Political Beliefs – VA Constitutional Convention & the Irish Republicans

By 1863, President Lincoln was already considering reunification. In His “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction,” Lincoln offered full pardons and restoration of property for all but the highest ranks in the Confederate leadership.1)History.com Staff, “Lincoln Offers Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction,” This Day in History: 8 Dec 1863, 8 Dec 2009, (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-issues-proclamation-of-amnesty-and-reconstruction : accessed 2 Dec 2016). It would be tempting to think that during Reconstruction, all Union-supporters and abolitionists were Lincoln-style Republicans. That’s too simplistic. Lincoln would eventually support complete amnesty and quick reintegration of all former Confederate states into the Union. James didn’t quite agree.

His Soapbox Issue

During the Richmond City Republican Convention that would nominate candidates for the Virginia Constitutional Convention, “…Morrissey, an Irishman, declaring that he would vote to disenfranchise every foreigner that aided the rebellion.”2)“Republican Convention in Richmond,” The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 15 Oct 1867, p 1, col 4; digital images, Newspapers.com, (www.newpapers.com : accessed 2 Dec 2016). James stuck to his guns on this issue and offered the following:3)Disfranchisement, Staunton Spectator, Staunton, Virginia, 14 Jan 1868, p 2, col 1; digital images, Library of Congress, (www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 2 Dec 2016), Chronicling America, America’s Historic Newspapers.

james-morrissey-disfranchisement-14-jan-1868-staunton-spectatorWhy would this be an important issue for James? We’ve made the supposition that James was somehow involved in the Young Irelanders movement while a young man. At its heart this rebellion longed for an Ireland free of British rule, a national parliament, and the individual freedoms. James grew up during the democratic uprisings of 1848 when almost without exception, every country in Europe was in some kind of revolt against its monarchies and totalitarian governments. It’s possible he felt true kinship with former slaves in their struggle against repression.

Entering the South must have been additionally alarming for James. Slave trading was abolished in Britain in 1807 and slavery altogether in 1833, a year after his birth. All James had ever known was a slave free Europe. For him, any European-born man who supported slavery through support of the Confederacy was disqualified from participation in civil life in the U.S.

 

Other Concerns:

He sought to invite any Union military or political leaders who visited Richmond to address the Virginia Constitutional Convention.

He supported the rights of former slaves to sue their former masters for back wages.4)Eight-sixth Day, The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 27 Mar 1868, p 2; digital images, Library of Congress, (www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 2 Dec 2016), Chronicling America, America’s Historic Newspapers.

He voted in support of the new Virginia Constitution.

As the leader of the Irish Republicans Club, the organization passed the following resolutions in Jun 1872:
“Whereas, the Irish-born citizens and their descendants of the United States of America, constitute a large proportion of the people of the country; and whereas, they have been deprived of their liberty in their native land by the oppression and tyranny of their English rulers, and compelled to seek liberty in the American Republic;

and whereas, they have found in this great country of freedom, an asylum in which the rights and privileges which were denied them in the land of their birth; 

and whereas, their safety and prosperity as a people depend in no small degree on their support of the principles of liberty, as laid down by the founders of this great Republic, and now being so faithfully and impartially carried out by the present administration; therefore be it

Resolved, That we hail with pleasure the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for President, and the nomination of Senator Henry Wilson for Vice President of the United States.

Resolved, That we pledge our undivided support, and will use all honorable means to secure the election of the candidates chosen at the Republican Convention held at Philadelphia.

Resolved, That while exercising, under this Republic, that great boon of liberty which the Almighty wishes all mankind to possess, we do consider it our paramount duty to use every honorable effort to bring to our support, and add to our numbers all of our countrymen, all over the whole country, without regard to their political or religious opinions, our chief object being to harmonize and elevate our people without prejudicing any other race or nationality.

Resolved, That in thus acting we are simply doing our duty as loyal citizens who wish to adopt the means to enlighten the minds and instill into the hearts of our countrymen, differing politically with us, those great principles of impartial justice and equal political rights now pre-eminently enjoyed all over the expanse of this great country, and which, we hope, will ere long be extended to every quarter of the civilized world.”5)“Meeting of Irish Republican Citizens,” The Daily State Journal, Alexandria, Virginia, 13 Jun 1872, p 1, col 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 2 Dec 2016).

 

References   [ + ]

1. History.com Staff, “Lincoln Offers Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction,” This Day in History: 8 Dec 1863, 8 Dec 2009, (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-issues-proclamation-of-amnesty-and-reconstruction : accessed 2 Dec 2016).
2. “Republican Convention in Richmond,” The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 15 Oct 1867, p 1, col 4; digital images, Newspapers.com, (www.newpapers.com : accessed 2 Dec 2016).
3. Disfranchisement, Staunton Spectator, Staunton, Virginia, 14 Jan 1868, p 2, col 1; digital images, Library of Congress, (www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 2 Dec 2016), Chronicling America, America’s Historic Newspapers.
4. Eight-sixth Day, The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 27 Mar 1868, p 2; digital images, Library of Congress, (www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 2 Dec 2016), Chronicling America, America’s Historic Newspapers.
5. “Meeting of Irish Republican Citizens,” The Daily State Journal, Alexandria, Virginia, 13 Jun 1872, p 1, col 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 2 Dec 2016).