The importance of the Orange Order to Unionism has long been accepted: J. F. Harbinson referred to ‘the marriage of the Unionist Party and the Orange Institution in the early days of the struggle against Home Rule’, while Alvin Jackson has written: ‘The significance of the Orange Order in terms of the ideological and institutional groundwork for Unionism can hardly be overstated.’ The closeness of this association and its nature can be tested for a crucial period of political mobilisation by examining the relationship of James Craig, a Unionist M.P. from 1906 and effective leader of the Ulster Unionists under Carson from 1910, and the Orange Order. This raises questions such as: What was Craig’s motivation for joining the order? What type of relationship did he have with the order? What role did Craig see the order fulfilling in Unionism?
At the opening of a new Orange hall in September 1906 Craig stated that ‘he was an Orangeman first and a Member of Parliament afterwards’ and called ‘for the Protestant community to rally round the lodges, strengthen and support them’. Craig’s biographers, on the other hand, do not consider his Orangeism significant. Hugh Shearman wrote that Craig, in common with other Ulster leaders, ‘had let himself become an occasional emphatic utterer of Protestant sentiments, and he had made great use of the Orange Order’, implying that the order was a tool for Craig. To St John Ervine it was an incidental part of Craig’s Westminster career. Writing of 1919, Ervine noted that Craig ‘started an Orange Lodge in the House of Commons, a surprising society to appear in that assembly’. Patrick Buckland saw it as more of a background influence, in that Craig was a typical product of his society, and while he might have seemed more broad-minded than many Ulster Protestants he ‘had almost unthinkingly absorbed all their conventional notions and had come to share their fears and prejudices’.