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Self-Evident TruthsContesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War$

Richard D. Brown

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300197112

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300197112.001.0001

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Equal Justice for Irishmen and Other Foreigners

Equal Justice for Irishmen and Other Foreigners

(p.62) Three Equal Justice for Irishmen and Other Foreigners
Self-Evident Truths

Richard D. Brown

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

For a generation or two after 1776—perhaps longer—American nationality was not firmly established, nor was there a single “American” ethnicity. And the colonial legacy was broadly welcoming for European immigrants. So regardless of nationality, equality before the law became the policy of every state. But old ethnic and religious prejudices, reinforced by immigration from the British Isles, made equal treatment problematic. Irish immigrants, who stood out as Catholics and potential radicals, were targets of prejudice. But when they were tried for capital crimes like rape and murder, adherence to legal procedures—including talented defense counsel—blunted the effects of prejudice. Yet fear of Irish and other Atlantic immigrants led congressmen to debate the qualifications for naturalized citizenship. Representatives agreed new citizens must be white; but they argued over the length of their probation and whether they should pay for the privilege. In the Jefferson administration Congress settled on five years and minimal fees. Equal rights for white immigrants became the rule in law and largely in practice.

Keywords:   nationality, citizenship, ethnicity, Irish, Germans, Italians, Catholics, criminal trials, naturalization laws

“And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

—Acts 17:26, Geneva Bible, 1560

“Ye shall have one lawe: it shall be as wel for the stranger, as for one borne in the countrey: for I am the Lord your God.”

—Leviticus 24:22, Geneva Bible, 1560

The universalism of the idea “that all men are created equal” was audacious in 1776, but it was not new. The idea of recognizing equal rights for foreigners of all descriptions was as old as the Bible, yet for governments, whether monarchies or republics, equality was and remains a doubtful proposition. Their first responsibility has always been protecting their own subjects or citizens, so the ancient doctrine of Leviticus notwithstanding, the inclusion of outsiders as possessors of equal rights has never been routine. In every original state bill of rights certain guarantees were proclaimed universally to “every person,” whereas others applied only to “inhabitants,” “the people of this state,” “every member of society,” or “the people.” Although women, children, free people of color, and religious minorities properly belonged within such insider categories, governments routinely denied them rights most white men could claim.

Where did this leave foreigners—the most recent arrivals in a land ruled by immigrants and their descendants? According to the statutes of each state, (p.63) even nonresident fellow United States citizens could be disadvantaged as foreigners or “strangers.” The requirements for citizenship, moreover, were defined differently among states and by the federal government. Furthermore, even when immigrants acquired U.S. citizenship, their speech and manners could still mark them as foreign. In an era when insular prejudices and ethnic stereotypes were embedded in everyday cultural and social practices, one may wonder what kinds of equality foreigners enjoyed.


To begin, we must recognize that national identities were often less definite in eighteenth-century America than today. Even now any nonwhite American citizen with an African or Asian name is sometimes presumed “foreign.” What made American nationality especially unclear in the early Republic was the fact that at least until 1776 there were no United States citizens, no Americans in a legal sense. Instead, the differences among long-settled British, European, and African inhabitants of North America loomed large. British identity itself was only emerging in the eighteenth century.1

When that century began Daniel Defoe brilliantly satirized the complexities of English identity in The True-Born Englishman. Defoe, born the son of a Presbyterian yeoman and tallow chandler named Foe in 1660, added the prefix “De” to suggest aristocratic lineage. But however much he aspired to high rank, he reacted vehemently against John Tutchin’s verse attacking Britain’s new monarchs as The Foreigners. The English, Defoe wrote, were not only “a Race uncertain and unev’n/Deriv’d from all the Nations under Heav’n,” but “a Mongrel half-bred Race … With neither Name nor Nation, Speech or Fame.” No such thing as a pure-bred Briton existed, Defoe declared, because the country had so often been overrun by invaders: Romans, “Gauls, Greeks, and Lombards, and … slaves of every nation”; Saxons, Danes, Scots, Picts, Irish, Normans—“All these their barbarous offspring left behind.” More recently Dutch, Walloons, Flemings, Huguenots, and other French and Italian peoples had come: “Priests, Protestants, the Devil and all together:/Of all Professions, and ev’ry trade,/All that were persecuted or afraid;/Whether for Debt or other Crimes they (p.64) fled.” In 1701 Defoe proclaimed an English identity that anticipated the blended identity Americans later embraced. “Thus,” he declared, “from a Mixture of all Kinds began,/That Het’rogeneous Thing, An Englishman.2 The idea of a pure-bred Englishman was nonsense.

Defoe’s relish for Englishmen’s heterogeneous descent was never shared by all his compatriots; indeed, as British national identity matured the chauvinism expressed in The Foreigners increasingly became parliamentary policy. Britain’s mercantilist empire encouraged immigration and importing people from the British Isles, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean for its American colonies, but the reasons were economic, not cultural. Where they saw profits, London policy makers did not worry about ethnic and cultural diversity among their colonial populations. The colonies were distant from Britain and different; so although African slavery was unwelcome in the United Kingdom and legally forbidden in the 1760s, the Crown encouraged slavery in the colonies, vetoing colonial restrictions on the importation of Africans. At home a chauvinistic Parliament disallowed the naturalization of foreign Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, though from 1740 onward Parliament welcomed them to the colonies, allowing colonial legislatures to make white outsiders into naturalized subjects.3

Eager to seize economic advantages, American settlers generally embraced the empire’s heterogeneous population policy. But by midcentury some questioned its consequences, notably Benjamin Franklin, whose Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind appeared in Boston and London. Fifty years after Defoe, Franklin, the Boston-born son of an English immigrant, so fully embraced English identity that he ignored Defoe’s dismissal of the mythical “true-born” Englishman. Commenting as an embattled Englishman who saw Pennsylvania being overrun by Germans, Franklin demanded to know “why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours?” Expressing fears later labeled “nativist,” he asked: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”4 The powerful (p.65) grip of distinct ethnic identities on colonists is striking when a cosmopolitan intellectual like Franklin, possessing more direct experience with heterogeneity in Philadelphia than most colonists, believed that these fellow northern European Protestant immigrants were so alien.

Underlying Franklin’s views lay a budding racial vision of what America might become. Franklin worried that “the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small.” Assessing the world population continent by continent, he observed: “All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so.” Even Europe was doubtful. “The Spaniards,” he wrote, “Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted.” In Franklin’s analysis, Saxons, “with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth,” and he wished “their Numbers were increased.” Considering America’s long-term future, he asked, “Why should we [in America] in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa by Planting them in America?” Much better, he argued, to embrace “so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys,” thereby “increasing the lovely White and Red.” His analysis was not objective, Franklin admitted: “Perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.”5 Long before full-fledged racial ideology emerged, this prospective founding father anticipated the future thrust of United States policy.

During the Revolution, however, when Americans actively shed their English and British identities, inclusive heterogeneity—not Franklin’s exclusivity—captured the emerging national idea, though with a distinctly white European connotation. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine declared that “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.” The colonies became “the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.” This had been true for English settlers, too: “The same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home,” Paine declared, “pursues their descendants still.” Here Paine not only asserted the colonists’ heterogeneous origins but detached them from European and British identities—they had “fled, not from the tender embraces of the (p.66) mother, but from the cruelty of the monster.” By choosing America they rejected the old tyrannies of their national origins. “Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression,” Paine exclaimed, “Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart.” Ultimately Paine extended America’s reach beyond Europe, proclaiming an inclusive universality; America would “receive the fugitive” without qualification “and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”6

The Continental Congress and the Continental Army eagerly sought the support of France, the Dutch Republic, and Continental officers like Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, in addition to experienced English, Scots, and Irish officers. So Paine’s rhetoric was practical. Indeed, during the later years of the war, though slaveholders feared putting muskets in black hands, the Continental Army enlisted African Americans. With survival at stake, heterogeneity trumped exclusive nationality.

At war’s end Congress and the states embraced their constituents’ white preferences. One classic articulation of the European “melting pot” idea was expressed in 1782 by a French immigrant to Orange County, New York, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. Following Common Sense, he described “that race now called Americans” as a “promiscuous breed” of European origin: “They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes.” Like Paine he emphasized that Americans were European castoffs—“as so many useless plants … [that] were mowed down by want, hunger, and war.” “Two thirds of them had no country,” Crèvecoeur wrote, but “in this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together” so that “here they rank as citizens.”7 Crèvecoeur’s American recalled Defoe’s heterogeneous Englishman.

But unlike Defoe’s representation of English descent, which included not just Europeans but also “slaves of every nation,” Crèvecoeur excluded Native Americans, African Americans, and the mixed-race people he encountered in his more than twenty years’ residence in America. Though he claimed that “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men,” (p.67) when he asked, “What then is the American, this new man?” his answer was unequivocally white. “He is either an European, or the descendant of an European.”8 Crèvecoeur, a Frenchman who married a woman of British descent, was more inclusive and accepting of “foreigners” than Franklin, but like Franklin and Paine he believed that America was and should be a land of white people. The popularity and influence of such voices reflected white Americans’ sentiments of racial superiority and preference on launching the United States of America.


Consequently, when Congress passed the first “Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” in 1790, it erected no barriers against people of European descent but made racial preference explicit. The law announced that “any alien, being a free white person,” could become a citizen so long as “he is a person of good character,” resident in the United States for two years. Referring to men only, the law expressed gender bias, though resident free white women of “good character” could also be admitted as citizens. Children gained citizenship with their parent(s) automatically.9 The nation’s political class embraced a white “universalism” reflecting Revolutionary ideals and existing citizenship experience.

But when a new revolution convulsed France and polarized Europe, Crèvecoeur’s inclusiveness, embodied in Congress’s first naturalization act, ended. Now meddling by the French Revolutionary official, Citizen Genêt, threatened American neutrality, making Frenchmen suspect—a situation reinforced by France’s overthrow of Christianity and embrace of military emperor Napoleon. These developments in Revolutionary America’s closest ally, in addition to revolution and rebellion in Haiti and Ireland, and the eruption of radical politics in Britain, divided Americans and shook their self-confidence. These overseas disorders also brought immigrants whose ambitions could be disturbing, unlike the “work and worship” motives of earlier generations. When radicals from Ireland joined refugees from France and Haiti on American shores, some doubted that inclusiveness was (p.68) prudent. By 1795 long-standing Protestant and Anglocentric prejudices and beliefs, once mostly latent, joined with new republican principles to propel revision of the 1790 Naturalization Act.

Foreigners posed new threats. Sober, sturdy craftsmen and farmers were never the issue; but title-bearing aristocrats and masters of Haitian slaves might not support republican ideals. Moreover, “priest-ridden” Catholics who believed in keeping Latin as the language of religion and the laity ignorant, and who also swore loyalty to the avowedly antirepublican pope, could undermine a fragile republic. Radicals—unruly disturbers of public tranquillity—could also subvert governments.

