Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Irish Conflict: An American tourist's view of the "so-called" Civil War

Ireland's Via Dolorosa in the Freeman's Journal: It depicts a woman [Hibernia, a representation of Ireland], prostrate with grief following the death of Michael Collins, the leader of the Provisional Government, in August 1922. She is hugging a broken column (a traditional symbol for a life cut short) with the name "Michael Collins" on it; in the background, other broken columns are featured with the names of Arthur Griffith, Robert Emmett, [Thomas] Davis, [Charles Stewart] Parnell, Daniel O'Connell and Owen Roe O'Neill on them. Courtesy National Library of Ireland.

The December 13, 1922 issue of The New York Times has a story titled "The Irish Conflict: An American Tourist's View of the So-called Civil War." It was exactly one week since the formal start of Saorstát Éireann / The Irish Free State.

Chester Arthur Photo: Chancellor, Dublin, 1922/1924
The commentary was from Chester Alan Arthur III, the 21-year old grandson of the 21st president of the United States. He had arrived in Ireland with his new wife in the summer of 1922 as the dispute about the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 was moving towards armed conflict. The compromise of dominion status similar to Canada's within the British Commonwealth was the first tangible advance for Gaelic Ireland since the English victory at Kinsale more than 300 years before. Britain had already created a parliament for the mainly Protestant population on the northeast of the island.

Arthur supported the minority that wanted a republic on the rest of the island with full independence from the British Empire. It was ironic that his father Chester A. Arthur II who had become a gentleman of leisure for 13 years in Europe until 1900, had been a friend of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales who became King Edward in 1901.

The American tourist took advantage of his political lineage and Desmond FitzGerald, minister for external affairs, rejected Arthur's criticism of summary executions.

The New York Times piece has a dateline of November 26, 1922, Florence Italy — it was just over 3 weeks since the March on Rome resulted in Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party (PNF) taking power in the Kingdom of Italy.

FitzGerald's papers at University College Dublin includes a plea to "the Free State to establish direct trade links with the Continent as a means of securing recognition as an independent state, and praises the ideals and enthusiasm of the Italian Fascists." They also include cuttings of Arthur’s articles and letters on Irish affairs for the American press; concerning his successful action against the New York Times for alleging that he had publicly appealed for arms for the IRA; and a handwritten account by Arthur of the shooting of a woman on Dublin's Grafton Street by Free State soldiers.

Lausanne peace conference 1922/1923

The Ottoman Empire which had supported the Central Powers in the First World War disintegrated after the defeat and Britain became the dominant power in the Near East. The rump of the empire agreed to a punitive surrender in the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920. However, Mustafa Kemal/ Kemal Atatürk (from 1934), a field marshal, by 1922 had defeated Greek incursions into Anatolia and he demanded new terms from the Allies.

The conference in Lausanne, Switzerland ran from late November 1922 and finally, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in July 1923.

In Ireland, Éamon de Valera (1882-1975 was the political leader of the Irish republicans who were also known as "anti-Treaty" forces or irregulars. He was on the run, and he sent a delegation to Lausanne.

There were two formidable women in the group, Kathleen O'Brennan and Charlotte Despard. Chester Arthur was also there and later was described in family papers lodged in the Library of Congress as "secretary to the Irish republican delegation."

Kathleen O'Brennan was a Dublin-born journalist and playwright; Charlotte Despard was born in England and was a member of the French Anglo-Irish family (her brother John French, 1st earl of Ypres, was the field marshal who commanded the British army on the Western Front in 1914-1915 and was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1918-1921). Charlotte became a prominent social reformer, socialist and suffragette after the death of her husband in 1890 and she moved to Ireland in 1921, buying with Maud Gonne MacBride, Roebuck House in South Dublin.

Georgy Chicherin, the Soviet foreign minister, led the Bolshevik government's delegation at Lausanne, and according to a despatch to Dublin by the Free State's representative at the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva (with the assistance of British intelligence), de Valera was seeking a loan of £10,000 from Moscow as well as a supply of arms and ammunition which could be easily landed on the west coast of Ireland.

