On Michael Collins and Abraham Lincoln

UPDATE:

My ongoing research about press coverage of the Irish revolution discovered this passage by Irish journalist Ernest Boyd in the September 1922 issue of Foreign Affairs, two months before the Carl Ackerman piece referenced near the bottom:

The parallel between this loss to Ireland and that of the United States when Lincoln was assassinated has already suggested itself. The parallel is more apt than in the case of most parallels of this kind, for it not only emphasizes the particular hold which Michael Collins had upon the hearts and imaginations of his countrymen, but also reminds us of the hope that emerges from such tragic events. The murder of Lincoln deprived America of her man of destiny, yet the United States fulfilled their destiny without him, and ideals of the dead leader and of the Civil War did not perish.[1]Ernest Boyd, “Ireland: Resurgent and Insurgent,” Foreign Affairs 1, no. 1 (September 15, 1922): 86-97.

ORIGINAL POST:

Michael Collins, the Irish Free State government and army leader, was shot near Bandon, County Cork, on Aug. 22, 1922. For some, his death in the second month of the Irish Civil War evoked the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865, days after the end of the U.S. Civil War.

This dispatch by Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Paul Williams appeared in U.S. newspapers including the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun the day after the Collins shooting. Note the quote about Lincoln in the fourth paragraph:

Baltimore Sun, Aug. 23, 1922. (Story continued).

The unnamed Freeman’s editor most likely was Harry Newton Moore, a Canadian journalist who “shook out picturesque phrases” during his turn in the role.[2]Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion. Arthur Blake, Ltd. London, 1934. Thanks to Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin for pointing me to this source. The Freeman’s Aug. 24, 1922, editorial about Collins, “Greatest and Bravest,” contained no such reference to Lincoln, nor did the paper’s other assassination coverage.

But during an Aug. 28, 1922, requiem high mass for Collins at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, County Tipperary, the Rev. Joseph McCarthy suggested the slain Irish leader drew inspiration from the late American president. The priest said:

It seems to me he went to a very good master to learn the art of government–Abraham Lincoln. A passage from one of Lincoln’s great addresses quoted in speeches by Michael Collins might well have been in his mind as a guiding motto, ‘with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right–as God gives us to see the right–let us serve on to the finish the work we are in, to build up the nation’s wounds.'[3]”Tipperary’s Grief, Eloquent Clerical Tributes” Evening Echo, Aug. 29, 1922. Also quoted in Irish Independent, same day.

Collins quoted this familiar passage from Lincoln’s second inaugural address (Given 41 days before his assassination.) in an April 23, 1922, speech at Tralee, County Kerry, according to the Cork Examiner.[4]”At Tralee, Very Successful Meeting”, The Cork Examiner, April 25, 1922. Collins and Arthur Griffith also released a joint statement shortly after a peace conference earlier that month at the Mansion House in Dublin failed to resolve difference between factions for and against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Their statement quoted Lincoln’s Nov. 19, 1863, Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth.”[5]”Opposition Leaders Turn Down Plebiscite”, Freeman’s Journal, May 1, 1922.

Hearst’s International magazine, November 1922. (Full story linked in Note 5.)

American journalist Carl W. Ackerman made the Lincoln connection in the headline and final paragraph of his November 1922 magazine remembrance: “Ireland tomorrow will be a united, prosperous, homogenous country, and in her history Collins. for all time, will stand out as the Lincoln of Ireland.”[6]The Dream of Ireland’s Lincoln” , Hearst’s International, November 1922, Vol. XLII, No. 5, p 81. Ackerman had interviewed Collins in July 1920, “when he was a fugitive” from the British army, the article’s introductory text noted. Collins gave more regular press interviews after the July 1921 truce, including with Americans Samuel Duff McCoy and Hayden Talbot. (More on Talbot in an upcoming post.)

In a modern assessment, John Dorney made a different connection between Collins and Lincoln. The Dublin historian, in an Aug. 17, 2017, article for The Irish Story, questioned whether the former was the founder of Irish democracy or an aspirant dictator. Dorney wrote:

Collins, had he had the chance to defend himself in later years, from charges he was an aspirant dictator, would no doubt have argued that putting off the opening of the Third Dáil in July and August 1922 was merely a short-term emergency measure and not a portent of any kind of dictatorship.

He might have cited the parallel between himself and Abraham Lincoln, the American president during that country’s civil war. Like Collins, Lincoln’s enemies characterized him as a ‘tyrant’ and like Collins, Lincoln did take all the measures he felt necessary to win the Civil War and save the Union. In 1861 for instance, he too suspended habeus corpus, imposed censorship and military courts and shut down the legislatures of ‘disloyal’ states such as Maryland.

Just like Collins, Lincoln justified such measures on the grounds that he was fighting so that ‘government of the people for the people and by the people shall not perish from the earth’. Regarding the suspension of habeas corpus, Lincoln contended that it was necessary if the laws of the Union were to have any meaning, ‘are all the laws [of the United States] but one [the right to trial] to go unexecuted?’ he wrote.

Civil wars and assassinations are bloody business, in any country, at any time. And we are left to ponder “what might have been” had such leaders lived longer lives.

(NOTE: I revised the first paragraph to remove that Collins was “assassinated,” as this seems a matter of some debate. Explore my full “American Reporting on Irish Independence” series. MH)

References

References
1 Ernest Boyd, “Ireland: Resurgent and Insurgent,” Foreign Affairs 1, no. 1 (September 15, 1922): 86-97.
2 Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion. Arthur Blake, Ltd. London, 1934. Thanks to Dublin historian Felix M. Larkin for pointing me to this source.
3 ”Tipperary’s Grief, Eloquent Clerical Tributes” Evening Echo, Aug. 29, 1922. Also quoted in Irish Independent, same day.
4 ”At Tralee, Very Successful Meeting”, The Cork Examiner, April 25, 1922.
5 ”Opposition Leaders Turn Down Plebiscite”, Freeman’s Journal, May 1, 1922.
6 The Dream of Ireland’s Lincoln” , Hearst’s International, November 1922, Vol. XLII, No. 5, p 81.

1 thought on “On Michael Collins and Abraham Lincoln

  1. Ed McCarthy

    I dont believe Collins death was an assassination. He was killed in an ambush probably by a ricochet

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