What Britain’s Civil War Scare can teach us about America’s Civil War Hysteria

British history shows that America’s Civil Hysteria could come to nothing. To explain, America is experiencing a Civil War scare.

Many Americans think the violence surrounding the George Floyd protests, the January 6 2021 US Capitol Riot, and the emotions generated by the 2020 election will lead to a Civil War. For instance, podcasts, magazines, and websites are full of pundits and journalists warning us of the dangers of a Second American Civil War.

Moreover, publishers have inflicted two confusing books about Civil War dangers on the reading people. The books areThe Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future by Canadian journalist Stephen Marche andHow Civil Wars Start by University of California Professor Barbara F. Walter.

Both books combine shallow political analysis with bad science fiction to sell a few books. Unfortunately, neither Walter nor Marche examines history or the last Civil War Scare in a major English-speaking country. Britain’s Civil War Scare the Home Rule Crisis shows how such panics do not automatically lead to a Civil War.

Britain’s Civil War Scare: The Home Rule Crisis

In the summer of 1914, many Britons thought their nation was on the verge of a Civil War. Britain in 1914 was the most powerful country on Earth, just as America is the world’s most powerful nation in 2022.

Women were rolling bandaging and studying first aid to help the troops. Rival Catholic and Protestant paramilitary forces were arming and training for civil war in Ireland. Members of the government were questioning the loyalty of the British Army and its officers.

 Army officers resigned their commissions to avoid fighting fellow citizens. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston S. Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to draw up plans to blockade Irish Ports.*

The cause of Britain’s Civil War Scare was the Home Rule Crisis. Prime Minister H.M. Asquith’s Liberal government launched the crisis by introducing the Third Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons in 1912.

The Third Home Rule Bill, or Government of Ireland Act, made Ireland into a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Under the act, a parliament and government in Dublin would rule Ireland, but the Imperial Parliament in London would be in charge of Ireland’s foreign policy.

Northern Irish Protestants opposed Home Rule because Ireland’s Roman Catholic majority could control a Dublin parliament. To elaborate, the Protestants feared becoming second-class citizens in their own country. Instead, the Northern Irish wanted to stay in the Protestant Majority United Kingdom.

Fearing that the Liberals who held a majority in parliament could easily pass Home Rule, Northern Irish Protestants organized the Ulster Volunteers. The Ulster Volunteers was a militia armed with German guns and trained and organized by British Army veterans. In response, Catholic Nationalists organized their own National Volunteers militia to fight the Ulster Volunteers.

Britain on the Verge of Civil War

In 1912, the Budget Crisis of 1909, that led to a conflict between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, deeply divided British society.

The Lords opposed Asquith’s radical People’s Budget with increased taxes and expanded social programs. They defused the Budget Crisis with the Parliament Act of 1911 that stripped the Lords of their power over the budget.

Consequently, many Conservatives believed the Liberals were dangerous radicals who were destroying British society. Against this backdrop, fears of conflict over Home Rule grew.

By the Summer of 1914, many people feared a British Civil War was imminent because the House of Commons passed the Government of Ireland Act on 25 May 1914. The House of Lords had held up the Act for Two years, but under the Parliament Act of 1914 Home Rule could become law in 1914.

Civil War fears were high because of the Curragh Mutiny on 20 March 1914. Some officers at the Curragh Royal Army Base in County Kildare threatened to resign rather than use force against Irish civilians.

In 1914, the British Army relied heavily on Irish soldiers. Many of His Majesty’s officers were Irish Protestants, and many enlisted men were Irish Catholics. Consequently, many people feared a war with British soldiers fighting each other.

The Civil War that Wasn’t

Ironically, the bloodbath of World War I spared Britain from a Civil War. As World War I began, Prime Minister Asquith postponed Home Rule for the duration.

Instead of fighting each other, British soldiers fought side by in the trenches. They used the bandages and guns assembled for the British Civil War in the First World War.

Ironically, it was the Southern Irish Nationalists who began a limited Civil War. First in the Easter Rebellion of 1916, then in the Irish War of Independence.

By 1920, the British people were sick of bloodshed and wanted peace at any price, even Irish independence. Parliament responded with the Fourth Home Rule Bill, which created two autonomous states in Ireland.

Under the Fourth Home Rule Bill, the South declared independence as the Irish Free State (today’s Republic of Ireland) while the North began a self-governing region of the United Kingdom. However, Irish conflict still simmers under the surface, as the Troubles of the 1970s and the Irish Republican Army’s long terror campaign against the UK demonstrate.

Britain’s Civil War that Wasn’t shows civil wars scares don’t always end in bloodshed. Instead, a larger war brought national unity and diverted the two sides from conflict.

After 1918, the 886,000 deaths Britain suffered in World War I forced parliament to do what was once unthinkable. Partition the United Kingdom into separate states to avoid further bloodshed.

I have to wonder if the Home British Home Crisis shows a potential end to America’s 21st Century Civil War Scare. America’s Civil War Scare could end as follows.

First, international threats, the Ukraine War and potential conflict with Russia and China divert public opinion and create national unity. Second, national leaders, fearing bloodshed, adopt a once unthinkable solution. For example, partition of the United States, or changes to the Constitution to break the political power of minorities.

The British Home Rule Crisis shows an American Civil war is avoidable.

*For an interesting view of the Home Rule Crisis from inside the British Establishment, see Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait by Violet Bonham Carter Chapter 20 “Home Rule for Ireland.” Bonham Carter was Prime Minister Asquith’s daughter and a friend of Churchill.