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Butt, Isaac

Butt, Isaac (1813–79). Founder of the Home Rule movement. At the outset of his political and legal career, Butt was a vigorous defender of an Orange Toryism. Increasingly, however, his unionism and his commitment to property right were tinctured with a strong national feeling: this was encouraged by the haphazard nature of government action during the years of the Great Famine. Defending the Young Irelanders in May 1848, he urged that the detrimental economic consequences of the British connection might be offset through a subordinate parliament in Dublin. Although he sat for Youghal in the House of Commons (1852–65), he languished for a time on the margins of national politics. His defence of the Fenian conspirators in 1868 restored his patriotic reputation. His federalist sympathies and broad political appeal were most clearly evident in his Home Government Association (1870): he was returned to Parliament in 1871 as a Home Ruler, representing Limerick. Butt helped to create a national organization for his cause through the Home Rule League (1873), but by the time of his death in 1879 he had been superseded by angrier and more militant lieutenants.

Alvin Jackson

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Butt, Isaac

Isaac Butt, 1813–79, Irish politician and nationalist leader. A member of both the Irish and the English bar, he was a noted conservative lawyer and scholar and an opponent of Daniel O'Connell. After the Irish famine experience of the 1840s, however, he became increasingly liberal, defended participants in the abortive Young Ireland revolt (1848), and entered (1852) Parliament as a Liberal-Conservative. He continually urged land tenure reform, defended the Fenian leaders, and founded (1870) the Home Rule Society. By 1874 the parliamentary group, the Home Rule League, comprised 56 members under his leadership. He remained nominal leader of the Home Rule movement until his death, although effective leadership gradually passed to Charles Stewart Parnell.

See L. J. McCaffrey, Irish Federalism in the 1870's (1962); D. Thornley, Isaac Butt and Home Rule (1964).

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