Tag Archives: Edward F. Dunne

May 1919: Irish-American commission visits Ireland

In May 1919, the American Commission on Irish Independence arrived in Dublin. Before long, all hell broke loose in London and Paris.

The ACII was a non-government delegation of three prominent Irish-Americans formed in the wake of the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The trio of labor lawyer Frank P. Walsh; former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne; and Philadelphia city solicitor Michael J. Ryan were sent to the post-war Paris peace conference to obtain safe passage for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause on their behalf if such travel was denied; and secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

“The commission thought a trip to Ireland was a good idea, for it allowed them an opportunity to meet and talk with the [Irish] leaders elected in December 1918,” historian Francis Carroll wrote.1 In their public comments, the three Americans congratulated the Irish people for voting to create an independent Irish republic; emphasized the parallels between Ireland’s and America’s struggle for independence against the British; and reminded U.S. President Woodrow Wilson of his pledges for the self-determination of small nations in Europe. “They pulled no punches.”

Dunne, Ryan and Walsh of the Irish-American Commission receiving an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, there was “immediate and explosive” press reaction in Britain. The Globe headlined: “IMPUDENT YANKS FLAUNTING ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ BEFORE OUR EYES“. The Mail said the Irish Americans gave “strength and countenance” to the rebel faction in Ireland.2

“The public debate in the newspapers and in parliament spelled the end of the commission’s prospects for getting the Irish leaders over to Paris,” Carroll continued. “What had prompted [Walsh, Dunne, and Ryan] to speak publicly in Ireland with complete disregard for the delicacy of the situation or the sensitivity of the British government is difficult to say. … Either their own weakness and inexperience, or the shrewdness of the British in perceiving that they would undo themselves, saved [Prime Minister] Lloyd George from having to come to grips with the Irish question at the peace conference.”3

In June 1919, de Valera would sail west to New York instead of east to Paris. The ACII returned to America, where they turned their efforts to help Ireland to the U.S. Senate.

Read coverage of the ACII’s travels in Ireland in The Irish Press, Philadelphia:

Also see:

Irish Americans reach Paris, demand Wilson’s answer

The American Commission on Irish Independence emerged in spring 1919 from the failed New York City meeting between representatives of the just-concluded Irish Race Convention and President Woodrow Wilson.

Convention leaders appointed the three-member delegation to travel to Paris to support the cause of Irish self-government at the post-war peace conference. “They were a distinguished group,” Whelan noted.1

Walsh

Frank P. Walsh: a nationally-known lawyer, he had served on the National War Labor Board and War Labor Conference Board. Named chairman of the commission, Walsh became its “most important and dynamic member.”2

Dunne

Edward F. Dunne: another lawyer and former judge, he had served as Chicago mayor, then Illinois governor. Along with several Irish-American U.S. senators, Dunne was the highest elected official identified with the Irish nationalist movement in America.3

 

Ryan

Michael J. Ryan: a former Philadelphia city solicitor and public service commissioner, he had been president of the United Irish League of America.  Ryan publicly distanced himself from Irish Parliamentary Party support for the British during the war and repudiated home rule politicians. 4

At the March 4 New York meeting with Irish nationalists, Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis who had opposed his 1916 re-election. None of the three commission members carried such political baggage to Paris. “Consequently, the group had a national prominence in orthodox politics and were of good character.”5

The trio’s mission was threefold: obtain safe passage to Paris for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause at the peace conference on their behalf if such passage was denied; and secure U.S. recognition of the Irish republic.  In the Kentucky Irish American, Walsh was quoted:

“The committee is going to France as American citizens, holding no allegiance, material or spiritual, to any other nation on earth, but imbued with the necessity of extending the principals of free government to Ireland, which is the typical small nation of the world, being deprived of the right to determine for itself the form of government under which it shall exist.”6

The commission reached Paris on April 11, 1919. In a front page-story in The Irish Press, Philadelphia, Dunne recalled that six weeks earlier in New York Wilson told the delegation that he was not prepared to say whether Ireland qualified for self-determination.

“We then informed the president that we were in no hurry and were prepared to wait for his answer, and were even willing to journey to Paris to obtain it. President Wilson now has had sufficient time to reflect.  We have come to Paris for his answer.”7

More on the American Commission on Irish Independence in future posts.

