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Historians have traditionally regarded fiscal policy and Irish policy as twin foci of William Gladstone’s career, yet they have rarely sought to explore the relationship between the two. My paper attempts to connect these subjects by offering an interpretation of Gladstone’s Irish policy which emphasises his commitment to ‘sound’ finance: that combination of fiscal policies involving low taxation, minimal government expenditure, balanced budgets, and free trade which he claimed to have learned from his ‘great teacher and master’, Sir Robert Peel. I argue that Gladstone’s attempt to extend ‘sound’ finance to Ireland served as an unintentional stimulus to Irish nationalism, while also encouraging his own receptivity to home rule. From an Irish standpoint devolved government raised the possibility of a fiscal policy more attuned to the needs of a predominantly rural and agrarian economy; from Gladstone’s perspective home rule was attractive because it promised to insulate the Treasury from the mounting costs of Irish government. Finally, I demonstrate that a financial approach to Gladstone’s engagement with Ireland reveals unexpected continuities in an Irish policy conventionally associated with dramatic change. 

Douglas Kanter is associate professor of modern British, Irish, and British imperial history at Florida Atlantic University. His research centres on Anglo-Irish relations in the “long” nineteenth century, with an emphasis on parliamentary, fiscal, and electoral politics. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, his most recent book (as co-editor) is Taxation, Politics, and Protest in Ireland, 1660-2016 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

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