders like James Connolly had been drawn into the struggle, and Irish radicalism—along with impatience and doubts as to Britain's good faith—brought about the Easter Rebellion of 1916. In 1918, S Ireland elected to Parliament only Sinn Fein members pledged to republicanism instead of Home Rule. These members did not go to Westminster; they set up their own Irish assembly, the Dáil Éireann, which declared Ireland independent. There followed a period of guerrilla war between the nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a force of British irregulars known as the Black and Tans.

In 1921 the British government entered into negotiations with the de facto Irish government headed by Eamon De Valera. The Irish Free State, with dominion status, was created by an Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921. Remaining ties with Great Britain were gradually discarded (see Ireland, Republic of). The six counties of Northern Ireland (see Ireland, Northern) remained part of the United Kingdom, their government established under the provisions of the Fourth Home Rule Bill of 1920, which was rendered void in the South by the establishment of the Irish Free State. The continued British presence in Northern Ireland was abhorrent to Irish nationalists, but except for scattered IRA terrorism, the issue was dormant until Protestant repression led to revived militant nationalism among Northern Ireland's Catholics.

Home Rule in Contemporary Northern Ireland

Escalating violence between Protestants and Catholics and an intensive campaign of terror by the IRA caused the British cabinet to suspend the Northern Ireland government in 1972. A new government was established in 1973, in which the Roman Catholics shared power with the Protestant majority for the first time and provision was made for increased cooperation with the Republic. However, Protestant pressure brought about the resumption of direct British rule of Northern Ireland in 1974. Direct rule continued until 1981.

In 1985, Great Britain signed an agreement with the Irish Republic, giving the latter a consultative role. While the Catholic party (SDLP) favored the agreement, the Protestant Unionist Parties used their majority in the regional Assembly to block it, resulting in the resumption of direct rule in 1985. An accord reached in 1998 provided for a new assembly, but disagreement over the disarmament of paramilitary groups slowed the formation of a multiparty goverment (Dec., 1999) and the end of direct British rule. Disagreements on the same and on other issues have led to several suspensions of home rule.


For an economic interpretation see E. Strauss, Irish Nationalism and British Democracy (1951); for an opposing political interpretation see N. Mansergh, The Irish Question, 1840–1921 (rev. ed. 1965). See also W. K. Hancock, Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs (2 vol., 1937–42; repr. 1964); A. T. O. Stewart, The Ulster Crisis (1967); D. Thornley, Isaac Butt and Home Rule (1964, repr. 1976).

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Irish Home Rule. From the formation of the Home Government Association, led by Isaac Butt in 1870, Home Rule became the ill-defined term representing the demands of the constitutional nationalists. Its origins lay in Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Movement of the 1840s: like O'Connell, Home Rulers between 1870 and 1918 never made clear precisely what form amendment of the Act of Union 1800–1 should take, whether it would mean a reversion to the legislative independence of 1782, whether some Irish representation would be retained at Westminster, or whether the desired aim should be a truly independent Irish state. There was agreement that the movement's tactics should be based on winning concessions from the British Parliament by influencing British MPs and by building up effective Irish representation in the Commons. Butt's embryonic party and his leadership, however, proved ineffective during the 1870s. From 1881 the movement entered upon its most successful period under the charismatic and autocratic leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. Through his leadership of the Irish Land League, Parnell was able to provide mass popular backing for Irish MPs, organizing a disciplined parliamentary party with Home Rule as its priority demand. Parnell took advantage of Gladstone's dependence on the Irish Party for the survival of his government to influence him to introduce the first Home Rule Bill 1886. The bill allowed for only limited devolution: the British government was to retain control over security, foreign policy, and financial institutions. Though the bill divided the Liberal Party and failed to pass the Commons, it represented a triumph for Irish nationalism and an acknowledgement that Ireland could govern itself. Neither Parnell nor Gladstone allowed for resistance from Ulster protestants. From 1886 and with the advent of a new Conservative government, Parnell's party lost much influence and unity collapsed over Parnell's involvement in the O'Shea divorce case in 1890. In 1893 Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule Bill, which was soundly defeated in the House of Lords. The Home Rule Movement did not recover the appeal it had possessed in the 1880s for most elements of the Irish population. Between 1893 and 1910 more limited forms of self-government were considered by Tory and Liberal governments and the growth of cultural nationalism in Ireland challenged the hegemony of the parliamentary party, particularly amongst the young. A constitutional crisis, caused by reform of the House of Lords 1910–11, resulted again in a minority Liberal government, dependent on the Irish Parliamentary Party, and led to the introduction of a third Home Rule Bill, with the expectation that it would become law within two years. The years 1912–14 produced a great test for the Home Rule cause in British politics, with fierce Ulster resistance, backed up by the Tory Party and by large elements of the British establishment. By 1914 and the final stages of the bill, civil war threatened in Britain and Ireland with the option of partition, temporary or permanent, as the only alternative. When the First World War intervened, the Home Rule Bill was on the statute book, but was suspended for the duration of the war, with temporary exclusion for Ulster. Following the Easter Rising, Lloyd George made another attempt to achieve a Home Rule settlement, which again foundered on the partition question. By the end of 1918 the situation was transformed by the collapse of the Irish Parliamentary Party and Sinn Fein's demand for a settlement considerably in advance of Home Rule. The Government of Ireland Act 1920–1 attempted a Home Rule settlement, with separate north-east and southern parliaments: ironically it was the loyalist Northerners who accepted the offer. Home Rule's demise was a failure for Liberal moderation in Britain and for constitutional nationalism in Ireland. British methods of conciliation and compromise had not worked in the Irish context. The consequences of Home Rule's failure are still felt on both sides of the Irish Sea. See also devolution.

