Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson

Across the sea and to the moon in 50 years

The long arc of Éamon de Valera’s political career comes into special focus this week through the convergence of two anniversaries, 50 years apart.

One hundred years ago, de Valera sailed to America as a stowaway aboard the SS Lapland. For 18 months he packed stadiums and convention halls to rally Irish America to the cause of independence in the homeland. Fifty years later, as president of the 26-county Republic of Ireland, de Valera delivered a different message to the cosmos with the help of two U.S. astronauts who landed the spaceship Eagle on the moon.

Lunar message disc included greeting in Irish from Éamon de Valera.

Greetings from 71 other heads of state were also etched onto the silicon disc, about the size of a U.S. 50 cent coin, left on the lunar surface. The text of de Valera’s salutation, written in Irish, is translated:

May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the moon will enable him also to secure peace and happiness upon the earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction.

A few days later, de Valera sent a conventional cable to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the tenth American leader to occupy the White House since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Ireland, I send you our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration for the courage and skill of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and for the wonderful teamwork of all the others who made the landing possible. May God grant that the astronauts will return safely home and that this great achievement will contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind in the ear which has been opened.

The astronauts did return safely, but peace has not been secured and we have not avoided the danger of self-destruction. As for de Valera’s legacy, it remains under historical review.

Earth seen from the moon, July 1969. NASA photo.

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.

March madness 1919: So close, yet so far

American-based supporters of Irish independence on March 4, 1919, appeared tantalizingly close to winning U.S. government backing for their cause. But they fell short.

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives voted 216 to 41 in favor of self-determination for Ireland. It was the last day of the legislative session, however, and a parliamentary maneuver in opposition delayed consideration of the measure in the U.S. Senate for several months.

Cohalan

Later that evening, in New York City, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly met a delegation from the Friends of Irish Freedom before returning to the post-war peace conference in Paris. The meeting began badly, as Wilson banned New York Supreme Court Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, a longtime political nemesis and member of the delegation. It ended, Francis M Carroll wrote, “with Wilson refusing to commit himself to the Irish-Americans, the Irish-Americans very displeased with Wilson, and all of them on the worst of terms.”1

Irish-American newspaper coverage of the House vote was fairly straightforward. Reporting about the Wilson meeting ranged widely.

Wilson

The Irish Press, Philadelphia, said the president “declared that he was in thorough accord with the aspirations of the Irish people for the right to live without foreign interference” … and “gave the committee to understand that he fully expects the case of Ireland to be dealt with by the Peace Conference.” This was wishful spin of Wilson’s intentions, at best, or intentionally deceitful, at worst.

More significantly, the story ignored Wilson’s ouster of Cohalan, a close ally of John Devoy, leader of the New York faction of the FOIF. By March 1919, a feud had opened between the New York wing and Joseph McGarrity, the Press publisher, and his Philadelphia allies, over the best approach to help Ireland. While the Press was silent about Cohalan in this instance, its editor, Patrick McCartan, took other opportunities to “slander and misrepresent” the judge, historian Charles Callen Tansill wrote.2

In Louisville, front-page coverage in the Kentucky Irish American combined the House vote and Wilson meeting into one story, which gave a more clear-eyed assessment of the latter:

The hope that had been entertained that President Wilson would espouse Ireland’s cause was rudely checked Tuesday night when he met the committee from the Irish race convention in New York on the eve of his departure for Paris. Wilson urged that no questions be urged [sic] and gave no indication of what his action at the Peace Conference would be. In some quarters there is belief that so far as he is concerned Ireland’s case has been closed before it has ever been heard.

The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, was even closer to the real story. Under the page 1 headline “Rumored President Had Old Grudge Against Cohalan,” it noted Cohalan’s work against Wilson’s 1916 re-election and refusal to support him when America entered World War I in 1917. A sidebar story reported that two days after the meeting, the FOIF in Boston passed a resolution that stated “Americans of Irish blood were grievously offended at the action of President Wilson” in banning Cohalan from the meeting.

Here’s more background on the two events:

‘Intrigue of Deception’ at Catholic University of America, 1919

A Philadelphia newspaper in early 1919 alleged that “some prominent men” at Catholic University of America were conspiring with British Embassy officials.1 The aim of their Washington, D.C.-based “plot,” the story said, was to keep Ireland within the British Empire rather than establish an independent republic.

“So far the scheme has met with some success and is receiving consideration,” The Irish Press, a nationalist weekly, reported Jan. 4, 1919, in a page 4 story headlined “An Intrigue of Deception.”

