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Lloyd George and the 1918 Irish Conscription Crisis*

  • Alan J. Ward (a1)

Extract

David Lloyd George was a great war-time prime minister. There seems to be little doubt about this, but his was leadership has been so extolled by his supporters that adverse criticism sometimes smacks of heresy. Nevertheless criticism is warranted which, whilst not attacking the man, will qualify the myth. What follows is a critical examiniation of Lloyd George and his Irish policy in 1918.

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1 George, David Lloyd, War Memoirs (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1933), II, 1009.

2 Jones, Thomas, Lloyd George (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951), p. 122.

3 Wimborne, to George, Lloyd, 2 10. 1916, Lloyd George MSS, E3/9/1, Beaverbrook Library, London.

4 Maxwell, to Macready, General, 7 Oct. 1916, Lloyd George MSS, Ei/5/10. See also memorandum by Chief Secretary Duke, H. E., 30 Jan. 1917, Lloyd George MSS, F30/2/8.

5 Memorandum by Milner, Lord, 23 Jan. 1917, Lloyd George MSS, F14/4/18.

6 George, Lloyd to Duke, , 26 Jan. 1917, and Duke, memorandum, 30 Jan. 1917, Lloyd George MSS, F30/2/8 and 37/4/8.

7 Riddell, George A. (Riddell, Baron), Lord Riddell's War Diary, 11914–1918 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1933), p. 239.

8 War Cabinet meeting 282A, 26 Nov. 1917, Cabinet records 23/13, Public Records Office, London (hereafter cited as CAB). In this paper the term ‘War Cabinet’ refers not to the small group of between five and seven members of the government who formed an inner committee, the War Cabinet proper, to conduct the war, but to all rhose attending their meetings and contributing to their decisions. The composition of this larger group varied between and even during meetings, depending on the issue discussed.

9 McDowell, R. B., The Irish Convention, 1917–18 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 80, 131; Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 101, 17 01. 1918, col. 579.

10 War Cabinet 385, 6 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6.

11 War Cabinet 372 (13), 25 Mar. 1918, CAB 23/5; Jones, , op. cit. pp. 145–6.

12 Barnes, to George, Lloyd, 26 Mar. 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F4/2/26.

13 War Cabinet 374 (12) and 375 (2), 27 Mar. 1918, CAB 23/5; George, Lloyd, op. cir. vol. 5, pp. 2666–7.

14 Ibid. pp. 2657–66.

15 Memorandum by Campbell, , 30 Mar. 1918, G.T. paper 4101, CAB 24/47; War Cabinet meeting 376 (5 and 6), 28 Mar. 1918, CAB 23/5.

16 The great importance which the British Government attached to American opinion is described in Ward, Alan J., Ireland and Anglo-American Relations, 1899–1921 (London: London School of Economics and Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), ch. 7.

17 War Cabinet 376 (6), 28 Mar. 1918, CAB 23/5. Only Lord Milner objected to the delay. He wanted nothing to impede the supply of replacements to the army in France.

18 General Wilson, , C.I.G.S., to Secretary of the War Cabinet, 29 Mar. 1918, G.T. paper 4065, CAB 24/46.

19 Memorandum by O'Connor, , 2 Apr. 1918, G.T. paper 4129, CAB 24/47.

20 Memorandum by Duke, , 4 Apr. 1918, G.T. paper 4133, CAB 24/47; War Cabinet, 383 (16, 17), 5 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6.

21 War Cabinet, 385, 6 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6; Cecil to George, Lloyd, 7 Apr. 1918, G.T. paper 4166, CAB 24/47.

22 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, 9 04. 1918, vol. 104, cols. 1357 ff.; 16 Apr. 1918, vol. 105, col. 321; Gwynn, Denis R., The History of Partition, 1912–1925 (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1950), pp. 175–8.

23 War Cabinet, 385, 6 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6.

24 Memoranda by Duke, , 13 Apr. 1918, G.T. paper 4218, CAB 24/48, and 16 Apr. 1918, George, Lloyd MSS, F37/4/51; War Cabinet 391 (11), 15 Apr. 1918 and 392 (11, 12, 13), 16 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6.

