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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Thomas Fitzsimons, U.S. Merchant & Statesman

thomas-fitzsimonsThomas Fitzsimons, American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dies in Philadelphia on August 26, 1811. He represents Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention and the United States House of Representatives.

Fitzsimons is born in Ireland in 1741. In the mid-1750s his family immigrates to Philadelphia, where his father dies soon thereafter. He has enough education that he begins work as a clerk in a mercantile house. He marries Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761 and forms a business partnership with her brother George. Their firm, which specializes in the West Indies trade, operates successfully for over 41 years.

The firm is soon hit by the new revenue measures created to help support the finances of the British Empire, including the much reviled Stamp Act of 1765. Concerned with these ideas, Fitzsimons becomes active in the Irish merchant community in Philadelphia. He is a founding member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in 1771 and later, in 1774, a steering committee organized to protest the Coercive Acts.

When Pennsylvania begins mobilizing and organizing a militia to fight the British, Fitzsimons is soon involved. He serves as captain of a company of home guards under the command of Colonel John Caldwalader. Initially his company serves as part of the soldiers who man posts along the New Jersey coast. His unit later serves as part of the reserve at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Later in the war, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Safety and heads a board to oversee the newly formed Pennsylvania Navy.

Fitzsimons enters active politics as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783. He is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1786 until 1795. He is also a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787. Although not a leading member of that convention, he supports a strong national government, the end of slavery, the United States Congress‘s powers to impose a tariff on imports and exports, the granting the House of Representatives, and power in equal to the United States Senate in making treaties. He is one of only two Catholic signers of the Constitution of the United States, the other being Daniel Carroll of Maryland.

After the Constitution is established, he serves in the first three sessions of the House of Representatives as a Federalist, where he favors protective tariffs and a strong navy, co-drafting the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the original six frigates of the United States Navy. He fails to win re-election in 1794. This was partially attributed to public opinion turning against the Federalist Party over the forceful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. Although he never holds elective office again, he serves in 1798 as head of the committee of merchants overseeing the subscription-loan to build a warship at private expense for use in the Quasi-War.

In 1796, FitzSimons, along with James Innes of Virginia, is appointed by President John Adams to serve as one of two American members on the five-man debt commission charged under Article VI of the Jay Treaty with examining the claims of British subjects unable to collect debts incurred by Americans prior to the American Revolution. FitzSimons, Innes and Samuel Sitgreaves, who replaces Innes upon the latter’s death, become annoyed with the arguments used by their British counterparts to inflate the claims total. FitzSimons and Sitgreaves angrily and permanently seceded from the board in July 1799. The claims are eventually disposed of by a lump-sum payment, agreed upon by United States Minister to Britain Rufus King with British Foreign Secretary Robert Banks Jenkinson and approved by President Thomas Jefferson and the Senate in 1802.

While withdrawing from politics, Fitzsimons remains active in civic and business affairs. He serves as president of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the Delaware Insurance Company and a director of the Bank of North America from 1781–1803. He is a founder of the bank and supports efforts to found Georgetown College. He also helps found the Insurance Company of North America.

Fitzsimons dies on August 26, 1811, in Philadelphia, where he is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, which is in present-day Independence National Historical Park.


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Death of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States

andrew-johnsonAndrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States (1865 – 1869), dies on July 31, 1875 at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, Tennessee after suffering two strokes.

Johnson assumes the presidency at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln as he is Lincoln’s Vice President. He is a Democrat who runs with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, coming to office as the American Civil War concludes. He favors quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union without protection for the former slaves. This leads to conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1868. He is acquitted in the Senate by one vote. His main accomplishment as president is the Alaska Purchase.

Johnson is born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His grandfather emigrated to the United States from County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. He never attends school and is apprenticed as a tailor and works in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He serves as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, he is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he serves five two-year terms.

On October 17, 1853, Johnson becomes the 15th Governor of Tennessee serving for four years until November 3, 1857. He is elected by the legislature to the United States Senate on October 8, 1857. During his congressional service, he seeks passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 which is enacted soon after he leaves his Senate seat in 1862.

Southern slave states secede to form the Confederate States of America, which includes Tennessee, but Johnson remains firmly with the Union. He is the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who does not resign his seat upon learning of his state’s secession. In 1862, Lincoln appoints him as military governor of Tennessee after most of it has been retaken. In 1864, he is a logical choice as running mate for Lincoln, who wishes to send a message of national unity in his re-election campaign. Their ticket easily wins the election. He is sworn in as Vice President on March 4, 1865. He gives a rambling speech, after which he secludes himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln elevates him to the presidency.