Irish voters had just elected 73 separatist Sinn Féin candidates who had no intention of claiming their seats in the London parliament. Instead, within weeks of the Press story, they would form their own government in Dublin. A gorilla war of independence erupted at the same time. In America, Congress debated “the Irish question” as President Woodrow Wilson prepared to sail to Paris to join his British allies in helping to reshape the post-world war global order.

The Irish Press reported:

“It is understood that the scheme will be launched by the publication of a letter written by President Wilson on the eve of his departure for Europe to a prominent man at the Catholic University at Washington. The gentleman concerned is a sincere friend of Ireland and it is to be hoped that he will sever his connection with the British plot and persuade his colleagues to do likewise. Their action will not affect Ireland but we hope for the reputation of the one big and sincere man connected with the scheme that he will refuse at this critical juncture to play false to the cause so dear to his heart.”

The newspaper did not name anyone at Catholic University, but faculty member Joseph Dunn wrote a private letter to challenge the allegation. “To say that the article in question surprised and provoked me is putting it mildly,” he wrote to Dr. Patrick McCartan, the Press editor.2

Shahan

Dunn was a Celtic language and literature professor and a supporter of Irish independence. A few weeks earlier he had appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Ireland.3 Dunn entered into the record the Nov. 30, 1918, letter from the university’s rector, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, to President Wilson. It cited the president’s professed commitment to “self-determination” for small nations.

“We hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate,” Shahan wrote. “Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.”4

Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.” This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, reply; barely 100 typed words of generalities on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name.5 Wilson wrote:

Wilson

“It will be my endeavor in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principals to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacies of the task are very great, and I cannot confidentially forecast what I can do.”

Shahan was a national vice president of the Friends of Irish Freedom, a U.S.-based group of Irish immigrants, Irish Americans, and other supporters of the separatist cause. Dunn was a national trustee.6 As events accelerated in Ireland, the Friends were being torn apart by internal feuding over the best way to help the homeland.

The Irish Press was in the middle of this fight, as personified by the growing hostility between McCartan, Press publisher Joseph McGarrity, and their supporters; and John Devoy, veteran Irish republican activist and publisher of the New York City-based Gaelic American, and his allies. Dunn acknowledged these crosscurrents in his letter.

Dunn told McCartan that he did not show the Press article to Shahan, “who, I suppose, is meant by the words ‘a prominent man at Catholic University’ ” … “to spare him the pain of reading it, it is so unfair to those of us who have kept the faith at this institution.” Like Dunn, the bishop would have been troubled by the allegation of conspiring with the British, especially as the Friends of Irish Freedom developed plans for an upcoming national strategy meeting in Philadelphia.

“The harm done is not irreparable, however, if you take occasion in the very next issue of ‘The Press’ to correct it and give prominence in a good strong article to the denial,” Dunn wrote in the typed body of his letter. After the “faithfully yours” closing and his signature, he hand wrote, “You realize, of course, how much the University might suffer if that your yarn is not corrected.”

McCartan’s reply to Dunn carried the same Jan. 11, 1919, date as the professor’s letter.7 

McCartan

“I was very glad to get your letter and your assurances that nobody connected with the University has anything to do with the British Embassy Plot,” McCartan wrote under his newspaper’s letterhead. “I realize that your letter is authoritative, and we here are glad to learn that instead of cooperating with the plotters you are taking steps to counteract them.”

McCartan, a native of Ireland, was among more than 30 Sinn Féin separatists elected the previous month while either living outside Ireland or held in prison. In addition to his role as editor, he also described himself as “envoy of the provisional government of Ireland.” This was news to the U.S. State Department, which claimed it “knew nothing of Patrick McCartan.”8

McCartan wrote to Dunn that he would be “delighted to correct the error we made last week as you request.” The editor acknowledged he was responsible for all of the newspaper’s stories, “even though I do not write them all, or even read them before publication.”

On Jan. 18, 1919, The Irish Press published this “correction” under another “Intrigue of Deception” headline, once again without naming any names.9

“We have now on the very best authority” that no one at Catholic University was cooperating with the British, the story said. “The existence of the plot is known there but those in that institution who are interested in the subject take the same view of the Irish question as The Irish Press.”

