Taken from Documents relating to the Sinn Féin Movement, 1921. The first address was signed by recently released Sinn Féin prisoners, among them Éamon De Valera, Eoin MacNeill and Austin Stack on the 18th June, 1917, and delivered to President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress by Patrick McCartan on the 23rd July, 1917, who provided an accompanying statement on their behalf.
Dublin, June 18, 1917.
To the President and Congress of the United States.
We, the undersigned, who have been held in English prisons, and have been dragged from dungeon to dungeon, in heavy chains, cut off since Easter Week, 1916, from all intercourse with the outside world, have just had an opportunity of seeing the printed text of the message of the United States of America to the Provisional Government of Russia.
We see that the President accepts as the aim of both countries ‘the carrying of the present struggle for the freedom of all peoples to a successful consummation.’ We also see that the object of President Wilson’s own Government is ‘the liberation of peoples everywhere from the aggressions of autocratic force.’ ‘We are fighting,’ writes the President to the Government of Russia, ‘for the liberty, self-government and undictated development of all peoples, and every feature of the settlement that concludes this war must be conceived and executed for that purpose. Wrongs must first be righted and then adequate safeguards must be created to prevent their being committed again. Remedies must be found as well as statements of principle that will have a pleasing and sonorous sound.’ ‘No people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it does not wish to live.’
We trust that such remedies—in preference to any governmental professions whatsoever—will be held to include the right of each people, not merely to rely on other peoples to support their claim to national liberty, but what the Governments and peoples of other nations will, we trust, regard as even more sacred the right of each people to defend itself against external aggression, external interference and external control. It is this particular right that we claim for the Irish people, and not content with statements of principle, though these themselves may be made a pretext for our oppression, we are engaged and mean to engage ourselves in the practical means for establishing this right.
Without awaiting the issue of the war or the settlement that may conclude the war, we ask of the Government of the United States of America, and the Governments of the free peoples of the world, to take immediate measures to inform themselves accurately and on the spot about the extent of liberty or attempted repression which we may encounter.
We, the undersigned, are officers (just released from English prisons) of forces formed independently in Ireland to secure the complete liberation of the Irish Nation.
(Signed) Edward de Valera, Eoin MacNeill, Denis O’Callaghan, James Lawless, Robert Brennan, M. D. de Lacy, Finian Lynch, Francis Fahy, Thomas Hunter, John R. Etchingham, Richard F. King, John McEntee, Richard Hayes, James Doyle, Peter Galligan, Thomas Ashe, Jeremiah C. Lynch, Richard Coleman, George Irvine, Con. Collins, Austin Stack, John McGarry, T. Desmond Fitzgerald, Francis Thornton, Frank Lawless, James J. Walsh.
Dublin, June 18, 1917.
To the President and Congress of the United States.
The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, which existed before the Revolution of 1916 and continues to exist, desires to convey to the Government and people of the United States the appreciation by the Irish people of the principles enunciated in President Wilson’s communication to the new Government of Russia. Our people interpret that statement, in effect, as a declaration of independence for all oppressed nations.
While we are convinced that Ireland must rely primarily upon the people of Ireland to re-establish our independence, thus securing for ourselves undictated development of our civilisation and culture, we welcome moral or material assistance from friends of liberty everywhere. We rejoice particularly at encouragement from your great Republic, which by its example has given hope and inspiration to enslaved peoples all over the world. Since the days of Washington our people have looked to America as the champion of universal freedom and the cradle of democracy. They have, therefore, ever been as jealous of its honour and glory as its own citizens.
Since the first days of your independence there has been a constant friendship between the two countries which has been intensified by the influx of Irishmen to the United States, where they fully enjoyed the blessings of liberty. During your great struggle to shake off the same tyranny under which we have been forced to live, we glory in the fact that the patriot cause was actively and enthusiastically supported by all Irishmen in America and that it had the moral support of the Irish people at home. The resolutions of thanks for this support, which were amongst the first acts of Congress, demonstrated that the assistance and encouragement thus rendered were appreciated by the fathers of your republic. We need not dwell on the extent to which our kinsmen contributed to the building up of the United States, and their readiness at all times to defend its integrity and honour. Apart from the general principles of universal liberty, we believe we have reason to expect assistance from your great country in fighting the same battle against the same foe as Washington fought.
In President Wilson’s communication to the Russian Government he states that ‘no people must be forced under a sovereignty under which it does not wish to live.’ Ireland does not wish to live under the sovereignty of England, and of course the President’s general statement includes the particular case of Ireland.
The struggle to regain our independence is practically unique in the history of the world. It has been steadily maintained for seven hundred and fifty years and our right to freedom asserted by arms in nearly every generation during that period. No measures of our foreign rulers, whether bribes, gibbets or partial extermination, could destroy in our people the yearning for liberty. To-day the spirit of patriotism is more general and more intense than at any time since the world was intoxicated with the principles of democracy by the noble example of the United States in 1776.
