Tag Archives: Dave Hannigan

Ireland & the 1920 U.S. presidential election: Part 2

Less than a month after he failed to win recognition of the Irish Republic at the U.S. Republican Party’s presidential nominating convention in Chicago, Éamon de Valera tried for a better outcome at the Democratic Party gathering in San Francisco. His effort was doomed from the start.

National Democratic Convention, San Francisco, June 28-July 6, 1920. From the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

“Even before he’d gotten off the train, the local papers were speculating that his chances of getting the type of resolution he desired were almost nonexistent and that he well might end up with no resolution,” Dave Hannigan wrote. 1

The Democrats were the party of President Woodrow Wilson, who disdained the Irish independence movement and denied their repeated requests for support since the 1916 Rising. The GOP’s earlier rejection of an Irish plank in their party platform gave the Democrats additional cover with their Irish voters.

Read Part 1 about the Republican Convention

Glass

“We shall have our hands full for some time attending to the affairs of America without going farther afield,” U.S. Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia, chairman of the Democrats’ resolutions committee and Wilson’s former Treasury secretary, said of the prospects for an Irish plank.2 A few days later, the request for “full, formal and official recognition” of the Irish Republic failed 31-17 in the committee, “another resounding defeat for de Valera.”3

Unlike Chicago, however, where the issue died in committee, the full assembly of Democratic state delegates considered a compromise Irish plank on the convention floor. It also was defeated, but The New York Times reported the second Irish plank “was debated at some length, and finally got more than 400 votes. This is considered an impressive showing, and particularly so in a convention so thoroughly determined as this one to support the policies of the [Wilson] administration.”4

The Times noted the Irish effort would have had more success if operated internally by party leaders instead of being “managed chiefly from the outside.” The paper’s analysis said nothing about the opposition.

State vote totals for and against Irish recognition, and coverage of the San Francisco convention, can be seen on the July 10, 1920, front page of The Irish Press.

The 665-402 state delegate vote against recognition reveals the geographic limits of de Valera’s efforts to win American support for Ireland. Backing remained confined to the Northeast and Midwest regions, to states with thick Irish and Irish-American populations, such as Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Irish plank received unanimous support from the Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., delegations.

The plank failed, however, to win even one Democratic delegate vote from 16 states, all but one — Delaware — in the American South and West. This accounted for 270 opposition votes, nearly 41 percent of the total. Another 21 states from the same regions, including convention host California, cast the majority of their ballots against the Irish plank, most by high margins.

Campbell

“It is not an American issue at present,” said former Texas Gov. Thomas M. Campbell, whose entire 40-member delegation voted against the measure. “Ireland is premature in her demands, we believe.”5

Many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, were reluctant to cross war ally Britain on the Irish issue, which they considered an internal matter. Perhaps some remained suspicious of Irish republican connections to Germany. At least a few of the state delegations probably voted en bloc against Irish recognition simply to please their chairman or other party arm-twisters. It was not a wrenching choice.

“For traditional and practical reasons, sympathy for the Irish problem remained strong within the Democratic Party, but not so strong as to tie the party or presidential candidate to any action on the matter,” Bernadette Whelan observed.6

The Irish Press, the Philadelphia weekly with direct ties to de Valera and the separatist Dáil Éireann in Dublin, quoted the Times’ “impressive showing” analysis of the 400 pro-recognition votes. The Press suggested that “even those who voted against the Irish recognition plank are ill at ease since witnessing the mighty demonstration of popular support accorded the Irish president on his arrival here.”7  

De Valera

De Valera believed the Democratic Party had underestimated “the great volume of public sentiment in this country behind the demand for justice in Ireland.” He vowed to create “a more systematic and thorough organization of the friends of the cause in America” and “an intensive campaign of education will be carried into every state and will reach every citizen.”

This was a remarkable statement from a man who had spent the past year traveling across America, holding hundreds of public rallies and private meetings, to promote Irish independence. His efforts generated substantial local and national media coverage, much of it favorable. A massive bond drive to raise U.S. dollars for Ireland had been underway since January. Nevertheless, de Valera and his supporters soon launched a new organization, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, in a split from the established Friends of Irish Freedom.

More about the new group and the impact of Irish voters in the 1920 U.S. presidential election in future posts.

De Valera’s departure from San Francisco also became the first step of his December 1920 return to Ireland. The Democratic convention failure faded into a few bad days in a political career that would span more than 50 years. In his two-volume biography of the Irish leader, totaling more than 800 pages, David McCullaugh reduced the episode to just one sentence.8

De Valera’s bad headline day in L.A.

On Nov. 19, 1919, a year and a week after the armistice ending World War I, the U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles and American participation in the League of Nations. The same day, 2,670 miles west of Washington, D.C., Éamon de Valera was hammered by negative headlines in the Los Angeles Times as he arrived in the California city.

These seven headlines appeared below that day’s nameplate, taking half the available front page space:

Sims Denounces De Valera and Sinn Fein Plotters
Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, commander of the U.S. overseas fleet, said “this brotherhood is attempting to stir up hatred against our allies in the war.”