When Congress began discussing a new naturalization bill in January 1795, the initial question concerned renouncing titles of nobility. But a Massachusetts representative, Samuel Dexter, expressing regional prejudices, introduced religion, entering “at some length into the ridicule of certain tenets of the Roman Catholic religion,” before concluding that “priestcraft had done more mischief than aristocracy.” Immediately the Virginian who drafted the Bill of Rights, James Madison, answered the Yankee with facts. He “did not approve the ridicule, attempted to be thrown out on the Roman Catholics.” Having considered the subject carefully, Madison declared that “in their religion there was nothing inconsistent with the purest Republicanism.” Driving the point home, he reported that “in Switzerland about one-half of the Cantons were of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Some of the most Democratical Cantons were so; Cantons where every man gave his vote for a Representative.” Admonishing his Massachusetts colleague, Madison declared that “Americans had no right to ridicule Catholics. They had, many of them proved good citizens during the Revolution.”10 Madison’s rejoinder ended debate on religion; thereafter, if anti-Catholicism was on the minds of delegates, they kept it to themselves; if they opposed admitting aliens, they acted on other grounds.

The question of aristocrats entering the United States was not so easily resolved. The Republic opposed hereditary titles, and the Constitution not only prohibited the United States from granting titles of nobility but also prohibited public officials from accepting a title from “any King, Prince or foreign State,” without prior congressional consent. Now, some in Congress, (p.69) fearing a flood of aristocratic refugees, wanted to restrict aristocrats’ access to citizenship. But the Virginian Richard Bland Lee was worried by the idea that aristocrats might not be suited to citizenship because “the corrupting relation of lord and vassal … rendered him to be an unfit member of an equal Republican government.” Lee “feared that this reasoning applied to the existing relation of master and slave in the Southern country, (rather a more degrading one than even lord and vassal) [and] would go to prove that the people of that country [the south] were not qualified to be members of our free Republican Government.” Lee proclaimed that this was absolutely wrong: members of Congress held slaves, and “he was sure that their hearts glowed with a zeal as warm for the equal rights and happiness of men, as gentlemen from other parts of the Union where such degrading distinctions do not exist.”11

Perhaps; but two Massachusetts delegates, Samuel Dexter and George Thatcher, proposed that every alien seeking citizenship must renounce “all possession of slaves” and declare “he never will possess them.” Aiming primarily at French refugees from Haiti’s revolution, they proposed that naturalized citizens must renounce not only titles of nobility but also slave ownership. This opened the divisive subject of slavery and was too much for southern delegates. The Virginian John Nicholas dismissed Dexter’s proposal, noting that the New Englander had repeatedly “hinted his opinion that possessors of slaves were unfit to hold any Legislative trust in a Republic.” Theodore Sedgwick, a leader in Massachusetts’s delegation who helped end slavery in Massachusetts, tried a dose of realism to cool debate, asserting “to propose an abolition of slavery in this country would be the height of madness. Here the slaves are, and here they must remain.” Sedgwick called Dexter’s amendment “trifling.” Southerners joined with delegates from the middle Atlantic and New England states to defeat renunciation of slavery by a wide margin.12

But the issue of titles still excited passionate pronouncements. Though some congressmen viewed the question as merely symbolic, the slaveholder James Madison declared that “abolition of titles was essential to a Republican revolution.” When, after the daylong debate subsided and members cast their votes, Republican gentlemen declared a prohibition on hereditary (p.70) aristocracy. A primarily southern majority asserted that being the master of slaves in America was not the same as being the lord of vassals. Consequently, they voted that any alien who had “borne any hereditary title, or been of any of the orders of nobility, in the kingdom or state from which he came” must “make an express renunciation of his title or order of nobility.” Rejection of prior hereditary status must be recorded before granting citizenship.13

Once congressmen surmounted this hurdle, discussion became more temperate. During debate, Representative Thomas Fitzsimmons of Delaware and Elias Boudinot of New Jersey appealed explicitly to the Revolution’s asylum tradition. Fitzsimmons declared, “Nature seems to have pointed out this country as an asylum for the people oppressed in other parts of the world”; and Boudinot, echoing his neighbor, stressed American inclusiveness for “the oppressed of all nations.” Although Fisher Ames of Massachusetts was reluctant to throw the doors wide open—“It would not be safe or proper indiscriminately to admit aliens to become citizens”—neither would Ames stop naturalization. “A scrutiny into their [aliens’] political orthodoxy might be carried to a very absurd extreme,” he admitted, backing a compromise increasing the probationary period for citizenship from two years to five. This extension of the residency requirement in the Naturalization Act of 1795 was the most significant substantive alteration to the 1790 act, though it now required not only that aliens be “of good moral character” and “attached to the principles of the constitution of the United States” as before, but also “well disposed to the good order and happiness” of the nation. The new statute reinforced concern for true allegiance to the United States by requiring the alien to declare in court the intent to seek citizenship three years before the actual application.14

During President John Adams’s administration commitment to the Revolutionary asylum tradition would be severely tested. When relations with France brought warfare, when the Irish, assisted by France, rose in rebellion, and when partisan animosity between Federalists and Jeffersonians peaked, foreigners could become targets of suspicion or even political retaliation. At the beginning of July 1797, when Congress debated adding a stamp tax on certificates of naturalization, demand for this tax questioned the entire asylum (p.71) idea. Again New Englanders and Federalists were the chief advocates of adding barriers to immigration and naturalization, whereas Pennsylvanians and Jeffersonians championed free access.

The immediate question was whether a twenty-dollar tax should be levied on naturalization certificates at a time when laborers earned about one dollar a day. Federalist Samuel Sewall, a wealthy Massachusetts attorney, defended the twenty-dollar tax since “every foreigner who came to this country had a full opportunity of getting a living without enjoying the rights of a citizen; and he knew not why he should become a citizen, if he did not think the privilege worth twenty dollars.” Another Federalist, David Brooks, a New York attorney, added that “he would not have the rights of citizenship made too common.” He saw no reason to welcome “fugitives from justice, and others, who never would be of any advantage to any country.”15

Some doubted the whole notion of allowing foreigners to become citizens. Robert Goodloe Harper, a Federalist lawyer representing South Carolina, opposed this new tax because he wanted to end naturalization entirely. Frankly rejecting the asylum ideal, Harper doubted “the propriety of inviting immigrations from all parts of the world.” He conceded that “there was a moment of enthusiasm in this country, when this was thought to be right—when we were not satisfied with giving to immigrants every blessing which we had earned with our blood and treasure.” With misguided enthusiasm, Harper complained, Americans had “admitted them instantly to the rights of citizenship.” But now, though he was willing to allow foreigners into the country, “no man should become a citizen of this country but by birth.”16

Later Harper declared that strangers, “however acceptable they may be in other respects, could not have the same views and attachments with native citizens.” Consequently, they should not exercise the rights of citizens such as voting. It was essential, he said “that none but persons born in the country should be permitted to take a part in the Government.” Harper proposed ending America’s role as the asylum of liberty.17

Others were more oblique. The Federalist attorney Harrison Gray Otis of Boston chose a historical perspective for viewing immigration and naturalization: “In the infancy of the country it was necessary to encourage emigration and foreigners of all countries had been wisely invited.” In that (p.72) earlier time British colonial policy had been suitable; but now, he judged, “the native American germ to be amply sufficient.” Otis recognized that prosperity in some states resulted from “the industrious establishments formed by foreigners of various descriptions,” but now immigrant radicals posed a threat. United States policy should exclude “the mass of vicious and disorganizing characters who could not live peaceably at home, and who, after unfurling the standard of rebellion in their own countries, might come hither to revolutionize ours.” Otis claimed that his concerns were purely civic, not prejudiced, since he felt only respect for “those honest and industrious people, whether Germans, Irishmen, or foreigners of whatever country, who had become citizens.” He was happy “to fraternize with them” so long as “they remained obedient to the laws, and faithful to their adopted country.”18

But Otis, like the New Yorker Brooks, “did not wish to invite hordes of wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all parts of the world, to come here with a view to disturb our tranquility.” And like the South Carolinian Harper, Otis advocated excluding immigrants from office. In May 1798 he moved that henceforth “no alien born” be permitted to hold any office of “honor, trust, or profit, under the United States.”19 This proposal immediately met with vigorous opposition from the Virginian Abraham Bedford Venable, a 1780 Princeton graduate, who objected that such a policy would create two classes of citizens. But another Massachusetts representative, George Thatcher, suggested even a twenty-dollar tax was too permissive: “The doors of naturalization [were] too wide.” He proposed doubling the tax on naturalization because “too many foreigners emigrated hither; they were out of proportion to the natives.”20 Blending reluctant acceptance of immigrants with a desire to keep them out, Federalists tended to abandon the asylum ideal.

In contrast, Jeffersonians repeatedly endorsed the belief that America should be a refuge for the oppressed of Europe. They began by arguing that any tax on citizenship must be low. John Swanwick, a 1770 English immigrant who had become a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, proposed four dollars as more suitable than twenty. Albert Gallatin, a native of Geneva who had migrated to Boston in 1780 and who now represented Pennsylvania, (p.73) agreed that the proposed tax was too high. Congress should help family men and avoid creating a class of inhabitants who were not citizens.

North Carolina’s Joseph McDowell agreed with the Federalist Robert Harper that “we had fought for liberty”; but unlike his South Carolina neighbor, “he trusted, we did not mean to confine it to ourselves, nor to sell it to others.” Confronting the elitism voiced by Harper, Brooks, and Otis, McDowell declared that “it was not the wealthy, the high-bred, the well-born, that he wanted to emigrate to our country; it was a different class of men, viz.: mechanics, farmers, and other industrious persons.” Later he remarked that many foreigners “were as good as any among us.” Nathaniel Macon, McDowell’s North Carolina colleague, also rejected any citizenship tax for the same reasons: it would “injure the poor and industrious part of the immigrants to this country, which he looked upon as the most valuable.” David Holmes of Virginia went even further, proposing that U.S. laws be printed in German as well as English “since there were very many inhabitants of this country who could read no other [language].” One of the few congressmen who were ready to support Holmes’s proposal was Matthew Lyon, a Vermont representative from Dublin, Ireland. Like McDowell, Macon, and Holmes, Lyon saw efforts to restrict immigration and citizenship as undermining the Revolution. Americans “had told the world, that there was in this country a good spring of liberty, and invited all to come and drink of it.” It was wrong, Lyon argued, “to turn round to them and say, you shall not be admitted as citizens unless you pay twenty dollars.”21 For Jeffersonian Republicans laying a tax on citizenship contradicted Revolutionary principles.

But the chauvinist impulse died hard. Samuel Sewall, who defended the twenty-dollar tax, pronounced that, like the Jeffersonians, “he wished this country to be an asylum … yet he did not wish to see foreigners our governors.” He had nothing against immigrants like Gallatin and Lyon, but he said that “it was well known that this game of citizenship had been played to the injury of the country.” Coming from a seaport, Salem, he had “seen men take the oath of allegiance and becoming citizens of the United States, and the next again become citizens of the French Republic, by entering on board their privateers.”22 Such mischievous citizenship was an abuse; but it (p.74) was limited to a handful of maritime locations and few people, none likely to win election.

John Swanwick, the Philadelphian, presented the most fully developed defense of asylum policy. Answering every Federalist objection, Swanwick—whose constituency included both Germans and Francophiles—reminded his colleagues of arguments in Common Sense that had mobilized Americans:

It was said … the rights of citizenship would become too common. This was a doctrine contrary to any thing he had heard before on the subject. Since the year 1776, it had uniformly been the language of this country that we had in the Western world opened an asylum for emigrants from every country. This was our language: ‘Come and join us in the blessings we enjoy, in a country large and fertile, and under a Government founded upon the principles of liberty and justice.’ Were the inhabitants of this country all born in it? Certainly not—a great majority were foreigners. And should they, because they came a little sooner, or had better fortune than others, say to their less fortunate brethren, ‘You shall not be admitted to the privilege of citizenship but on the payment of twenty dollars, though we received it without money and without price!’

