Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Farrell, Sean (Professor)

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)


Department of History


Irish Americans--Politics and government--History--19th century


This dissertation explores what "politics" meant to Irish and Irish American Catholic laborers between 1815 and 1840. Historians have long remembered emigrants of the Emerald Isle for their political acumen during the 19th century---principally their skills in winning municipal office and mastering "machine" politics. They have not agreed, however, about when, where, and how the Irish achieved such mastery. Many scholars have argued that they obtained their political educations in Ireland under the tutelage of Daniel O'Connell, whose mass movement in the 1820s brought about Catholic Emancipation. Others have claimed that, for emigrant laborers in particular, their educations came later, after the Famine years of the late 1840s, and that they earned them primarily in the United States. In this dissertation, I address this essential discrepancy by studying their experiences in both Ireland and America. Primarily utilizing court records, state documents, company letters, and newspapers, I argue that Irish Catholic laborers began their educations in Ireland before emigrating in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Yet they completed them in America, particularly in states where liberal suffrage requirements permitted them to put their skills in majority rule to use. By 1840, both Whigs and Democrats alike recognized the political intellects of Irish-born laborers, and both vigorously courted their votes. Indeed, the potent legacies of their experiences in Ireland made many the unsung power brokers of the early republic.


Advisors: Sean Farrell.||Committee members: Aaron S. Fogleman; Natalie Joy; James D. Schmidt.||Includes bibliographical references.


v, 517 pages




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