Tag Archives: immigration


Episode 023 Alexander Hamilton: The Man, The Myth, and, Yes, The Musical!

subscribe-buttonIn this episode of ITPL, we focus on Alexander Hamilton. You may have noticed that Hamilton has become the hottest Founder in recent years – and it’s all due to the smash Broadway hit, “Hamilton: The Musical.”
So here’s the lineup:
1. First, I provide a brief backgrounder on the remarkable life of Alexander Hamilton. 2. Second, I sit down with historian Stephen F. Knott to discuss his book, Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America (Sourcebooks, 2015). He and his co-author Tony Williams argue that the relationship between Washington and Hamilton had a major impact on the outcome of the American Revolution and the subsequent creation of the American republic.
3. Finally, I drop by the one permanent site in Manhattan that’s dedicated to the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. It’s the Hamilton Grange in Harlem. I speak with National Park Service ranger Liam Strain about the site’s history and how “Hamilton: The Musical” has dramatically increased visitor traffic at the site. You can find show notes for this episode and more information about the podcast at www.InThePastLane.com
In The Past Lane is a production of Snoring Beagle International, Ltd.

About Stephen F. Knottwebsite

About the Hamilton Grangewebsite

Further Reading

ITPL Ep 023 Knott book coverStephen F. Knott and Tony Williams, Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America (Sourcebooks, 2015)

Ronald Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (Penguin, 2004)

Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 (2015)

Thomas Fleming, The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation (2015)

Joanne B. Freeman, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic

Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (2005)

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: The Revolution (2016)

John Sedgwick, War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation (2015)

The historic home of Alexander Hamilton, "The Grange," in Harlem, NYC.

The historic home of Alexander Hamilton, “The Grange,” in Harlem, NYC.

Jim Beckerman, “Hamilton Tourist Sites in New Jersey Ride the Wave of the Hit Musical,” Associated Press, Jun 12, 2016

Linda Flanagan, “How Teachers Are Using ‘Hamilton’ the Musical in the Classroom,” KQED.org

Valerie Strauss, “The unusual way Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’ is teaching U.S. history to kids,” Washington Post, June 28, 2016

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Doctor Turtle, “Often Outmumbled Never Outpunned” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, ”On The Street,” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Associate Producer, Devyn McHugh

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017

O'Donovan Rossa Gorilla Warfare Puck 1884 - crop

When Americans Saw Irish Immigrants as Terrorists

[NOTE – this piece accompanies a similar feature in my podcast, In The Past Lane

ITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)In case you haven’t noticed, there’s lots of talk about immigration and terrorism these days. Specifically, many Americans are worried about the alleged threat posed by Muslim immigrants and refugees. They fear that some of these people may be motivated by Islamic extremism to commit acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, much like we saw in the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Most Americans see this problem as a relatively new one – one that emerged in the wake of the terror attacks on September 11.  But the association of immigrant groups with terrorism has a long history in this country.

In the late 19th century, for eNY Post San Bernadino shooting copyxample, many Americans feared German immigrants because a small percentage of them were avowed radicals. These fears exploded in the wake of the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in May 1886, an act of violence that killed 7 policemen and was blamed — albeit on sketchy evidence — on German anarchists.  A few decades later, Americans shifted their fears from Germans to Italian immigrants because a small percentage of them likewise subscribed to anarchism, as well as other radicalisms like socialism. A number of murders and bombings in the early 20th century were attributed to Italian immigrant anarchists, including a massive bomb explosion on Wall Street in 1920 that killed thirty people.

But in this piece, let’s look at the connection between Irish immigration and terrorism in late 19th-century. It’s safe to say that the Irish were more closely associated with terrorism in the American mind than any other immigrant group and for a very long period of time. That’s right – the immigrant group that today most Americans associate with leprechauns, JFK, Riverdance, partying, and parading – was in the late 19th-century associated with terrorism.

Before going any further, it’s essential to point out that there are significant differences between San Bernardino-style terrorism that’s aimed at killing American citizens on US soil, and the terrorism that the Irish engaged in which was aimed at soldiers, policeman, and politicians in Ireland and Great Britain for the purposes of achieving Irish independence. These differences will become apparent as the details of this story unfold.

Let’s start with a quick Irish history 101. Our story begins in the mid 1860s, so what was the situation in Ireland at that time.  For hundreds of years up to that point, Ireland had been ruled by England. This colonial rule had become particularly onerous by the mid-17th century. That’s when the seizing of land from the Irish and transferring it to English landlords began in earnest, along with the suppression of the Catholic Church.