England never lost an opportunity to slander our nation, as she slanders all enemies. We are described by her agents in the press, on the stage and in novels as bigots and drunken savages which she has been unable to civilise. At present she assures the world that she is even anxious to grant Ireland self-government if the Irish would only agree among themselves. This is merely a subterfuge. We disagree no more than other peoples. America, when fighting for independence, had her Tories who were comparatively much more numerous than the same type is in Ireland to-day.
Though the American people are fairly well informed concerning Irish aspirations, we take advantage of this opportunity to briefly outline present conditions here and the events which led up to them. English statesmen have ever been ready to make promises when such would tend to further English policy. The leader of the late Liberal Government, on assuming control, therefore promised Home Rule to Ireland. With this promise to dangle before Irish-Americans he then sent his Irish henchmen to the United States to aid in furthering England’s foreign policy there. As they failed miserably, and the war cloud already on the horizon became larger and more threatening, it was necessary to pretend to carry out the promises. The ‘hypocritical sham’ on the Statute Book was therefore submitted to Parliament, but it was never intended to put it into operation. Irish Unionists were encouraged and financed by the Royal Family and aristocracy of England to threaten civil war rather than submit to home government. It was thus hoped to create an excuse for withdrawing the Bill, dwarf though it was, when England’s policy no longer required its presence on the political stage.
This English conspiracy against Ireland was a boomerang which, but for the baneful influence of John Redmond and his colleagues, would have made Irish independence as secure as Washington’s victory at Yorktown made American independence. The result of it all is that England is now straining every nerve to conclude a separate peace with Ireland. She proposes a convention to smooth out the differences previously created by her agents and general policy; also in the hope of discovering the minimum Ireland could be induced to accept, for nobody would now tolerate the Act on the Statute Book.
The Republicans, who form a majority of the people, were invited to send delegates, but would only be allowed the same representation as the Southern Unionists. They replied that they would take part if all delegates were elected by the people and if England promised to abide by the decisions of such an elected convention. England dare not trust the Irish people, and hence the Republicans will ignore the packed convention.
This, however, will not prevent English statesmen from trying to get other nations to regard the Irish question as a domestic instead of an international one. Their contention will probably be that the Republicans only represent a small section, or that the convention was the means of reconciling the majority of the people to a belief in English justice.
We submit that the Republicans represent the vast majority of the people and there is nothing new in their demand. It is the same now as when Hugh O’Neill went to Spain, or Wolfe Tone went to France for assistance. The following facts should help to make our contention clear to the world:—
1. Count Plunkett was elected to represent a Parliamentary constituency by a large majority on a purely republican platform.
2. Mr. McGuinness, while in penal servitude for taking part in the revolution, was elected on a similar platform.
3. By the time this note reaches you Professor de Valera, whom public opinion in America saved from the same fate as Pearse, and who has just been released from prison, will be elected on the same ticket to the vacancy created by the death of Mr. W. Redmond, who died fighting for England.
These men, elected in constituencies widely separated, thus proving the demand for a republic is universal, do not recognise the right of the English Parliament to legislate for Ireland, and hence will not attend that institution.
4. Mr. Ginnell, already a Member of Parliament, will withdraw when requested by the Republicans, and his constituency will endorse his action.
5. Ireland is at present ruled by martial law, and garrisoned by over 60,000 of England’s best soldiers, besides 10,000 military police, though the people are practically unarmed.
6. There are in Ireland over 300,000 men available for military service who absolutely refuse to fight for England, and she dare not attempt to force them.
7. If these facts are not sufficiently convincing, the Provisional Government is willing to submit the issue to a plebiscite on a franchise similar to that prevailing in the United States, on condition that it be superintended by representatives of the American and Russian Governments. There is no doubt that the result of such a plebiscite would be at least a two-thirds majority in favour of the republic, and should convince all votaries of liberty that Ireland does not wish to live under the sovereignty of England.
We freely admit that many Irishmen are in the English army. This is due to poverty resulting from the economic laws imposed on us by England, for the benefit of England and to a mistaken idea of nationalism. Many people believed that it was essential to first secure some form of self-government which might be used to further the establishment of a republic. They therefore believed in placating England. The Irish Party fostered belief in this fallacy until they thought the people were sufficiently weaned from the republican ideals. This, with the prestige created by Parnell, was the secret of their influence until the great mass of the people realised that it was intended to accept nominal self-government as a substitute for a republic, instead of a means of securing a republic.
With confidence we look for and invite the active support of the Government and people of the United States in our demand for absolute independence Advocacy of anything less, as some Americans, at the invitation of Lord Northcliffe an inveterate enemy of Ireland, have already indulged in, only injures our cause’ and is insulting to our country.
Our nationalism is not founded upon grievances, and a people nurtured from childhood on the principles enunciated in the Declaration of American Independence should have no difficulty in understanding our demands. We are opposed, not to English misgovernment, but to English government of Ireland.
We have no doubts about the good-will of the American Government and people; and while prepared when the opportunity arises to assert our independence by the one force which demands universal respect, and to accept aid from any quarter to that end we hope Americans will see their way to aid in doing for Ireland what they did for Cuba. We feel, that they will insist upon repaying to Ireland the sacrifices and contributions made by her sons in the cause of America.
Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.
PATRICK McCARTAN, F.R.C.S.