Abraham Lincoln and Robert Emmet

Sunday, March 17, AD 2013

The Seven Days made the Irish Brigade’s reputation. It was said that whenever General Sumner prepared for battle he would ask, “Where are my green flags?” and that he once quipped that if the Irishmen ever ran from the field he would have to run as well. When Abraham Lincoln visited McClellan’s army at Harrison’s Landing, Va., where it was preparing to ship back to Union territory, an officer claimed the president picked up a corner of one of the Irish colors, kissed it and said, “God bless the Irish flag.”

Terry L. Jones, Civil War Historian

Throughout his life Abraham Lincoln was sympathetic to the plight of the Irish.  In 1847 he contributed $10.00 for relief of the Irish during the Great Famine, not an inconsiderable amount of money at a time that private soldiers during the Mexican War were being paid $8.00 per month.

When Irish Catholics faced discrimination in this country Lincoln spoke up for them in spite of the fact that most Irish Catholics were Democrats.

In the 1840s America was beset by a wave of anti-Catholic riots.  An especially violent one occurred in Philadelphia on May 6-8.  These riots laid the seeds for a powerful anti-Catholic movement which became embodied in the years to come in the aptly named Know-Nothing movement.  To many American politicians Catholic-bashing seemed the path to electoral success.

Lincoln made clear where he stood on this issue when he organized a public meeting in Springfield, Illinois on June 12, 1844.  At the meeting he proposed and had the following resolution adopted by the meeting:

“Resolved, That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition. Resolved, That we reprobate and condemn each and every thing in the Philadelphia riots, and the causes which led to them, from whatever quarter they may have come, which are in conflict with the principles above expressed.”

Lincoln remained true to this belief.  At the height of the political success of the Know-Nothing movement 11 years later, Mr. Lincoln in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed wrote:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”

As a young man Lincoln memorized the speech of Robert Emmet, a Protestant Irishman, before he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in 1803 after his capture by the British.  Emmet’s family was sympathetic to the plight of their Irish Catholic countrymen, as they had been earlier sympathetic to the cause of the patriots in the American Revolution.  He was captured after leading an abortive rebellion in Dublin in 1803.  Unbeknownst to Emmet, his chief defense counsel had been bribed by the British to help assure his conviction, although his junior defense counsel manfully defended Emmet with all of his skill.  Emmet himself took full advantage of his opportunity to speak before sentencing:

Continue reading...

17 Responses to Abraham Lincoln and Robert Emmet

  • “To burst in twain the galling chain
    And free our native land.”

    From “The Boys of wexford”

    B/G Thomas F. Meagher (first commander of the Irish Brigade) was similarly condemned to death (commuted to Australia) in 1847.

    Here is the ultimate sentence in his speech from the dock.

    “I shall go, I think, with a light heart before a higher tribunal—a tribunal where a Judge of infinite goodness, as well as of infinite justice, will preside, and where, my lords, many, many of the judgements of this world will be reversed.”

    N.B., the “mere” Irish, pacem brave Scotsmen and worthy Welsh, were able (after much suffering) to wrest their (26/32) independence from the Sassenach.

    However, Sigmund Freud did not say, “The Irish are the only people who are impervious to psychoanalysis.” Because we have whisky.

  • Emmet’s rebellion, despite some sophisticated planning and protracted negotiations with the French, ended up as a rather nasty riot in Thomas Street, Dublin, in which the Irish Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, a fair-minded man who opposed military ‘justice’ and had secured a writ of habeas corpus for Wolfe Tone, was dragged from his carriage and hacked to death by a mob over whom Emmet had lost all control.

    Having consorted with the enemy in wartime (as Casement was to do in 1916) he was found guilty of High Treason and hanged. After the Second World War William Joyce and John Amery suffered the same fate. The latter was the son of a Cabinet minister.

    By 1803 traitors were not drawn and quartered, but hanged until dead and then decapitated. The Irish historian Roy Foster writes of Emmet: “His ideas were those of elite separatism; neither social idealism nor religious equality appear to have figured … But he is inaccurately remembered as a noble and sacrificial dreamer … he would take his place in the martyrology of retrospective nationalism, whose interpretation of the late eighteenth century invariably played down the importance of the French connection, and elevated inchoate domestic failures into clear-cut moral victories”. (RF Foster, ‘Modern Ireland’ [1988] p.286)

  • But of course John, Emmet being Irish the French were not his enemy and the English not his friends.