Swanwick protested that “in doing this, gentlemen seemed desirous of having rich emigrants as citizens, whilst the poor wanderer, flying from the hearth-tax in Ireland, or from the oppressions of other countries, who would be very useful in the cultivation of our land and in every useful labor, would be in great measure excluded from his rights in society.”23 Swanwick’s fellow Pennsylvanian Albert Gallatin completed the argument by reminding congressmen that one complaint against George III in the Declaration was that “he has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others, to encourage their migration thither.” So far as Revolutionary ideas and practices were concerned, immigration and citizenship should remain (p.75) accessible. But when the twenty-dollar tax came to a vote in the House, the majority favored this more restrictive policy by the narrow margin of four votes.24 Immigrants from Europe remained welcome, but only up to a point.

The antipathy toward admitting people of color was even stronger. Though advocates of abolition and emancipation grew more active on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1790s, Congress wanted no part of such reform. When a 1797 Quaker memorial reminded the House of Representatives that the First Continental Congress had pledged to “neither import nor purchase, any slave imported” after December 1, 1774, members objected. And they refused to act on the Quakers’ appeal for the liberation of 134 of their “brethren of the African race” who had been “set free by members of our religious society” and then reenslaved by North Carolina officials. Jeffersonians who earlier protested restrictions on white immigrants insisted that the House suppress the petition on behalf of blacks. Nathaniel Macon, the North Carolinian who regarded “poor and industrious … immigrants … as the most valuable,” complained that Quakers aimed to provoke insurrections. Voicing his negrophobia, Macon declared that “there was not a gentleman in North Carolina who did not wish there were no blacks in the country.” He regarded their presence “as a curse,” regretting that “there was no way of getting rid of them.”25 Though Macon spoke more bluntly than most, many shared his views. Jeffersonians who denounced Federalist exclusivity and championed immigration were determined that the American asylum be as white as possible.

Broadly speaking, they succeeded. But when the political furor surrounding the French diplomatic insult of the XYZ Affair launched a quasi-war with France, it also brought a crackdown on immigrants who criticized Federalist policy and tighter administration of citizenship. One Connecticut congressman, a Litchfield Law School graduate, declared that the president should be empowered “to remove at any time the citizen of any foreign country.” But giving the executive such arbitrary power was farther even than many Federalists would go. Samuel Sewall, great-grandson of a judge who sent convicted witches to the Salem gallows, rejoined that the United States must “not subject every foreigner who comes to this country … to the fear of the dungeon or removal.” Sewall “did not contemplate the (p.76) making of this country a wall against all aliens whatever, or that no alien should come here without being subject to an arbitrary authority.” This proposed presidential power was “known only to the French Directory”; it would give the Republic “the character of the Turks or Arabs” and “could not be adopted.” Immigrants could be inconvenient, but Sewall believed that greater dangers arose “from our own unnatural children, who, in the bosom of the parent, conspired her destruction.” To say that “persons born in foreign countries, however regular and orderly their conduct may be, shall be liable to be imprisoned or sent out of the country” while at the same time excusing citizens would only “increase the evil.” Instead of stripping immigrants’ rights wholesale, Sewall offered narrow rules for deporting aliens charged with crimes and making exceptions for those who possessed licenses of residence. Still Sewall, like other Federalists, remained doubtful toward some classes of immigrants, preferring to bar naturalization for people from countries at war with the United States.26

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were emblematic of Federalist anxiety over subversion. The “Act concerning aliens” empowered the president to seize and deport “such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof.” This radical expansion of presidential power at the expense of individual civil liberties, a law Madison privately called “a monster that must forever disgrace its parents,” drew a clear boundary between the civil rights of citizens—which the president must not violate—and immigrants, who possessed no civil rights.27 As Harrison Gray Otis explained, the rights of citizens belonged only to the people who made the Constitution, “the people of the United States; and that it was through mere courtesy and humanity that … the right to trial by jury … as well as other advantages, were made common to aliens.” Because this statute was written to expire in 1800 and was never renewed, its consequences were limited. Yet it loudly proclaimed Federalist fears of “the turbulent and disorderly of all parts of the world,” some of them immigrants who arrived “with a view to disturb our tranquility.”28

(p.77) The Sedition Act aimed to punish some of those aliens, especially British immigrant newspaper writers and printers who mounted slashing, vituperative invectives against President Adams and the Federalists. This law did not aim directly at aliens; instead contemporaries and later historians have seen its significance as decisive for partisan politics and a free press.29 And, like the Alien Act, the Sedition Act, which expired in 1800, figured importantly in partisan conflict for years. To Jeffersonians these laws symbolized Federalist tyranny.

In 1798 Federalists folded a third law—on naturalization—in with the others; but this one had no expiration date. This naturalization law repealed the 1795 law, providing more rigorous and bureaucratic procedures for immigrants and citizenship. First, it sought to enumerate and regulate every white immigrant arriving on American shores. Within forty-eight hours of arrival all aliens “shall be reported” to the clerk of the U.S. District Court, the nearest collector of the port, or other designated official. This officer must create a book for recording “the sex, place of birth, age, nation, place of allegiance or citizenship, condition or occupation, and place of actual or intended residence” in the United States of every immigrant and immigrant family. If an alien refused or neglected to register, he or she could be fined two dollars and required to provide a guarantor of “peace and good behaviour.” Without a guarantee, the immigrant could be jailed. Moreover, any employer, master, or parent who refused to register dependents properly could be fined two dollars per month for each offense until the dependents were registered. To assure enforcement, fines would be paid to those who informed officials charged with enforcement. The Naturalization Act of 1798 aimed to end the free, unregulated passage of foreigners into and within the United States.30

To end the political influence of recent immigrants this law tripled the residency requirement for citizenship from five to fourteen years. In addition, every applicant for citizenship must reside at least five years in the state or territory where he or she sought naturalized status. Consequently, fourteen years was the earliest an immigrant might achieve citizenship; those who moved across state lines would wait longer to qualify. Taking advantage (p.78) of the 1798 climax in antiforeign sentiment, Federalists who a year earlier had claimed that “the doors of naturalization [were] too wide” and that “no man should become a citizen of this country but by birth,” now enacted a naturalization law more to their liking.31

In 1802, a year after the Jeffersonians took control of Congress and the presidency, they repealed the 1798 law and restored most provisions of the 1795 law—especially the five-year residency requirement. President Jefferson himself called for reform of the 1798 law in his December 1801 address to Congress: “Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?” The president argued that the fourteen-year waiting period denied to “unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land.”32 His congressional majority swiftly repealed the Federalists’ naturalization act.

But significantly, Jeffersonians retained some elements of the restrictive 1798 law. Whereas the 1795 law demanded just one year’s residence—a requirement the 1798 law raised to five years—now Congress stipulated three years’ residence. And although the 1795 law required neither registration nor certificates of entry for immigrants, the 1802 law retained the 1798 requirement that any alien seeking citizenship must register with a court of record. The information to be recorded was identical to the 1798 law except that Jeffersonians, unlike the Federalists, chose not to record the “condition or occupation” or sex of the immigrant. But the law did require the immigrant’s name and place from which “he or she migrated.” On payment of a fifty-cent fee the applicant (and family) would receive a certificate to provide proof of date of arrival for future naturalization proceedings. This fee was paid not to an informer but to the official who made, signed, and sealed the certificate. All punitive measures in the 1798 law were erased. The 1802 law set no time limit for immigrants to register, required no guarantors of good behavior, and imposed no penalty for not registering.33


The Revolution of 1800, as Jeffersonians called their electoral victory, effectively restored the first principle of the original naturalization act of 1790. (p.79) The United States would be an asylum for Europeans. As in 1790, the 1802 law proclaimed that “any alien, being a free white person, may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States, or any of them.” Henceforward this 1802 naturalization act would govern American policy for more than a century.34 Yet Federalist misgivings about foreigners remained, and Jeffersonians, too, harbored prejudices. American identity was fluid, so it was no coincidence that each of the first three presidents and four of the first seven Congresses felt the need to prescribe terms for American citizenship.

In the new United States the national law of citizenship was one test of American principles, particularly the ideals of asylum and equality before the law. Daily experience provided other tests. Certainly the Declaration of Independence, like Leviticus, proclaimed equality among all men; but white foreigners, like people of color, did not necessarily receive equal treatment. Prescription did not always rule practice. The experiences of foreigners in American courts of law and in the “court of public opinion” provide case studies of how the ideal of equality actually fared.

For at least a generation following independence every adult who claimed United States nationality, native born or naturalized, also remembered possessing a different national heritage or identity. During the Republic’s first decades this was inevitable because American nationality was a new creation. Often the boundary between “Americans” and “foreigners” was indistinct. Before 1776 even the longest-settled four-generation signers of the Declaration had, like their forebears, regarded themselves as English, Dutch, Swedish, Welsh, Scots, Irish, British, or some mixture. First-or second-generation signers, like many other settlers, possessed only shallow American identities, as did citizens whose mother tongues were German, Dutch, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Descent and language ruled the old way of nationality.

After independence old and new ideas of national identity coexisted. When the New Yorker John Jay, descendant of Dutch settlers and Huguenot refugees, defended the Constitution, he proclaimed the nation’s new, amalgamated identity as if it were fully established. To Jay, Americans were “one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same (p.80) principles of government, [and] very similar in their manners and customs.”35 Jay exaggerated. In his own New York some churches conducted services in Dutch; and English was not the language of every hearth. Jews practiced their faith apart from many denominations of Christian neighbors, and Catholics were struggling for the religious liberty Jay publicly resisted. Yet Jay’s and Crèvecoeur’s fiction of the new “American” promoted and legitimated equality among those who looked beyond cultural realities and immediate experience.

During the 1780s and 1790s “foreigners” turned up in criminal courts. Though they did not appear disproportionately among felons or the drifting poor—in maritime Rhode Island less than 4 percent of “warned out transients were foreign-born”—when they found their way into court, newspapers noted their nationalities.36 Formally, however, nationality played no part in the legal record, nor did press treatment play up foreign status.

Several examples illustrate the point. Cassumo Garcelli, a twenty-three-year-old Italian sailor, was among the first men executed after peace was concluded in 1783. Convicted at Boston for the fatal stabbing of a local white man, John Johnson, the Livorno native was not identified by nationality in most press reports, nor was his fellow defendant, a French sailor Bartholomeu Martell. The one newspaper that did refer to Garcelli’s nationality mistakenly identified him as Portuguese. Lacking a full trial report one cannot say whether the two foreigners were treated differently from citizens, but the fact that the court rendered different verdicts for Garcelli and Martell—one convicted, the other acquitted—suggests that defendants’ rights were protected in the usual way, as does the two-month interval between sentencing and execution, which allowed time to appeal for a pardon as well as preparation for death. Garcelli’s “Life, Last Words, and Dying Speech” testify that he not only accepted Boston justice but also confessed to murder in Puerto Rico and to participation in a piracy scheme near Philadelphia in which his coconspirator committed murder.37 Since newspaper coverage was minimal and did not sensationalize an Italian’s stabbing a local man, xenophobia appeared quiescent.

