Sloan, Thomas Henry (1870–1941), Orange populist and Independent Unionist MP, was born in Belfast; little else is known of his family background. Sloan worked as a plater, red-leader, and cementer at Harland & Wolff's shipyards; he was a methodist lay preacher who held lunchtime prayer meetings in the platers’ shed. He was a member of the National Amalgamated Union of Labourers and the Ancient Order of Foresters, and an Orangeman. In 1900 he became Worshipful Master of St Michael's Total Abstinence LOL 1890. Sloan was active in the Belfast Protestant Association (BPA), founded in 1894 by Arthur Trew (qv). During Trew's imprisonment in 1901–2 Sloan became principal speaker at the BPA's Custom House meetings and developed a personal following.
On 12 July 1902 Sloan and some associates disrupted a speech by Edward Saunderson (qv) at the Belfast Orange demonstration, heckling him about the prohibition of an Orange parade through the predominantly catholic village of Rostrevor, south Co. Down; Sloan accused Saunderson of voting for factory legislation exempting convent-run Magdalene laundries from inspection (Saunderson voted for the bill on second reading, intending to oppose the offending clause at committee stage). Sloan claimed he tried to raise the matter at district and county grand lodge, but was overruled by a deferential ‘clique’. The death of the MP for Belfast South on 17 July was followed by dissension within the Belfast Conservative Association. The eventual candidate was an Orangeman, but lacked popular credentials; both Trew and Sloan sought BPA support for an independent candidacy. Sloan's support among working-class Orangemen (especially in the Sandy Row and Donegall Road areas) allowed him to prevail.
Several lodges endorsed Sloan, despite opposition from the County Grand Lodge. Sloan received support from Dublin unionist hard-liners and anti-ritualists, notably Lindsay Crawford (qv). He was also supported by Belfast trades council (he advocated pro-labour policies including support for old-age pensions) and local temperance associations (he joined the Independent Order of Good Templars soon after his election). Sloan allegedly received financial support from W. J. Pirrie (qv), who had been rejected by the Belfast Conservative Association; Sloan countercharged that Saunderson offered him £500 to stand down. (Crawford's Irish Protestant (9 July 1903) claimed that Sloan's campaign cost over £1,000, paid by sixpenny subscriptions from supporters, and that he refused ‘lucrative appointments’.) On 18 August Sloan won by 3,795 to 2,969; he was the first unionist MP to have received only a primary education.
The campaign was followed by the suspension of Sloan and numerous supporters (including three entire lodges) from the Order. Sloan appealed to the Grand Lodge of Ireland, claiming he had established friendly relations with the unionist MPs, and that his real opponents were the Belfast ‘clique’; his followers contested Belfast local elections against official candidates. In June 1903, after the rejection of Sloan's appeal, his supporters formed the Independent Orange Order (IOO). Sloan became deputy Grand Chaplain (subsequently Belfast County Grand Master).
In addition to his Irish support, Sloan became a parliamentary spokesman for the wider protestant anti-ritualist crusade in Britain (strong in Liverpool and Scotland). As chairman of such bodies as the National Protestant Electoral Federation (fatally disrupted in 1905 by personal rivalries between Sloan and the populist founder of the Liverpool Protestant Party, George Wise) and the Protestant Press Federation, Sloan called for English protestants to form an independent protestant party to counterbalance the pro-catholic influence of the Irish parliamentary party. Through parliamentary questions Sloan raised such issues as the intimidation of Jews by catholic mobs in Limerick, attacks on protestant street-preachers in various parts of Ireland, underfunding of QCC (attributed to a conspiracy to force a pro-catholic settlement of the university question), and alleged clerical influence over catholic policemen; Crawford presented Sloan as champion of scattered southern protestants, and chief bulwark against the supposed clericalist influence of Sir Antony MacDonnell (qv). Sloan informed a Belfast crowd that the declaration which British monarchs were obliged to take at their coronation, denouncing transubstantiation and Marian devotion, should be taken by all judges and civil servants.
Lindsay Crawford, who emerged as ideologist of the Independent Order, is often presented as a far-sighted visionary, with Sloan as an unintelligent and bigoted follower. This view underestimates Crawford's own sectarianism. The Crawford–Sloan relationship resembled that between Desmond Boal and Ian Paisley in the 1960s, joining a clever, articulate, and somewhat erratic ideologue and a more provincial street-corner tribune channelling the discontents of a local audience, though Sloan's deference was tinged with jealousy. It may be less significant that Sloan eventually broke with Crawford than that he followed him to the extent he did; their differences reflect Sloan's awareness of his political base as much as his short-sightedness and bigotry.
In December 1904 Crawford organised a debate between Sloan and Shawe-Taylor (qv) on devolution and the university question. (Characteristically, Shawe-Taylor declared that the debate showed the spread of enlightened ideas among Belfast Orangemen, while Sloan claimed his speech killed Shawe-Taylor's university proposals.) In July 1905 the IOO issued the ‘Magheramorne manifesto’ written by Crawford and signed by the Order's officers, including Sloan. Its conciliatory expressions towards the nationalist population and criticisms of Dublin Castle bureaucracy were read by some as endorsement of devolution (Crawford favoured a ‘conditional nationalism’, based on expectations of the wholesale conversion of Irish catholics to protestantism and imperialism) but could also be interpreted as offering cooperation with nationalists on matters of common concern. Sloan adopted this minimalist interpretation, declaring that while he would give nationalists a fair hearing he would never vote for home rule if he lived to the age of Methuselah, and that he had not been subjected to ‘a mantle of mesmerism’ by Crawford. Nevertheless, the manifesto was used against the Sloanites by the official unionist party (now distancing itself from the government, asserting a protestant-populist standpoint, and regrouping around the newly formed Ulster Unionist Council).