A few weeks later, the Press reported on Shahan’s speech at Gazanga Hall in Washington, D.C. “Ireland is a nation, not a province of the British Empire,” it quoted him under the headline “Bishop Upholds Irish Republic.”10

Dunn and Shahan remained active in Irish nationalist politics. The professor taught at Catholic University until 1931.11 The bishop died the following year and is interred in the crypt level of the neighboring Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Irish Press folded in 1922 as Ireland was partitioned into the Irish Free State, an interim status that later became today’s full republic, and Northern Ireland, which remains part of Britain. McCartan returned to Ireland.


EXTRA NOTES: Top image, “Proposed Plan,” is a 1914 photo gelatin view of the Catholic University of America campus in Washington, D.C. produced by the Albertype Company of Brooklyn, New York. I have been unable to locate an image of Joseph Dunn. Thanks to Shane MacDonald at CUA’s American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and to James Harte at the National Library of Ireland for their assistance. 

Irish-American press on Sinn Fein election

The new year–1919–began with new hope for Irish independence. In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the old nationalist home rule party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring aggressively lobbied President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. Congress to support Ireland’s cause at the upcoming Paris peace conference.

Unofficial results of the Dec. 14, 1918, election reached large American daily newspapers before Christmas. The official election count was delayed until Dec. 28, however, so the outstanding votes of soldiers still serving overseas could be included in the final tally. Substantial election coverage in the Irish-American weekly press did not begin until the first week of January 1919. Here are two examples.

The Irish Press, published in Philadelphia, offered these banner headlines across the top front page of its Jan. 4, 1919 issue:

IRELAND SEVERS CONNECTION WITH BRITAIN

People of Ireland, by Exercise of Inherent Right of Self-Determination, Proclaim Their Independence

McCartan

A “Proclamation” boxed at the center of the page was addressed to “citizens of the Irish Republic who are at present resident in the United States and Canada” and signed by Patrick McCartan, the Irish provisional government’s envoy to America (and editor of the newspaper). He declared: 

Dec. 28, 1918, will forever rank in the history of Ireland as July 4, 1776, ranks in the history of America; as July 14, 1789, ranks in the history of France, as the day of the birth of Liberty ranks in the history of every free people.

The proclamation was flanked by these headlines, Complete Victory for Sinn Féin and The Irish Republic Endorsed, which filled the front page. Inside, the page 4 editorial proclaimed: Long Live the Irish Republic!

The election just completed in Ireland is one of the most momentous that has ever been held in any country. It is the first practical demonstration of President Wilson’s great principal of Self-Determination, and the results show that the Irish people were thoroughly cognizant of the great issues at stake. The question they were called upon to decide was: “Shall Britain continue to exercise sovereignty over Ireland?” And they answered with an emphatic, “No!” thus giving the lie direct to Britain’s paid horde of propagandists who had been telling the world for generations past that the Irish can never agree among themselves.

About 700 miles southwest of Philadelphia, in Lexington, Kentucky,  the Kentucky Irish American, offered more subdued coverage in its Jan. 4, 1919 issue. Stories about Ireland filled the left and right rails of the seven-column front page, sandwiching other news about domestic politics and religion.

At right, a roundup of Associated Press dispatches “to the American Sunday papers” appeared under the headline stack:

SINN FEIN

Scores a Sweeping Victory in the Election for Members of Parliament

Will Proclaim an Irish Republic and Establish Central Council in Dublin

Release of Sinn Feiners Interred In England Expected at Once

COUNTESS MARKIEVICZ WINS

Kelly

At left was a column by Rev. Francis C. Kelly, editor of the Chicago-based Catholic Church Extension Magazine. He wrote:

I am a sincere and and fully convinced advocate of self-determination for Ireland for her own sake, for the sake of democracy, but for England’s sake as well. I do not desire the downfall of Great Britain, but her tardy repentance. Ireland unfreed is England’s death warrant. She may succeed in keeping the Irish question out of the peace conference. I think she will. But she can not keep it out of the mind of a world from which the chains have been struck. It will live to accuse, to condemn and to execute. A victory of Great Britain over Ireland at Versailles will be no victory, but a defeat. It will be the signal for a new battle, the tactics of which have been taught the Irish race by England herself in her propaganda.

The Irish American‘s page 2 editorial was headlined, What Ireland Wants. 

We said some weeks ago that the demand for self-determination—and this accurately defined—should come from Ireland. Those of Irish blood America and all lovers of liberty can then support that demand. That is the method of procedure which we should naturally expect. Instead we have the demand coming from the Irish In America—and this demand is couched in varying and ambiguous terms. In some cases it means home rule—some cases it means total separation and complete independence. What we need first of all is to find out what Ireland itself wants. … With that programme in hand we shall be able to give an intelligent expression of our support of It. As it is we are beating the air and accomplishing very little. The Irish people themselves must map out their own programme of self-government. We in America can have our own ideas regarding the matter—but we must not presume to dictate to the people of Ireland what they should do.