Several trials in 1784 reinforce the view that though Americans drew distinctions between themselves and foreigners, in criminal courts they treated (p.81) outsiders much like fellow citizens. The rape conviction and execution of Patrick O’Bryan, for example, were reported from Pennsylvania north to Massachusetts without mention of national identity. A highway robbery committed by two Irish men, piracy and murder by another Irish man, and a burglary perpetrated by a New Yorker and a Frenchman all generated the same terse, commonplace language as had the Garcelli case. When Richard Barrick and John Sullivan were convicted of highway robbery in Boston, and Alexander White was found guilty of murder and piracy, newspapers in New England and the mid-Atlantic states were silent on national identity. Only their “true and complete history,” published in the sensational American Bloody Register, revealed their Irish origin in passing, without mentioning religion. One convict emphasized his Irish identity sarcastically, reporting that years before in London, after he was convicted of stealing, he was punished with thirteen stripes on his back, “signifying that I should be honoured in America with the Hibernian coat of arms, i.e. two sticks rampant, one couchant, a strong pendant, and an Irishman at the end of it.” His gallows humor played to long-standing English and colonial bigotry.38 Yet when Barrick, Sullivan, and White were executed, a Protestant clergyman counseled them as fellow Christians.39

The absence of full-blown xenophobia is also suggested by the treatment of American Derick Grout and Frenchman Francis Coven, executed for separate burglaries in October 1784. Grout, a bricklayer born in Schenectady, New York, in 1748, had served in the Revolutionary army before seeking work in Boston. Often unemployed, after twice being convicted of stealing chickens—and whipped—Grout began to steal in New Hampshire and nearby Boston. When finally convicted and awaiting execution he denied some crimes but acknowledged others, asking forgiveness. As in the other cases, the press—from New Hampshire and Vermont to South Carolina—made no mention of Grout’s origins until his execution.40

It is revealing that Grout’s “Life, Last Words and Dying Speech” identified him not as an American but as “a Dutchman, of New-York State,” just as the same broadside identified Coven as “a Frenchman, belonging to Marseilles.” Moreover, in Grout’s account of his early days in Boston, he explains, “Not being acquainted in Town, I went to one of my Countrymen’s (p.82) House.” Though Grout’s fellow New Yorker John Jay claimed that Americans were “one united people,” in Massachusetts people regarded Grout as a “Dutchman.” The way press accounts lumped together the natural-born American citizen Grout and the French subject Coven, suggests—not surprisingly—that American identity was not sufficiently developed in 1784 to differentiate strangers precisely.

Like the others, Grout and Coven accepted the justice of their sentences, though without trial reports one cannot say whether they were accorded equal rights. The fact that no stranger, whether American or foreign, was likely to possess a local support network surely put such people at a disadvantage, especially if they were poor. Grout sought help at the house of an unknown “Countryman” without much luck. When work was scarce, as it generally was in postwar American ports, those who lacked family, friends, and acquaintances were more tempted to steal chickens, or worse, than people who knew where they would sleep and find their next meal. Being transient may have mattered more than nationality.

Public opinion, however, took note of foreigners. At the end of 1784, following the executions of Grout and Coven and with the hangings of Barrick, Sullivan, and White imminent, Boston’s American Herald commented that those convicted of capital crimes since independence were “chiefly foreigners.” The short-term tabulation was arresting: “Out of 16 that have suffered, but four of them were Americans, and but two belonged to this state.”41 Belief that outsiders committed crimes disproportionately was widespread and probably accurate due to reasons connected to social marginality.

The question of equal treatment arose a few years later when the Irish Catholic John Sheehan was sentenced to die for burglary. This recent immigrant, arrested just months after arrival, had come to join his brother. He first found employment in the United States Army; then, after his unit disbanded, he worked irregularly as a laborer. Ultimately, he said, he purchased stolen silver and was arrested for burglary when he tried to resell it. Convicted in Boston, Sheehan protested that he was innocent of burglary and his former general, Henry Jackson, and other officers sought his pardon. In October 1787 the officers’ efforts led the Massachusetts house to vote for commutation of Sheehan’s sentence. The senate, however, doubted (p.83) the constitutionality of a legislative pardon and directed the Supreme Judicial Court to rule. When the state’s highest court determined that pardoning belonged exclusively to the governor “by and with advice of Council,” Sheehan’s plea went to Governor John Hancock and the council. They denied the appeal without explanation.42

If, facing death, Sheehan told the truth, Massachusetts punished him unjustly for a capital crime—burglary—when he was guilty only of knowingly receiving and selling stolen goods. But the prosecutor convinced the jury and the justices believed that the trial was fair. Sheehan’s former officers believed the Irish immigrant’s account and persuaded a majority of the House of Representatives that Sheehan deserved a pardon. This effort to save Sheehan’s life, including action by the legislature and a constitutional test of the pardoning power, suggests that whatever prejudices Yankee officials harbored toward foreigners, especially Irish Catholics, they valued equal protection highly in a capital case. The Boston press report circulated from Vermont to Pennsylvania, matter-of-factly reporting Sheehan’s Irish and Catholic identities and treating him sympathetically.43


By the 1790s, however, debates over naturalization, citizenship, and the Alien Act of 1798 demonstrated Americans were expressing a more sharply defined national consciousness, one that affected thinking about equal rights. Because immigrants from Ireland figured largely in the controversies of the decade, the case of “the Irish” is critical for understanding white Americans’ distinctions between themselves and other people of European descent. Owing to the influence of anti-Irish bigotry dating from the famine migration and the Gilded Age particularly, understanding American attitudes during the early Republic requires close attention to that era’s record.44

One starting point is the English legacy of prejudices toward Ireland, its people, and Roman Catholicism. The English antipathy toward Catholicism dated from the Catholic uprising in the 1530s prompted by Henry VIII’s break with Rome and his seizure of the monasteries. Subsequently, the (p.84) martyrdom of Protestants burned at the stake during Queen Mary’s reign (1553–58) and the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France (1572) reinforced anti-Catholic sentiments. The 1605 Catholic plot to destroy the houses of Parliament made anti-Catholicism a key ingredient of emerging British nationalism, popularly remembered by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes annually. Moreover, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the conquest of Ireland by English and Scots Protestants had led Parliament, for political security, to deprive Catholics of civil rights throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. According to law, all officeholders must take Anglican Communion, and Catholics were barred from Britain’s army. Though in fact Catholics served in imperial armies and even as officers after 1793, prejudice and discrimination against Catholics were widely accepted.45

In the American colonies only Maryland, a Catholic proprietorship, welcomed Catholics at first, and when a Protestant majority gained control of Maryland they instituted anti-Catholic policies comparable to New England and New York. Pennsylvania, nominally friendly to all Europeans and religions, laid a tax on all Irish servants in 1729, partly for religious reasons. In the same era southern colonies—welcoming African slaves—sought to limit the “importation of papists.”46 Nevertheless during the eighteenth century people from Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, crossed the Atlantic in the tens of thousands, settling in the middle and southern colonies especially.

Anti-Catholicism was endemic in British America; but perhaps because there were few Catholic priests and fewer churches, the chief prejudices toward “Irishmen” were commonly ethnic, not religious. The “wild” Irish were more often Protestants of Scots descent, not Catholics; but in many American eyes, they were all one.47 The Anglican preacher Charles Wood-mason described the Scots-Irish of the Carolina frontier in 1769 as “lazy, sluttish, heathenish.” Their poverty, he explained, came from their “indolence.”48 In Pennsylvania Benjamin Franklin voiced similar views, and after American independence, a historian reports that travelers regarded the “boisterous, assertive, undisciplined and convivial culture of the region as similar to that of the wild Irish in Ireland.”49 Even as late as 1814 a Pittsburgh (p.85) leader described everyone from Ireland, Protestant or Catholic, as “Irish.”50 In the early Republic the stereotype of hard-drinking, hard-fighting, rustic frontiersmen and laborers was well established.

But whereas some might disdain the Irish as troublesome outcasts, making them the butt of ethnic jokes, Irish immigrants were also welcomed as frontiersmen, laborers, and craftsmen.51 Notwithstanding legal preferences for Protestantism in scattered states from North Carolina to New Hampshire, avenues for upward mobility were far more open than in the British Isles. Irish immigrants, both Protestant and Catholics, and their first-generation descendants won high offices, civil and military; they practiced law and medicine and, in some states, intermarried at the highest levels of society.52 No less a personage than George Washington accepted membership in Philadelphia’s Sons of Saint Patrick in 1781, joining them at ceremonial dinners.53

Nevertheless, as congressional debates over naturalization demonstrated, chauvinistic prejudices could color the views of even the most educated and cosmopolitan American leaders. And in popular culture expressions of prejudice were unself-conscious and direct. If the boundary between American and foreigner was not yet definite in the 1780s, the debates over naturalization in the succeeding decade suggest that national identity was coming into focus, becoming more important. When American authorities charged foreigners with felonies like murder and brought them before juries, they put the equal rights doctrine to the test.

In 1795 and 1796 public discussion of two little-known murders involving an Englishman and a German, as well as a strange prosecution of an Irish immigrant for sodomy, provide revealing glimpses of how aliens fared in American courts. In one, where the English-born chimney sweep, Henry Blackburn, stabbed George Wilkinson, an English mariner, nationality scarcely mattered. The press identified both murderer and victim as British natives; however, in an execution sermon Nathaniel Fisher, the Salem, Massachusetts, Episcopal priest, distinguished the victim, “the unfortunate stranger,” from his long-resident killer. Though an English native, Fisher told Blackburn that he had been tried and convicted by “your country,” Massachusetts. Living long enough in Salem to qualify as American, Blackburn’s (p.86) origin was public knowledge, as was his victim’s; but neither fact appears to have influenced judgment of this 1795 case.54

Because the Blackburn trial was held in Massachusetts, where people of English descent predominated, the distinction between Americans and English people may have been muted. But in the case of Matthias Gotlieb of New Jersey, a one-time career soldier who fatally thrust a knife three times into his wife’s abdomen, nationality also played a minor role. Gotlieb, a Prussian native who came to America with other British mercenaries, was an alcoholic fifty-year-old butcher. His wife’s national identity and age were not recorded at the time of his trial. Since he married Catherine after the war, whatever her descent, it is likely she was, like their son, American born.55

Yet in the proceedings against Gotlieb, including his execution, though he was criticized for repeatedly deserting his company as a soldier in Europe and for drunkenness, New Jersey inhabitants did not associate Gotlieb’s moral failings with being an immigrant or his German origin. Indeed, in at least two dozen newspaper reports, stretching across eleven states from New Hampshire to Georgia, “Gotlieb” became the Anglicized “Cutlip.”56 Evidently as the convict’s name passed from person to person the more familiar English pronunciation and spelling erased his German identity. As in the Blackburn case, though the foreign nationality of the perpetrator was known, neither newspapers nor execution sermons stressed the convict’s nationality or connected it to his vicious crime. Evidently “Englishness” in Massachusetts and “Germanness” in New Jersey did not evoke sufficient hostility to compromise the rights of these two murderers.

