A Look Back in History, by Joseph P. Heenan
From the records of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick
On the evening of March 1, 1926, the Society of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick held special exercises at the Academy of Music to celebrate the sesqui-centennial of the Declaration of Independence.
Excerpts from address by Hon. Michael J. Ryan:
“No organization has a better right than ours to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for no organization did more than the original members of our Society to establish the new government and to make the Declaration the Charter of liberties of a new Nation. The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Philadelphia was organized in 1771. Its membership roll, active and honorary, of the last three decades of the 18th century, embraces the names of the most distinguished Americans.”
Mr. Ryan then traced the trail of the Celt, showing the wide extent of Irish immigration in this country and its influence, centering the attention of his audience upon Pennsylvania, which from the very beginning was a favorite settlement of the people of Ireland and to which Irish Quakers, Presbyterians and Catholics came in vast numbers. The orator summarized his findings as follows:
“What I wish to emphasize is that all creeds helped to make this Republic, and that all races contributed to its building. It is not true that the majority of the people are English. It is not now, and it never was. An undoubted authority is that Englishman who became a great American, Thomas Paine. In his essay ‘Common Sense,” written in 1774, he said: ‘Europe, and not England, is the Mother country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of the world. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster, and that is so far true of England, that the same tyrant which drove the first emigrants from home pursues their descendants still. Not one-third of the inhabitants (from America), even of this province (of Pennsylvania), are of English descent, wherefore I reprobate the phrase of parent or mother country applied to England only as being false, selfish, narrow, and ungenerous.’
“I cite another authority. In 1808 David Ramsay, of South Carolina, wrote his ‘History of the United States.’ He says (Vol I, p. 259): “The Colonies which now form the United States may be considered as Europe transplanted. Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, and Italy furnished the original stock of the present population and are supposed to have contributed to it in the order they are enumerated…For the last 70 or 80 years, no nation has contributed so much to the population of America as Ireland. From it there has been an annual stream of emigrants directed to the country, now called the United States.’
“From writing in 1774 and Ramsay writing from 1785 to 1808 were closer to the times and more families with the facts than the propagandists who today are printing and preaching their false history…If I may seem to stress a particular viewpoint at times, it is only for the purpose of portraying the truth as I know it to be, for I seek to embrace within the folds of Irish – men of every Church – Catholic, Episcopalian, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian. In the times of which I speak, no matter what their religion was, they were all Irish – Irish of Irish – without prefix and without qualification…Today one of the insidious devices of English ‘borings from within’ is to minimize the extent of Ireland’s contribution to American freedom. If I can awaken thought and cause a few of the youth of this audience to search for and proclaim the truth as they honestly find it, I will be well recompensed for whatever I may have done.
“I declare that no people did more than the Irish to win America’s freedom. Lecky in his ‘History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century’ (Vol. II, page 116) says: “The many disastrous circumstances of Irish history had driven great bodies of Irishmen to seek a home in the more distant dominions of the crown, and few classes were so largely represented in the American Army as Irish emigrants’…What about the make-up of the Continental Army? Lord Mountjoy as set forth in ‘Parliamentary Debates’ declared on April 2, 1784, in the House of Parliament ‘America was lost by Irish emigrants. These emigrations are fresh in the recollection of every gentleman in this House. I am assured from the best authority the major part of the American Army was composed of Irish and that the Irish language was as commonly spoken in the American ranks as English.’
“Samuel Smiles, some of whose writings have been recently quoted by the great advertisers of Philadelphia, born in Scotland, editor of ‘The Leeds Times,’ author of ‘The Huguenots in France,’ writes: ‘Of the Irish colonists in America, a large proportion everywhere, stood foremost on the side of the patriots. It seemed as if Providence had mysteriously used the victims of Britain’s cruelty to Ireland, the men whom her persecution had banished from the bosom of their own land, as the means of her final punishment and humiliation on a foreign soil,’…Can you who listen to me doubt the extent of the contribution of the men of our Race? Are we not justified in demanding the revival of the old love that Washington had for our people when at the evacuation of Boston in 1776 by the British he ordered the countersign of the day to be ‘St. Patrick’; when in the New Jersey campaign of 1780 on St. Patrick’s Day he made the Camp parole ‘Saint’ and the countersign ‘Patrick’ and ‘Sheilah’; and that Lafayette meant to express when he proposed the toast, at the banquet given in honor of the American- French-Spanish Alliance by the officers of General Sullivan’s forces in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania on September 25, 1779, ‘May the Kingdom of Ireland merit a stripe in the American standard.’
The Pennsylvania Irish
“I have endeavored to set forth some of the glories of the old Irish Pennsylvanians. They were a great race. The sacrifices they made to win freedom can hardly be comprehended by this generation of ours and our children. They helped to bring forth this Republic. Let us try to be worthy of them. The heritage that is ours let us endeavor to transmit unsullied. Can we do a higher duty to our fellow citizens than by stressing the history of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick during the twenty years from 1771 and onward? Is it not an example that should be followed everywhere?…What more convincing argument than the lesson taught by the history of the legislation preceding the adoption of the Great Seal of the United States? The first committee to report a symbol consisted of Franklin, Jefferson and Adams. They submitted a design, these men who knew America – who loved America, who had suffered for America, who hoped for America – that the Great Seal should contain the rose of England, the lily of France, the harp of Ireland, the thistle of Scotland, the lion of the Low Countries, the eagle of Germany. (‘History of the Seal of the United States,’ p. 11 – Department of State, 1909).
“These men knew that all these States had peopled America, and in the fullness of their knowledge they designed to express the new country’s gratitude to the original settlers. But experience said such a device would prove too cumbersome – the insignias would be undecipherable; and subsequently there was evolved that motto which was history and has proven to be prophecy, ‘E pluribus unum’ – ‘From many, one’: From many races and many peoples it was hoped there would emerge one might Nation, one might Race, the Race for whom the ages seem to have waited, the Race that has seen nature disclose her secrets, the Race for whom the triumphs of man have been made man’s servitors. This American Race, with all its faults on American soil is solving the problems that for ages have afflicted humanity. This American Race has been the benefactor of mankind. This American Race has stretched out its hands and helped the oppressed of all the world. It has leveled tyranny. It has lifted up the stricken. It has been the almoner of God’s treasures. Let us try to be worthy of it, each in his own way – humble though that way may be; and by loving loyalty and devoted service make even greater and nobler this Republic whose citizenship is the proudest title it has ever been given to man to wear.”