"Writing Emmet’s Epitaph: Rebels Versus Politicians in the Boston Globe’s Representation of the Easter Rising"

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The evening edition related the urgency to which events in Ireland called for by leading with the headline, “ASQUITH IS GOING TO DUBLIN,” and, notably, the article referred to those executed in the uprising as “persons.”63 “FOURTEEN PERSONS EXECUTED IN IRELAND” appeared on the front page, a distinct difference from the Globe’s pre-execution assignation of the belligerents purely as “rebels.” Now, the newspaper was portraying these men as human and, by not referring to them as rebels, again highlighting its own change in stance. This shift in perspective by the Globe is also discernable by the language it used to describe the 73 “persons” who received sentences of penal servitude. Not only were the executed no longer rebels, but also those who participated in the rebellion benefited from the perspective change. Another manifestation of the change in attitude was the newspaper’s open advertisement of a F.O.I.F. meeting: “The provisional committee of the F.O.I.F. of Massachusetts has called upon ‘the men and women of Irish blood and all lovers of human liberty in Massachusetts’ to assemble in Tremont Temple Monday at 8pm to protest against the recent execution of revolutionists in Ireland. There will be speeches.”64

Following the executions of James Connolly and Sean McDermott, Saturday’s Globe printed its belief that these “signers of [the] Proclamation” would be the “last to suffer,” thus hinting that the bloody affair might finally be laid to rest.65 The term “leader” was by this time the word consistently used by the newspaper to describe those Irish belligerents who had been executed by the British Army.66

On Monday the 15th of May, the Boston Globe filled the second page of its morning edition with a multitude of articles denouncing the British and the handling of recent events in Ireland along with demands for a “FREE IRELAND.”67 Now the newspaper not only freely printed condemnations of the British but also started to publish “radical” groups’ rhetoric calling for an Ireland free from the yoke of Great Britain. Even previously moderate—that is, constitutionalist—groups were reported to be extremely anti-British. For example, the Globe printed that the

County Wexford Club adopted resolutions last evening denouncing the conduct of the English government in their punishment of Irishmen who took an active part in the recent Irish revolt in Dublin, at their meeting in Hibernian Hall, Charlestown, following a stirring address by Dr. H. V. McLaughlin of Brookline.68

In addition, the President of the Central Branch of the United Irish League “denounce[d] the conduct of the English government in their murdering of Irish patriots” and castigated them for their “satanic brutality.”69 Someone else went so far as to call for England’s ruin, declaring “no Irishman with red blood in his veins will rest content until England has been destroyed.”70 Speaking of Easter 1916 in the same vein as the American War of Independence in 1776, Matthew Cumming said that he had “vengeance across his flag.”71

The 15th and 16th of May were days of high publishing activity for Boston’s most popular newspaper, although the emphasis now shifted from events in Ireland to the local reactions. The front page of the Globe’s morning edition on Tuesday the 16th of May was dedicated to the mass meeting held the previous night, during which denunciations of the British had been commonplace. The meeting of over 9,000 people (which included a spillover meeting on the common at Parkman Bandstand) was hailed by the Globe as “one of the biggest mass meetings Tremont Temple ever saw” and featured speeches from the city’s leading men.72 The extremely radical resolutions from the meeting that was held under the auspices of the F.O.I.F. demanded “America Break With England,” and the Globe acquiesced, printing them in full.73 The executions seemed to serve as the vehicle for increased radical Irish Nationalism, an attitude manifested by one of the speakers, Joseph Smith of Lowell, who “scored the English and Redmondite press” and declared, “We are here to honor the memory of our martyred dead, not to mourn them.”74 Furthermore, the Globe reported that when Smith asked the crowd if they endorsed the Tremont Resolutions, the multitude “showed its emphatic approval of them with whoops which continued a full minute.”75 In the midst of this sea of British denunciation, the Globe did publish an account of the U.I.L.’s “SUPPORT FOR REDMOND,” an article that seemed to swim against the current of popular Boston opinion.76 Included in the piece was a statement maintaining “all the members expressed the fullest confidence in the leadership of John E. Redmond and the members of the Nationalist party and they felt that Irish representative will be able to handle the delicate situation in a way to win the praise of Irishmen everywhere.”77 Much interest in Casement’s trial and Asquith’s continued presence in Dublin was also expressed.

