The making of British unionism, 1740–1848

Politics, government, and the Anglo-Irish constitutional relationship

Douglas Kanter

Hardback €49.50
Catalogue Price: €55.00
ISBN: 978-1-84682-160-8
July 2009. 360pp.

‘Kanter’s convincing argument is constructed from an extensive and apposite range of primary sources … The book is uniformly well-written and one of its strengths is that the author combines detailed primary source work with perceptive analysis … a clear and logical presentation of information and arguments', Allan Blackstock, Eighteenth-Century Ireland (2012).

‘It is often overlooked that unionism has a British dimension. Irish unionism could not have survived, and Northern Ireland have come into existence, without the support of unionists in Britain. Kanter’s book examines the origin of this British unionism in the 1740s and its development in subsequent decades … This is a thoroughly researched book which goes a long way to explaining the course of Irish and British history in the late 18th and early 19th centuries', Books Ireland (September 2009)

‘Seeing Ireland’s turbulent relationship with Great Britain in a wider context and indeed, as one of early empire building involving a ‘British Atlantic world’ is rarely, if ever, the focus of Irish historians. Kanter’s analysis of the shift in favour of a parliamentary union by the British elite in the period prior to the American War of Independence (1776–83) and during the period of Irish legislative independence (1783–1800) is a significant contribution to our understanding of the political aspirations underpinning the birth of the ‘second’ British Empire dating from 1783. Indeed, in the expansion of the ‘first’ or ‘old’ empire and especially , in the expansion and consolidation of the ‘second’ empire, Irish politicians, merchants, settlers, soldier san sailors were heavily involved during the period of Kanter’s study … Kanter’s coverage of the period demonstrates the intractability of the ‘Irish Question’ where despite the Union, a quasi-colonial administration in Dublin revealed a continued inclination to resort to repression. By the time of O’Connell’s death in 1847 British unionism appeared triumphant. But the catastrophe of the Great Famine ensured that the ‘Irish Question’ would remain unresolved. In response the British administration, once again, found themselves enmeshed in a problem, for which, they devised the basic stratagems that were used to contain Irish nationalism right up to independence in 1922. Kanter provides an important and vital reassessment of this period', Michael Merrigan, Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette (September 2009).

‘Douglas Kanter’s book, which sets out to examine, from a British perspective, the origins and evolution of unionist views from the mid 18th until the mid 19th centuries, fills a significant gap … he has consulted a wide range of primary sources, including papers of leading statesmen, parliamentary journals and debates, newspapers and periodicals. Focusing chiefly on high politics, but also taking cognisance of public opinion. Kanter sets out to trace the evolution of British thinking about union with Ireland from the 1740s to the 1840s … what we have is a well-written, probing and thoughtful study, which sheds real light on the subject', Jacqueline Hill,  Reviews in History (online service from the Institute for Historical Research).

‘The central theme of Douglas Kanter’s work is the emergence and consolidation of a unionist consensus in Britain in the years 1740–1848. This was, as Kanter makes clear, a slow and laborious process. Only with the upheaval of the 1798 rebellion did the Prime Minster, William Pitt, have the opportunity to press the case for a union between Britain and Ireland … Kanter’s book is a fine study of high politics either side of the Act of Union. In particular, he demonstrates both how and why a unionist consensus emerged in Britain. Ultimately, of course, these unionists failed to meet the needs and aspirations of Irish Catholics within the new constitutional framework and, though it took more than 100 years, this would result in the collapse of the union', Russell Rees, Verbal magazine (2010).

‘Highly accomplished monograph … the author offers an impressive command of detail, fresh archival material and sound analysis throughout. […] Kanter is to be congratulated on a scholarly and thought-provoking piece of work', John Bew, Irish Historical Studies (2011).

‘In this book Douglas Kanter charts the emergence of a unionist consensus in Britain between 1740 and 1848, and in so doing challenges the common assumption that this had already been achieved (at least on the mainland) by 1800. In following this line Kanter makes a major contribution, as coverage of British, as opposed to Irish, political and public opinion on the union has been limited … an important and carefully-considered work on Anglo-Irish relations', Martyn Powell, EHR (June 2011).