25 War Cabinet 389 (9), 11 Apr. 1918, and 392 (13), 16 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6. The ‘Committee on the Government of Ireland Amendment Bill’ was composed of Long, Duke, Curzon, Barnes, Smuts, Austen Chamberlain, Addison (Minister of Reconstruction), Fisher (President of the Board of Education), Hewart (Solicitor-General), Cave (Home Secretary). All the members of the War Cabinet proper were members ex officio. It appears to have met four times. See Kendle, John, ‘Federalism and the Irish Problem in 1918’, History, LVI, 187 (06 1971), 207–30.

26 Long, to George, Lloyd, 18 Apr. 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F32/5/23; War Cabinet 397 (7), 23 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6. See also Gwynn, , op. cit. p. 170; Ward, Alan J., ‘Frewen's Anglo-American campaign for federalism, 1910–1921’, Irish Historical Studies, xv, 59 (03 1967), 256–75, and Kendle, , op. cit. pp. 220–1.

27 War Cabinet 433 (2), 19 June 1918, CAB 23/6; London Times, 27 June 1918. See also Carson, to George, Lloyd, 14 Feb. 1918, Carson, to Balfour, , 1 03. 1918, and Balfour, to Carson, , a Mar 1918, Balfour MSS, 49709, v. xxvii, British Museum, London.

28 French, to George, Lloyd, 18 and 19 Apr. 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F48/6/7, 8.

29 Memorandum by Duke, , 21 Apr. 1918, G.T. paper 4302, CAB 24/29; General Byrne report to Duke encl. in Duke, to War Cabinet, 24 Apr. 1918, G.T. paper 4326, CAB 24/49; War Cabinet 397 (6), 23 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6.

30 Wimborne to George, Lloyd, 28 Apr., 9 May 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F48/1/8, 10.

31 French, to George, Lloyd, 5 May 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F48/6/10.

32 Frederick Guest, M.P., surveyed the reactions of members of parliament to Shortt's appointment and reported to George, Lloyd on 3 May 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F21/2/20. Duke had expected ro leave the Chief Secretary post earlier. He felt that Ireland was sufficiently quiet on 22 Mar. to make the change, but when the crisis developed he stayed on. By then he was at cross purposes with the prime minister and Lord French. See Lloyd George MSS, F37/4/47.

33 War Cabinet meetings 392, 398 (9), 16 and 24 Apr. 1918, CAB 23/6.

34 Long to Reading, encl. in Balfour to Reading (telegs.), 16 and 17 May 1918, Balfour MSS, 49741. A memorandum by Thompson, Basil of the Home Office, 22 May 1918, made it clear for the prime minister that none of the documents had been obtained from the U.S.A. and that there was virtually no new evidence. See Lloyd George MSS, F46/9/1.

35 Reading to Long (teleg.), 20 May 1918, Balfour MSS, 49741.

36 Shortt, to George, Lloyd, 20 May 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F45/6/3.

37 War Cabinet meetings 414A, 22 May 1918, CAB 23/14; 416 and 417 (1), 23 and 24 May 1918, CAB 23/6. See also Britain, Great, Documents relative to the Sinn Fein movement, Cmd. 1108, xxix, 429, 1921. It is strange that the ‘German conspiracy’ has gone unchallenged in so many books on Lloyd George and this period. Taylor, A. J. P. does challenge it in his English History, 1914–1945 (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 104. He states that the government invented the plot, but the cabinet records indicate that members of the government, including the prime minister, did believe in the German conspiracy, notwithstanding the lack of evidence.

38 Macardle, Dorothy, The Irish Republic (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965), pp. 253–7.

39 French, to George, Lloyd, 30 May 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F48/6/13; War Cabinet 505 (9), 21 Nov. 1918, CAB 23/8.