The simultaneous case of John Farrell in western Massachusetts is also revealing. Farrell, an eighty-five-year-old “cancer doctor,” had practiced in Connecticut and in central Massachusetts for several years before moving to Leverett, a hill town, in 1796. That year he was convicted for the capital “Crime of Sodomy (not to be named among Christians) to the great displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal of all human kind, [and] against the … Statute.” When a Northampton, Massachusetts, jury convicted him for sodomy with a dog, the local paper identified him as “a native of Ireland”; but a newspaper twenty miles away called him “John Farrol, a Frenchman.” At Worcester, Massachusetts, he became “John Farrel, a Frenchman.” The (p.87) Worcester paper sensationalized the report with the headline “SODOMY,” claiming that this was “the first conviction of the kind we ever recollect,” without commenting on his foreign identity. Whether Farrell was Irish or French did not matter.57

The grassroots pardoning campaign Farrell’s lawyer organized to save his client’s life underscores the point. For when Caleb Strong, a former U.S. senator and future Massachusetts governor, saw Farrell’s first two petitions fail, he rallied the doctor’s former Worcester County neighbors and patients to testify on behalf of Farrell’s character and medical competence. The response was unprecedented: 445 voters signed petitions declaring that the old man behaved morally in their communities and cured patients. Some petitioners mentioned Farrell’s advanced age, but none spoke of his nationality or religion. Evidently, among a people who had grown up as British subjects, American national identity did not yet sustain vigorous xenophobia. People who came from other towns and counties, and other states and countries, were merely “strangers”; they were not yet “aliens.”58

But the furor over aliens during the Quasi-War with France in 1798, and the passage of time after formation of the United States would put foreigners’ rights at greater risk. A decade after the trials of Blackburn, Gotlieb, and Farrell, several murder trials demonstrate a sharper awareness of nationality. One, in New York City in 1806, concerned the Portuguese mariner Francisco Dos Santos. After being forbidden from calling on the daughter of the ship rigger Archibald Graham, Dos Santos stabbed Graham in revenge. According to the Portuguese vice consul, who gave Dos Santos a character reference at the trial, the thirty-year-old illiterate who spoke only “broken English” had been in the United States for over a year and “behaved remarkably well.”59 But Dos Santos confessed that though he was raised as a virtuous Catholic and was married, he had kept “bad company” with “lewd women” in New York City and was “greatly addicted to intemperance.” Though evidence was circumstantial, because Dos Santos had declared “me will stab two Americans,” the jury convicted him after only thirty minutes’ deliberation.60

Dos Santos’s lawyer was the prominent New Yorker and 1792 Princeton graduate George Washington Morton, son of a Scots-Irish father and a (p.88) German-born mother.61 Morton would that argue his client, as a foreigner, could not be familiar with American law, so his culpability should be reduced. But the judge, asserting that American laws “protect a foreigner with as much scrupulousness as a citizen,” dismissed Morton’s argument. In “almost all civilized societies” death was the usual penalty for murder, he said, so “every man, therefore, however ignorant he may be of the local regulations of a foreign community, must be acquainted with the nature and consequences of this crime.62 That Dos Santos was a foreigner must neither mitigate nor aggravate the charge against him.

So far as the newspaper and trial reports show, Dos Santos’s foreign and Roman Catholic status (he was described both as “Portuguese” and “Spanish”) was central to his identity. Moreover, his offense, a vengeance stabbing linked to pride and involving a woman, fulfilled common Anglo-American stereotypes of Latin criminality. Yet the fact that Dos Santos was a poor, uneducated mariner possessing no constructive ties to the community may have been more important than his nationality for the speedy judgment against him. Nevertheless, by 1806 adverse sentiments toward foreigners were ripening, though probably more in the New England interior than in a cosmopolitan, multilingual port like New York.

Soon after Dos Santos’s trial a letter in the Hampshire Federalist of Springfield, Massachusetts, voiced rising anti-immigrant sentiments. Its author recalled the past sarcastically, “when our benevolence and universal love of mankind overflowed … when the rags and tatters of all nations were greedily sought for, and invited to our shores; a society was formed … for the express purpose of aiding and assisting foreigners coming to the United States.” But times had changed; and the writer argued that it would “now be thought wise in the Legislature to grant to this society the power of expending their funds to aid the emigration of some thousands, from our own, to foreign countries.”63 The message: Send foreigners home. Though Hampshire County towns—80 to 130 miles distant from Boston—were not flooded with recent immigrants, “universal love of mankind” was in retreat.

At the same time that this xenophobic letter appeared, two murders in late 1805 and early 1806 came to trial in April 1806 at the Supreme Judicial Court meeting in Northampton, 105 miles west of Boston. In both cases (p.89)

Equal Justice for Irishmen and Other Foreigners

Trial of Francisco Dos Santos, New York, 1806. Conventional treatment of criminal, American or foreign.

Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society.

Irish immigrants were charged with killing Yankees. In the first case James Busby, described in the press as “an Irishman,” was tried for conspiring with the victim’s wife to murder Northampton resident John Ellis, found hanging in his home after Busby spent the night there. Although there was sufficient evidence for a grand jury to indict Busby and Susannah Ellis, there (p.90) was not enough to convict. However active the general prejudice against Irish people, even in the sensational circumstances of conspiracy to murder a husband, this jury of Yankee householders voted to acquit.64

But the trial of Dominic Daley and James Halligan the next day was different. Back on November 9, 1805, Marcus Lyon, a Connecticut man on horseback carrying a large sum of money, was attacked, and the next evening local men found his corpse, shot, beaten, dragged, and “buried” in the Chicopee River near the turnpike road Lyon and the two suspects had traveled in opposite directions. The next morning local men began a search for the killer or killers, and their hunt turned into pursuit of Daley and Halligan, whom they seized the next day 130 miles away in southwestern Connecticut.65 Circumstantial evidence connected the two men to the crime, but only the testimony of a thirteen-year-old boy—identifying them as possessing Lyon’s horse near the site of the victim’s body—tied them to this robbery and murder.

By today’s standards the evidence against Daley and Halligan was faulty, but it was no more problematic than in many capital trials of the period—and the suspects were convicted, sentenced to hang, and ordered to have their bodies given to medical students for “anatomization.”66 In contrast to the case of the Irishman John Farrell, also convicted and sentenced in Northampton, or even the case of James Busby, who was tried just one day before Daley and Halligan, in their case the defendants’ status as foreigners and as Irish Catholics in particular stirred an outpouring of xenophobia and prejudice.

One example of this hostility was expressed barely a week after the murder and long before trial. It came from a local pastor on the Sabbath after the Irishmen’s arrest. Like the murdered man, the Reverend Ezra Witter, a thirty-eight-year-old Yale graduate, came from eastern Connecticut; and he was no champion of the universal love of mankind.67 He mocked “Ye champions of the Age of Reason, the perfectability and approaching innocence of man!” Though Daley and Halligan had only just been captured and questioned, Witter readily declared the “two ruffian footpads” to be the killers.68 This murder touched off a jeremiad that not only condemned Thomas Paine and Enlightenment optimism but attacked foreigners as sources of social depravity.

(p.91) Witter was blunt: “We see the evil attending a continual influx of vicious and polluted foreigners into this country. Many of the outrages we suffer, proceed from this source. Who break open our houses, in the unsuspecting hours of sleep?—Who set fire to our large cities and towns for the sake of plunder? and Who rob and commit murder on our highways?” To Witter, Daley and Halligan epitomized the crisis; after all, “a great portion of the crimes above mentioned, together with many others … are committed by foreigners.” Immigrants, who “crowded … our state-prisons,” polluted and burdened the country.69 Though his parish was hardly the epicenter of immigration, Witter complained of “the rapid influx upon us, of late, of the vilest and most abandoned of the human race.” Sermon listeners learned that “the prisons of Europe and the West-Indies are now disgorging themselves upon our shores; and this country is thus becoming the general asylum of convicts.” Witter’s only consolation was that the perpetrators were not “our neighbors and brethren.” Local Yankees could take comfort because “we are so clearly exonerated from this crime, the stigma is wiped away.” His people and his region “escaped reproach and disgrace.”70

That Witter’s excited sermon was published quickly nearby suggests a responsive audience for his xenophobia. Yet Witter’s targets were not specifically Irish or Catholic; he complained of “Europe and the West-Indies.” Indeed, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiments were seldom expressed in print. Still, they were embedded in vernacular culture. At Daley and Halligan’s trial their defense attorney, Francis Blake, declared even before the court opened that “the prisoners have … been tried, convicted, and condemned, in almost every bar-room, and barber’s shop, and in every other place of public resort in the county, is a fact that will not be contested.” Employing reverse psychology, he stressed anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice, seeking acquittal by urging jurors to demonstrate their fairness by overruling local prejudices.71

Blake, a thirty-one-year-old Jeffersonian, known for “ardent temperament” and “vivid and impassioned” oratory, was a Harvard-educated Boston native. He had settled in Worcester in 1802, where he was twice elected to the state senate in 1810 and 1811.72 Appointed by the court to defend James Halligan, Blake understood Massachusetts juries and appealed to reason, idealism, and emotion.73 His reasoning concentrated on the merely circumstantial (p.92) nature of the evidence. For example, a Boston shopkeeper sold two pistols like those found at the crime scene to a laboring “man who talked like an Irishman”; and the shopkeeper believed that his customer might have been the thirty-four-year-old Daley or the twenty-seven-year-old Halligan.74 Moreover, when the suspects were arrested they carried banknotes that could have belonged to the victim. Because the prosecution could not positively connect the gun purchase or banknotes to the crime, Blake persuaded the court to exclude this evidence. Blake also argued that his clients’ traveling pace, ordinary from Boston to Wilbraham and rapid thereafter, did not prove guilt any more than the fact that the boy witness Blake called “this lad” placed them holding Lyon’s horse near the crime scene. Claiming that a conviction required jurors to conclude there was “not even a possibility” that someone else had committed the crime, Blake argued that the jury must acquit unless they were prejudiced.75

Though neither prosecution attorney, John Hooker or James Sullivan—Massachusetts’ elected attorney general and son of an Irish Catholic immigrant—ever mentioned the defendants’ origins, Blake repeatedly coupled their ethnicity with anti-Irish prejudice. He emphasized “the inveterate hostility against the people of that wretched country [Ireland] from which the Prisoners have emigrated, for which the people of New-England are peculiarly distinguished.” As Americans, Blake admonished the jurors to set aside prejudice to provide equal justice. Daley and Halligan had

lived under the fostering protection of our government, and are now to be tried by the beneficent provision of our laws.—Whether they have brought with them all the vices, without any of the virtues of this generous but degraded people, whether they are wandering fugitives from justice or exiled victims of oppression,—whether they have been transported for their crimes, or have been driven across the Atlantic by the storms of internal commotion, it is enough to ensure them a fair and impartial trial.76

Regardless of “popular fury” and claims arising from the “prolific imaginations of news-mongers,” he told jurors that they had “pledged by their oaths, (p.93) to guard … against the approach of prejudice.”77 Blake exhorted: “Do not therefore believe them guilty, because they are Irishmen but viewing them as your countrymen, remember you are sworn to believe them innocent, until every reasonable doubt of their guilt is removed from your minds.”78

Blake’s histrionics testify to the conflicting sentiments in play, pitting the Enlightenment idealism of Paine’s 1776 “asylum of the oppressed” and its related ideology of equality before the law against the exclusivity of the Puritan “city on the hill,” now laced with Yankee xenophobia and the doctrine of republican virtue. Summing up, Blake referred to “that national prejudice” that led one witness to “pre-judge the prisoners because they are Irishmen.” Passionately declaiming, “Pronounce then a verdict against them! Condemn them to the gibbet! Hold out an awful warning to the wretched fugitives from that oppressed and persecuted nation!” Blake’s words placed the trial in the context of the national political debates at the time of the Alien Act:

Tell them that though they are driven into the ocean, by the tempest which sweeps over their land, which lays waste their dwellings, and deluges their fields with blood;—though they float on its billows upon the broken fragments, of their liberty and independence;—yet our inhospitable coast presents no Ararat upon which they can rest in safety; that although we are not cannibals, and do not feast upon human flesh, yet with all our boasted philanthropy, which embraces every circle on the habitable globe, we have yet no mercy for a wandering and expatriated fugitive from Ireland. That the name of an Irishman is, among us, but another name, for a robber and an assassin; that every man’s hand is lifted against him; that when a crime of unexampled atrocity is perpetrated among us, we look around for an Irishman; that because he is an outlaw, with him the benevolent maxim of our law is reversed, and that the moment he is accused, he is presumed to be guilty.79

Blake finished by calling attention to the pathetic scene of the prisoners’ families attending their trial and by quoting the Irish orator John Philpot (p.94) Curran, whose speech at a 1798 treason trial warned jurors that they would one day answer to God for their verdict.80

Blake’s strategy won public praise but failed in the courtroom.81 Attorney General Sullivan, himself a sometime target of anti-Irish rhetoric, summed up the prosecution. He pointed out that “the most powerful eloquence, or the highest strains of rhetoric” do not refute evidence. Compassion and mercy, while admirable, must not supplant justice. Confronting Blake’s emotional appeal directly, Sullivan told the jurors, “The idea that you may be prejudiced against them because they are foreigners, can have no foundation but in a warm imagination,” and it was “an ill treatment of your characters” to suppose otherwise. “The prisoners,” Sullivan stated, “are as men entitled to as fair a trial as the men of the first rank and eminence can have.” Neither “out-door opinion against them, or the feelings of pity and compassion for them” determined their guilt or innocence. As to Blake’s assertion that any “possibility” of doubt should bar a guilty verdict, Sullivan declared, “There is no such legal expression in the books.” In the authoritative words of the judge who charged the jury, the issue was “reasonable doubt.” Sullivan noted that “nothing exists beyond a possible doubt in the minds of men.” Humans were fallible, and “our senses may decieve [sic] us, yet we cannot refuse their evidence.” Eschewing “prejudice, … partiality, avarice, envy, pride, malice, ambition, self-interest, … fear and cowardice,” Sullivan explained that the jury’s duty was to act “with an upright heart, and from pure motives.” At midnight, after deliberating for just an hour, the jury returned a guilty verdict.82

The defeated attorney, Francis Blake, made one last effort to save his clients with a pardon petition he drafted for Dominic Daley’s mother, Ann, to sign. This petition to Governor Caleb Strong repeated the defense’s arguments as to the circumstantial evidence but stressed that public opinion prohibited a fair trial:

How natural to prejudge the wayfaring strangers as the perpetrators of the crime? Neither can your Excellency be unconscious of the strong prejudice prevailing among the Inhabitants of the interior against the common Irish people who have emigrated to (p.95) the United States; and in the present case the public mind had been influenced in great degree by conversations and news-paper publications which precluded the possibility of that impartiality of trial which the Law contemplates.83

Strong, a lifelong Northampton and popular Hampshire County resident, the attorney who defended Irish John Farrell in 1796 and then led his successful pardon campaign, now joined with the Council to deny Ann Daley’s appeal for her son’s life.

Almost certainly prejudice influenced the prosecution and conviction of the two men; but procedurally their trial appears like dozens of others in which American citizens stood charged with murder. The evidence was neither more nor less substantial than in other cases, gathered as it was in the customary way by a justice of the peace and local people. Court-appointed attorneys, though they might be local luminaries, routinely prepared arguments hastily, putting a premium on rhetoric, not investigation. So it is reasonable to conclude that the 1806 court that acquitted the Irishman James Busby and the next day condemned Dominic Daley and James Halligan provided these foreigners with equal justice. Yet Francis Blake’s passionate condemnation of anti-Irish sentiment must be understood as more than a courtroom tactic in light of Ezra Witter’s 1805 sermon at Wilbraham—exuding disdain for foreigners and particularly the “two ruffians”—in addition to the 1806 newspaper piece decrying foreigners and urging that they be sent home. For a decade the Jeffersonian Blake had been battling Federalists; so his criticism of their oft-expressed antipathy to foreigners, invoking the nation’s destiny as “asylum of liberty,” was idealistic, partisan, and familiar.

Two months later, when the two convicts came to the gallows, anti-Irish sentiment joined to anti-Catholicism surged again. For when, at the prisoners’ request, Boston’s Father John Cheverus traveled to Northampton to pray with the convicts and to preach their execution sermon, local opinion was so hostile that Cheverus chose the text “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.”84 Instead of the usual emphasis on the sins of the men to be hanged, imploring auditors to use their example as inspiration (p.96) for personal reform, Cheverus’s sermon targeted the sin of the hatred he felt in Northampton. Rather than focus on Daley and Halligan, he decried those “to whom the death of their fellow beings is a spectacle of pleasure, an object of curiosity.”85 Having himself been refused accommodations in Northampton—he found lodgings only after being first turned away—the Frenchman Cheverus, the first Catholic to speak publicly in the town, took to heart the prejudice directed at Irishmen. Ultimately, according to a local historian, residents’ antagonism softened, and they invited Cheverus to preach more sermons.86 That New Englanders were generally intolerant of Catholics cannot be doubted; but Father Cheverus’s personal and pastoral skills disarmed prejudice in Northampton as in Boston during the preceding decade. Judging from newspaper reports, the Catholic religion was of less concern than Daley’s and Halligan’s nationality. Whereas the press never mentioned their faith, and some did not cite nationality, at least eleven newspapers pointed out that “they were both natives of Ireland.”87 A local pamphlet account of the murder emphasized: they were “Irishmen of foreign birth.”88


This increased consciousness of foreigners—and concern with national origins—coincided with Americans’ rising awareness of their own nationality. As time passed, popular consciousness of foreigners and prejudices against them grew. But whether such bias compromised their rights or access to equality before the law is less clear-cut. Paradoxically, one aspect of the national consciousness that heightened Americans’ awareness of foreigners and sharpened prejudices against them was the national ideology of equality before the law. The same people who disparaged the vices of foreigners, decrying the costs they imposed on taxpaying citizens, could also defend providing alien immigrants with equal protection under the law.

Moreover, when ethnic rivalries came before the American legal system they confounded simplistic stereotypes. A conflict in 1816 among German Lutherans in Philadelphia over English language in religious services culminated in riotous confrontation, where one side denounced the other as (p.97) “Irishmen.” This pejorative label referred to German Americans who, though they could speak German, refused to do so because they were “ashamed” of their mother tongue.89 When the two sides confronted each other in the trial of Frederick Eberle and others in a Philadelphia courtroom, the state’s attorney general, Jared Ingersoll, with two other Anglo-Americans and a German American, prosecuted Eberle for riot and conspiracy with other pro-German-language advocates. These “Germans” hired attorneys Moses Levy, his brother, Sampson Levy Jr., and William Rawle to defend them. The Levys were sons of an immigrant German Jewish convert to the Anglican Church and his formerly Presbyterian Scots-immigrant wife. Rawle, scion of a prominent English Quaker family, had served as U.S. district attorney in the Washington administration.

All sides vigorously asserted their rights, but though the jury found the “Germans” guilty of disorderly behavior, the judge only fined the offenders—whereupon Pennsylvania’s first German American governor, Simon Snyder, canceled their fines. A succession of further court battles underscored themes that surfaced in the Eberle trial; the pro-German-language party were not “good Americans,” but in the end they triumphed. Though English language advocates persuaded the legislature to assign one of the church’s two buildings to them for services in English, Governor Snyder refused to sign the law. Frustrated, the English speakers concluded that “no law [existed] in the United States, and Pennsylvania, which can take the Germans from their rights.” Ultimately the state refused to intervene in religious affairs. According to Pennsylvania’s chief justice, “No power on earth can lawfully force the English language upon them. Nor can any power withhold from them the use of that language, if they choose to adopt it…. It is the affair of the congregation, to be decided by themselves only.”90 The doctrine of equal rights sustained ethnic and religious diversity.

Nevertheless, national stereotypes and prejudices associated with people from Ireland, Germany, and other countries and cultures were widely accepted. Yet their impact on the actual rights of foreigners was uneven and unpredictable. Ideals of fairness, justice, and the rule of law mattered and interacted significantly with other sentiments and beliefs. The operation of prejudice in conjunction with competing values was evident in the 1817 trial (p.98) of Welsh mariner Henry Phillips for murdering an Italian confectioner’s assistant, Gaspard Denegri, in Boston.

Following a tavern quarrel, Phillips, accompanied by another mariner, Joseph M’Cann, approached Denegri from behind and hit him over the head with an iron bar. Eight days later, on December 8, 1816, Denegri died, so the Massachusetts’ solicitor general, Daniel Davis, charged Phillips with murder and M’Cann as accomplice. At the request of the defendants’ attorneys, George Sullivan, son of the former attorney general and governor, and Lemuel Shaw, future chief of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, the two men were tried separately; with M’Cann, who was Irish or of Irish descent, being acquitted following Phillips’s conviction.91 When Phillips’s trial began, the ambiguities of American nationality, even forty years after independence, were evident when the prosecutor mistakenly described Phillips as “a native American, but a stranger to this part of the country.”92 In fact, Henry Phillips Stonehewer Davis, known as Henry Phillips, was a twenty-five-year-old Welshman who, sent to sea as a nine-year-old, had been raised during voyages all over the Mediterranean and Atlantic, touching Europe, Africa, North and South America, and several British ports.93 With this background it is no wonder that the exact nationality of this English-speaking stranger was not clearly apparent. But though Phillips was in fact a foreigner, the prosecutor argued that the jury should convict the “American,” Phillips, for the murder of a recent Italian arrival who could not speak English.94 The prosecution, clearly, was committed to the idea of equal justice even if it meant that an American would hang for assaulting a foreigner.

Phillips’s distinguished attorneys, in contrast, attacked equal justice, justifying Phillips’s actions by dwelling on the legitimacy of national stereotypes and common prejudices. After the initial fracas between Phillips and Denegri, witnesses testified, “the idea of an Italian with a concealed knife about him spread consternation and dismay throughout the house.” Lemuel Shaw explained that Phillips “did fully and honestly believe, that Denegri was armed with a deadly weapon,” so, given “the known ferocity and vindictive temper of the Italian character,” Phillips’s attack was well founded. Shaw elaborated: “So firmly is this bad reputation established, particularly among sailors, that in their intercourse with foreigners, the dread of a quarrel with a Spaniard or an Italian is habitual and almost instinctive; this is founded (p.99) on an impression, that they are ready, upon slight occasions, to resort to the poignard and stiletto.” Because Phillips believed that “this foreigner had a knife for mischievous purposes, and a disposition to use it,” his assault “was not so criminally rash as is supposed.”95 In short, common prejudices justified killing this “foreigner.”

