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STRAINED NEUTRALITY: IRISH-AMERICAN CATHOLICS, WOODROW WILSON, AND THE LUSITANIA THOMAS J. ROWLAND the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 caught Irish-American Catholics at a pivotal point of transition in their assimilation into American society. Great Britain’s participation in World War I fueled conXicting sentiments towards Irish freedom among many Irish Americans. For some, the war revived hopes for the complete separation of Ireland from British dominion . For others, the majority, it renewed aspirations for dialogue with the British government aimed at achieving expanded Irish autonomy within the British Empire. More importantly, however, the outbreak of war heightened tensions within the community itself. Irish Americans found that the war revived, more explicitly than ever before, suspicions about their loyalty as Roman Catholics to the United States. Their adherence to Catholicism had long been the source of their exclusion from mainstream American society, and the war, with all its conXicting pulls on their loyalties , forced Irish Americans to declare their allegiances. The fervor that had marked Fenianism in the years following the American Civil War had lain dormant since the turn of the century. It had for many years no longer suited the needs of the Irish-American Catholic community, as energies had been directed to pursuing an equal footing in American society to the neglect of Irish nationalism. “Twisting the Lion’s tail,” the sport of Irish America in the years following the Civil War, had lost the American government’s toleration. Since the waning years of the nineteenth century, political leaders of the United States had been nurturing a rapprochement with the British Empire that enabled each government to fulWll its imperial dreams without serious objection by the other.1 IRISH-AMERICAN CATHOLICS, WOODROW WILSON, AND THE LUSITANIA 58 1 For a full discussion of the emerging Anglo-American cooperation at the turn of the century, see Bradford Perkins, The Great Rapprochement (New York: Atheneum Press, 1968). The Clan-na-Gael inherited the mantle of Fenianism in the late nineteenth century. It languished in the years leading up to World War I. Parnell ’s Land League program had lent a conservative bent to the course of Irish nationalism in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Moreover, the image of Irish-American nationalists as violence-prone had undermined widespread support among the majority of the community, and the Roman Catholic church’s condemnation of secret societies further tarnished the appeal of the Clan-na-Gael. Consequently, ardent nationalists vainly railed against any and all attempts by the American government to concede to British policy. Despite their rhetoric, either shrill or eloquent, the dreaded rapprochement of American and British interests moved inexorably forward and augured poorly for the advancement of Irish liberation.2 Clan fortunes continued to decline when John Redmond’s Home Rule initiative moved toward passage in the English Parliament on the eve of World War I. In many ways, the eruption of hostilities rescued the cause of Irish nationalism from the brink of obsolescence. Moderate and conservative Irish-American Catholics sought conciliatory and compromising solutions to the nationalist issue and were more apt to support Redmond’s Home Rule program as the most promising step in Ireland’s freedom. Moreover, Irish-American concerns for promoting an image of respectability within their adopted homeland forced a restructuring of Irish-American nationalist goals. The career of Patrick Ford, founder of the Irish World, underscores this concern. Formerly a supporter of both Fenianism and radical social policies in the United States, Ford came to reject this course of action, and directed his own life and energies in the Irish World to generate a “sense of dignity and self respect . . . [and] encourage the poor Irishmen’s identiWcation with America.” For Ford, the editor of the most popular Irish-American newspaper, the ideal Irishman was “respectable, well-to-do, cultured and devoutly religious.” The best Irish-Americans, according to Ford, “were notably patriotic, democratic and intensely loyal to American institutions.”3 IRISH-AMERICAN CATHOLICS, WOODROW WILSON, AND THE LUSITANIA 59 2 Numerous examples of Irish-American discontent with the rapproachement between London and Washington can be found in Alan J. Ward, Ireland and Anglo-American Relations , 1899–1921...


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