  • In regard to being hanged, drawn and quartered John I believe that was still the penalty for treason in 1803. The sentence could be “commuted” to being hanged and decapitated as occurred in the case of Edward Despard.


    Presumably this must have also occurred with Emmet as he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered but he was only hanged and decapitated.

  • “Emmet being Irish the French were not his enemy and the English not his friends”. He was a British subject, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom was at war with France. During the Napoleonic wars a large proportion of the army and navy consisted of Irishmen who certainly saw the French as the enemy. And the thousands of Irishmen fighting on the Somme would not have been too impressed by Sir Roger Casement’s collaboration with the Germans. In the Second World War some 60,000 Southern Irishmen joined the British armed forces and of the four Victoria Crosses awarded to Irishmen, three went to southerners (the fourth went to a Belfast Catholic from the Falls Road).

    As for Lincoln, his sympathy with rebellion was not greatly in evidence in 1861.

  • “He was a British subject”

    As the descendant of a “British subject” John, Major Andrew McClary New Hampshire militia, who died fighting the redcoats at Bunker Hill I find that a less than compelling argument.

    “consisted of Irishmen who certainly saw the French as the enemy.”

    The profession of arms John has always been popular among the Irish. Catholic Irishmen who took the King’s Shilling rarely did it for love of the English or their King.

    “And the thousands of Irishmen fighting on the Somme would not have been too impressed by Sir Roger Casement’s collaboration with the Germans.”

    After the British executions of the participants in the Easter rising in 1916, I think there was quite a sea change in opinion about the War among the Irish Catholics. Considering the failure to pass Home Rule in 1914 it is truly remarkable that as many Irish Catholics volunteered to fight as did in that War.

    “As for Lincoln, his sympathy with rebellion was not greatly in evidence in 1861.”

    It was one country John, not the imposition of alien rule on an unwilling population as was the case with Ireland for almost eight centuries by England.

  • Your view of Irish history is too simplistic and Manichean, but unfortunately still prevalent among Irish-Americans who in the 1970s and 1980s financed PIRA terrorism through Noraid despite the Republic of Ireland government begging them not to. This still rankles over here and not just amongst the English. My grandfather was an Irish Catholic (born in Belfast) who joined the 5th Dragoon Guards in Dublin in 1910 and served on the Western Front throughout the Great War. In 1918 he was commissioned into the South Lancs. Regiment and won the Military Cross just three weeks before the Armistice. On leaving the army in 1922 he settled in the USA and joined the diplomatic service, ending his career as British Consul in Philadelphia.

    In 1920, when he was a Lieutenant, his battalion was stationed in Dublin at the height of the ‘Troubles’. As an Irish patriot you might have thought he would have had divided loyalties; in fact he didn’t.

    Modern Irish attitudes have moved beyond republican mythology and the convenient cop-out that you can blame the English for everything. The nations who make up the British Isles have a symbiotic relationship whether they like it or not, and a majority of the population of London is neither British nor Irish, which puts a different perspective on things.

    What stopped Ireland going the same way as Greece in the recent financial meltdown? A bail-out by their Eurozone partners? No, it was the Brits who bailed them out. No wonder British-Irish relations are so good at the moment.

  • “Your view of Irish history is too simplistic and Manichean”

    Not at all John. I simply understand that it was England that invaded Ireland and not the other way around. That is not Manichean, it is historically accurate.

    “who in the 1970s and 1980s financed PIRA terrorism through Noraid”

    I have no use for the latter day Marxists of the IRA. However if Catholics in Belfast hadn’t been treated as fifth class citizens they would have received little support.

    “As an Irish patriot you might have thought he would have had divided loyalties; in fact he didn’t.”

    He chose his side John and it was not the side chosen by the vast majority of his Irish Catholic compatriots.

    “Modern Irish attitudes have moved beyond republican mythology and the convenient cop-out that you can blame the English for everything.”

    Modern Ireland from what I can see is a faithless, socialist, bankrupt mess by and large. I agree that the Irish should not blame the English for everything that has gone wrong in their history.


    That being said there is quite enough to blame the English for in regard to Ireland:

    “For I must do it justice; it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

    “No, it was the Brits who bailed them out.”

    Considering that the Brits are also bankrupt, I think the shelf life of Irish gratitude will be short.

  • Right. I ‘ll give it to you straight. Unless and until you stop mythologizing your own history (and I have seen lots of it on this blog) you will never understand the history of Europe, let alone that of the world which you claim to dominate until in the fulness of time you sink into oblivion like the rest of us. There is only one institution which transcends this, and that is the Catholic Church which is founded by Jesus Christ and will exist unto the consummation of the world, which could be tomorrow.

  • And also get your facts right. Ireland was invaded in the 12th century by the same Norman invaders who had subjugated England after 1066. Since the Papacy approved of both invasions, it was surely right ?

  • Rubbish plain and simple John. I present history based upon fact. If that doesn’t fit the myths you cherish so much the worse for your myths. I will always be willing to be corrected on a matter of historical fact, but I will never sit supinely and allow anyone on this blog to do violence to the historical record to suit their views.

  • “Since the Papacy approved of both invasions, it was surely right?”

    No. Next question?

  • It was the Treason Act 1814 (54 Geo. III c. 146) which provided for male traitors to be hanged until dead and then beheaded and quartered. The king could direct beheading, instead of hanging and quartering, by warrant under the sign manual.

    The decency due to their sex meant that women were never liable to the public exposure and mangling of their bodies; instead, they were burned alive, until the Treason Act 1790 (30 Geo 3 c 48) , which substituted hanging. The 1790 Act was extended to Ireland by the Treason by Women Act (Ireland) 1796 (36 Geo 3 c 31)

  • Unfortunately being Irish/English/ British/ European/Catholic/ I can’t nail my colours to any mast, except that I have taken an oath to Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors. Yes, HM is a Protestant, but the laws she defends were still God’s laws until recently. Are the laws of your great republic any better? I doubt it.

    In 1953 you put to death the Rosenbergs for treason in that they gave secrets to the Russians during the Second World War when the Russians were your allies and ctiticism of Stalin was not allowed in the press.

    I am quite prepared to criticize my own country for her failings, and for the record I think that Ireland was exceptionally badly treated – this was at least in part due to the Reformation which was a disaster for England as well.

  • Don, I’m sorry but you do romanticize history (as did my grandfather who like you loved Kipling) and as as someone with a foot in both camps I have taken the trouble to study Irish history on its own terms and not simply as an adjunct to wider British history. So rather than dismiss my views as “rubbish” I would respectfully suggest that you access the same sources and if they lead you to a different conclusion say so in all honesty.

    We in England have had to demythologize our history with regard to the Tudors and the Reformation. You don’t present history “based upon fact” any more than anyone else does, and I would suggest that the popular American view of history is worse than the English Whig view of the 19th century which took a long time to discredit.

  • Examples of how I romanticize history John? I never make a secret of what side I am on regarding the historical subjects I write about, but I strive to be completely factual. An example of this is the Spanish Civil War where I am quite blunt about the atrocities committed by both sides, although my sympathies are with the Nationalists as opposed to the Republicans, at least the Republicans outside of the Basque area. History is ill served unless it is truthful and that that is one of my goals when I write about history to present facts and not wishes or myths.

  • “that they gave secrets to the Russians during the Second World War when the Russians were your allies and ctiticism of Stalin was not allowed in the press.”

    Stalin was criticized up and down the land during WW2 John. There were no restrictions on the press in this country during the war as demonstrated by the Chicago Tribune revealing the breaking of the Japanese code after Midway. The Roosevelt administration convened a grand jury but abandoned the prosecution when they realized that they would get nowhere in court. There were fairly draconian restrictions on the press in World War I, but not WW II.

    “Are the laws of your great republic any better? I doubt it.”

    Depends upon the laws. I think it has been an advantage for the US to have a written Constitution. My late mother was quite fond of the Queen. I have been dismayed at the recent royal surrender to the gay agenda in England, although I understand that the Queen has very little to say about government policy.

    “I am quite prepared to criticize my own country for her failings”

    You will find quite a bit of criticism of the US on this blog John, especially current policies!

The Abolitionist and the Liberator

Tuesday, January 24, AD 2012



Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist of 19th century America and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who led the fight to gain the right to vote for Irish Catholics in 19th century Ireland, have always been two of my heroes.  Most Americans tend to be unaware of the connection between them.