Michael Hopkinson

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HOME RULE is the principle or practice of self-government by localities. The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of local jurisdictions, so a state legislature must grant a city or county a charter, or the right to draft its own charter, to create a structure and powers for local government. Into the nineteenth century most American towns and counties functioned in the English tradition of local self-government on most matters, often by establishing municipal corporations empowered to provide public services and regulate local economic matters. As urban populations expanded with immigration and industrial development, many municipal governments found their ability to deliver services such as fire and police protection overwhelming and the process of awarding city contracts (especially in public utilities) increasingly corrupt. State legislatures, many still dominated by rural and agricultural interests, were often unresponsive, and boss-run political machines entered the void in many big cities. Reformers calling for "good government" promoted home rule as one remedy, theorizing that government closest to the people would hold public officials accountable and eliminate corrupt and inefficient politics from the businesslike formation of effective policy. The Missouri Constitution of 1875 included the first state provision of the right of municipalities to draft their own charters, and many states followed suit throughout the Progressive Era. A version of this "home rule movement" for counties gained some momentum in the mid-twentieth century, but only 129 of more than 3,000 counties ever adopted any kind of charter.

The specific character of home rule varies by state. As of 2000, forty-six states allowed some form of home rule for municipalities (the exceptions being Alabama, Hawaii, Nevada, and New Hampshire) and thirty-seven for counties. Thirty-seven states provide for structural home rule, permitting communities to incorporate and create local governments, while thirty-one allow functional home rule, in which city or county governments may exercise power in such areas as public works, social services, and economic development.

Advocates of the expansion of home rule claim that local control makes government more responsive, allows for flexible and innovative approaches to local problems, and relieves state legislatures of parochial issues. Detractors emphasize, however, that few issues are strictly local in nature, especially as the populations of central cities decline and metropolitan areas become more important. Enhanced local autonomy may hinder cooperation among neighboring localities and exacerbate tensions over policies involving overlapping state-local jurisdictions, especially in the areas of taxation and public spending.

The nation's capital is a special case of the home rule question, as the governance of Washington, D.C., sometimes involves conflicts between local and national interests. An elected city council and/or mayor governed Washington for much of the nineteenth century, until Congress took direct control of legislation for the District for a century starting in 1874. The limited home rule charter governing the District since 1974 allows an elected mayor and council to make laws for local affairs but reserves veto powers to Congress, even though citizens of Washington have no voting representative in the national legislature. A constitutional amendment to grant full home rule for the District failed in 1978, reflecting the stalled aspirations of home rule advocates nationwide.


Harris, Charles Wesley. Congress and the Governance of the Nation's Capital: The Conflict of Federal and Local Interests. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1995.

Krane, Dale, Platon N. Rigos, and Melvin B. Hill Jr. Home Rule in America: A Fifty-State Handbook. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2001.

Jeffrey T.Coster

See alsoCharters, Municipal ; Local Government .

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Home Rule, Irish Movement to gain Irish legislative independence from the British Parliament in the 19th century. In the 1830s and 1840s, Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association unsuccessfully challenged the Act of Union (1800) between Britain and Ireland. In the 1870s, Isaac Butt began the Home Rule League. His successor, Charles Parnell, won Gladstone's support, but the first Home Rule Bill of 1886 split the Liberal Party and sent Liberal Unionists into the arms of the Conservative Party. This coalition defeated a second bill in 1893. In 1912, Parliament passed a third bill, presented by Herbert Asquith, but the outbreak of World War I postponed implementation. A guerrilla war led by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the landslide victory for Sinn Féin in Irish elections followed the Easter Rising (1916). In 1919, the Dáil Éireann claimed independence. In 1920, Lloyd George's government passed a fourth Home Rule Bill establishing separate parliaments in Dublin and Belfast. In 1921 Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that created the Irish Free State and gave de facto recognition to Northern Ireland. Eamon De Valera opposed the agreement and the Irish Free State plunged into civil war.

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municipal home rule, system adopted in many states of the United States by which a city is given the right to draft and amend its own charter and to regulate purely local matters without interference from the state legislature. The rapid growth of urban centers in the latter part of the 19th cent. brought new and complex problems; the state legislatures, which had controlled most city government, found themselves incapable of handling the fast-growing cities. In 1875, Missouri adopted the first municipal home rule clause in its constitution; other states have followed its lead. The form of the rule varies greatly from state to state. There are two principal types of municipal home rule: constitutional home rule, by which cities are given the right by the state constitution to form their own charters; and legislative home rule, by which local autonomy is granted through an act of the state legislature. Local and general concerns cannot, of course, be strictly delimited, and there are frequent legal and political contests concerning jurisdiction. The growing importance of the suburbs and the relative decline of cities have led to the concept of metropolitan government as an intermediary between city and state government.

See J. D. McGoldrick, Law and Practice of Municipal Home Rule, 1916–1930 (1933, repr. 1972); R. P. Bolan, Fundamentals of Home Rule (1960); bibliography by N. C. Burg (1973).

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The right to local self-government including the powers to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals, and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.

Home rule involves the authority of a local government to prevent state government intervention with its operations. The extent of its power, however, is subject to limitations prescribed by state constitutions and statutes.

When a municipality or other political subdivision has the power to decide for itself whether to follow a particular course of action without receiving specific approval from state officials, it acts pursuant to such powers. For example, a town exercises its home rule powers when it puts the issue of allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages within its borders on the ballot.

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home rule • n. the government of a colony, dependent country, or region by its own citizens.

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Home Rule. See Irish Home Rule.

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municipal home rule: see home rule, municipal.