Johnson implements his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. Southern states return many of their old leaders and pass Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, but Congressional Republicans refuse to seat legislators from those states and advance legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoes their bills, and Congressional Republicans override him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency.

Johnson opposes the Fourteenth Amendment which gives citizenship to former slaves. In 1866, he goes on an unprecedented national tour promoting his executive policies, seeking to break Republican opposition. As the conflict grows between the branches of government, Congress passes the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 restricting his ability to fire Cabinet officials. He persists in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but ends up being impeached by the House of Representatives and narrowly avoiding conviction in the Senate. He does not win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination and leaves office the following year.

Johnson returns to Tennessee after his presidency and gains some vindication when he is elected to the Senate in 1875, making him the only former president to serve in the Senate. In late July 1875, convinced some of his opponents are defaming him in the Ohio gubernatorial race, he decides to travel there to give speeches. He begins the trip on July 28, and breaks the journey at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, where his daughter Martha is also staying. That evening he suffers a stroke but refuses medical treatment until the following day. When he does not improve two doctors are sent for from Elizabethton. He seems to respond to their ministrations, but suffers another stroke on the evening of July 30 and dies early the following morning at the age of 66.

President Ulysses S. Grant has the “painful duty” of announcing the death of the only surviving past president. Northern newspapers, in their obituaries, tend to focus on Johnson’s loyalty during the war, while Southern ones pay tribute to his actions as president. Johnson’s funeral is held on August 3 in Greeneville. He is buried with his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution placed under his head, according to his wishes. The burial ground is dedicated as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906 and, with his home and tailor’s shop, is part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.


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Death of Boston Politician James Michael Curley

james-michael-curleyJames Michael Curley, American Democratic Party politician and one of the best known and most colourful big-city Democratic bosses, dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. He dominated Boston politics throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Curley’s father, Michael Curley, a juvenile petty criminal, leaves Oughterard, County Galway, at the age of fourteen. He settles in Roxbury, an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Boston.

Curley never forgets the needs of new immigrants, and he owes much of his political success to serving those needs in exchange for votes. He enters politics in 1899, winning a seat on the Boston common council. In 1904 he is imprisoned briefly for impersonating a friend at a civil service examination.

Curley serves in a succession of elective capacities—as a state legislator, alderman, city councilman, and U.S. representative—before winning the mayoralty in 1914, resigning his congressional seat to assume the municipal office.

Curley centralizes the powers of patronage in his own hands and distributes public-works jobs in such a way as to retain the loyalty and support of his working-class electoral base. As mayor, he nearly brings the city to bankruptcy by spending enormous sums on parks and hospitals to satisfy his various constituencies. He is a gifted orator and a resourceful political campaigner. He loses his bid for reelection in 1918, wins in 1922, loses in 1926, and wins again in 1930.

Unable to win a seat in the Massachusetts delegation to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in 1932, Curley contrives by means he never explains to be elected a delegate from Puerto Rico. He supports the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but national party leaders look upon the controversial Curley as something of an embarrassment. As governor of Massachusetts from 1935 to 1937, he spends New Deal funds lavishly on roads, bridges, and other public works programs. He is out of elective office from 1938 to 1942, during which period he loses bids for the United States Senate, mayor, and governor. He wins a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1942, however, and is reelected two years later. He follows with another tenure as mayor of Boston (1947–50) but spends five months of his term in federal prison following a conviction for mail fraud. President Harry S. Truman secures his release and, in 1950, grants him a full pardon.

Curley, who has foiled an attempt by the Republican Party to have him replaced while he is in prison, retires from politics after losing reelection bids in 1950 and 1954. His career inspires Edwin O’Connor’s popular novel The Last Hurrah (1956), and the next year Curley’s best-selling autobiography, I’d Do It Again, is published.

James Curley dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. His death is followed by one of the largest funerals in the city’s history. He is interred in Old Calvary Cemetery.


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Birth of American Folk Hero Davy Crockett

david-crockettDavid “Davy” Crockett, 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician, is born in Limestone, Greene County, North Carolina on August 17, 1786. He is commonly referred to in popular culture by the epithet “King of the Wild Frontier.” He represents Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves in the Texas Revolution.

The Crockett family is of mostly FrenchHuguenot ancestry, although the family settles in Ireland before migrating to the Americas. Crockett is born in what is now Greene County, Tennessee (at the time part of North Carolina), close to the Nolichucky River and near the community of Limestone. He grows up in East Tennessee, where he gains a reputation for hunting and storytelling.

