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  • Introduction:Mathew Carey and Dublin
  • Nicholas M. Wolf (bio) and Benjamin Bankhurst (bio)

Few individuals could lay claim to involvement in more events that were central to transatlantic developments in political ideology, radicalism, and nation-building in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than Mathew Carey (1760–1839). A printer who served his apprenticeship among the increasingly emboldened community of Dublin Catholic printers in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, Carey in his twenties was already a forceful commentator on debates over relief for Catholics from the penal laws and a provocateur against the government over parliamentary reform, freedom of the press, and the protection of Irish trade in the era of Volunteer mobilization. He was compelled to leave Ireland for France in 1781 in order to escape prosecution over his authorship of a pamphlet that was sharply critical of the government’s enforcement of remaining portions of the penal code—The Urgent Necessity of an Immediate Repeal of the Whole Penal Code. In Paris the young printer was able to make connections with Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. After returning to Ireland, where he founded the radical Volunteers Journal in 1783, Carey fled into exile again in 1784, this time permanently, following his arraignment and jailing by the Irish House of Commons for publishing articles and libelous newspaper woodcuts attacking officials over their opposition to parliamentary reform and tariff protection for Irish manufactures.

Carey’s visibility in public debates and civic life continued in Philadelphia, his new home. He immediately crossed swords with conservatives in the fledgling republic over their claims that immigrants—particularly those from Ireland—could never fully integrate with the new nation because of their ties to the Old World. Initially a Federalist, particularly in his advocacy of a national bank, Carey later drifted into the Jeffersonian camp at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, [End Page 172]

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Mathew Carey, engraving by J. Thomson from the painting by John Neagle (1825).

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

despite his political migration, he remained a staunch supporter of a centralized monetary system—a stance developed over many decades through a significant corpus of writings on political economy and through his participation in the stormy debates in 1810–11 over rechartering the national bank. In addition to his role in these key moments of connection with major upheavals and movements, Carey achieved tremendous renown as a publisher in the new American republic. At his death in 1839 he left behind one of the most successful publishing houses in the United States (later known as Lea & Febiger). His company had followed the evolution of the industry from artisanal print shops to large publishing firms—a transition [End Page 173] with major political and cultural consequences. As in Ireland, so too in America, Carey continually advocated the cause of Catholic civic equality. Lastly, he made significant contributions to the development of literary identities through his founding of two periodicals—the Columbian Magazine in 1786 and the American Museum in 1787.

These and other details of Carey’s life and ideas have become increasingly well known to scholars focusing on his career or on the transatlantic ties between Ireland and the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For these researchers such figures as Carey are essential to understanding the radical thinkers, printers, and printing networks that shaped political developments in both countries, especially in the closing decades of the eighteenth century. This growing interest in Carey sparked a two-part conference convened in 2011 in Philadelphia and Dublin under the banner of “Ireland, America, and the Worlds of Mathew Carey.” Sponsoring the meetings were the Library Company of Philadelphia, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Program for Early American Economy and Society, the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, and Trinity College Dublin. These meetings prompted the publication of a special issue of the journal Early American Studies (Volume 11, Fall 2013) that brought together seven essays from the conference under the editorship of Cathy Matson and James N. Green. The three essays presented in this issue of Éire-Ireland aim to expand in...


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