December 1918: House hearing on ‘The Irish Question’

This is the second in a series of short posts exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their effortsMH

*** 

The U.S. Congress intensified its activism on behalf of Ireland once America entered the Great War in April 1917. “Members seized the moment to revive the issue of Irish independence, which had failed to gain traction in the House a year earlier when Missouri Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer (R) insisted that Congress support the Easter Rising,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ History, Art & Archives blog.

It took until a month after the war ended, however, before the Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a hearing on “The Irish Question.”  Congress was in a “lame duck” session, between the Nov. 5 midterm election and new members taking their seats in early March. Republicans won control of the House and Senate from the Democrats, the party of President Woodrow Wilson.

Dec. 12, 1918, was a Thursday, a fair, late fall day with temperatures in the capital settled into the mid-30s. Post-war news dominated the front page of the The Washington Post, including the projected $120 billion cost of the fight in Europe, and Wilson’s plans for the upcoming Paris peace conference.1

Virginia Rep. Henry D. Flood (D), the committee chairman, opened the hearing at 10 a.m. He set a hour-hour limit on the testimony.

A diverse array of citizens, local politicians, and representatives of civic organizations and labor unions traveled to Washington to submit testimony in favor of Irish independence. Witnesses highlighted the intertwined histories of Ireland and the United States as a reason for intervention. Many also stressed that the United States played a decisive role in ending the war, which thereby endowed the President—and Congress—with the power to request that Britain grant Ireland a seat at the negotiating table in Paris.2

Gallagher

Illinois Rep. Thomas Gallagher (D), one of several members to put forward resolutions supporting Irish “self determination,” Wilson’s phrase, gave the first statement. He noted the issue had been introduced nearly two years earlier, and, as the result, “quite an agitation has gone over the country urging legislative action” on behalf of Ireland. He recognized the “large delegations from different sections of the United States here this morning.”3

Illinois Circuit Court Judge Kickham Scanlan of Chicago was the first witness. His speech, like many of the others that followed, emphasized Irish contributions to the United States:

Scanlan

The Irish helped make America in 1776. The British Parliament said that but for the aid of the people of Ireland the freedom of America would not have been won. And in every war from that day to this they have stood by America, and they stood by America to a man in the last war. Do not let any paper, do not let any propaganda in the world, every make any member of this committee think that there was any man of Irish blood in America who could dream for one moment of anything but the success of America. We kept the faith.4

One-by-one, the following witnesses gave their statements and introduced into the record letters from other individuals and resolutions passed by groups at earlier public meetings. Some highlights include:

  • A letter from former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne, who in a few months time would travel to the Paris peace talk as one of three representatives of the American Commission on Irish Independence.
  • The Madison Square Garden address of Cardinal William Henry O’Connell of Boston, delivered two nights earlier to some 25,000 supporters of Irish freedom.
  • “Ireland’s Plea for Freedom,” by William J.M.A. Maloney, M.D., a former British Army captain.
  • The Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
  • The Sinn Féin platform of October 1917. The hearing came two days before the party’s massive wins in the first British elections since 1914.

George Fox, a New Haven, Conn., university teacher, voiced rare opposition to the overwhelming support for the Irish cause. He said:

…these men come in here and ask the Congress of the United States to adopt a joint resolution that they have no right to ask the Congress to adopt, and which they have no right to present. If Germany had won, they would have had to go before some other peace conference aligned with Germany, but when the empire which they have supported was beaten they switch around and ask the United States to go to the peace conference in their behalf. … I take the position … that it is entirely a matter for England to decide.5

The Foreign Affairs Committee cleared a bill of support for Ireland to the floor, where it was debated March 4, 1919, the last day of the 65th Congress. Texas Rep. Thomas Connally (D), echoing Fox, reminded his colleagues that Great Britain was an ally in the war, and the principle of self-determination championed by Wilson only applied to countries “under the dominion of our enemies.”  Wilson adopted a similar stance in Paris.

The House passed a resolution by a vote 216 to 45, but the Senate did not take up the issue before the session ended. The upper chamber did pass a separate measure early in the 66th Congress. “Ultimately, the long battle in the House over the ‘Irish question’ did not have a decisive effect on the peace process in 1919 or the political status of Ireland.”6

Nevertheless, the support of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and others is worth remembering 100 years later. Click the cover image below to see the full hearing transcript.

 

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