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  • Mathew Carey, “Protecting Duties,” and the Dublin Crowd in the Early 1780s*
  • Eoin Magennis (bio)

In 1827 Lady Morgan (formerly Sydney Owenson) published her novel The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys: A National Tale. The work focuses on Ireland in the 1790s but includes some details of incidents from an earlier decade centering on nonimportation and tarring and feathering. When one of the novel’s protagonists, Lord Charles Fitzpatrick, makes his first appearance at a Volunteer review, he is splattered with dust and mud and told, “you look as if you fell into the hands of the nonimportation confederates and were tarred and feathered after their most approved fashion.” Lord Charles is on his way with college friends to The Strugglers, a public house in Winetavern Street (near Christ Church Cathedral), where the owner is a “public-spirited tapster, a captain of Volunteers, a legislator, with a musket on his shoulder and a sword by his side; a papist; a defender of the faith, and a leader of the tarring-and-feathering bands.” He is accused of having tarred and feathered an English-made carriage, breaking windows of a shop in Dawson Street, and carrying off silk pieces because “it was not Irish poplin.” In chapter 5, “The Row,” Lady Morgan describes the scene at The Strugglers where “non-importation men” who were “returning from a tar-and-feathering adventure,” the military, Lord Charles, and the main protagonist Murrough O’Brien all cross paths in a riot. The author, in a line that could have come from Adam Smith, refers to the protectionist impulse as “the voluntary or [End Page 173]

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Figure 1.

The anger of manufacturers that no legislation for protecting duties would be passed by the Irish parliament is shown in this depiction of tarring and feathering from July 1784. The print also captured the American origins (America invenit) of the practice and the Irish use (Hibernia fecit) of it against those refusing to support nonimportation and nonconsumption agreements. “Tarring and Feathering: The Reward of the Enemies of Ireland,” Walker’s Hibernian Magazine (Dublin: R. Gibson, 1784). Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

[End Page 174]

compulsory preference of dear or bad articles, of home manufacture, to better or cheaper articles brought from abroad.”1

Eight years before the novel’s publication, the Irish-born publisher and journalist Mathew Carey had plunged into the middle of a pamphlet war raging across the new American republic during the economic crisis, or “Panic,” of 1819.2 He had lived for over thirty years in Philadelphia by that point and had become an extremely successful publisher, bookseller, and philanthropist. The 1819 crisis saw a catastrophic slowdown in the staple cotton trade, the calling in of debts by nervous banks, a resultant credit squeeze, and a rash of bankruptcies, particularly in the south and west. The villains behind this near-collapse of the emerging republic’s economy were, in Carey’s eyes, Adam Smith and those American followers of the free-trade ideas contained in The Wealth of Nations. Instead, Carey was a champion of what became known as the American “protective doctrine” of the nineteenth century, a system of tariffs or duties on imports behind which manufacturing could grow.

The connections, through Carey, between the “protective doctrine” and an earlier debate in Ireland in the 1780s have become clearer in recent years.3 Most newspapers in Dublin, including those on which Carey worked between 1778 and 1783—the Hibernian [End Page 175] Journal, the Freeman’s Journal, and particularly the radical Volunteers Journal that he edited between 1783 and 1784—all espoused, to a greater or lesser degree, ideas about nonimportation and the protection of Irish industries.4 However, Carey went further by supporting not only protecting duties but also a violent anti-importation campaign in Dublin in the spring and summer of 1784, and this led him to express doubts about the connection with Britain. This brought him into conflict with the administration in Dublin Castle and laid the ground for his flight to the new American republic in September 1784.5 This article describes how the actions of the Dublin...


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pp. 173-198
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