Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Marten, James A.

Second Advisor

McMahon, Timothy G.

Third Advisor

Avella, Steven M.


This dissertation connects the well-documented history of the repression of wartime dissent in the United States with the complex relationship between Americans and immigrants. The study focuses specifically on Irish-American efforts to insulate themselves from accusations of unpatriotic and un-American attitudes and behaviors by highlighting their uniquely American contributions and principles. The Civil War and First World War eras provide ideal time frames for such an evaluation. Marked by xenophobia and institutionalized nativism, each era found many Americans and government officials accusing the American Irish of disloyalty because of their opposition to the prosecution of the war. In order to justify their positions, Irish-American leaders (prominent newspaper editors, historians, and those involved in Irish-American nationalistic organizations who consciously sought to sway both mainstream American and Irish-American sensibilities) propagated the notion that the American Irish were in fact the most American citizens. They turned the tables on nativists by labeling them and their politics as un-American. They used their memory of the American Revolution to sanction these ideas, tailoring their interpretation of American history to fit the circumstances they faced.

During the Civil War, this meant adapting Revolutionary rhetoric to justify their Copperhead politics and unfavorably contrast Republicans with the Founding Fathers. During the First World War, Irish-American notables equated the American Revolution with the contemporary situation in Ireland, arguing for absolute Irish autonomy. Furthermore, Irish-American champions asserted that it had actually been Irish Catholics that dominated the ranks of the Continental Army and thus were primarily responsible for freeing the American colonies from British dominion. By promulgating this collective memory, Irish-American luminaries simultaneously positioned themselves as especially American and argued that the United States owed the Irish people an Irish republic modeled on the United States. My study, therefore, expands on traditional paradigms for understanding assimilation and Americanization. Analyzing how immigrants responded to accusations of disloyalty during distinct American wars not only informs our understanding of the immigrant experience in the United States but also elucidates what it has meant to be an American in these times of crisis.

Included in

History Commons