Voting after the US Civil War, a talk by Fr Thomas Murphy SJ

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Boston College, Ireland

43 Saint Stephen's Green

Dublin 2

Ireland

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Fr Thomas Murphy SJ (Seattle University) will talk on Democratic and Republican schemes to attract votes following the US Civil War.

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“Irish Immigrant Voters versus African American Voters: Democratic and Republican Schemes to Dominate American Politics following the US Civil War.”

The conclusion of the US Civil War in 1865 instigated one of the great efforts in American history to broaden the right to vote. In his final public address three days prior to his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln proposed limited suffrage for African American men, a proposal based on enfranchising Union war veterans and those who were literate. After the President’s death, Republicans in Congress carried Lincoln’s idea much farther and proposed universal suffrage for African American males. Their initiative became the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1870. Republicans were confident that as the party that had ended slavery in the United States, they would win the vast majority of these new voters in election after election for the forseeable future.

Fr Murphy argues that Democrats responded to this move by increasing their efforts to enfranchise as many Irish American immigrants as possible. Understanding that Democrats had a strategic advantage in the House of Representatives due to their electoral advantage in big cities, the party sought to make the Irish American voter a firewall against African American Republican voters. Fr Murphy will show that this Democratic strategy had two effects, augmenting racial tensions in the country and alarming British diplomats already worried about Irish American influence on American foreign policy. These diplomats regretted the enfranchisement of both the immigrant and the ex-slave, vainly hoping to return to a landholding electorate only.

Image: Cartoonist Thomas Nast first drew Santa Claus in January 1863, for Harper's Weekly (Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1929, via Metropolitan Museum of Art under CC 1.0)

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Boston College, Ireland

43 Saint Stephen's Green

Dublin 2

Ireland

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