A Lesson for the Politicians

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIII (11) start of chapter

The advice thus given to them by their Bishop was as consistent with common sense as with decent pride. But something more was required to be done, and that was done. With a few exceptions, the candidates of all parties in the field were pledged to oppose the claims of the Catholics. An independent ticket for members of the Senate and Assembly was therefore suggested and proposed, and this was adopted at a meeting in Carroll Hall, with an enthusiasm which was owing even more to the pluck than to the appeals of the Bishop. Having, by a speech of singular power, put the whole case before his immense audience, he worked them up to a state of extraordinary excitement with the true Demosthenic art, putting to them a series of stinging queries, touching, as it-were, the very life of their honour. 'Will you stand by the rights of your offspring, who have so long suffered under the operation of this injurious system?' 'Will you adhere to the nomination made?' 'Will you be united?' 'Will none of you shrink?' And he thus concludes: 'I ask then, once for all, will this meeting pledge its honour, as the representative of that oppressed portion of the community for whom I have so often pleaded, here as elsewhere—will it pledge its honour, that it will stand by these candidates, whose names have been read, and that no man composing this vast audience will ever vote for any one pledged to oppose our just claims and incontrovertible rights?' (36) The promise, made with a display of feeling almost amounting to frenzy, was fully redeemed; and 2,200 votes, recorded for the candidates nominated only four days before, convinced the politicians, whose promises hitherto had been, as the Bishop said, as large 'as their performances had been lean,' that there was danger in the Catholics—that, in fact, they were no longer to be played with or despised. Notwithstanding the pledges to the contrary, the new system—that of the Common Schools—was carried in the Assembly by a majority of sixty-five to sixteen; and the Senate, apprehending that a similar attempt would be made at an approaching election for the Mayoralty as that which had been made in the elections of candidates for the Senate and the Assembly, passed the measure.(37)

Fiercely assailed by his opponents, bitterly denounced by alarmed and indignant politicians, reviled in every imaginable manner by controversialists of the pulpit and the press, even turned upon by the faint-hearted of his own communion—that decorous and cringing class, to whom anything like vigour, or a departure from rigid rule, is sure, to cause a shudder of the nerves—the Bishop of New York became, at once, one of the best-abused as well as one of the most popular men of the day. His influence over the Irish portion of his flock was unbounded. This flock was rapidly increasing through emigration, which was setting strongly in from the old country, then, for its size, one of the most populous countries of Europe. Bishop Hughes was just the man to acquire influence over an Irish congregation.

That he himself was an Irishman was, of course, no little in his favour; though there are, as I am personally aware, bishops and priests without a drop of Irish blood in their veins, or at best having only some remote connection with the country which has given so many of her children to the American Church, who are beloved and venerated by their Irish flocks—who are referred to in language of the warmest affection, and pointed to with pride, either for their moral excellence or their intellectual endowments. But Bishop Hughes was eminently qualified to gratify the pride of a people who found in him a fearless, a powerful, and a successful champion—one who was afraid of no man, and who was ready, at any moment, not only to grapple with and overthrow the most formidable opponent, but to encounter any odds, and fight under every disadvantage. In his speeches and letters (38) the reader will behold abundant evidence of his boldness in attack, his skill in defence, and his severity in dealing with an enemy, especially one to whom no quarter should be given. When the Bishop struck, it was with no gentle or faltering hand, nor was his weapon a lath or a blunted sword: he struck with the strength of a giant, and the weapon he wielded was bright and trenchant, and never failed to pierce the armour of his closest-mailed foe. With the ablest and most practised writers of the public press, the most accomplished advocates of the bar, the subtlest controversialists, Bishop Hughes had many a fair tilt in the face of an appreciative public; and none of those with whom he was compelled to come into conflict, whether with tongue or pen, speech or letter, who did not acknowledge, or was not obliged to admit, the power of his mind, the force of his reasoning, his happiness of illustration, and his thorough mastery of the English language. It was not, then, to be wondered at that the Irish of New York, as indeed throughout the States, were proud of their great countryman, and looked up to him with confidence and affection. His influence ever his flock was not without being submitted to a severe test.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America