De Valera promised that the loan would be repaid when he would receive "American money" (this related to funds in a US bank that were collected from Irish-Americans in the period 1919-1921. They would be later used by de Valera to give his family control of his political party's newspapers.

De Valera's Faustian Bargain — the devout Catholic begging for help from the godless communists! — made no sense in Moscow and he wasn't even a useful idiot for them.

Ted Inigan; Chester Arthur; Edward Carpenter and his partner George Merill
Guilford, Surrey May 1924

"I want to be to Ireland what Walt Whitman was to America..."

'Leaves of Grass' first published in 1855 was Walt Whitman’s (1819-1892) only book of poetry. It began with 12 poems and eventually grew to almost 400. Without the endorsement of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) who said in a letter, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start," it could have been ignored. Whitman's innovative style with the long line and free verse had triggered some scorching criticism.

By 1874 when a nearly 30-year old former ordained priest in the Chuch of England wrote to Whitman, the American poet's reputation was established.

In his letter Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) tells the poet of a recent meeting with “a young workman with the old divine light in his eyes” and says it inspired him to write to Whitman to thank him for the courage to recognise same-sex love: "You have, as it were, given me a ground for the love of men I thank you continually in my heart. (—And others thank you though they do not say so). For you have made men to be not ashamed of the noblest instinct of their nature. Women are beautiful; but to some, there is that which passes the love of women."

In 1888, reading the letter to Horace Traubel, Whitman's biographer, the poet said Carpenter's letter was “beautiful, like a confession.”

Carpenter would become a prolific writer, poet, advocate of social reform, women's' rights and into the 20th century Britain's leading activist for homosexual rights.

Chester Arthur knew of Edward Carpenter's friendship with Walt Whitman and he brought a copy of Carpenter's 'Towards Democracy,' a four-volume poem in free verse, with him to Ireland.

In May 1923 the Irish Civil War ended with de Valera effectively accepting defeat in a statement, "Further sacrifice on your part would now be in vain and the continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the national interest. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic."

Arthur set off in late August 1923 for England to meet Carpenter. He was carrying a letter of introduction from Charlotte Despard, the former suffragette, who knew the writer.

The meeting went well and in a follow-up effusive 13-page letter from Dublin Arthur wrote that he had "a daring dream, aiming at the stars, and even falling short of them, carrying me far along the road to Paradise: I want to be to Ireland what Walt Whitman was to America, and what you are to England!"

Arthur returned to England in May 1924 and he revealed in the 1960s that he had slept with the nearly 80-year old Carpenter. Arthur also wrote in the 1960s that Carpenter told him that he had sex with Whitman when he had visited the United States for several weeks in 1877 and again in 1884.

Chester Arthur's love affair with Ireland seems to have ended in 1924 and it did not lose a Walt Whitman.

The New York Times reported in August 1929 that Arthur had been hospitalised in New York on the first leg of a world tour. It noted that Arthur expected to rendezvous in Paris with his wife Charlotte Wilson and his mother. He told the newspaper that he would work on ships, paying his way by syndicating reports of the journey and writing a book. There was no book until one on sex and astrology in 1962.

The Arthurs appeared in a British silent movie in 1930 and Charlotte sued for divorce in 1932 claiming failure to provide support.

From the early 1930s Arthur replaced the name Chester with Gavin — an ancestral family name. He set up a commune in California and launched a magazine but the funds ran dry. Arthur joined the Merchant Marine during the Second World War.

He would have 2 more wives from the mid-1930s.

In the first half of the 20th century, there was no advance in public acceptability of "The love that dare not speak its name" in Britain and the US.