Throughout his life Daniel O’Connell had been an opponent of slavery, and made his sentiments known at every opportunity, calling upon Irish-Americans to attack the “Peculiar Institution”.  He was frequently quoted by opponents of slavery in the United States.  While a boy and a slave, Douglass had heard one of his masters curse O’Connell for attacking slavery, and Douglass knew that he must love O’Connell if his master hated him so.  In 1846 Douglass went to Ireland for four months and went on a speaking tour.  O’ Connell was seventy-one and had just one more year to live.  Douglass was a mere twenty-eight.  However, a firm friendship quickly sprung up between them.  O’Connell, perhaps the finest orator of a nation known for oratory, heard the eloquent Douglass speak in Dublin and proclaimed him the “Black O’Connell”.

The wretched condition of most of the Irish moved and shocked Douglass as this passage he wrote in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison on March 27, 1846 reveals:

The spectacle that affected me most, and made the most vivid impression on my mind, of the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin, was the frequency with which I met little children in the street at a late hour of the night, covered with filthy rags, and seated upon cold stone steps, or in corners, leaning against brick walls, fast asleep, with none to look upon them, none to care for them. If they have parents, they have become vicious, and have abandoned them. Poor creatures! they are left without help, to find their way through a frowning world—a world that seems to regard them as intruders, and to be punished as such. God help the poor! An infidel might ask, in view of these facts, with confusing effect—Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black. In conversation with some who were such rigid adherents to their faith that they would scarce be seen in company with those who differed from them in any point of their creed, I have heard them quote the text in palliation of their neglect, “The poor shall not cease out of the land”! During my stay in Dublin, I took occasion to visit the huts of the poor in its vicinity—and of all places to witness human misery, ignorance, degradation, filth and wretchedness, an Irish hut is pre-eminent. It seems to be constructed to promote the very reverse of every thing like domestic comfort. If I were to describe one, it would appear about as follows: Four mud walls about six feet high, occupying a space of ground about ten feet square, covered or thatched with straw—a mud chimney at one end, reaching about a foot above the roof—without apartments or divisions of any kind—without floor, without windows, and sometimes without a chimney—a piece of pine board laid on the top of a box or an old chest— a pile of straw covered with dirty garments, which it would puzzle any one to determine the original part of any one of them—a picture representing the crucifixion of Christ, pasted on the most conspicuous place on the wall—a few broken dishes stuck up in a corner—an iron pot, or the half of an iron pot, in one corner of the chimney—a little peat in the fireplace, aggravating one occasionally with a glimpse of fire, but sending out very little heat—a man and his wife and five children, and a pig. In front of the door-way, and within a step of it, is a hole three or four feet deep, and ten or twelve feet in circumference; into this hole all the filth and dirt of the hut are put, for careful preservation. This is frequently covered with a green scum, which at times stands in bubbles, as decomposition goes on. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in. And some live in worse than these. Men and women, married and single, old and young, lie down together, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith.

It is a tribute both to Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell that their compassion was not limited to people like them, but extended to victims of injustice far removed from them.


In his memoirs published in 1882, Douglass recalled O’Connell:

Continue reading...

8 Responses to The Abolitionist and the Liberator

  • A fascinating post, Don! O’Connell certainly put Catholic Emancipation on the political agenda following the County Clare by-election of 1828, but to me the real heroes are the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, the leaders of the Tory party who got the measure through Parliament. Peel had to give up his Oxford seat as a result:

    O member for Oxford, you shuffle and wheel!
    You have altered your name from R. Peel to repeal!

    Daniel O’Connell once remarked of Peel that his smile was like the gleam of a brass plate upon a coffin, but his ministry of 1841-1846 was of momentous significance and he is the architect of the modern Conservative Party, which despite the PC posturings of its current leader, best enshrines the moral values which must inform our society.

    Thank you for directing me to Amanda Foreman’s ‘World on Fire’ which I persuaded someone to give me as a Christmas present. She seems to have an American readership in mind, hence her use of the term ‘banquet’ instead of ‘dinner’ and a couple of unfortunate references to British warships as ‘the HMS …’ (cringe, cringe). I wonder if American readers might find it a bit Anglocentric, however.

    I have gained a lot from your coverage of American politics – not really understood in Europe.

  • With all due respect to Mr. Douglass, and to you, Don, this passage reads like the sort of nonsense one would expect to read at NC Reporter:

    “Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black.”

    What hogwash! We were treated to the same sort of attacks on the Church by the so-called progressive Catholics during the debates over the new Roman Missal: “Why are we spending so much time debating the words of the Creed – ‘consubstantial’? Really? No one even knows what that means! – when there is so much suffering in the world?”