From the 17th to the 26th of May, the Globe primarily concerned itself with the trial and character of Sir Roger Casement while also detailing the fate of Jeremiah C. Lynch, an American citizen involved in the Rebellion. Although Lynch had originally been sentenced to death, his sentence was later commuted to 10 years in prison in response to an outcry by the American press (and official diplomatic intervention by the Wilson administration). Another Globe article of note from this period concerned an opinion on the state of affairs regarding the rebellion from England. In a letter written from Dublin where he had been investigating conditions, Henry W. Massingham, editor of The Nation, asserted, “the Sinn Fein Revolt finally earned the sympathy of the Irish people, who in the hour of it start fiercely condemned it, because of the executions and errors of the military administration.”78 The Globe appeared to be using Massingham’s analysis as its own, a style which had come to characterize this newspapers’ approach to reporting Easter Rebellion news.

The front pages of the Boston Globe from August 2nd through 4th portrayed Sir Roger Casement’s execution sympathetically, with the newspaper including a number of partisan statements from people utterly opposed to such a “blunder.” The Globe presented a variety of opinions on the subject, including sources from England and U.S. Senators. On the 3rd of August, it printed a front-page statement by Lord Cecil on the legality of the execution, although notably, in the later edition, there is an article written by Michael Francis of Philadelphia who declared that statement a fake.79 On the same day, an editorial from the Daily News (England) was published, the author of which testified,

We cannot but reaffirm our conviction that resolving that the death penalty must be exacted, the government has exhibited grave unwisdom. From a commutation of Casement’s sentence no evil results could follow. To pretend that further exaction is necessary as an example or warning is to give the disaffected section in Ireland another martyr to embitter feeling throughout the island, to alienate many persons, and to enable Germany to play off the death of Casement—the parallel in reality is grotesque, but is not near enough for her purpose against the death of Capt. Fryatt.80
The editor continued, “No one can contend that the execution of Casement is a crime; but that it is a lamentable blunder can hardly be contested.”81 With such vehement denunciations of Casement’s plight, the change in the Globe’s coverage from support of the politicians to rebels now seemed to be complete.

Striving to transcend the factionalized reactions concerning the Easter Rebellion, the Boston Globe, perhaps unwittingly, placed itself above the two seemingly opposed, yet inextricably intertwined, traditions of Irishmen as rebels and as politicians. In an essay entitled, “The Political Irish: Politicians and Rebels,” Thomas N. Brown contends that politicians and rebels “are in fact two political Irish traditions that animate the contemporary American imagination.”82 He continues, “the two images are at odds with one another,” stating that while the politician has “the ability to accommodate differences, to find when in office suitable compromises in moral and other dilemmas,” the rebel “is of a different order.”83 “The rebel,” in Brown’s words,

Rejects compromise and pursues principles, even unto death. The moral distance between the rebel and the politician is immense: The rebel seeks justice, the politician is content with order. The rebel finds his place in the streets and the hills, the politician in the ancient houses of power. The rebel looks to the future; the politician sits complacently in the present…The rebel resides in Ireland; the politician in America.84
William V. Shannon further illustrated this concept when he posited that the Irish immigrants to America brought with them an awareness of the uses of politics. Most of them came from rural, western Ireland where local government was in the hands of an Anglo-Irish landlord class backed by the British army and the police. The political history of nineteenth century Ireland was essentially a struggle to break that monopoly. During the long struggle, the ordinary Irish people had shown formidable talents for political conspiracy and political agitation. Retaining the characteristics that enabled them to extract concessions in Ireland, the Irish arrived in the United States a community-oriented and politicized people. As a result, their political culture put a high value on loyalty and on strong leadership.85 However, violence was endemic in much of rural Ireland where tenant farmers and landless laborers struggled to overthrow the landlord system, and nationalist groups like the Fenians conspired to bring Ireland its freedom by the use of force. “Rebels” were, therefore, admired by many and romanticized by a vast majority of Irish men and women. Shannon notes, “the Irishman as rebel is a tradition counterposed to that of the Irishman as politician.”86 Since the Irish so quickly found their way into political power in the open American system, they had relatively little recourse on this side of the Atlantic to violence or to the moral absolution of the rebel, but his romantic appeal lingered in the popular imagination. Perhaps this contradictory respect and admiration for both politicians and rebels was the reason for the Globe’s portrayal of a mixed reception to the Easter Rebellion amongst Bostonians. As Brown proposes, however, throughout history “Irish rebels are [seen as] heroes”; therefore, while the Globe’s receptiveness to Boston’s Irish population and its eventual support for the Easter Rebels might not necessarily be considered inevitable, it may be considered as somewhat understandable. 87

Initially, the Globe may have appeared so vehemently anti-rebellion in the pre-execution period because of the politics of its Irish Society editor, James T. Sullivan, an active Redmondite. Sullivan dominated the John Redmond Branch of the U.I.L., a branch that held its meetings at the Globe building, and a group to which he always gave extensive coverage. Strengthening the case for a relative lack of Redmondite activity even with a Redmondite in control, the Globe included few reports of conservative gatherings in its coverage of Irish affairs.88 Considering that the first mass meeting in protest to the executions was held at Hibernian Hall on May 7th under the auspices of the Clan-na-Gael and was not accounted for by the city’s most popular newspaper, a Redmondite agenda might have been thought to be behind this non-report.89 John Devoy’s Gaelic American did print an account of the event, however, reporting that “the hall was crowded to the utmost capacity, and a large number of people were turned away” even going so far as to assert, “Boston never witnessed a more enthusiastic or unanimous meeting.”90 Perhaps the Gaelic American exaggerated, perhaps not. Either way, the Globe ignored a meeting whose crowd was estimated at between 1500-2000 people; the reasons for its omission could be assumed to be political. On May 16th, the day after the mass meeting held at Tremont Temple, delegates representing 30 of the 32 Irish County Clubs passed a resolution condemning the executions and calling on all “liberty-loving Americans” to join in this sentiment against England’s “latest act of tyranny.”91 Two days later, one thousand people attended the annual dance given by the Irish Volunteers to benefit Irish freedom. The hall was decorated with a large “rebel flag” and a commemorative tablet, draped in black, with the names of those executed and the motto “Sacred to the Memory of Ireland’s Murdered Patriots. Never to be forgotten.”92 The Globe reported none of it. Again, although it is possible that the newspaper was unaware of these events, its ignorance is unlikely.

Although the Globe was not expressly affiliated with the Catholic Church, it is impossible to divorce the latter’s influence from Boston culture and politics; therefore, the newspaper, perceiving the Church’s official position as intrinsically conservative and evenhanded, could have constructed its initial reactions anchored in this Christian doctrine. Theodore Hammet sums up the Church’s official position on the rebellion when he notes,

In a move which said a good deal about the Church, the Pope condemned the rebellion and some two hundred priests signed a telegram to Redmond ‘ deploring the revolt…and expressing their loyalty to the King.’93

According to the teachings of the Church, a revolution must not be started unless it is against a government that practices intolerable oppression. Moreover, all legitimate means of redress should have been tried before any resort to violence. The revolutionary movement should also have widespread popular support and should have a reasonable prospect of success. After applying these criteria to the Easter Rebellion, historian John J. Horgan (writing many years after the Rebellion) was sharply critical of the rising: “This small body of conspirators by putting nationalism before religion…placed themselves outside the pale of the Church.”94 Theodore Hammet offers a different interpretation, however, arguing that the Catholic Church in Boston was far more favorable to the rebels than its counterpart in Ireland. He notes, “Never in the vanguard of the militants, the Church, her priests in Boston, and the diocesan organ nonetheless were deeply affected by the repression and the executions.”95 The differences in opinion regarding the Rebellion that Hammet asserts existed between the Catholic Church in Boston and Ireland might explain in part the ease with which the Globe made the transition from being anti-rebellion to pro-rebellion, especially because the Boston Pilot supported the rebels from the start.

Officially the Catholic organ for the archdiocese of Boston, the Pilot was hostile to the British, while being openly in favor of the Easter rebels. The editor manifested one such example of his enmity towards the Crown when, on the 5th of August, he wrote “let us remember that the British Government will never yield to the Irish claim for justice, because it is justice, unless a knife is at the nation’s throat or a conquering enemy at its door.”96 As the authorized Catholic newspaper/letter for Boston and its surrounding area, one would usually be surprised to find such an organ advancing physical force tactics; perhaps the Pilot illustrated the general belief in Irish-American (Catholic) circles that the British’s execution of the Irish “celebrities” was both shocking and outrageous. Even a “modest opinion” on the Easter events in the paper could yield sentiments stating,

we would say that every son, grandson, and great-grandson of an Irishman…who took up arms for the Allies, had in his heart the stirring hope that directly or indirectly he was doing something for Ireland, and would be, in the last analysis, behind the rebels.97
In addition, Alden Jamison has noted the fact that once the rebellion had started, the Pilot began almost immediately to “utilize the propagandistic Irish Press and News Service, which it had previously spurned.”98 Despite the often highly biased views of the Pilot’s writers and editors, it did raise awareness and perceptively surmise that the “rebellion had already done much to unify Irishmen, wherever they might be, in their determination that the Irish question had to be solved.”99

Thus, the Boston Globe’s representation of the Easter Rising of 1916, among other things, has demonstrated that the newspaper was receptive enough to local pressures to drastically change positions on the Irish belligerents and events. While slightly more conservative—that is, pro-Redmond—than some elements of the American press, it did allow itself to get swept along with the general tide of discontent that crashed across the continent because of the British government’s policy of mass internment and execution of rebels. One of the lessons of Easter Week and the subsequent policies pursued in 1916 by the British are clearly evident: Executions are not taken lightly, they serve to make martyrs of people and can lead to emotions overtaking rationality, especially when those people perceive themselves to be subjugated. General Maxwell, by putting Pearse et al. to death, brought to life the “rebels” (as detailed by Brown) of popular imagination for the Boston-Irish, among whom there was already considerable anti-English feeling. Another potential lesson that might be taken from this study is that an ally (The Globe) turned against Great Britain, granted, not to the extent some newspapers did, but significantly enough to where it (perhaps unwittingly) became an important vehicle for Irish nationalism in Boston. Both are lessons that would be well remembered by more powerful nations against lesser ones when prisoners of war are taken.

1 Robert Emmet, aided by Thomas Russell tried to reorganize the United Irish movement (the group whose bloody rebellion had failed in 1798); however, their “efforts ended ignominiously.” Launching a rebellion that lasted but a few hours on the night of July 23rd, 1803, thirty people were killed, including the chief justice of Ireland and his son-in-law “who were piked to death after their coach was attacked.” Emmet was arrested on August 25th and was sentenced to death by hanging. Nevertheless, it was his final words that, delivered extemporaneously after he learned his fate, outlived him and shaped the legend his name was to become. These words are included in the opening quote of this essay. See Golway, For the Cause of Liberty, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 92.

2 Boston Daily Globe, 26 April 1916 (1). Initially, and, in some quarters for much longer, Sinn Fein was thought to be responsible for the rebellion. As Adelman notes, “Sinn Fein (‘Ourselves Alone’) had been founded by Arthur Griffith in 1907 as a militant, but non-violent, Irish nationalist organization. It had little influence before the war, and its anti-war stance in 1914 remained a minority view and was more or less ignored by the authorities. What changed the situation was the Easter Rebellion of 1916.” He further contends that “the rebellion was essentially a Sinn Fein uprising, [and] increased the prestige and influence of Griffith’s organization at the expense of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Sinn Fein’s popularity increased even more as a result of the policies pursued by the British government and army after May 1916: the continuation of martial law and further imprisonments, including that of Arthur Griffith himself; the creation of fresh martyrs owing to the deaths of a few prisoners on hunger strike; the spread of revolutionary ideas among the Irishmen brought together in the prisons and internment camps; and the apparent acceptance of the Unionist veto over immediate Home Rule by Asquith and Lloyd George. By the end of 1916 Sinn Fein had in effect remodeled itself to conform with its current image, and become a revolutionary party committed to the establishment of the Irish Republic whose birth had been announced in the Easter Proclamation.” In Paul Adelman, Great Britain and the Irish Question: 1800-1922 (Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Redwood Books, 1996), 135.

3 Boston Evening Globe, 26 April 1916 (1).

4 Boston Evening Globe, 26 April 1916 (1).

5 Boston Evening Globe, 27 April 1916 (1).

6 Boston Evening Globe, 27 April 1916 (6).

7 Boston Evening Globe, 27 April 1916 (10).

8 Boston Evening Globe, 27 April 1916 (10).

9 Boston Evening Globe, 28 April 1916 (4).

10 Boston Evening Globe, 28 April 1916 (4).

11 Boston Daily Globe, 28 April 1916 (2).

12 Boston Daily Globe, 29 April 1916 (1).

13 Boston Daily Globe, 29 April 1916 (8).

14 Boston Daily Globe, 29 April 1916 (1).

15 Boston Daily Globe, 29 April 1916 (8).

16 Boston Daily Globe, 29 April 1916 (8).

17 Boston Evening Globe, 29 April 1916 (1).

18 Boston Evening Globe, 29 April 1916 (1).

19 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (1).

20 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

21 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

22 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

23 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

24 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

25 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

26 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (11).

27 Boston Sunday Globe, 30 April 1916 (53).

28 Boston Daily Globe, 1 May 1916 (1); Boston Evening Globe, 1 May 1916 (2).

29 Boston Evening Globe, 1 May 1916 (1).

30 Boston Daily Globe, 1 May 1916 (1).

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