THE IRISH IN AMERICA.
[FRO31 OUR SPECIAL CORRESrONDENT.]
New York, March 16, 1866.
Jr to fill a large space in the eye of the world is an aspiration of the Irish heart, his present importance must be very gratifying to the Irishman in America. Upon both sides of the ocean millions of eyes are turned upon him; he has brought the British Government to the suspension of the privilege of Habeas Corpus in Ireland, and has placed the Canadian Government in an attitude of apprehension and defence. To-morrow is St. Patrick's Day, and a great Fenian demonstration upon Canada has been looked for on that anniver- sary. It has been said by those who know the Irish that if after so long a preparation and such generous contributions that day were allowed to pass without at least a pretty big shindy some- where in the name of Ould Ireland, the effect upon the Fenian Brotherhood would be depressing, and that it would thereafter gradually dwindle away. I have no fear, however, of having to add a postcript to this letter to-morrow morning, to the effect that we have learned by telegraph that the British Government is in dan- ger of being expelled from Canada ; and I have full confidence in the ability of the not very large detachment of United States troops, 200 in number, which arrived at Buffalo yesterday, to en- force absolute respect for our neutrality laws, not only in that vicinity, but anywhere on the border within reach by railway. The only demonstration to-morrow will probably be interminable and uninteresting processions in the cities, consisting of strings of Irishmen, two abreast, in black dress coats and trousers, and stovepipe hats too big for them, decorated with green sashes, and bobbing up and down as they walk, out of step with each other and out of time with the music. It is expected, and with reason, that in New York 50,000 men will be in line. Here one " faytyer of the procishin " is to be a grand display of " faymale Faynians " in open barouches and wearing green scarfs. The ladies of course are to have the right of the line. You will see, and indeed British readers must ere this have seen, our thorough contempt for this whole move- ment. We only laugh at it and caricature it. Our very boys— sure test of public feeling—laugh at and caricature it. I saw only yesterday a caricature, scrawled by an urchin of eleven or twelve years, showing England, Ireland, and the United States in notable proximity. On the shore of the former John Bull, in sailor's dress, stands behind armed ships, and surrounded by muni- tions of war. On the Green Isle is a virago in a mob cap and a threatening attitude, crying out to him " Ochone ! wait till I catch yez." On the United States a Fenian hullabaloo is going on, and Uncle Sam, stretched out at lazy ease, calls to John Bull, "Don't be afraid of the ones over here, I'll settle them ;" and to the Irish- men, "Here, stop that fighting, do you hear, you Fenians ? I want no more of this row." In the air St. George appears, armed cap- le-pie and with a sword in each hand, before whom a figure labelled St. Patrick flies, crying, "0 help 1" On one side of the picture is a rude inscription, stating that something, the un- decipherable name of which ends in ia, "rules the sea and the land." What the name is every one must decide for himself; "you pays your money and you takes your choice." If by chance it were Columbia, we have of course here only another lamentable exhibition of Yankee arrogance and boast- fulness. But although the feeling and the purpose of the country are fully expressed in this boyish performance, the Common Council of New York have the face to pass a resolution ordering the flags on the City Hall and all other public buildings to be dis- played on St. Patrick's Day, and requesting the Courts and public offices of the Corporation to be closed, by way of adding import- ance to the celebration ; and to preface this resolution with a preamble speaking of the Fenian movement as "an effort the most laudable and patriotic," declaring "on behalf of the people of this city" that they "sincerely sympathize with the representa- tives of the oppressed people of Ireland now resident among us," and that the ensuing resolution is "to exhibit the deep interest of our people at the present peculiar juncture in the affairs of Ireland." The impudence of this is amazing. The people of this country, if they felt that they could and should act according to their impulses, would drive every Irishman straightway out of it. Not that they have any ill-will to Pat, or grudge him his good wages and his liberty. They would be right glad to give him those and have his labour, and there would be no drawback to the arrangement if he did not have a vote and children. But those
two conditions of his presence—the last inevitable, and the first unwisely granted—put an entirely different face upon the matter.
To this subject a passage in Mr. Bright's stirring speech upon the Bill to suspend the privilege of Habeas Corpus in Ireland is pertinent, and is specially worthy of consideration at present. Mr. Bright said :—
" The honourable member for Cork told us that there was no
Christian country with which we were acquainted in which crime is so very rare—in which the people were naturally as virtuous as they were in Ireland. He might have said with perfect truth that there was no man who, whatever he may be at home, was so industrious when he emigrated to other lands as the Irishman. He might have said that no people possessed a temperament so cheerful and contented as that of the Irish people—that no man was more grateful for kindness shown him than an Irishman Everything can be made of him in every country but his own. When he has passed thrdugh an American school —I refer to him now as a child, or to the second generations of the Irish millions across the Atlantic—he is as industrious, as frugal, as indepen- dent, as loyal, and as good a citizen as any man born within the dominions of that Power."