    Examples can be found here:



    The truth is that the Church can walk and chew gum at the same time. It can (and has throughout its entire 2000+ year history) debate creeds and still care for the poor. To accuse the Church in Ireland of not being there for the poor is outright calumny. The Church was ALL they had, and did what it could to alleviate their suffering.

    Whatever Mr. Douglass’ virtues as an abolitionist, in this instance, at least, he was either grossly misinformed or a liar.

  • Douglass was not a Catholic Jay, and I would note that his comment was not directed solely against the Church. The poverty in 19th Century Ireland among Irish Catholics was absolutely incredible to behold, especially during the potato famine, and it shocked most foreign visitors and not just Douglass. In other writings on Ireland, Douglass laid the blame for much of the poverty at the feet of the British government, and at the alcoholism that was rampant through all sections of Ireland at the time. The man also only spent four months in Ireland so he hardly had time to become expert on what the Church was doing to alleviate poverty. My guess is that his statement was uttered out of shock that such poverty was possible in a nation that purported to be Christian. Throughout his life Douglass was an outspoken advocate of Irish independence, so he certainly had no prejudice against Irish Catholics. As to his virtues as an abolitionist, they were great, as he was a walking refutation of the theory prevalent at the time that blacks were naturally inferior to whites.

  • “The man also only spent four months in Ireland so he hardly had time to become expert on what the Church was doing to alleviate poverty.”

    Then he probably should’ve kept his mouth shut regarding aspects of the situation about which he was ignorant.

    My problem with ALL progressives, even ones who are right about such things as slavery, is that religion is all to often for them a cheap scapegoat.

  • Douglass had the additional misfortune of being owned by extremely pious slaveholders during most of his life as a slave, and witnessing another nearly beating another slave to death over a minor infraction. The only one who treated him with any decency was a man who never made any profession of religious belief. While contacts with religious abolitionists helped over time, he had little patience with professed belief that was not matched with words.

  • “not matched with *actions.*”

    In linking to this post, I also link to Douglass’ “Narrative,” the first account of his life in slavery. It makes a difference when reading him here.

    Douglass was a remarkable man, and not afraid to change his opinions, startling even those who were staunch political allies. He alienated a lot of radical abolitionists when he broke with them over whether the Constitution was a slave-enabling document beyond redemption. He came to the conclusion that it was not, and shocked Garrison by arguing against him on that point in public.

  • “Then he probably should’ve kept his mouth shut regarding aspects of the situation about which he was ignorant.

    My problem with ALL progressives, even ones who are right about such things as slavery, is that religion is all to often for them a cheap scapegoat.”

    Douglass was a staunch upholder of the Constitution Jay, as Dale notes, and a fervent believer in free market capitalism. He wanted blacks to simply enjoy the rights and opportunities of all other Americans, and that strikes me as being a quite conservative position. He cannot be dismissed as a mere progressive. As to his comments, frankly the history of Ireland would have been a great deal better with less religious based hatred and a great deal more Christian charity. I am sure that Douglass did meet with some Protestants and Catholics in his visit to Ireland who seemed quite a bit more concerned with hating each other than in helping their poor countrymen. Such people, unfortunately, have never been in short supply in Ireland.

  • A minor point of correction. The issue of 1828 was not that Irish Catholics did not have the right to vote (they did, and the electors of County Clare voted for O’Connell) and in any case the franchise at that time was not a right – most Englishmen did not have it. It was that legislation dating back to the 17th century prevented Catholics from sitting in the House of Commons.

3 Responses to In Memoriam: Michael Collins

  • I embraced my German roots since the reunification.

    In believe Dev was safely ensconced in Brooklyn while the great man freed his native land.

    The civil war was nominally about the pledge, the republic and the north – none of which then were remotely possible. It probably was a power struggle. Dev never even tried to get unification. He kept Ireland neutered in WWII, though.

    I think Dev and his midget cliche could not rule while the great man lived.

    “Why do we live like this? The violence and the hatred . . . “

  • Collins did not ‘free his native land’, as he himself admitted (advocating the treaty as a ‘stepping stone’).

    Before anyone feels the need to comment on De Valera, they absolutely must first read Judging Dev by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter of UCD. Ferriter’s biography is the most up to date, having had access to previously unreleased archival material. He has changed radically the way historians view DeValera and refutes pevailing myths from the 1980’s.