Irishman Near Collapse
“According to physicians, the Irish leader suffered a near-collapse that may necessitate his cancelling” other stops in California. Doctors in San Francisco had ordered de Valera to rest, but he pressed on to L.A.1

De Valera Unwelcome: Protest Against the Sinn Fein Leader by Societies Shows City’s Stand
“American Legion posts, church bodies and British societies have been particularly active in denouncing the Sinn Fein leader and have adopted resolutions declaring him a traitor to the cause of the Allies in the war and charging him with attempting to stir up enmity between the United States and England.”

San Diego Blow for De Valera
The city’s mayor said he would not greet the visitor on his next stop. “I am part Irish myself and he does not represent that part of me at all.”

Shriners Protest Use of Hall by De Valera
The philanthropic arm of the Masons cashed a rental deposit check from Irish supporters, then claimed they were unaware the event featured de Valera. Their change of mind appeared to be prompted by the Times’ amplified harangue against him.

Great Citrus Belt Hits Hard at Sinn Feiner
The Associated Chambers of Commerce of the San Gabriel Valley, representing 17 smaller towns, passed a resolution denouncing de Valera as a traitor.

No Music for Paraders: Pasadena and Long Beach Bands Refuse to Play for De Valera Today
The decision was driven in part by protests from a group of U.S. Civil War veterans, who compared de Valera and Sinn Fein to the Copperheads of the 1860s.

As Dave Hannigan explains:

The degree of vitriol directed toward de Valera can be traced to the publisher Harry Chandler, who a couple of months earlier had described his interest in the Versailles Treaty thus: “as far as the Los Angeles Times is concerned, the League [of Nations] is not our politics now but our religion.” Chandler obviously believed this Irishman was preaching a blasphemous doctrine against the League and had to be dealt with accordingly; not to mention that his visit was being sponsored, at least in part, by a rival paper, the Los Angeles Examiner.2

That night, the crowd gathered outside the Shrine Auditorium to see de Valera was prohibited from entering the building. The Irish leader, who gave a speech earlier in day at his hotel, avoided the scene and departed the next morning for San Diego, despite the expected snub by the city’s mayor.

De Valera before a Los Angeles crowd, a few days later than planned in November 1919.

Four days later, de Valera returned to Los Angeles for a rescheduled appearance at a minor league baseball stadium. The outdoor event drew a larger crowd than would have seen him at the indoor venue. The Times’ page 13 story described de Valera as “the mythical ‘president’ of a mythical Irish ‘republic.’ “3 The Irish Standard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, months earlier complained about the demeaning device of using quotes around the words such as president and republic.

The same day’s Times front page declared: “Sinn Fein Terrorist Rule Ireland With Hate“. The story by American correspondent George Seldes opened with this quote from a British military officer:

“Ireland is terrorized. It is seething with crime. Let me tell you one thing, it is no longer safe to go about in the King’s uniform.”

The generally negative portrait of Irish republican efforts nevertheless recognized the arrests and imprisonment without trial of members of Dáil Éireann. Seldes concluded: “Despite all this crime, a stranger in Ireland goes about freely and safely.”

The Friends of Irish Freedom’s News Letter said the Times “certainly is more English than American” and had “done its utmost to stir up an un-American sentiment against” de Valera and the Irish Republic. “The American Newspaper Publishers Association, a body of sturdy Americans, might do well if it undertook a little Americanization work amidst its own ranks, for the benefit of its few anti-American members.”4  

Irish-American newspapers, though slowed by their weekly publication schedules and commitments to other news content, responded vehemently to the Times‘ L.A. coverage.

The Irish Press of Philadelphia, with its direct links de Valera and the separatist government in Dublin, described the daily as “the best-known labor-hating and pro-British sheet in the west.” The Press continued:

The Times engaged for four weeks in the bitterest and most malignant campaign of misrepresentation and hatred that has been witnessed in this country in years. Lies–on several occasions six columns of them in one edition–were hurled at de Valera and the Irish people. Editorially and in news columns deliberately incited to mob violence.5

The Kentucky Irish American headlined “Notorious Sheet Exposed” (the Times) and noted the Hearst-owned Examiner “made a special fight in favor of a fair hearing and the other papers of that district were friendly to the lecture.”6

The Irish Standard barely mentioned the Times, except that “de Valera made only one reference to the newspaper which boasted of having prevented his appearance at the Shrine Auditorium, when he said, speaking of the Irish movement:

It is not racial, it is not religious. You are told it is religious. Now, it is very easy to see that it is not, and so difficult would it be to prove it religious that even the Los Angeles Times admits it is not a religious issue.7

De Valera and his supporters returned to New York from California, taking a short break from the coast-to-coast tour that began in June before tackling other problems. Hannigan writes:

By any standard of measurement, this extended cross-country jaunt was the most successful aspect of de Valera’s stay in America. In terms of raising awareness and drawing the attention of newspapers and the public alike, it was a fantastic achievement. For the duration of the tour and a good while after, coverage of all things Irish, especially in regional press, exploded.8