In the following weeks and months of 1919, these two newspapers (and others in the Irish-American press) continued to be filled with stories about major events in Ireland’s struggle for independence, including key figures and developments in America. For this 2019 centennial, I will explore these people and events through the coverage in these two papers, in addition to other sources.

NEXT: About the papers and their publishers.

See American Reporting of Irish Independence for earlier work in this series.

December 1918: The bishop & the president

This is the first 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 efforts. MH

*** 

Ireland and other small nations seeking independence from imperial rulers seized on the January 1918 words of President Woodrow Wilson: “National aspirations must be respected. Self determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”

Supporters of Irish independence in Ireland and in America, whether immigrants or their offspring, embraced “self-determination” more than any other ethnic group. And they weren’t shy about demanding it.

Shahan

Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., wrote a Nov. 30 letter to Wilson.1

In keeping these words of truth, we hold that the right of Ireland to ‘self-determination’ is immeasurably stronger than that of any other nation for which you have become the advocate. Moreover, Ireland’s claims are a hundredfold reinforced by her centuries of brave, though unavailing, struggle against foreign domination, tyranny, and autocracy.

A similar appeal by “the principal Irish societies of Washington” also was delivered to the Wilson White House, The Washington Post reported.2 “It voices the opinion of a public meeting, held by representatives of the Irish societies, that the American nation, through its president, has a unique opportunity to enforce this fundamental principal for the freedom of Ireland at the upcoming peace table, and the president is petitioned to use his good office to that end.” 

The signatory groups included the Friends of Irish Freedom; Ancient Order of Hibernians; Ladies Auxiliary of the AOH; Irish-American Union; Gaelic Society; Irish History Society; Irish History Study Club; and Shamrock Club.

At the time, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in the U.S. capital, representing about one fifth of all foreigners.3 Nationwide, Irish immigrants were about 10 percent of the foreign-born population, down from the one third post-Famine peak of 50 years earlier. First-generation Irish Americans far outnumbered their immigrant parents.

Bishop Shahan was the New Hampshire-born son of Irish immigrants. His letter to Wilson (grandson of an Ulster-Scot) was read at the Dec. 12 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “The Irish Question” by  Professor Joseph Dunn of the Catholic University of America faculty. Dunn testified that Wilson “not only acknowledged receipt of the bishop’s letter, but replied in such a sympathetic tone as would make interesting reading for members of this honorable committee.”4

Wilson

This was an optimistic interpretation of Wilson’s Dec. 3, 1918, note to Shahan; barely 100 typed words on White House stationary that never mentioned Ireland by name, only generalities:5

…it will be my endeavor in regard to every question which arises before the Peace Conference to do my utmost to bring about the realization of the principals to which your letter refers. The difficulties and delicacies of the task are very great, and I cannot confidentially forecast what I can do.

Once Wilson got to Paris, the self-determination of countries formerly ruled by vanquished Germany was easier to support than pressing ally Britain to loosen its grip on Ireland. By summer 1919, Wilson’s reluctance to support Ireland disappointed the Irish, by then at war with Britain. 

Shahan remained an “ardent supporter of Irish independence,” according to the Catholic University of America archives of his papers. His concerns were “not only as a source of personal interest, but also because religious matters were inextricably bound into the struggle for freedom and recognition for Ireland.”

NEXT: House hearing on the ‘Irish Question’  

Pennsylvania pledges to Irish freedom in 1918 U.S. election

A month before the 1918 U.S. elections, a Philadelphia chapter of the Friends of Irish Freedom sent a questionnaire to Pennsylvania candidates for state and federal office that asked whether they would make this pledge:

Will you, if elected to the public office for which you are a candidate, openly and unequivocally support Ireland’s claim to Complete Independence–the form of Government to be determined by the whole male and female population of Ireland?

The Irish Press published the questionnaire,1 which featured seven “historical facts” about England’s subjugation of Ireland “based on force,” including a 250,000-troop “army of occupation … equipped with all the ruthless machinery of modern warfare.” English prisons were “full of Irish men and women” who refused to follow her “tyrannical decrees.”

Wilson

The questionnaire also noted that over 500,000 men of the Irish race were serving in “Uncle Sam’s Army and Navy.” And it included two 27 September 1918, quotes from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson about the rights of smaller, weaker countries to be free from the rule of larger, stronger nations.

Friends of Irish Freedom and other Irish groups had been building support for Irish self-determination since January, when Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress. He said the world should “be made safe for every peace-loving nation, which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world…”

Mass meetings and petition drives mounted through the spring and summer, especially as it became clear that Wilson’s statement likely included only those nation’s controlled by Germany and its allies. “It must be remembered that while President Wilson did not include Ireland, he said nothing about excluding [it],” was the hopeful formulation of one speaker at a May 1918 Friends’ rally at the Lyceum Theater in Pittsburgh.2

As the November election neared, the Irish Press reported that responses to the Friends’ questionnaire were “gratifying to all friends of the cause” and also showed “in a conclusive manner” that 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters were “heartily in favor” of an Irish Republic. The Press continued:

This result should put a little ginger and backbone into the weak and vacillating men of our race who are willing to take anything that England should see fit to grant as a favor. Let our motto be that in the matter of self-determination nothing is too good for the Irish.

It is unclear how the Press determined the 70 percent support figure. There is no reference to voter polling independent of those candidates who returned the questionnaire. In two issues before the 5 November election, the Press named nine congressional candidates, plus the Democrat and Republican contenders for governor, as supportive of Ireland. Over 100 candidates were on the ballot for 33 congressional seats; plus dozens more for state legislative offices.

Letters of support

Focht

The Press reproduced two letters of support from congressional candidates.

“I wish to advise that I believe Ireland has suffered only too long the oppression of a foreign power, and that the day has come for her liberation …,” Republican Congressman Benjamin K. Focht wrote in a letter published on the front page of the Press. Focht was editor and publisher of the Lewisburg Saturday News in his district 60 miles north of the state capitol in Harrisburg.

Hulings

The paper also published a letter from Willis J. Hulings of Oil City, Pa., who was attempting to return to Congress after a two-year absence. Hulings said that he favored Irish freedom and that “sympathy with Irish patriots has been part of my life.”3 However, he did not see how “the United States Congress has any right of interference until after the Irish people have unitedly demanded separation from Great Britain.”

The Press editors acknowledged that Hulings position was shared “by many other honest Americans.” It added:

If Ireland must wait for freedom until Great Britain gives the Irish people an opportunity to unitedly demand separation, we should look for the establishment of the Irish Republic somewhere around the Greek calends.

Historian Joseph P. O’Grady noted that “what influence this [questionnaire and news coverage] had upon the campaign is difficult to assess; but the fact that candidates for high office would publicly endorse such statements [as the pledge] indicates, to some extent, the political power of the Irish at election time.”4

In the election, Democrats lost both chambers of Congress to the Republicans, a bad omen for Wilson, who had cast the midterm in strident personal and national security terms. Only three of the nine congressional candidates named in the Press, including Focht and Hulings, were elected. As the war in Europe ended the following week, the pressure campaign by Irish America continued to heat. The results of British Parliamentary elections in Ireland the following month would have an even bigger impact on the issue.

See archived stories about the Irish in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Irish reaction as America entered World War I

One hundred years ago, during the first week of April 1917, the United States entered World War I. President Woodrow Wilson could no long maintain his pledge of neutrality since the war began in 1914, and Congress supported his decision. The American draft began in June 1917.

“Ireland’s interest in the great decision is obvious,” the Freeman’s Journal editorialized. The moderate nationalist newspaper viewed America’s entry in the war as “vindication” for John Redmond, who in 1914 urged Irish soldiers to go “wherever the fighting line extends” in support of Britain. His call shifted Irish American support from home rule toward more militant Irish nationalism and Germany.

“America today is Ireland’s ally, as desired by Sinn Féiners, but she is Ireland’s ally because the Irish leader from the beginning set Ireland’s feet on the one path that every friend of freedom was bound to tread,” the Freeman’s Journal concluded in April 1917.

Redmond and others in the Irish Parliamentary Party believed that America’s presence not only ensured victory on the battlefield, but also guaranteed the implementation of home rule, the limited domestic autonomy for Ireland approved just before the war, but put on hold because of the outbreak. The IPP’s view was mistaken. Militant Irish nationalism, fueled by the 1916 Easter Rising and Britain’s execution of the rebel leaders, continued to manifest with Sinn Féin‘s 1918 electoral victories and the Irish War of Independence. The time for home rule had passed.

Across the Atlantic, Irish America rallied behind Wilson, putting aside criticism that he hadn’t done enough on behalf of the cause of Irish independence after the Rising and the executions of the leaders, historian Robert Schmuhl writes at RTE‘s Century Ireland. He continues:

The president understood that Irish Americans were a loyal constituency of his Democratic Party; however, he viewed the situation in Ireland as an internal matter to be resolved by the government of the United Kingdom. Bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter, Wilson hoped he wouldn’t alienate any segment of Irish America. His political ducking and dodging worked to his advantage for just so long.

Following the Armistice, Wilson once again faced the appeals of Irish-Americans to recognize Ireland as one of what he had called the ‘small states’ that deserved ‘self-determination’. … At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which ultimately produced the Treaty of Versailles and created the League of Nations, Wilson refused to allow the subject of an Ireland divorced from the United Kingdom to enter the formal post-war deliberations and discussions. Despite persistent efforts by the American Commission on Irish Independence to get the president to realize how his numerous calls for ‘self-determination’ had rallied the Irish and Irish-Americans throughout the Great War, the obstinate Wilson remained steadfast in his opposition to raising the fate of Ireland.

No Easter Rising without the Irish in America

There would have been no 1916 Easter Rising without Irish America.

That’s a frequent theme in the research and writings of New York University Professor Joe Lee. He lectured on the topic 24 March for Irish Network-DC.

Lee noted that home rule champion John Redmond’s 20 September 1914 speech at Woodenbridge, County Wicklow, “stuck in the craw” of John Devoy and other Fenians in America.

Redmond supported Britain in the Great War, infamously expressed by his urging Irish soldiers to go “wherever the fighting line extends.” This created a backlash in still neutral America, Lee said, that shifted opinion away from home rule and toward militant Irish nationalism.

Support came immediately in the form of “a colossal amount of money” to fund an Irish rebellion, most of it raised in New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

“Irish America was ahead of Ireland,” Lee said.

The Proclamation of an Irish Republic read outside the General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916 noted that Ireland was “supported by her exiled children in America.” But Lee said this “grossly understates American contributions” to Irish freedom.

Lee engaged in a little speculation about what what might have happened if the Irish rebels had been able to last longer against British troops, generating more attention in America heading into the 1916 presidential campaign. Home rule, passed by Parliament in 1914 but suspended at the outbreak of World War I, was still on the table, Lee noted. Devoy and his followers might have been able to exert more pressure on Woodrow Wilson to make a deal for Irish independence as Britain worked to bring America into the war.

It didn’t work out that way, of course, just as the plans for the Rising didn’t unfold according to plan. Here’s a recent piece by Lee in the Irish Examiner about what might have happened in April 1916 if they had.

 

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P1)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 1: Before the Rising & afterward

St. Patrick’s Day 1916 arrived in the second year of the Great War and a month before the Easter Rising. The Washington Post reported that President Woodrow Wilson was wearing “a bright green necktie and a little shamrock fresh from the ‘ould sod,’ a present from John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader.”

Woodrow-Wilson_Health-Crisis_HD_768x432-16x9.jpg (768×432)

Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in November 1916.

The Post also published a short message from Redmond, datelined London: “Ireland stands united with the allies in the cause of liberty and civilization, and looks forward with confidence to the union of all her sons in the service of their common country under home rule at the termination of the war.”

The events of April 1916 made sure home rule never came to pass as the war on the continent dragged longer than Redmond and others imagined.

Whether the reporting about Wilson’s sartorial selections for St. Patrick’s Day was accurate or a bit of strategic blarney is impossible to know. But in the years following the Rising the descendant of Ulster Protestants, “deceived Irish America and ignored the execution of Roger Casement,” charges Robert Schmuhl, the author of “Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising.”

In an adaption from his book for Irish Central, Schmuhl writes:

For too long as president, Wilson refused to concentrate on the Irish question. Despite the leadership he tried to exert on the world stage and the radical changes within Ireland after the Easter Rising that deserved his attention, he kept ducking and dodging in public while fuming and fulminating in private. Over time, he appeared weak and indecisive.

Public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere crystallized that Wilson was not inclined to do anything for Ireland. Though he blamed the American Irish for the failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and involve the United States in the League of Nations, they, in turn, blamed him for abandoning Ireland at a critical time.

More on Wilson, Irish exile John Devoy and American poet Joyce Kilmer in this 2012 piece by Schmuhl: ‘All Changed, Changed Utterly’: Easter 1916 and America.

For something less political, read about Wilson’s ancestral home near Strabane, County Tyrone.