Irish Sympathy with the Abolition Movement
An 1842 speech by Wendell Phillips concerning Irish support for the antislavery movement in the United States. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) was born to a wealthy Boston family and, beginning in the mid-1830s, joined the Garrisonian abolitionists and became a central intellectual force in the antislavery movement. One of the great orators of abolitionism, Phillips was also one of its most radical speakers. He spoke not only against slavery, but also in behalf of labor rights, women’s suffrage, temperance, and the rights of Native Americans.
In this 1842 speech in Boston, Phillips expressed appreciation for an Irish antislavery petition with some 60,000 signatures and endorsed by Ireland’s national hero, Daniel O’Connell. Phillips characterized the petition as another expression of Ireland’s historic advocacy of freedom and appreciated in public the Catholic Church’s religious opposition to slavery. According to Phillips, “Ireland is the land of agitation and agitators. We may well learn a lesson from her in the battle for human rights.” (21) The speech also expresses repeated appreciation of Father Theobald Mathew, the provincial of the Irish Capuchins, who in 1838 gained international fame by establishing the Total Abstinence temperance movement that attracted millions of pledges. Although Father Mathew signed the Irish petition against slavery, he later became the object of denunciation among US abolitionists beginning in 1849 when he conducted a two-year temperance campaign across the United States and refused to speak against slavery. Phillips’ speech marks a high point in the rhetorical history of the often-problematic relationship between the abolitionist movement and Irish Catholics.
Text source: Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures and Letters [2nd series] (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1891) 19-23. See also Phillips, The Puritan Principle and John Brown (1859), No Slave-Hunting in the Old Bay State (1860), and The State of the Country (1863), as well as O'Connell in Letters on American Slavery (1860) 22-23.