While Parnell did his "bit" in Westminster, the Irish did theirs in the countryside. Boycotting of landowners proved very successful - Captain Boycott's £350 harvest needed a government sponsored relief expedition. Boycott was the first of many Irish landlords who found themselves ostracised and completely cut-off, powerless to continue farming independently. As long as arbitrary rent increases and evictions were allowed to continue the Irish vowed to respond with boycotting and agrarian violence. The explosion of the latter by 1880 was astounding - in 1877, 963 evictions had only incited a little over 200 "outrages", but by 1880 2,000 evictions were met by 2,500 acts of violence and destruction.
The result was chaos, as the British government slowly realised on the back of the land issue the Irish were denying their authority in Ireland while the Parnellites were disrupting the efficiency of Parliament itself. The government revealed that its attitude to the Irish problem was as backward as ever when it imposed another Coercion Act in 1881 to tackle agrarian unrest. This did nothing to address the root causes of disturbance.
However more enlightened developments were to come with the Bessborough Report to Parliament. It was advised that the 1870 Land Act be completely overhauled on the basis of the "Three Fs" - fair and fixed rents, freedom of sale, and fixity of tenure. These considerations became the backbone of Gladstone's 1881 Land Act. This was another 'good' piece of reform the Prime Minister hoped would temper coercion. The "Ulster Custom" was given full force throughout Ireland. Land courts were to be established to agree rents that would be fixed for 15 years. Many landlords decided to sell up, and in light of this the government offered assistance to tenants for the purchase of land in the form of low- cost loans and long repayment dates. However outside Ulster the Act met indifference, while violence continued as the Irish waited for Parnell's reaction to Gladstone's legislation.
Parnell found himself in a dilemma. The land tenure issue represented progress towards the greater political goal of Irish independence, and secretly Parnell was not disappointed with the 1881 Land Act. However he had to be cautious in his response. For if he seemed too encourage he risked alienating his more extremist supporters, while it might also remove some of the edge out of the reform and nationalist movement among moderates. Yet to for him be too critical also had the potential to endanger the Home Rule campaign by taking it along an extremist path. Therefore Parnell's response to the Act was somewhat ambivalent.
Gladstone had hoped the 1881 Act would be the basis for some measure of political reform in Ireland such as devolving local affairs from imperial affairs of Ireland (which would remain under the British government). But the continuation of agrarian violence quashed all talk of political-constitutional reform, no matter how limited its scope of vision. Parnell himself was in an awkward position as much of the blame for the violence stood with the Land League, of which he was President.
Parnell was arrested in 1881 and imprisoned at Kilmainham Gaol, where he worked on the 'No Rent Manifesto'. He promised restraint on release and agreed the Kilmainham Treaty with Gladstone in 1882 - a promise to co-operate with the Liberal Party in a "moderate" way in return for Liberal commitment to Irish reform. This agreement made Parnell's position with the immoderate Land League yet more delicate. He was to be assisted by the turn of events, notably the Phoenix Park Murders of 1882.
When Parnell had been imprisoned extreme nationalists pledged revenge. 'The Invincibles' believed this could justifiably involve the 'removal of obnoxious political personages' - mainfested in the political targets of the Phoenix Park Murders, the British- appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Cavendish, and his Under Secretary, Thomas Burke. The atrocities in Dublin gave Parnell a pretext to distance himself from violent recourse, including the Land League and its methods of agitation. He took the opportunity to form a new National League. The Government had already moved to coercion in the wake of Phoenix Park, passing the Prevention of Crimes Bill (1882). As 'The Invincibles' were brought to trial, Parnell moved into thinking not of the land issue but of pushing for Home Rule itself.
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