Rev. James H. Cotter and Francis Hackett were unique among American journalists covering the Anglo-Irish War. Both were Irish immigrants who became naturalized U.S. citizens, then made separate but overlapping summer 1920 trips back home. Each man detailed the atrocities they witnessed in Ireland for U.S. publications in October 1920. A month later, both testified about their experiences before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. This post is about Hackett. See Part 1 about Rev. Cotter.
‘America’s moral interest’ in Ireland
Hackett was probably a better known journalist than Rev. Cotter at the time, as described further below, and in subsequent scholarship of the revolutionary period. Maurice Walsh devotes a chapter to Hackett and Philadelphia Public Ledger correspondent Carl Ackerman.Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008. Other historians have cited Hackett’s work, but I have not yet found any similar references to Rev. Cotter
Hackett emigrated from Kilkenny in 1900, age 18. He started his career as a beat reporter in Chicago, but later admitted he wasn’t cut out for the job. He shifted to writing editorials and literary criticism. By 1920 he was associate editor at The New Republic magazine.
Hackett visited Ireland in 1912/13 to care for his aging father.Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, Testimony of Francis Hackett, Nov. 19, 1920, pp. 137-174. His stay resulted in Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, published in 1918. In the preface to the third edition, published six months after the establishment of Dáil Éireann and start of the Irish war, Hackett wrote:
So long as Britain holds an unwilling Ireland, her hands are unclean, and Ireland must continue to appeal to the society of nations against her. What, in the name of democracy, has Britain to gain? The whole import of this book is the crime that Britain has committed against democracy in denying self-determination to Ireland. That, with all its economic implications, is the substance of my argument. The situation is the kind of situation that confronted the founders of the United States. The proper answer in that case was the American Republic. And the proper answer in this case is–the Irish Republic.Hackett, Francis, Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1919, p. xx.
In spring 1920, shortly before returning to Ireland, Hackett used the appointment of Sir Auckland Geddes as the new British ambassador to the United States to re-emphasize President Woodrow Wilson’s ideal of “self-determination” for small nations. Hackett wrote:
America has a moral interest in the agonizing struggle of any small nation striving against a more powerful nation … according to the ideas of internationalism that we preached during the war. … The Irish recognize just as well as Sir Auckland Geddes that America is the court of last resort. If America does “stand aside,” as England begs it to do , it is really taking sides against the principles of the recent war or any serious application of those principles to England.”Hands Off Ireland?“, The New Republic, April 28, 1920, p. 283-284.
Hackett wrote three Ireland pieces for the New Republic between his return to America and testimony to the American Commission:
- Oct. 13, The Impasse In Ireland: “What is the practical outlook for Ireland? After a six weeks’ investigation it is rash to make an answer, but it is important in venturing any answer to recognize the conversion of seventy-five percent of Ireland to Sinn Fein.”
- Oct. 20, A Sinn Fein Court: A novel-like treatment of the rival justice system established “in an act both of usurpation and propaganda,” Walsh says in his analysis of this piece.
- Nov. 3, Books and Things: A reflection on the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney in a London prison nine days earlier based on a revisit of Sir John Pope Hennessy’s 1883 book, Sir Walter Raleigh in Ireland.
Aside from their undisguised partisanship, Hackett’s articles on Ireland for the New Republic are clearly literary. His declared purpose not only to collect facts but to interpret them, his treatment of people and events through a series of novelistic scenes and the revelation of his political convictions in argument show that he had no intention of being bound by the standard rules of mainstream American journalism. The fact that he was writing for an intellectual magazine and not a mass-circulation newspaper only partially accounts for his suppressed disdain for conventional reportage.Walsh, News, p.133-34.
Hackett did write a six-part series for the New York World, which syndicated the work to other U.S. dailies in early October 1920, before his American Commission testimony.As published in the Boston Post: “Erin Abused Says Editor”, Oct. 3, 1920, 1 of 6; “Tax Secured By Sinn Fein”, Oct. 4, 1920, 2 of 6;”Erin Prosperous Writes … Continue reading The series introduction identified Hackett’s “just concluded visit” to Ireland, his Kilkenny heritage, role at the New Republic, and 1918 Study in Nationalism book. It also said:
This brilliant writer is a strong Sinn Fein partisan, and his point of view may be summarized in a sentence which appears in his first article. Mr. Hackett writes: ‘In this duel, in which my own sympathies are on the side of the republic, there is no doubt whatever that the superior morale is the morale of the Sinn Fein, that it is the British who are vindictive, lawless and demoralized.'”Abused”, Boston Post, Oct. 3, 1920.
Hackett returned to the theme of morale, and his previous trip home, in his third installment:
A great change has taken place in the morale of the Irish people since I last visited here in 1913. … The pre-war Ireland is gone, never to return. The people now ‘have a heart in them.’ Their feelings and purposes are realized and organized now as never before in their history.”Prosperous”, Boston Post, Oct. 5, 1920.
The News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a partisan monitor of press coverage of Ireland, praised Hackett’s work for the World, not the New Republic, as an “extremely intelligent series of articles on the present situation in Ireland.” The weekly described him as “a veracious American journalist” whose “personal observations in Ireland” contradicted pro-British accounts of the war and “aroused many thinking Americans.” Rev. Cotter received no such attention from the News Letter. News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, p. 4, Nov. 27, p. 4., and Nov. 13, p. 2.
Two years later, Hackett published The Story of the Irish Nation, a history. He thanked Herbert Bayard Swope, editor of the World, for his “superb confidence” to encourage the project. The author said the editor gave him “courage to attempt even this popular story.” Among dozens of sources, Hackett cited the American Commission’s report in his bibliography. He died in 1962.
|↑1||Walsh, Maurice, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008.|
|↑2||Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, Testimony of Francis Hackett, Nov. 19, 1920, pp. 137-174.|
|↑3||Hackett, Francis, Ireland: A Study In Nationalism, B.W. Huebsch, New York, 1919, p. xx.|
|↑4||”Hands Off Ireland?“, The New Republic, April 28, 1920, p. 283-284.|
|↑5||Walsh, News, p.133-34.|
|↑6||As published in the Boston Post: “Erin Abused Says Editor”, Oct. 3, 1920, 1 of 6; “Tax Secured By Sinn Fein”, Oct. 4, 1920, 2 of 6;”Erin Prosperous Writes Hackett”, Oct. 5, 1920, 3 of 6.; “Union Deadliest Thing In Ireland”, Oct. 6 ,1920, 4 of 6; “Hackett Scores Racial Hatreds”, Oct. 7, 1920, 5 of 6; and “Home Rule Not Ready For Erin”, Oct. 8, 1920, 6 of 6.|
|↑7||”Abused”, Boston Post, Oct. 3, 1920.|
|↑8||”Prosperous”, Boston Post, Oct. 5, 1920.|
|↑9||News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, p. 4, Nov. 27, p. 4., and Nov. 13, p. 2.|