Chief Justice Isaac Parker’s summary charge to the jury explicitly rebutted this chauvinistic appeal. Noting the rumor that Denegri carried a knife, Parker agreed that “this suspicion may have arisen from the dread our people have of an Italian.” But the prejudice had no merit. It arose, he said, “from stories of travellers, founded sometimes in fact, but exaggerated in the number of instances of assassinations said to have taken place in Italy and some other European countries.” Turning the subject in favor of American republicanism, he suggested that assassination was “a practice which is probably owing to the nature of government in those countries, and to the lax principles and morals of the nobles and others, who give a stamp to the character of their nation.” But, he boasted, there was “little reason to apprehend assassination” in the United States, “even from the subjects of a country where it is said to be practiced.” To rely on the “loose and idle suspicion, therefore, that a person intended to assassinate, merely because he was an Italian, without any proof that he had the means of doing it, or any menaces indicating such intention, would not,” Chief Justice Parker concluded, “be a reasonable ground of proceeding to violence.” Rejecting the anti-foreigner defense, the chief justice declared: “Experience proves that, from the vigilance of our laws, or the moral influence of our government and manners those foreigners who come to reside here, are generally as harmless and inoffensive as our own people.”96 Even as Parker dismissed Shaw’s appeal to prejudice, he expressed his own biases toward Italians and other foreigners overseas.

After Phillips’s conviction, however, sympathy for this English-speaking foreigner mounted. Although the fullest newspaper account of the trial did not mention nationality—American, British, or Italian—the issue remained alive. An abbreviated trial report rushed out after the verdict reported “the dread our people have of an Italian … [as] it is well known that assassination by stabbing, is a frequent mode of revenge, both in Italy and Spain.” Phillips’s attorneys, Shaw and Sullivan, wrote to the governor arguing that their (p.100) client deserved a pardon because like “all those about him,” he believed that the “Italian, had armed himself with a knife for the purpose of doing mischief.” This fact, though admittedly outside “the rules of law,” diminished Phillips’s “moral turpitude.”97 Additional petitions signed by 137 others, including a few prominent gentlemen, and one marked by the illiterate Phillips himself, pleaded mercy for “a stranger and a foreigner” who was “destitute of friends.”98 Nevertheless, Massachusetts hanged Phillips.

But though the equal rights of foreigners could be an active concern, sometimes the issue aroused no discussion. When a New Hampshire jury acquitted George Ryan of highway robbery in 1811, neither press coverage nor the trial report mentioned Ryan’s origins. Six years later a jury did convict William M’Donnough for murdering his wife, but though a trial report noted that he was “not a native of this country,” that fact was inconsequential because he had been working in Boston for twenty years. Ethnicity was not an issue; he bore an Irish surname, had come from London to Boston, and was known to play “Scotch airs.” Yet the only time his origin was mentioned in the trial was when his attorney asked pity for “a foreigner, without many of the ties of consanguinity or friendship in this country”; this, even though M’Donnough, having slain his wife of over thirty years, possessed a grown son and daughter. Later, when the press reported his death awaiting execution, nationality was not mentioned.99

The same indifference to nationality was evident in two trials held about the same time in Dedham, just west of Boston. Here, two Irish glass factory workers, Stephen Murphy and John Doyle, accused of raping fifteen-year-old Rebecca Day Jr., won acquittals. The attorney general prosecuting the case never mentioned the defendants’ nationality. Only their attorney, George Sullivan, who with Lemuel Shaw had unsuccessfully defended Henry Phillips earlier that year, raised the subject, hoping to arouse sympathy for his clients. Stephen Murphy, he told the jury, “is a foreigner … to our land, but he is not a foreigner to our hearts, and he will not be a stranger to your justice.” Later, he characterized both prisoners as “valuable and respectable young men,” and without specifying Ireland, Sullivan respectfully cited the “ardent friendship” and loyalty characteristic of Murphy’s nation.100

To characterize defendants favorably and to discredit the accuser was, of course, standard for defending a rape case. But the fact that no one in (p.101) court or in the press tried to disparage the factory hands on ethnic grounds is striking. Everyone could identify the defendants as Irish, but nationality was mentioned only to defend their characters. The same was true in the 1820 case of Michael Powers, a one-time County Wexford farmer who had come to Boston in 1802, worked as a hod carrier, and lived frugally. Powers had saved to finance the migration of three relatives, including Timothy Kennedy, who Powers claimed then refused to pay his debt. After legal remedies failed, Powers murdered Kennedy, stole his property, and fled to Philadelphia, where he was captured before sailing for Ireland. At trial, courtroom argument and press reports barely mentioned his nationality or that of his victim.101

In light of Powers’s crime—revenge ax-murder, followed by burying the corpse in his cellar and flight for Ireland—possibilities for sensational expressions of ethnic prejudice were obvious. But instead the victim, Timothy Kennedy, received an admiring obituary as an Irish Catholic immigrant:

The deceased was a native of Ireland; about 20 years of age, and had been nearly two years in this country—his disposition was amiable; he was industrious and faithful, and was never known to taste spirits of any kind. He was a constant attendant at the Roman Catholic Chapel, and though without money when he came to this country, he subscribed five dollars towards the Catholic Chapel at South Boston;—he was fond of reading religious books, and borrowed a book last Tuesday, which he has not returned, entitled the “Rich Cabinet, full of Heavenly Jewels.102

Kennedy, a pious young man displaying social virtues, was clearly worthy of possessing the full panoply of American rights.


Evidently American citizens were of two minds regarding immigrants in general and the Irish in particular. Teague O’Regan, a leading character in Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s satiric novel of the Pennsylvania frontier, Modern Chivalry, represents such ambivalence. On the one hand O’Regan was the stereotypical ridiculous Irishman, described by one scholar as “ignorant, (p.102) foolish, and grasping.” Yet at the same time Brackenridge has Pennsylvania citizens showering him “with undeserved honors and inappropriate responsibilities.”103 Brackenridge, a Pittsburgh Scot and Princeton graduate who served as a Federalist justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was scornful of uncouth Irishmen but also envious of their success. In New York, partisan criticism of Irish immigrants led an 1817 writer to defend both the Irish and American blacks. Their adversaries seemed to claim that Irishmen, though naturalized as citizens, should be excluded from public life because they were born abroad. And though blacks could vote because they were American-born, they should not be called “Americans, because their ancestors were from Africa.” Such wrongheaded reasoning applied generally would disenfranchise “the American citizen,” because he would still be “called a Dutchman, an Englishman, a Swede, a Highlander or Hessian.”104

As to Irish immigrants, it was true that they were reduced to being “ashes gatherers and day laborers” in New York City; but before English conquest they were “proprietors of Irish soil.” It was the English who reduced them to ignorance by proscribing schools and “interdicting reading.” The Irish themselves were “republicans” who rose in revolt against British tyranny and who, after defeat, “became ashes-men in America—preferring liberty accompanied with labor to inglorious indulgence at home.” For this writer the logic of American nationality dictated equal rights, not distinctions based on national origins. The fact that immigrants who were not naturalized could vote in many places, including the Northwest Territory, is testimony to popular support for equal rights.105

Nevertheless, as this vigorous defense suggests, not everyone shared these ideals. Public officials responsible for suppressing crime and caring for the poor had come to regard immigrants as social burdens. And although theirs was not an unprecedented response to new arrivals, it now possessed authoritative expression. In Boston the Massachusetts solicitor general, Daniel Davis, complained of immigrants. This official, who in prosecuting Henry Phillips, whom he mistakenly took to be American, had declared that “by the numerous provisions of our laws, every protection and assistance will be afforded him … for a perfectly impartial trial,” and argued that “although it is possible the guilty may here escape, the innocent can never be (p.103) in danger of punishment,” now used courtroom rhetoric to castigate immigrants in language resembling the rural pastor Ezra Witter at the time of Halligan and Daley fifteen years earlier.106 “Most of the robberies in this part of the country, have been committed by foreigners,” he asserted when prosecuting an Irish immigrant, Michael Martin, for highway robbery in 1821. Elaborating his xenophobia, he contrasted Americans’ own “peaceful and happy state of society” and “the civil, social and religious blessings we enjoy,” with the “manners and morals” of “the countries from which these foreigners have fled.” Looking ahead, the solicitor general warned darkly, “as the knowledge of this happy country shall be spread among the old and corrupted countries of Europe, we shall be visited and infested by its profligate and vicious inhabitants, who will be ready to flock in among us, for the sole objects of rapine and plunder.”107 When a state’s chief prosecutor stirred prejudice, the jury could not escape bias against the defendant. Davis not only denied all pretense to fairness but now shed even the appearance of equal rights for the accused foreigner.

Davis’s rhetorical volley expressed a growing feeling among some in New England that foreigners were a chief source of social ills. The most informed statement of this perception came from Redford Webster, the Boston apothecary and overseer of the poor who reported on the city’s problems in 1814. He began with an enumeration of Boston’s almshouse and workhouse populations over the past year. Among those admitted (570) over half (291) were “foreigners.” But unlike Davis, Webster’s “foreigners” included persons from other states, not only people from abroad. How many were foreign nationals was not Webster’s concern. Indeed, Webster explicitly asserted that no preferences should be given to natives over foreigners, especially because foreigners, as “stranger[s] among strangers,” were at a great disadvantage. Unlike local people, relatives, friends, and neighbors could not help them. As to the Irish, Webster never mentioned them; but he pointed out that “among all the religious societies in the town, the Catholic is the most attentive to its people…. The children are early made accountable; and they never are found begging in the street.”108

The only class toward which Webster directed particular attention was “coloured people” who came from elsewhere. Some were East and West (p.104) Indians, who were “generally miserable a short time after landing.” But the greatest numbers were “rogues and run-away slaves from southern states.” Webster had no wish to return them to slavery, but he angrily declared, “There is a material difference between an asylum for liberty, and a city of refuge for rogues.” Having been corrupted by slavery, these foreigners constituted “the most profligate wretches that ever disgraced society…. No beings among us are so bold, impudent and flatigious [sic]; they seem to be above all shame.” They gambled and fought with each other in court and out; Webster was shocked by their “licentiousness.”109 But as disturbing as he found their behavior, he would not cut them off from support. “Foreigners” of all colors surely cost the taxpayers of the city and state, but for Webster and the town of Boston equality of treatment should be the rule.


(1.) Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).

(2.) The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr (n.p. [London], 1701). Maximillian [sic] E. Novak, Daniel Defoe, Master of Fictions: His Life and Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 148–49; Paula R. Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: His Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 75, calls this satire “the great literary triumph of Defoe’s lifetime,” reporting fifty editions by 1750; John Tutchin in Novak, Daniel Defoe, 149; True-Born Englishman, 4, 6, 7.

(3.) Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003), 133.

(4.) Leonard W. Labaree and Whitfield Bell, eds., Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 4, July 1, 1750, through June 30, 1753 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), 234. Franklin wrote Observations in 1751; first publication, Boston, 1755; additional printings through 1769. Thomas Malthus quoted Franklin’s Observations; Adam Smith owned two copies. Franklin set up a German press for the growing Pennsylvania German market.

(6.) Thomas Paine, Common Sense, ed. Edward Larkin (Peterborough, Ont.: Broad-view, 2004), 64, 76.

(7.) J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer; Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs … of the British Colonies in North America (London, 1782), 48, 49, 50. Within two years the work, patronized by Benjamin Franklin, had eight editions in five countries.