In December 1905, on the verge of a general election, Sloan denounced any portions of the manifesto misconstrued as anti-unionist and endorsed the UUC (he was an ex-officio member as MP for Belfast South); he was on the platform at an UUC rally in the Ulster Hall, Belfast on 2 January 1906. This was denounced by Crawford as apostasy and betrayal. Sloan was too late to win acceptance from other Ulster MPs (who privately demanded that the Conservative whip should be withdrawn from him after the Magheramorne manifesto) and he was opposed by Lord Arthur Hill. Sloan's victory (4,450–3,634; an almost identical margin on a higher turn-out) reflected an unofficial electoral pact; Belfast South nationalists voted for him in return for Sloanite support for Joseph Devlin (qv) in Belfast West. The unionists claimed that Sloan received financial support from Pirrie, now aligned with the Liberal Party; Moore called Sloan Pirrie's ‘paid servant’ (Irish Weekly Independent, 19 Jan. 1907). Sloan was formally expelled from the UUC for standing against the UUC-endorsed Hill. He continued to sit on the Conservative benches.
Sloan retained membership of the Orange order in England until he was expelled in 1906 (at a meeting held on the Isle of Man, to make it harder for his plebeian supporters to attend). The IOO had c.500 members at its inception and at its height (July–August 1904) 1,000–1,200 Belfast members in twenty lodges. The IOO's other stronghold was rural Antrim, reflecting a well established tradition of presbyterian tenant-farmer radicalism. Lindsay Crawford established an Independent lodge in Dublin, and one was founded in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; after the 1906 general election Independent lodges were founded in Merseyside and Scotland by Orangemen expelled from the parent order for opposing Conservative candidates in favour of ultra-protestant Liberals or independent protestant candidates.
While Sloan received the Conservative whip and claimed fellowship with the official unionist MPs, their relations were chequered; William Moore (qv) later claimed he initially thought a working-class Ulster unionist member could be an asset, but found it impossible to ally with Sloan at Westminster while being attacked in the constituencies (Irish Weekly Independent, 19 January 1907). Like dissident protestant Conservative MPs on Merseyside, some of whom defected to the Liberals around the 1906 election, Sloan supported free trade and opposed Joseph Chamberlain's tariff reform proposals (supported by most Conservative MPs), saying tariffs would harm the working class. He maintained a pro-labour voting record, supporting the restoration of trade unions’ legal immunities, the reversal of the Osborne judgement, and the inspection of factories, and voting for the introduction of old-age pensions; he introduced a bill for the Sunday closing of public houses, but this was talked out twice.
After 1906 Sloan's position grew precarious, as the revival of an Ulster-centric unionist party and the presence of a nationalist-influenced Liberal government encouraged unionist unity, while pan-protestant politics in Britain declined, unable to transcend Conservative–Liberal and anglican–nonconformist divides (many anti-catholic and anti-ritualist Liberals supported home rule after 1910). Sloan campaigned for Crawford in the 1906 Armagh North by-election, and joined him in supporting the 1907 Belfast strike led by Jim Larkin (qv). Unlike Crawford, Sloan moderated his support for the strike after it ended, condemning attacks on blacklegs and declaring that while he stood for the rights of labour he recognised that capital also had rights. In May 1908 Crawford was expelled from the IOO for advocating home rule; Crawford complained that after expelling him from Belfast County Lodge, Sloan sat in judgement on his appeal to Grand Lodge (mirroring Sloan's complaints about his treatment by the parent order). Thereafter the Independent Order became largely a Sloan support machine relying on outspoken sectarianism. Sloan was perceived by some supporters as giving himself airs (his wearing a coat with a fur collar attracted comment), and lost temperance support by ceasing to be a total abstainer. He was defeated in the January 1910 general election by a unionist lawyer (despite continued trade union support); his final contest in December 1910 saw a further decline.
Sloan and the Independent Order were marginalised as the home rule issue revived, though they tried to maintain political relevance by accusing the unionist party of going soft on the necessity of opposing home rule for all of Ireland (not just Ulster) – once again Sloan presented himself as the voice of persecuted southern protestants. The IOO denounced the appointment of the catholic Lord Edmund Talbot (Edmund Howard (qv)) as Conservative chief whip in 1913. Like other protestant dissidents, the IOO was subjected to intimidation; during the Belfast riots of July 1912 Sloan's house was stoned while he lay ill. Sloan contemplated emigration to Canada (with the assistance of former temperance supporters) soon after his electoral defeat; but he stayed in Belfast and his later years were peaceful. Appointed a JP for Belfast by the Liberal government, he attended Belfast petty sessions until lay JPs were excluded from the bench. The Turf Guardians Association was represented at his funeral, which suggests that he may have become a bookmaker; he left methodism for the Church of Ireland, probably when he ceased to be a teetotaller.
Sloan died 11 October 1941 at his home (178 Tate's Avenue, south Belfast); his funeral to the city cemetery was attended by Independent Orangemen. Married, he was predeceased by his wife and survived by a daughter. Although overshadowed by the more articulate Crawford and by optimistic labour and nationalist readings of Independent Orangeism, Sloan exemplified the Ulster protestant populist tradition which periodically irrupted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.