40 War Cabinet 408A (2), 10 May 1918, CAB 23/14, and 412 (18), 15 May 1918, CAB 23/6.

41 Memorandum by Long, , 29 May 1918, G. T. paper 4689, CAB 24/52.

42 War Cabinet 408 (11), 10 May 1918, CAB 23/6.

43 War Cabinet 406 (4), 7 May 1918, CAB 23/6.

44 War Cabinet 421 (6), 30 May 1918, CAB 23/6.

45 Secret meetings, no numbers, 5 and 6 June 1918, CAB 23/17.

46 War Cabinet 421 (5), 30 May 1918, CAB 23/6, and 461, 20 Aug. 1918, CAB 23/7; George, Lloyd to Shortt, , 6 June 1918 and de Fleuriau, M. A. to Davies, J. T., 16 June 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F45/6/4 and F50/3/1.

47 G.T. paper 4808, CAB 24/54, and War Cabinet 433 (1), 19 June 1918, CAB 23/6.

48 See Balfour MSS, 49743, for correspondence involving Derby, Balfour, Logue and Hankey and the issue of Irishmen serving in France.

49 War Cabinet 433 (2), 19 June 1918, CAB 23/6.

50 George, Lloyd, op. cit. v, 2671; Jones, , op. cit. p. 147; Owen, Frank, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955), pp. 474–7.

51 War Cabinet 453 (7), 29 July 1918, CAB 23/7; Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 109, 29 07 1918, cols. 85 ff.

52 Shortt, to George, Lloyd, 4 July 1918, and French, to George, Lloyd, 7 Sept. 1918, George, Lloyd MSS, F45/6/6 and F48/6/19; War Cabinet 453 (7), 29 July 1918, and 456 (5), 9 Aug. 1918, CAB 23/7.

53 Copy of French to Long end. in B. FitzGerald to J. T. Davies, Lloyd George MSS, F48/6/15.

54 Copy of French, to George, King V, 13 July 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F48/6/17.

55 War Cabinet 453 (7), 29 July 1918, CAB 23/7.

56 Memorandum by Geddes, , 7 Oct. 1918, G.T. paper 5897, CAB 24/65.

57 Memorandum by Shortt, , 15 Oct. 1918, G.T. paper 5991, CAB 24/66.

58 Memorandum by Shortt, , 7 Oct. 1918, G.T. paper 5918, CAB 24/66.

59 Memorandum by French, , 8 Oct. 1918, G.T. paper 5919, CAB 24/66.

60 French, to George, Lloyd, 12 Oct 1918, Lloyd George MSS, F48/6/20.

61 Memorandum by Long, , 9 Oct. 1918, G.T. paper 5926, CAB 24/66.

62 Others similarly commented on the prime minister's skill and enthusiasm during this period, for example Owen, , op. cit. pp. 471, 474, and Beaverbrook, Lord, Men and Power, 1917–1918 (NewYork: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1956), p. 345.

63 Thomson, Malcolm, David Lloyd George (London: Hutchinson, 1948), p. 292.

64 McDowell, , op. cit. p. 68.

65 Ward, , Ireland and Anglo-American Relations, pp. 146–51, 157–65, 262.

66 War Cabinet 453 (7), 29 July 1918, CAB 23/7.

67 Davies, Joseph, The Prime Minister's Secretariat, 1916–1920 (Newport, Wales: R. H. Johns, 1951), p. 187. W. G. S. Adams was Gladstone Professor of Political Theory and Institutions at Oxford University. See Lloyd George MSS, F63.

68 Wilson, Trevor (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970), pp. 342–3.

70 Plunkett sent reports to the king, President Wilson and others as well as the prime minister. He blamed the failure of the conference on the decision to conscript the Irish although it had long been doomed by Sinn Fein's rapid growth and Ulster's intransigence. See Lloyd George MSS, F64, and Plunkett's own papers at the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, London. See also McDowell, , op. cit. passim.

71 Somervell, D. C., The Reign of King George V: An English Chronicle (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935), p. 271.

72 Boyce, D. G., ‘British Conservative opinion, the Ulster question, and the partition of Ireland, 1912–1921’, Irish Historical Studies, XVII, 65 (03 1970), 89112.

* An earlier version of this paper was read to the American Historical Association Convention in 1970.

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