Home rule is government of a colony, dependent country, or region by its own citizens. It is thus the power of a constituent part (administrative division) of a state to exercise such of the state's powers of governance within its own administrative area that have been decentralized to it by the central government.
In the British Isles, it traditionally referred to self-government, devolution or independence of its constituent nations—initially Ireland, and later Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In the United States and other countries organised as federations of states, the term usually refers to the process and mechanisms of self-government as exercised by municipalities, counties, or other units of local government at the level below that of a federal state (e.g., US state, in which context see special legislation). It can also refer to the similar system under which Greenland and the Faroe Islands are associated with Denmark.
Home rule is not, however, comparable with federalism. Whereas states in a federal system of government (e.g., Canada, Federal Republic of Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Ethiopia and the United States) have a guaranteed constitutional existence, a devolved home rule system of government is created by ordinary legislation and can be reformed, or even abolished, by repeal or amendment of that ordinary legislation.
A state legislature may, for example, create home rule for a county or parish (or its townships), so that a county commission, parish council, or Board of supervisors may have jurisdiction over its unincorporated areas, including important issues like zoning. (Without this, a US county is simply an extension of state government.) The legislature can also establish or eliminate municipal corporations, which have home rule within town or city limits through the city council. The state government could also abolish counties/townships, or their governments, according to the state constitution and state law.
The issue of Irish home rule was the dominant political question of British and Irish politics at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.
From the late nineteenth century, Irish leaders of the Home Rule League, the predecessor of the Irish Parliamentary Party, under Isaac Butt, William Shaw, and Charles Stewart Parnell demanded a form of home rule, with the creation of an Irish parliament within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This demand led to the eventual introduction of four Home Rule Bills, of which two were passed, the Third Home Rule Act won by John Redmond and most notably the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (which created the home rule parliaments of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland – the latter state did not in reality function and was replaced by the Irish Free State).
The home rule demands of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century differed from earlier demands for Repeal by Daniel O'Connell in the first half of the nineteenth century. Whereas home rule meant a constitutional movement towards a national All-Ireland parliament in part under Westminster, repeal meant the repeal of the 1801 Act of Union (if need be, by physical force) and the creation of an entirely independent Irish state, separated from the United Kingdom, with only a shared monarch joining them.
Liberal leader Joseph Chamberlain led the battle against Home Rule in Parliament. He broke with the Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone who insisted on Home Rule, and in 1886 formed a new party, the Liberal Unionist Party. It helped defeat Home Rule and eventually merged with the Conservative party. Chamberlain used anti-Catholicism to built a base for the new party among "Orange" Nonconformist Protestant elements in Britain and Ireland. Liberal Unionist John Bright coined the party's catchy slogan, "Home rule means Rome rule."
Several nationalist leaders banded together in 1916 under the leadership of Annie Besant to voice a demand for self-government, and to obtain the status of a Dominion within the British Empire as enjoyed by Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland at the time.
While enjoying considerable popularity for some years, its growth and activity were stalled by the rise of Mohandas Gandhi and his satyagraha art of revolution: non-violent, but mass-based civil disobedience, aimed at complete independence.
In a similar fashion to Ireland, supporters of home rule in Scotland have historically desired greater levels of devolved governance within the United Kingdom. Although the term 'home rule' has been largely superseded by 'devolution', the home rule movement can be seen as the forerunner to the creation of the current devolved Scottish Parliament.
Administrative devolution was granted to Scotland, with the creation of the Scottish Office, in 1885. In the mid-20th century, the home rule movement became significant, campaigning for a Scottish assembly. Between 1947 and 1950, the Scottish Covenant, a petition requesting a Scottish legislature within the UK, received over two million signatures. It was not until 1979 that devolution entered the political sphere – the Scottish devolution referendum, 1979 was held. Despite a vote of 51.6% in favour of devolution, the Scotland Act 1978 was not put into effect due to a requirement that the 'Yes' vote receive the support of 40% of the electorate, which was not met on 63.8% turnout. In 1999, due to the success of a second referendum, the Scottish Parliament was created.
In the United States, some states constitutionally or legislatively grant home rule to cities, counties, and municipalities within their borders. These are called "home rule states." Local governments in home rule states are free to pass laws and ordinances as they see fit to further their operations, within the bounds of the state and federal constitutions. In other states, local governments have only the authority expressly granted to them by state legislatures, typically in accordance with the legal principle known as Dillon's Rule.
The US Constitution gives jurisdiction over the capital city (District of Columbia or Washington, D.C.) to the United States Congress in "all cases whatsoever". This arrangement is due to the fact that the District is neither a state, nor part of a state. At certain times, and presently since 1973, Congress has provided for D.C. government to be carried out primarily by locally elected officials. However, congressional oversight of this local government still exists, and locally elected officials' powers could theoretically be revoked at any time.
The United States federal government provides limited self-rule to some federally recognised Native American tribes over their lands on reservations. Tribal lands are recognised as "dependent domestic nations" and operate a parallel system of governance and law independent of the state which the reservation lies within, sometimes including separate police forces. For instance, some tribes are permitted to operate gambling establishments and produce narcotics which may be illegal in the surrounding state or states. Reservations are not states and have no direct representation in Congress, and the citizens vote as citizens of the state the reservation lies within. Furthermore, unlike the sovereignty of state legislatures, tribal sovereignty and land ownership are not guaranteed by the Constitution and is granted only by an act of Congress, which can be repealed or altered at any time.
The Faroe Islands is a self-governing country in the Danish Realm. Home rule was granted by the Parliament of Denmark in 1948, with further autonomy granted in 2005. Denmark's monarch is the Faroese head of state. The Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union, even though Denmark is.
Greenland is a self-governing country in the Danish Realm. Following a referendum in Greenland where the majority favored a higher degree of autonomy, home rule was granted by the Parliament of Denmark in 1979. After another referendum, further autonomy was granted in 2009. Denmark's monarch is Greenland's head of state. Greenland is not part of the European Union, even though Denmark is.