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NOTES AND QUERIES JAMES LARKIN AND J. EDGAR HOOVER: IRISH POLITICS AND AN AMERICAN CONSPIRACY CLAIRE A. CULLETON James Larkin (1874–1947), a man whom George Bernard Shaw called “the greatest Irishman since Parnell,” worked with his comrade James Connolly , and was one of the most celebrated labor leaders of the twentiethcentury . He had successfully organized thousands of Irish workers into his Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in January 1909, and with Connolly had directed thousands more during the workers’ struggle against the Employers’ Federation in the infamous 1913 Dublin lock-out. Disheartened by the failure of 1913, Larkin abandoned Ireland later that year and sailed for the US on the St. Louis, hoping to rally support for his Irish workers and to raise funds to resurrect the ITGWU. Larkin remained for a decade in the US, where he continued his work as a labor organizer, and quickly earned a reputation for stirring up and organizing underpaid, overworked, and half-starved workers in American cities as diverse as New York, Butte, Oakland, and Chicago. In fact, when eulogizing his father in 1947, James Larkin, Jr., was careful to remind an American audience that “there is hardly a state in the Union in which Jim Larkin did not lie in jail either because of participation in and leadership of some union fight, either of Irishmen or Germans or Italians or of Poles, or any other race on God’s sod, and in every quarter of these United States they fought” (O’Riordan 64). Larkin’s assiduous absorption in labor activities eventually would land him in 1920 in the dreaded Clinton Prison in Dannemora, New York—at the time, one of the worst prisons in the US—and then in Sing Sing Prison on charges of criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism.1 His celebrated presence in the American and Irish IRISH POLITICS AND AN AMERICAN CONSPIRACY 238 1 Larkin’s friend Jack Carney details Larkin’s prison history in his short essay, “Jim Larkin in America”: Not satisfied with jailing Jim, the authorities tried to destroy him. He was sent to the worst prison in the United States, the dreaded dungeon prison of Dannemora. labor movements would nearly cost him his life. This I have learned from reading his 490-page US Federal Bureau of Investigation file, which I received under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).2 Larkin’s activism in the US quickly attracted the attention of a young J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover began his career working in the Aliens Registration office in the Justice Department, where he developed a knowledge of and cultivated information about political radicalism that would prove useful to him in the future. In 1917, for example, he was responsible for organizing the haphazard files of the Justice Department. He would organize them obsessively, notes Natalie Robins in Alien Ink, “out of a great personal and political need to control the flow of information in America ” (33). With the industrious and youthful Hoover in charge, the General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department collected files “on hundreds of thousands of ‘radicals,’ infiltrated lawful organizations, and fanned the red scare by supplying sensationalized charges to the press,” as Bud and Ruth Schultz explain in It Did Happen Here: Recollections of Political Repression in America (159). Though a functionary in the Aliens Registrations office, Hoover’s reputation as a Red-baiter matured when, at the height of the Red Scare in 1919, he was successful in deporting Emma Goldman and 241 others following November and December raids. Manifestations of post-war antiradical hysteria, the 1919 raids resulted in one thousand arrests and netted some twenty-five tons of seized documents. Hoover’s reputation further developed in 1920 after he coordinated with Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer the Palmer Raids, dragnets organized to arrest without warrants some ten thousand “subversives” nationwide in one simultaneous action. It was an operation that surpassed even the fierceness of some of the Lusk Committee’s raids the year before, and was an affair that climaxed with the deportation of thousands of alien radicals who were arrested, brutalized, and compelled to sign false confessions about their radical activities. IRISH POLITICS...


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