A starving mother and her children, victims of the Great Famine of 1845-1850.

A starving mother and her children, victims of the Great Famine of 1845-1850.

Periodically, the Irish rose up against British colonial rule, most notably in 1798 and 1848. But these insurrections were all crushed. Then in the mid-1840s, the Great Famine struck Ireland, killing more than 1 million people – about 1/8 of the population — and forcing another 1,000,000+ to flee, most of them to America.

Among these many immigrants were ardent Irish nationalists, many of whom had participated in the 1848 uprising. They were determined to launch another uprising that would gain Ireland’s independence. And they would take advantage of the freedoms in America to plot, recruit, and fundraise for this effort.  In the mid 1850s, these Irish nationalists, along with their brethren in Ireland, founded a nationalist organization that came to be known as the Fenians. For simplicity’s sake, we will use the term Fenians throughout this story. But it should be noted that Fenians was a broad term used to describe Irish nationalists who belonged to several different organizations like the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood.  The name Fenian comes from ancient Irish mythology. It’s an adaptation of the Fianna, the name of a legendary band of Irish warriors.

More than 100,000 Irish Americans turned out for a Fenian rally in New york City in 1866.

More than 100,000 Irish Americans turned out for a Fenian rally in New york City in 1866.

By 1860, these Fenians had recruited thousands of members from among the Irish immigrant masses in America. And they’d raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund an uprising in Ireland to gain Irish independence.  And when the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Fenians came to see it as enormously beneficial to their efforts. That’s because nearly 200,000 Irish and Irish-American men joined the Union Army. When the war ended, the Fenians reasoned, these battle hardened Irishman would make an ideal military force to help gain Ireland’s independence.

In 1866, a year after the Civil War concluded, the Fenians were ready to strike. But they had come to see that sending a force of 30,000 Irish-American Fenians across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland wasn’t practical. So, they opted for what appeared to be the next best thing: invade British North America, or what we know today as Canada. The goal was to trigger a war between the United States and Great Britain – something easy to imagine, since Americans were still furious with Great Britain for its support of the Confederacy. As soon as war broke out between America and Great Britain, Irish nationalists in Ireland would launch their uprising. Great Britain, they believed, would be so consumed with waging war on the United States, that it would be powerless to stop the Fenians from establishing an independent Ireland.

Now, if you think this sounds crazy, it’s important to point out that many Fenians also thought it was crazy. But they couldn’t stop a more militant faction within the movement from attempting the invasion.

The Battle of Ridgeway, 1866, as depicted in a popular painting

In the spring of 1866 – 150 years ago – thousands of Fenian soldiers, many of them veterans of the Union Army, gathered in encampments along the Canadian-US border, from Vermont to upstate New York. This was surely an impressive start.  But disorganization, poor communication, and sketchy logistics resulted in only one significant invasion effort. On June 1, 1866, a force of 1,000 Fenian soldiers, led by Civil War veteran Lieut. John O’Neill, crossed Lake Erie aboard a flotilla of boats, and landed on the Canadian side. The next day, after encountering no resistance, they attacked the small town of Ridgeway which was defended by about 850 poorly trained militia. The Irish invaders won the ensuing battle that saw eight Fenians and 12 Canadians killed. O’Neill called for 3,000 more soldiers massed in Buffalo, New York to join them in Canada, but by then the US military had moved in to stop the invasion. Frustrated, O’Neill had no choice but to retreat. After a brief skirmish with Canadian militia, his men boarded boats and headed for the United States’ side. But they were intercepted and arrested by American officials.

Now, stop here for a moment to consider this incident. A group of Irish-Americans, some of them still on active duty in the US Army, had conspired to invade a neighboring country to trigger a war between the United States and Great Britain. They killed 12 Canadians in the process. And had they succeeded in starting that war, thousands would have died. And who knows what the result would have been for the US.

Can you imagine a modern equivalent to this story?  What if 1,000 Pakistani-Americans – all of them Muslim – gathered secretly in the desert in Arizona, formed a heavily armed force, and then invaded Mexico? And, after killing 12 Mexican soldiers, they retreated back to the United States whereupon they were arrested.  What would be the reaction in this country? Fear? Rage? Talk of internment camps? Or worse?

