By Ray O’Hanlon
President William Jefferson Clinton looks upon Thomas Jefferson, as a role model. But Clinton, given his pivotal role in the peace process, has been careful about expressing his opinions of the British record in Ireland. Jefferson was not quite so circumspect.
In a letter that went on the auction block last week, Jefferson, who was elected third president of the United States in 1800, left little in doubt with regard to his views of British activity in Ireland at the time. In August 1807, Jefferson, late into his second term, took quill to parchment at his home in Monticello and wrote to William James McNeven, a leader of the United Irishmen who had spent some time in his majesty’s dungeons following the failed 1798 rebellion.
The letter referred to Jefferson in the third person, as was the president’s habit. MacNeven had previously sent Jefferson a copy of a book he had written entitled "Pieces of Irish History." The Jefferson letter was by way of a thank you. The book, wrote Jefferson, was "a record of documents & facts which interested all the feelings of humanity while they were passing, and stand in dreadful account against the perpetrators. In this the United States may see what would have been their history had they continued under the same masters."
Jefferson, again referring to the United States, reveals to MacNeven how the new nation viewed itself as a refuge from the political storms of the wider world: "Heaven seems to have provided them as an asylum for the suffering before the extinguishment of all political morality had prepared the scenes now acting in the world."
This latter view might have struck MacNeven as ironic. It was Jefferson’s immediate predecessor, President John Adams, who had passed the alien and sedition laws in 1798. Adams and his Federalist Party were fearful that a combination of exiled and frustrated United Irishmen and Jefferson’s Republican Party might instigate a French-style revolution on American soil. That didn’t happen and the American door, closed by Adams, was opened again by Jefferson. MacNeven, who was born in Aughrim, Co. Galway, was one of a number of United Irishmen who ended up sailing to America during the Jefferson presidential years.
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The Jefferson letter, meanwhile, fetched $17,250 at the auction in Manhattan’s Swann Galleries. This was well above the estimate price of between $6,000 and $9,000.
As for the root cause of Jefferson’s Irish sympathies? He might have been listening to the views of his coachman. His name was Joseph Doherty.
Sedition act redux
Much coverage was given in recent days to a Supreme Court decision regarding the balance of power between the states and federal government. It was one of only a number of decisions. One verdict that could have a particular bearing on Irish "aliens," seditious or otherwise, concerned a case taken against the government taken by the American-Arab Antidiscrimination Committee. The government view, as reflected by Attorney General Janet Reno, prevailed, with the court ruling by 6 to 3 that the Constitution is not violated if non-citizens are targeted for deportation due to their political views and associations.
In a separate decision, the justices ruled unanimously that non-nationals have no right to petition for asylum in the U.S. if they have committed what the U.S. views as "serious crimes" in their home countries. This denial of refugee status stands even if the non-national faces persecution back in his or her country of origin. The direction of both the federal government and Supreme Court in this area is, of course, of supreme concern to some Irish nationals in the U.S., most especially the group known as "the deportees."
As it stands, the law now confirmed by the Supreme Court could go heavily against the deportees in the future. All have records stemming from the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The cases against the deportees are under suspension at the present time because the Clinton administration has adopted a more benevolent attitude toward them as a result of the peace process. Suspension, however, is not the same as absolute dismissal, or indeed the granting of political asylum.
A matter of shipcurity
A gem from the Irish Times. The Royal Navy ship HMS Monmouth recently docked in Dublin on a good will visit. The visit, according to the Times, was being seen as "a sign of increasingly good relations between the Republic and Britain and the lessening of concern over security as a result of the cease-fire in the North." Two paragraphs down: "For security reasons the vessel is not open to the public during the visit."
HMS Monmouth is a frigate named after the Duke of Monmouth and flies a black flag because the dear old duke was hanged as a traitor. Treason, of course, is the ultimate breach of national security, so presumably his dukeness wouldn’t be allowed on board the ship either, in Dublin or anywhere else.
And here’s another gem concerning former Irish government minister Ray Burke spotted in the normally very exact Sunday Tribune: "Exactly 600 days after the commencement of the judicial inquiry into allegations of planning corruption, Burke is scheduled to give his account of events next Wednesday or Thursday."
Bloomsday for Walsh visas
The resurrection of the stalled Walsh visa scheme fully flowered on Bloomsday. On that day, the Clinton Administration contacted Rep. James Walsh, chairman of the Friends of Ireland in Congress, and gave him the signal that all would be well. Readers will recall that both Congress and President Clinton last year signed on to the scheme aimed at distributing 12,000 temporary work visas to eligible applicants from economically deprived areas on both sides of the border in Ireland. However, somebody forgot about the money needed to fund the plan and the initial allocation of 4,000 visas in 1999 was placed in peril. Fingers were pointed but lines of communication were obviously maintained.
On June 16, the fuss began to pay a dividend. On that day, Jacob J. Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, wrote Walsh to reassure him that the needed money was about to be pulled out from under a mattress.
"Be assured that the Administration will make available adequate resources to implement fully this important program. We are actively reviewing funding options that will expedite initial program implementation."
"Initial program implementation" — sounds like something from a Space Shuttle launch — has since, well, been implemented.