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  • The Irish Republic:Reconstructing Liberty, Right Principles, and the Fenian Brotherhood
  • Matthew Knight (bio)

This essay is an attempt to rescue from relative obscurity a pro-Fenian newspaper, the Irish Republic, published in Chicago from May 1867 until April 1868. In that year operations were moved to New York City and then finally to Washington, DC, where the paper ceased publication in 1873. As there are no significant extant copies beyond April 1868, this essay will concentrate mainly on the newspaper's first year of publication. This was a tumultuous period for the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish American nationalism, however, and a closer look at the Irish Republic will reveal an editorial stance that differed significantly from the viewpoints of other Irish American publications of the period. The Irish Republic certainly promoted the physical-force nationalism of the Fenian Brotherhood, but its editors also supported the Radical Republican agenda during the period of Reconstruction. They fiercely criticized the Democratic Party; promoted black suffrage and equal rights; supported the temperance movement; openly disparaged the Catholic press; and eventually advocated the creation of a secret revolutionary society based on the traditions of the Masonic Brotherhood. Since studies of the Irish Republic's unique platform are virtually absent from the historiography of the period, it is hoped that this essay will establish that a greater variety of perspectives were current in Fenian circles than has previously been recognized. Such a new awareness can deepen our understanding of Irish (and especially Irish American) nationalist political attitudes and concerns during this time of crisis in the Fenian Brotherhood.1 [End Page 252] On 4 May 1867 the inaugural issue of the Irish Republic was published in Chicago, proclaiming itself in its masthead to be "A Journal of Liberty, Literature, and Social Progress." The weekly paper was published by "The Republic News Company," which was itself chartered and incorporated by the legislature of the state of Illinois. This unusual arrangement called for a seven-member board of directors who would act on behalf of the stockholders and subscribers. The initial board was packed with prominent members of the Senate wing of the Fenian Brotherhood: P. W. Dunne of Peoria, Illinois, served as president; Michael Scanlan of Chicago was vice-president; Nicholas Crickhard and J. D. Tully of Chicago served as treasurer and secretary respectively; and Dr. David Bell of New York City, James W. Fitzgerald of Cincinnati, and William Fleming of Troy, New York, rounded out the group.2 Of these men, however, it was Dunne, Scanlan, and Bell who played the largest roles in the daily operations of the newspaper. P. W. Dunne was a prosperous distiller and a vicious antagonist of John O'Mahony and his wing of the Fenian Brotherhood; he was considered one of the fiercest, and most impatient, proponents of immediate war against Britain.3 Michael Scanlan owned a candy [End Page 253] factory with his brothers John and Mortimer, and was known as the poet laureate of Fenianism on account of his popular verses, such as "The Jackets Green" and "The Fenian Men."4 Dr. David Bell was a former Presbyterian minister who served the Irish Republic as its New York correspondent; in this role he repeatedly criticized O'Mahony's branch of the Fenian Brotherhood, dubbing it the "bloated carcass of gaseous Manhattanism."5 Together, Dunne, Scanlan, and Bell held fast to the belief that an independent Irish republic could be achieved only through a cleansing of the spirits of the Irish in America. These men proclaimed: "Let our people fling off the scales of bigotry and declare that all men are entitled to 'life, liberty, and happiness.'"6 In other words, if Irish Americans were only to embrace the Radical Republican agenda, their dreams of an independent republic of Ireland would be all but assured.

When it first appeared on the scene, the Irish Republic had fierce competition for the physical-force nationalist readership in Irish America. Published in New York City and established in 1849, the Irish American had been the undisputed voice of the Fenian Brotherhood since the shuttering of the Phœnix in 1861.7 But when the Fenian Brotherhood split into its two...


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