American Sympathy for Ireland

From A History of the Irish Settlers in North America by Thomas D'Arcy McGee

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Chapter XVIII.

American Sympathy for Ireland—United Irishmen—The Catholic Emancipation Movement—Irish Journals—Agitation for "A Repeal of the Union" with England—Influence of Mr. O'Connell—The attempted Revolutionary Movement of 1848—Sympathy with its Principles

A NATURAL consequence of the large emigration from Ireland to America was, that a deep interest continued to be felt in Irish affairs by the emigrants themselves, and all whom they could influence in this Republic. We have seen Benjamin Franklin, the Father of American Diplomacy, sanctioning such an intimacy so early as 1771, maintaining, even then, that America and Ireland had a common interest in resisting the centralization of such vast political power in London.

"The United Irishmen" were the first organized American sympathizers in Irish political movements. They were strong enough to excite the attention of the then British minister, Sir Robert Liston, and their system was pleaded as a justification (after the fact) for the enactment of the Alien Law. No doubt, the discourtesy shown by Rufus King to the imprisoned United Irishmen in England and Scotland, when they applied for passports, was inspired, in the first place, by the recollection that their American colleagues had been rather troublesome to the Adams administration.

When the Catholic emancipation movement began to assume national proportions,—between the years 1820 and 1830,—various societies were formed in our large cities, under the title of "Friends of Ireland." In New York, Emmet, McNevin, Sampson, and the O'Connors, lent great importance to such an organization; in Philadelphia, the Binns and others; in Boston, John W. James; in Charleston, Bishop England; in Savannah and Mobile it had active promoters; in New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Detroit, associations existed auxiliary to the Dublin association.

This sympathetic movement, as well as the peculiar wants of an increasing class, brought a number of Irish-American journals into existence. In 1822, Dr. England issued his "Catholic Miscellany" at Charleston; in the same year, Mr. Denman issued his "Truth Teller" at New York; soon after, George Pepper, a native of Ardee, County Louth, started his "Irish Shield" at Philadelphia, which gave place to his "Literary and Catholic Sentinel," published at Boston.

In Boston, Mr. Pepper died. He was the first, I believe, to attempt any literary project exclusively for his emigrant countrymen. His "History of Ireland", though a poor performance, was useful in its day; his papers were always stored with anecdote and biography. He was often scurrilous and sometimes fulsome, but it was the time of the tomahawk, in literature as in war. He died poor, and sleeps in the side of Bunker's Hill. The gratitude of an after time placed a slab above his ashes, and the only shamrock in the churchyard, some years ago, was found growing on his grave.

In 1828, 1829, and 1830, when the Catholic spirit everywhere rose with the tidings of O'Connell's victory, the "Catholic Telegraph," in Cincinnati, the "Catholic Diary," in New York, and the "Jesuit," in Boston, were added to the journals intended for the Irish in America. The "Jesuit" became the "Pilot," and the "Diary," the "Freeman's Journal," under other proprietors.

The chief writers for this class of newspapers, besides occasional pieces by the clergy, were, in New York, Patrick Sarsfield Casserley, Rev. Dr. Leavins, and John Augustus Shea; in Boston, Rev. Dr. O'Flaherty, Walter James Walsh, and others. In the other cities the journals were chiefly in clerical hands.

The standing topic of these journals being the state and hopes of Ireland, it was a consequence that any cheering organization in Ireland should produce a corresponding one here. Thus, in 1834, and still more in 1840, when Mr. O'Connell attempted the repeal of the legislative union with England, auxiliary societies sprung up in every considerable city of the United States. In 1842, Mr. Robert Tyler, son of the president, joined the movement in Philadelphia, and in September, 1843, he presided over a Repeal Convention in New York. Delegates from thirteen states and one territory sat in that convention, which deliberated for three days on its own relations to the cause of Irish liberty. It adjourned, resolving to organize each state of the Union, and intending to come together again, whenever the exigencies of the cause required it.

Large contributions of money were in this and the successive years forwarded to Ireland. Boston alone, in the first six months of 1844, remitted $10,000 to the funds of the Irish society. Undivided confidence in the wisdom and power of Mr. O'Connell everywhere existed, and all the emigrant children of Ireland fondly believed they were soon to see their native island possessed of a senate, flag, and militia of her own. The total disappointment of their hopes, in this instance, would have driven any other people, for a generation at least, into despair.

In 1847, they ceased their contributions to the Repeal movement, but gave most generously to the support of the famishing. In 1848, the French and European revolutions seemed to offer a prospect of a speedy cure for Ireland's woes. Up to this time, "the Young Ireland party" (so called) had not attracted American sympathy, but no sooner did they move with the revolutionary momentum, than they found new and powerful friends in America.

This they had themselves expected. In the spring of that year they had arranged to send Thomas Francis Meagher as their agent to America, but his premature arrest unfortunately defeated that purpose. Mr. William Mitchell was made their "bearer of despatches," and another gentleman, as a substitute for Mr. Meagher, was soon after sent over.

The interest in America was intensely excited. Skilful officers and engineers volunteered their services; the rich and the poor, the stranger and the Celt, all contributed. Thousands of dollars were placed in the hands of the several local "Directories," and, in many cases, the donors did not wait to have their names recorded. Every European mail was watched for with intense anxiety, and the very streets were too small to contain the crowds that flocked from all quarters in quest of news. Grave dignitaries in church and state were infected with the prevail ing enthusiasm, and contributed freely to the patriotic project. The New York Directory received, in a few weeks, over $40,000 in cash, and the other states and cities of the Union would no doubt have done equally well.

It was evident enough, if Ireland had taken and kept revolutionary ground for three months, American officers and American gold would not be wanting.

It ended otherwise; and dense snow-clouds of despair covered all the horizon of the Irish in America!

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