These sentences present compactly an appreciation of the Irish character not now brought forward for the first time. Having lived from childhood with a swarm of Irish people all around me, Irish servants in the house, Irish labourers in the fields, the garden and the streets, Irish hack drivers, Irish politicians, Irish Common Councilmen, I must deny Mr. Bright's assertions in tote. What the Irishman is at home I know only from testimony ; but here his conduct is such as to lead us to believe that there could be no other country in which crime is so rife or the people are so vicious. Our statistics show that, of the criminals east of the Mississippi in the Free States, about seven-tenths are foreign-born or the children of foreigners, and of those seven-tenths a pretty close observation of our police reports for some years past makes me quite sure that more than two-thirds are Irish emigrants or the children of Irish emigrants. This fact is well known in a general way to all of us ; but it is only by an examina- tion such as I have made that a proximately correct estimate can be made of the enormous Celtic predominance in our criminal annals. And yet there are but 4,000,000 of them, men, women, and children, the country over. Murder, assault, violence against women, burglary, robbery, theft, all these crimes are committed here—at the North I mean—by the Irish, with a ruthlessness which to us is amazing. They use the knife like savages. The house ser- vants seem to think stealing anything except money no crime, and a lie comes to their lips as readily as the truth. Of the gratitude which their generous defender attributes to them we discover little, and of that little much is of that kind which consists of a lively sense of favours to come. We find them in this respect, as in all others, unstable, untrustworthy, not to use so harsh a word as faithless. As to their industry, they do work, and if they can- not be got to work at home, they are in that respect improved by transplanting. But we do not find any striking exhibition of virtue in the fact that healthy men and women will work when they can earn unimagined food and wages, and when, if they did not work, they would really starve. For of indiscriminate street almsgiving, there is very little in this country, and from that which is systematized, whether public or private, able- bodied people are entirely excluded. And this reminds me of the declaration of the President of the Sanitary Commission that it was found that nearly nine-tenths of the Union army were Yankees, nine-tenths of those who applied for aid to the Commis- sion since the war were foreigners—mostly Irish. This is about the proportion of the Irish among the beggars that we have. My observation of such matters goes back for twenty years aud more, and I never saw but two " Americans " begging. Among drunk- ards the Irish proportion is about the same as among beggars. The Irishwomen are said to be distinguished above other women for their charity. In this country they have no such distinction, even among emigrants of other nations and of their own class in life. Nor can, I think, any man with moderate opportunities for observa- tion, assent at. all to the proposition that in the second generation the Irishman is as good a citizen as any man who is born in the United States. His industry I have noticed. Instead of the fru- gality which Mr. Bright attributes to him I should read rapacity. The Irishman here, when he becomes a small dealer or shopkeeper, is notorious for the unfairness of his dealings, and his cruel and extortionate practices ; and the harpies who, not only as public officers, but as contractors and hangers-on, rob this city of millions, are almost without exception Irishmen. It was but a few weeks ago that one of our State Senators, making an informal report of
an investigation which he had undertaken in this city, said that it appeared to be essential that every one of a certain grade of salaried officers should be by birth an Irishman, and by occupation a grog-shop keeper. The " independence " of the transplanted Irishman is indeed something to be wondered at, whether in the original plant or in the second growth. It generally rises to the height of an independence of all decent respect for everything that is respectable. And as to the goodness of the transplanted Irishman's citizenship, we had an exhibition of that in the greet riot of 1863. That riot was purely an Irish riot; and most of those who took part in it were born in this country,—young fellows from fifteen to twenty-five years of age. The women were as bad as the men. My wife's housemaid, an intelligent, reading girl, born in this country, and with a tongue as free from brogue as her mistress's, betrayed then the disposition of a fury. I heard of many other like cases. These American-born Irish girls were for burning and slaying. They would say to their mistresses, with lips white with rage, that such and such a man's house "ought to be burned over his head." Somebody does what is offensive, somebody's house must be burned. It is in the blood ; and according to our observation, it has to be slowly and painfully bred out. True, there are man here with Irish names who are as good citizens as we have. I meet one every day ; but his mother was a Yankee, and his father was born in Philadelphia, and his grand- mother was a Yankee, and his graudfather was a clergyman. But such men are no more Irish than the McM.ahons of France or the O'Donnels of Spain. The pure Celtic Irishman, even in the second generation, does not become—with very rare exceptions—a good citizen of this Republic. He may understand, intellectually, our principles of government and our structure of society ; but he does not sympathize with them or assimilate himself to them. The German does better ; but only the Englishman does it perfectly. An Englishmen, brought over here before he is twenty or born here of English parents, becomes as one of us. During the past year I have had nearly a score of cases in point before my eyes. How, indeed, should it be otherwise? As to the Irish love for Ireland, I cannot but have doubts. I never heard of one of them after he had attained competence returning there as Englishmen do from Australia and India, and our men do from California. The feeling at the bottom of the Fenian movement seems to be lees a love of Ireland than a hatred of England.
I would not on any account pass from this subject without mentioning one trait of the Irish character as exhibited in this country which I cannot think of without respect, almost without tenderness. It is their ready sympathy and their constant un- selfish, really self-sacrificing, kindness shown to each other in sickness, in want, in trouble of all kinds. They will give beyond their ability, and when a case is too serious for individual treat- ment they will combine and contrive. A man with a family gets hurt, and has to keep his bed for weeks or months, then you may find, as I once found, going into the kitchen in small unseemly hours, in the dresser drawer a ticket or two, having printed on it, "A party will be held at Mr. —'s rooms on —, for the benefit of Mr. P. O'Rafferty, who has broken his leg." Those who go give only what they please, but 100 dols. is a common result of one of these charitable parties. Here is a virtue that will cover a multitude of sins.
The Bill for securing civil rights to persons of every race and colour passed the Senate yesterday in its amended form. It now only lacks the President's signature to become a law. I think it not very improbable that he will veto the Bill, and that should he do so he will be sustained by the people. Not that he or the people —those of the old Free States at least—do not think that every inhabitant of the country, black or white, alien or citizen, should be protected absolutely in all personal and civil rights, and in that respect stand upon a footing of perfect equality. If the President does veto the Bill, it will probably be on the ground that Congress has no rightful power to pass a law declaring the status of persons of every or of any race and colour in every or in any State, which this Bill does, or to provide that "any person who, under colour of any law—State law, meaning—deprives another person of any privileges conferred by this Bill, shall be deemed guilty of a mis- demeanour, and be punished accordingly." The war has materially increased the number of persons who think that Congress ought to have the power to do this ; but it does not appear to have greatly increased the number of those who think that it rests with Congress, and not with the States.