While you think this over, let’s return to our story. What happened to the arrested Irishman? What became the Fenian invaders?  Incredibly, all were released and all charges eventually dropped. This occurred for two reasons. One, American politicians did not want to alienate the Irish American vote by prosecuting men who many Irish-Americans saw as heroes. Second, this was a deeply embarrassing event and many US officials simply wanted it to go away.

By the way, the Fenian invasion did not simply go away in minds of the British living in the various colonies that made up British North America. Rather, it helped convince them of the need to unite into a single political entity to protect themselves from the United States. This “confederation,” as it was known, became official – one year later in 1867. So the Fenians failed to liberate Ireland from British rule, but they did help put Canada on the road to independence. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

OK, let’s get back to the Fenians. Not surprisingly, the Fenian movement fell into disarray in the aftermath of the invasion fiasco. But various factions and other Irish nationalist organizations in the US continued to raise money for future operations aimed at gaining Irish independence. And some of these operations were explicitly terrorist in nature – bombings and assassinations.

Fenian diehard Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is ridiculed in this cartoon for his open support for bombing British targets as a way to gain Ireland's independence.

Fenian diehard Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is ridiculed in this cartoon for his open support for bombing British targets as a way to gain Ireland’s independence.

In the 1870s, one Fenian living in New York named Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa (depicted in the adjacent political cartoon) established what he euphemistically called a “Skirmishing Fund.” Each week in a newspaper he edited, O’Donovan Rossa reported the success of his efforts to raise money to fund operations against the British. Other Irishmen also raised money for similar purposes. Beginning in 1881, Fenians in the US and Ireland began to put this money to use. From 1881 to 1885 a dozen Fenian bombings rocked Great Britain.  In 1882, radical Irish nationalists assassinated the two top British officials in Ireland, stabbing them to death in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

At the same time, Irish nationalists in New York City hatched another truly outlandish scheme. They commissioned the building of a submarine that would be used to sink British ships. Now keep in mind, while there had been many attempts, including a recent one by the Confederate navy, no navy in the world had managed to construct a successful military submarine. But these diehard Irish Americans were undaunted.

Fenian Ram designer John P. Holland exits the submarine after a test run

Fenian Ram designer John P. Holland exits the submarine after a test run

And amazingly, they succeeded. Well, sort of. It’s a remarkable story. The Fenians hired an Irish-born self-taught marine engineer named John Holland to build the submarine. He’d been studying submarine design and tinkering with scale models for years and now he had the funding to actually build one.  The craft, dubbed the Fenian Ram, was completed in the spring of 1881. It was cigar-shaped, thirty-one feet long and six feet wide, with room for two to three crewmen. Torpedoes intended for British ships would be shot by compressed air through a tube at the bow.  Holland completed a number of successful test runs in New York harbor.

But by July of 1881 the “secret” submarine plot was uncovered by the New York Times. In the end, the Fenian Ram was never put into action. But interestingly, John Holland went on to build the first submarines for the US Navy. In fact, he’s often referred to as “the father of the American submarine fleet.” That’s a pretty amazing turn of events for a man linked to a Fenian terrorist plot. You can still see the Fenian Ram on display at the Paterson Museum in Paterson, NJ.

Puck magazine depicts this Irishman as both violent and unwilling to assimilate into American culture, despite the efforts of Lady Liberty (aka Columbia).

Puck magazine depicts this Irishman as both violent and unwilling to assimilate into American culture, despite the efforts of Lady Liberty (aka Columbia).

This submarine plot, along with the bombings, assassinations, and invasions of Canada (yes, invasions – there were additional ones not discussed here), brought a lot of harsh criticism on the Irish in the United States. It added to the stereotype of the Irish as inherently violent people. This sentiment is revealed in the political cartoons that accompany this piece that depict the Irish as terroristic bombers. Fenianism also perpetuated the claim that the Irish would never make good Americans, because their actions showed them to be disloyal to the United States and obsessed with Ireland. At least that’s what their critics claimed.

So, what became of this Fenian movement and the association of the Irish with terrorism? To begin with, it’s important to point out that not all Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans supported Fenian violence. A great majority of the Irish in America did support efforts to gain Ireland’s independence from Great Britain, but not necessarily by means of violence. The Catholic Church in America promoted this position. It denounced Fenians and threatened Catholics with excommunication if they joined the movement.  As a result, as more and more Irish-Americans began to experience upward economic mobility in the late-nineteenth century, they tended to avoid any association with Fenian-style Irish nationalism. These Irish-Americans wanted a free Ireland, but they also wanted respect. They wanted to be seen as intelligent, hard-working, sober, and patriotic Americans. As a consequence, they worked very hard to eradicate the association of the Irish with crime, poverty, disease, drunkenness, and – yes – nationalist violence. They supported efforts to liberate Ireland, but only peaceful and constitutional efforts. They rejected violence and terrorism as misguided and harmful to the Irish reputation.  By 1900 the image of the Fenian bomber and assassin had faded in the United States. At that point, Americans were fixated on more recently arrived immigrant radicals from Southern and Eastern Europe.

This political cartoon shows an anarchist of southern or eastern European background threatening America. By 1919 the image of the Irish immigrant terrorist had faded.

This political cartoon shows an anarchist of southern or eastern European background threatening America. By 1919 the image of the Irish immigrant terrorist had faded.

Over the coming decades, continued rising economic status, as well as military service and staunch support for the Cold War, earned Irish Americans a reputation as some of the nation’s most loyal, law-abiding, and patriotic citizens. That remained the case even in the late 1960s and 1970s when Northern Ireland was plunged into sectarian violence that often involved bombings and assassinations funded in part by Irish Americans.

These days, no one seems to remember a time not that long ago when Americans looked at a St. Patrick’s Day parade and saw Irish terrorists.

We should keep this in mind as we listen to the vitriolic rhetoric about immigration and terrorism in this election year. And you might keep it in mind should you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

As always, the past has much to teach us. But we have to be willing to listen.

Puck magazine shows buffooonish Irish nationalists carrying bombs to their meetings.











Punch, the British equivalent of Puck, likewise portrayed the Irish as dangerous terrorists.

Punch, the British equivalent of Puck, likewise portrayed the Irish as dangerous terrorists.





Lady Liberty Had Something Else in Mind – The Statue of Liberty Originally Had NOTHING to Do with Immigration

InThePastLane.com                                                                 by Edward T. O’Donnell

ITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)The story of the Statue of Liberty provides an excellent opportunity to examine how the icons and traditions a society holds dear often originated with very different purposes and meanings. Put another way, it allows us to ponder yet another example of one of my rules of history—namely, that nothing “has always been.” It was not until decades after 1776 that Americans began to consider the Declaration of Independence a sacred document. Thanksgiving only became a major national holiday after the Civil War. Freedom of speech, despite its enshrinement in the Bill of Rights, only acquired its broad definition in the early 20th century. And the Statue of Liberty, long a symbol of America’s revered tradition of welcoming the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” originally had nothing to do with immigration. That association developed in the mid-20th century, some fifty years after its grand coming out party in 1886.

To raise funds for the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty would stand, the arm and torch were sent to America in 1876 for display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

So what did the Statue of Liberty stand for in 1886?  The answer is found in its origins as a gift of the French people to celebrate republican government as established in the American and French Revolutions. The brief version of the story is as follows. A French legal scholar, political leader, reformer, and abolitionist Edouard Rene de Laboulaye proposed in 1865 (some accounts say 1870) the idea of the French people funding the creation of a monument to American independence to mark the centennial of the American Revolution in 1876. Laboulaye hoped the monument would strengthen ties between France and the U.S. and inspire his fellow French reformers to restore republican liberties being suppressed under the rule of Napoleon III. Laboulaye eventually secured the services of sculptor Frederic Bartholdi who, after years of delays, eventually commenced work on the Statue in 1875.  The Statue’s arm and torch arrived one year later to be displayed at the Philadelphia world’s fair. As the rest of the Statue arrived in crates by 1883, Americans raised the money for the pedestal on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. By the fall of 1886, as the Statue neared completion, officials planned a massive celebration to accompany the unveiling.

Lady Liberty holds a tablet with the inscription, July 4, 1776, to commemorate the birth of the American republic.

That the Statue had everything to do with celebrating republican ideals and nothing to do with immigration is further demonstrated by the full name assigned it—“Liberty Enlightening the World”—and its symbolism. Lady Liberty carries in her right hand the torch of liberty and in her left a tablet inscribed with July 4, 1776. Moreover, she faces the Atlantic Ocean and Europe. Her message is clear: Hey, Europe and the rest of the world—you want some of this American peace, prosperity, and progress? Well, then rid yourself of monarchs, aristocracies, established churches, and fixed classes and embrace republican government.

A million people turned out to see “Liberty Enlightening the World” unveiled.

That was the central message at the gigantic civic celebration that attended the Statue’s unveiling on October 28, 1886. More than a million people gathered in New York City for the festivities (which, incidentally, included the first ticker-tape parade), including President Grover Cleveland, members of Congress, representatives of the French government, and other foreign dignitaries.  The theme of this grand civic celebration and the many speeches and editorials that marked it was a celebration of the American republic and the belief that it stood as an inspiring example to the rest of the world.  “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home,” declared President Cleveland in his speech. Its radiant light, symbolized in the Statue’s torch, would radiate outward to penetrate the “darkness of ignorance and man’s oppression until Liberty enlightens the world!” The only reference to immigrants was a negative one from railroad magnate Chauncey Depew, who declared republican self-government and not “Anarchists and bombs” as the best remedy for the social unrest then rocking the nation (1886 was the year of a record number of strikes and the Haymarket bombing), unrest many associated with radical immigrants spreading dangerous ideologies like socialism and anarchism.

If the Statue of Liberty originated without any consideration of immigration, then what about the poem, “The New Colossus” that is so closely associated with it?

With silent lips. “Give me your
tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your
teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the
golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, a Jewish-American poet, wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883. But it would be 50 years before it garnered attention for its message connecting the Statue of Liberty to the theme of welcoming immigrants.

Written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, it clearly celebrated the Statue as a beacon of hope to immigrants seeking freedom. But the historical record shows that this idea began and ended with Lazarus. No one paid any attention to the poem. Three years later, no one mentioned it at the unveiling ceremony. None of Lazarus’ obituaries or eulogies mentioned in when she died in 1887.  Even when a wealthy New Yorker in 1903 paid for a bronze tablet bearing the poem to be attached to the base of the Statue (more as a tribute to Lazarus than a celebration of immigration), it drew almost no attention. As late as the 1930s the information provided by the National Park Service (which managed the Statue) told visitors to the Statue that it was a symbol of Franco-American unity and republican liberty.

Of course, that was the official interpretation.  The millions of immigrants who entered New York harbor after the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in 1886 interpreted it as a beacon of hope and symbol of freedom from Old World oppression. Native-born Americans in this period harbored no such warm and fuzzy feelings. The period 1870-1920 witnessed a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment that eventually resulted in immigration restriction in 1924.

“Dumping European Garbage” (Judge magazine, 1890) was typical of the nativist cartoons ca. 1880-1920 that used the image of Lady Liberty to condemn immigration.

Most Americans in this period looked upon the “huddled masses” as a threat to American society, not the building blocks of a vibrant and prosperous multi-ethnic democracy. Indeed, the most common use of the Statue of Liberty image was to condemn immigration.

So, when did the more familiar interpretation of the Statue take hold?  Tellingly, it wasn’t until after Congress sharply restricted immigration in 1924 that Americans began to assign a new meaning to the Statue—that of a goddess of liberty welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (yes, it’s in the 1930s when Lazarus’ poem becomes popular). While this might seem strange, history tells us that it’s actually quite common. Societies often begin honoring something only after it’s gone. Americans despised Native Americans until they were defeated and confined to reservations in the 1880s. Then Americans embraced a romanticized image of Native Americans that remains powerful to this very day.

These days, this image dominates the official US government website providing information to new immigrants about citizenship.

In the case of the Statue of Liberty, writes historian John Higham, “So long as millions of immigrants entered ‘the golden door,’ the Statue of Liberty was unresponsive to them; it served other purposes. After the immigrant ships no longer passed under the New Colossus in significant numbers, it enshrined the immigrant experience as a transcendental national memory. Because few Americans were now immigrants, all could think of them as having been immigrants.” By the 1950s a Museum of Immigration opened at the Statue and record-breaking crowds arrived to tour it.  And so it was that the Statue of Liberty, notes Higham, “gradually joined the covered wagon as a symbol of the migrations that had made America.”

Like I always say: nothing “has always been.”


Follow me on Twitter    @InThePastLane

Sources and Further Reading:

James B. Bell and Richard I. Abrams, In Search of Liberty: The Story of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (Doubleday, 1984).

Edward Berenson, The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (Yale, 2012).

John Higham, “The Transformation of the Statue of Liberty,” in John Higham, Send These to Me: Immigrants in Urban America (Johns Hopkins, 1984).

Yasmin Sabina Khan, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty (Cornell, 2010).

The New York Times, October 28, 1886.