Crockett is made a colonel in the militia of Lawrence County, Tennessee and is elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1821. In 1827, he is elected to the United States Congress where he vehemently opposes many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, especially the Indian Removal Act. His opposition to Jackson’s policies leads to his defeat in the 1831 elections. He is re-elected in 1833, then narrowly loses in 1835, prompting his angry departure shortly thereafter to Texas, then the Mexican state of Tejas.

All that is certain about the fate of Crockett is that he dies fighting in the Battle of the Alamo in the Texas Revolution on the morning of March 6, 1836. According to many accounts, between five and seven Texans surrender during the battle, possibly to General Manuel Fernández Castrillón. General Antonio López de Santa Anna has ordered the Mexicans to take no prisoners, and he is incensed that those orders have been ignored. He demands the immediate execution of the survivors, but Castrillon and several other officers refuse to do so. Staff officers who had not participated in the fighting draw their swords and kill the unarmed Texians.

Crockett becomes famous during his lifetime for larger-than-life exploits popularized by stage plays and almanacs. After his death, he continues to be credited with acts of mythical proportion. In the 20th century these lead to television and movie portrayals, and he becomes one of the best-known American folk heroes.


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Parnell Addresses U.S. House of Representatives

parnell-speaking-in-house-of-representativesIrish Parliament member Charles Stewart Parnell addresses the United States House of Representatives during his North American tour on February 2, 1880 concerning the plight of Ireland, then in the midst of its second major potato famine of the century.

Despite the absence of a quorum, Speaker of the House Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania gavels the House into the evening session nearly 30 minutes late. The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the House Floor is a mix of ladies and non-Members.

Only the fourth international leader to be invited to address the House, Parnell reports on the conditions of the Irish potato famine and its causes. “The present famine, as all other famines in Ireland, has been the direct result of the system of land tenure which is maintained there,” Parnell said, “And while we have been compelled by the frightful condition of our people . . . I feel it to be equally my duty to point out to you the cause which keeps Ireland in a condition of chronic poverty.”

After his 32-minute speech, the House adjourns for the evening. The Tribune judges Parnell’s address to be lackluster stating “the whole affair was tame and spiritless.” One Representative tells the Tribune reporter that the address failed because it lacked substance by “not going [even] skin deep into the subject of the Irish question.”

During Parnell’s highly successful tour, in addition to speaking before the House of Representatives, he has an audience with American President Rutherford B. Hayes and speaks in 62 cities in the United States and Canada, where he is so well received in Toronto that Timothy Healy dubs him “the uncrowned king of Ireland.”

House Receptions are not associated with other informal, social receptions and lunches provided for foreign leaders on behalf of congressional leadership or individual committees. In the post-World War II era, the practice of using one-chamber receptions is eventually discontinued. The last House Reception of a foreign leader is held for Mexican President José López Portillo in 1977.


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British Release of Fenian Prisoners

cuba-fiveThe British, in a general amnesty, release 33 Fenian prisoners on January 5, 1871. Most of these prisoners are men who have either been swept up by the British in 1865, when they suppressed the Fenian newspaper The Irish People for taking part in the Fenian Rising of March 1867, or had been rounded up after the “Smashing of the Van” rescue of Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy in September 1867.

The British penal system of the period is brutal under normal circumstances, and the Fenians receive much harsher treatment than that received by the normal inmates. Those Fenians still on the outside agitate constantly for the release of their comrades. The man most responsible for the release of 1871 is John “Amnesty” Nolan, who thus earns his sobriquet.

The names of many of the men released by William Ewart Gladstone’s government are well known to those who have studied the Irish Republican movement. One of them is Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, as steadfast an enemy of English rule in Ireland as any who has ever lived. After Rossa’s death in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland for burial, and his funeral in 1915 includes the famous eulogy by Patrick Pearse, one of the seminal moments in the renewal of armed struggle for Irish freedom. Another Fenian released that day is John Devoy, who perhaps more than any other man keeps the struggle for Irish freedom alive among Irish exiles in America.

The British government releases the Fenians on condition that they exile themselves to the country of their choice and not return until their sentences have expired. Many chose to go to Australia, but Rossa, Devoy, John McClure, Henry Mulleda, and Charles Underwood O’Connell, who have all been imprisoned together, chose to go to the United States and ship together from Liverpool on board the Cuba. The so-called Cuba Five arrive in New York City to a hero’s welcome from the city’s large Irish community and even receive a resolution of welcome from the United States House of Representatives.

(Pictured: “The Cuba Five” – John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda and John McClure)