(9.) Statutes at Large, First Congress of the United States, 2nd Sess., chap. 3, 103–4. Citizenship requires a year’s residency in the state where citizenship was claimed; a child must also be a U.S. resident.

(10.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Third Congress … December 2, 1793, to March 3, 1795 … (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1849), 1034–35.

(12.) U.S. Constitution, art. 1, sec. 9. In Henry Steele Commager and Milton Cantor, eds., Documents of American History, vol. 1, To 1898, 10th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1988), 142; U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1039, 1040, 1041, 1054, 1057. Vote: 63 opposed, 28 in favor (from New York and New England).

(13.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1057. Vote: 59 in favor, 32 opposed (mostly from the North); U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, statute 2 (Jan. 29, 1795), chap. 20, 414.

(14.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1066; U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, statute 2 (Jan. 29, 1795), chap. 20, 414.

(15.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Fifth Congress … May 15, 1797, to March 3, 1799 … (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1851), 422 (July 1, 1797).

(16.) U.S. CongressU.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 424 (July 1, 1797). Harper, a 1765 native of Virginia, moved with his parents to North Carolina as a child, graduated from Princeton, and later moved to Baltimore. He served as U.S. senator from Maryland in 1815–16.

(17.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1568 (May 1798).

(18.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 429–30 (July 1, 1797). Otis, born in 1765, served as U.S. senator from Massachusetts, 1817–22.

(19.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1570. Otis excepted present naturalized citizens.

(20.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1570 and 426–27 (July 1, 1797). Thatcher, a 1754 Massachusetts native, served in Congress from 1787 to 1801 and resided in Maine.

(21.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 427 (July 1, 1797). McDowell (1756–1801) was a Virginia native brought to North Carolina in 1758; U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1573 (May 3, 1798), 425 (July 1, 1797). Macon (1757–1837), a North Carolina native, served in the U.S. House and Senate, 1791–1828. U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 462–63 (July 8, 1797). Holmes (1769–1832), a Pennsylvania native, moved to Virginia as a child; he served as U.S. representative from Virginia, 1797–1809, and as U.S. senator from Mississippi, 1820–25. His proposal failed. U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 426 (July 1, 1797). Lyon (1749–1822) (p.323) immigrated to Connecticut in 1765 as an indentured farm laborer. He moved to Vermont in 1774 and served as U.S. representative, first from Vermont, 1797–1801, and later from Kentucky, 1803–11.

(22.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 426 (July 1, 1797).

(23.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 423–24 (July 1, 1797). On John Swanwick, see Harry Marlin Tinkcom, The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790–1801 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1950), 85, 142, 160–61, 173.

(24.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 428, 431. Vote July 1, 1797: 46 for tax, 42 opposed.

(25.) “Memorial and Address of the People Called Quakers from Their Yearly Meeting Held in Philadelphia … from the 25th of the 9th Month, to the 29th of the Same Inclusive, 1797,” in U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 657; whole debate on 656–70, 661 (Nov. 30, 1797), 945–1033.

(26.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 1579 (May 3, 1798), 1631 (May 8, 1798), 1776 (May 21, 1798).

(27.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 570–572 (June 25, 1798). James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, May 20, 1798, in The Papers of James Madison, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne K. Cross, and Susan Holbrook Perdue, vol. 17 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991), 133–34.

(28.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 2019 (June 21, 1798). Otis’s word order was altered so that his use of “trial by jury” replaces his later use of “this,” followed by “as well as other advantages”; Otis, U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 429–30 (July 1, 1797).

(29.) Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 703–11; Lawrence W. Levy, Emergence of a Free Press (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), chap. 8.

(30.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 566–69 (June 18, 1798).

(31.) U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 566–69 (June 18, 1798); U.S. Congress, Debates and Proceedings, 422, 424 (July 1, 1797).

(32.) Frank George Franklin, The Legislative History of Naturalization in the United States (1906; reprint, New York: Arno, 1969), 97.

(33.) U.S. Congress, Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America …, vol. 2 (Boston: Little and Brown, 1845), 153–55 (Apr. 14, 1802). The gender-neutral use of “he or she” is notable, a first for U.S. naturalization law.

(34.) U.S. Congress, Public Statutes, 153 (Apr. 14, 1802. James H. Kettner, The Development of American Citizenship, 1608–1870 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978), 246; Franklin, Legislative History of Naturalization, 109. One further naturalization law was enacted on June 18, 1813, to allow British subjects who, before the War of 1812, (p.324) had begun naturalization proceedings or were eligible to become citizens though otherwise regarded as “enemy aliens” excluded from citizenship. Franklin, Legislative History of Naturalization, 128.

(35.) Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist, ed. Benjamin F. Wright (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), 94.

(36.) Ruth Wallis Herndon, Unwelcome Americans: Living on the Margin in Early New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 13, 175. Herndon found four immigrants in her 1750–1800 sample: one Englishman, one German, one Irishman, and one West African.

(37.) Boston Gazette, Nov. 10, 1783, 3; Boston Independent Ledger and Advertiser, Jan. 19, 1784, 3; Salem Gazette, Jan. 22, 1784, 3; The Life, Last Words, and Dying Speech of Cassumo Garcelli … January 15, 1784 (Boston, n.d.).

(38.) American Bloody Register: Containing a True and Complete History of the Lives, Last Words, and Dying Confessions of Three of the Most Noted Criminals … Richard Barrick and John Sullivan, High way Robbers. Together with the Dying Confession of Alexander White, a Murderer and Pirate … (Boston: E. Russell, 1784), 7. Also Daniel A. Cohen, Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England Crime Literature and the Origins of American Popular Culture, 1674–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 123–24.

(39.) Timothy Hilliard, Paradise Promised, by a Dying Saviour, to the Penitent Thief on the Cross (Boston, 1785; reprint, Newburyport, Mass., 1785), 7.

(40.) On Grout and Coven, see The Life, Last Words and Dying Speech of Dirick Grout, a Dutchman, of New-York State, Aged 36; and Francis Coven, a Frenchman, Belonging to Marseilles, Aged 22; Who Were Executed This Day, Pursuant to Their Sentence, for the Crime of Burglary, Thursday, October 28, 1784 (n.p., n.d.). Also Massachusetts Centinel and Republican Journal (Boston), Sept. 15, 1784, 3; Massachusetts Spy or Worcester Gazette, Sept. 23, 1784, 3; Independent Chronicle (Boston), Oct. 14, 1784, 3. Independent Chronicle reprinted: Independent Ledger (Boston), Salem Gazette, Essex Journal (Newburyport), South Carolina Gazette and General Advertiser (Charleston), New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), Providence Gazette, Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia), Vermont Journal (Windsor), Massachusetts Spy (Worcester), and others.

(41.) American Herald (Boston), Nov. 15, 1784, 3. The same article was reprinted in Philadelphia’s Independent Gazetteer, Dec. 4, 1784, 2.

(42.) Life, Last Words and Dying Speech of John Sheehan, Who Was Executed at Boston, on Thursday, November Twenty-Second, 1787, for Burglary (Boston: E. Russell, n.d. [1784]); Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (Boston), Nov. 30, 1787, 3.

(43.) Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (Boston), Nov. 30, 1787, 3; American Mercury (Hartford), Dec. 3, 1787, 3. Identical reports in Philadelphia’sPhiladelphia’s Independent Gazetteer, (p.325) Dec. 6, 1787, 2; Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia), Dec. 7, 1787, 2; and Vermont Journal (Windsor), Dec. 31, 1787, 3.

(44.) Significant anti-Catholicism was reported after 1815 when Protestant Orangemen from Northern Ireland clashed with Catholics from Southern Ireland in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. David Noel Doyle, Ireland, Irishmen and Revolutionary America, 1760–1820 (Dublin: Mercier, 1981), 212.

(47.) Doyle, Ireland, Irishmen, 101; Thomas Archdeacon, Becoming American: An Ethnic History (New York: Free Press, 1983), 25, 26. The Charitable Irish Society, formed in Boston in 1737, originally assisted Presbyterians from Northern Ireland; but later included Catholics from the south in its mission. Catherine B. Shannon, “The Charitable Irish Society of Boston, (1737–1857),” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 43 (2015): 94–123.

(48.) Charles Woodmason in Doyle, Ireland, Irishmen, 87.

(50.) Kerby A. Miller, Arnold Schrier, Bruce D. Boling, and David N. Doyle, eds., Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 625. Douglas Bradburn, The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2009), 234, says that the term “Scotch-Irish” dates chiefly after 1850.

(51.) Robert Secor, “Ethnic Humor in Early American Almanacs,” in A Mixed Race: Ethnicity in Early America, ed. Frank Shuffleton (New York: Oxford, 1993), 163–93, esp. 177–81.

(52.) Doyle, Ireland, Irishmen, 182. Andrew Jackson, elected president in 1828, was the son of Scots-Irish immigrants to South Carolina in 1765, two years before his birth.

(53.) Michael J. O’Brien, A Hidden Phase of American History: Ireland’s Part in America’s Struggle for Liberty (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1919), 168.

(54.) Newspaper accounts in the Courier (Boston), Aug. 19, 1795, and Salem Gazette, Nov. 11, 1795; Nathaniel Fisher, A Sermon Delivered at Salem, January 14, 1796, Occasioned by the Execution of Henry Blackburn on That Day for the Murder of George Wilkinson (Salem, 1796), 18. The Reverend William Bentley referred to Wilkinson as “a young English seaman.” Diary of William Bentley, D.D., Pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts, vol. 2, January 1793–December 1802 (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1962), 157.

(55.) A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Matthias Gotleib [sic], for Murder; at Newton, October 28, 1796 (Newton, N.J.: 1796), 2, 3, 4–8; Daniel Allen Hearn, Legal Executions in New Jersey, 1691–1963 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005), 63, 428.

(56.) Search of “Cutlip” and “1796” in America’s Historical Newspapers, series 1–6.

(57.) Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Mass.), Oct. 5, 1796, 3:2; American Intelligencer (West Springfield, Mass.), Oct. 4, 1796, 3:3; Massachusetts Spy: Or, the Worcester (p.326) Gazette, Oct. 12, 1796, 3:1; Doron Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown, Taming Lust: Crimes against Nature in the Early Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 41–50, 129–37.

(58.) Petitions in Governor’s Council Pardon File, John Farrell, 1796, Massachusetts Archives.

(59.) Francisco Dos Santos, A Full and Particular Account of the Trial of Francisco Dos Santos, Alias Francisco Son for the Murder of Archibald Graham … Held in the City of New-York, Jan. 9, 1806 … to Which is Added a Short Account of His Life, Together with His Confession … (New York: n.p., 1806), 3, 17. Also Daniel Allen Hearn, Legal Executions in New York State: A Comprehensive Reference, 1639–1963 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997), 30, 296.

(61.) On Morton, see J. Jefferson Looney and Ruth L. Woodward, Princetonians, 1791–1794: A Biographical Dictionary (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991), 198–203. Morton (1775–1810) was among the first Americans named after George Washington. By 1806 he was prominent, connected to the Schuylers and Alexander Hamilton’s family through marriage. In 1797 he eloped with Cornelia Schuyler from Albany to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the prominent Federalist congressman Theodore Sedgwick arranged their marriage and assisted in reconciling her father to the match.

(63.) Hampshire Federalist (Springfield, Mass.), Mar. 11, 1806, 3:2.

(64.) Hampshire Federalist (Springfield, Mass.), Mar. 11, 1806, 3:2; