Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Union Forever: The Irish Question and U.S. Foreign Relations in the Victorian Age

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Union Forever: The Irish Question and U.S. Foreign Relations in the Victorian Age

Article excerpt

A Union Forever: The Irish Question and U.S. Foreign Relations in the Victorian Age, By David Sim, Cornell University Press, 280pp, Pounds 29.95, ISBN 9780801451843, Published 3 December 2013

While much has been written about Irish-American involvement in Ireland's nationalist movements, much less has been said about how the "Irish Question" influenced Anglo-American relations. A Union Forever impressively addresses this lacuna. In so doing, it lays to rest the idea that the US did the bidding of the Irish-American lobby and twisted a thorn in London's flesh. In truth, as Sim shows us, Ireland was only one of many sources of Anglo-American tension in the years up to and including the American Civil War.

US public opinion, of course, harboured many pro-Irish sympathies and some politicians relished the prospect of embarrassing the British over Ireland - especially in revenge for Britain's perceived meddling in the run-up to the Civil War. However, it was difficult for Washington to lecture London on Ireland when America had its own Achilles heel. For, as the writer George William Curtis would note some years later: "Ireland is England's touch-stone, as slavery was ours."

How, then, did Ireland affect Anglo-American relations? A Union Forever shows that it was clearly an issue for both countries. The tragedy of famine in the 1840s focused minds on either side of the Atlantic, with enormous amounts of philanthropy heading east to embarrass the British with their laissez-faire, providential, political economy. When Young Ireland nationalists such as John Mitchel and T.F. Meagher turned up in America after escaping from Australia, where they had been sent after their failed uprising in 1848, they were feted by the Irish-American lobby, but no one of true influence seriously considered taking up Ireland's case. Moreover, this remained the same throughout all phases of Irish nationalism until the establishment of the Free State in December 1922.

Fenianism undoubtedly posed an Irish threat to Anglo-American relations, as the British complained bitterly about Washington's toleration of violent anti-British plots often hatched on US soil. But wider tensions were at work. …

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