Alan Turing (1912-1954), the brilliant British scientist, was driven to suicide and in the US a content analysis of articles in Time and Newsweek dealing with homosexuality in the period 1946-1968 found that the majority depicted homosexuals as either "sick" (79%) or "predators" (52%) or both ('Gay Rights and Moral Panic: The Origins of America's Debate on Homosexuality' by Fred Fejes, 2008). 

There were some brave novels such as Gore Vidal's (1925-2012) 'The City and the Pillar' which depicted the homosexual characters as masculine. James Baldwin (1924-1987) who was both black and homosexual, in exile in Paris wrote the novels 'Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and  'Giovanni's Room" (1956).

The 1950s also had the Beats Generation of poets and writers that didn't care what polite society thought of them.

In the 1950s Gavin Arthur supported himself by selling newspapers on the streets of San Francisco. He eventually became a sexologist and astrologist.

The counterculture in San Francisco in the 1960s would, at last, give him the freedom to publicly acknowledge his sexuality and some recognition.

It was a far cry from the earlier ambitions.

The Arthurs

William Arthur (1796-1875) was a native of County Antrim, Ireland and was a member of the Presbyterian Church. He emigrated first to Canada and he became an itinerant pastor for the Free Will Baptists. Married to a local Vermonter, the family was living in Fairfield, Vermont when their son Chester Alan Arthur (1829-1886) was born.

Thomas Nast's cartoon July 1881: Vice President Arthur shines cronies' shoes

William Arthur was an advocate of the abolition of slavery and Chester A. Arthur first came to public attention following his success in 1855 as the prosecuting attorney in the case of Jennings v. Third Avenue Railroad Company, representing an African American client Elizabeth Jennings, who had sued the railroad for forcible eviction from a train car on the basis of her race. New York's public transit was fully desegregated by 1861.

A New York US senator coined the phrase "to the victor belong the spoils (benefits or patronage)," referring to the victory of Andrew Jackson in the presidential election of 1828. In 1871 another US senator from New York, the corrupt Roscoe Conkling, got an appointment from President Grant for Arthur as the controller of New York Customs. 

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), the Civil War hero, presided over two of the most corrupt administrations in American history. The word 'lobbyist' is erroneously attributed to him, but he was often buttonholed by lobbyists when having a cigar and brandy in the lobby of the Willard Hotel near the White House.

The lucrative public position paid Chester A. Arthur an annual $50,000 (over $1m in today's dollars) and top officials were entitled kickbacks from fines.

The port of New York was the biggest in the country and the New York Customhouse collected import tariffs that amounted to about half of federal annual revenue.

President Hayes fired Arthur in 1878 but the Republicans selected the corrupt official as the vice-presidential candidate in 1880. During the campaign, there were rumours that he had been born in Ireland or Canada.

Chester A. Arthur became president in September 1881 after the death of President Garfield two months after the president was shot by a disappointed office seeker.

In office, the former spoilsman had an epiphany and supported the development of a professional civil service rather than have most positions filled by party hacks.

Arthur was moved by a series of letters from a New York woman named Julia Sand who he did not know. She urged him to support reform.

In 1886 the former president died from kidney disease and in 1887, Chester A. Arthur II (1864-1937) dropped out of Columbia University and with an inheritance from his father, sailed to Europe.

Known as Alan Arthur, in 1900 after 13 years in Europe he married a wealthy American divorcée in Switzerland. The couple decided to settle in Colorado Springs as Alan was an asthmatic, and they bought a 22 room house.

Their only child Chester A. Arthur III was born in 1901.

They lived on investment income and an interest in a 250,000-acre cattle ranch, Trinchera Estate. That was acquired by a Denver industrialist in 1913 and there was evidence of a cash crunch when the big house was sold in 1922 — the year the son dropped out of Columbia University and set off for Ireland. The parents divorced in 1927 and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 likely depleted resources further.

Alan Arthur died in 1937 leaving no will and whatever assets he had left were split between his second wife and his son.

American political and business corruption predated Trump presidency


The shameful stain of an Irish Civil War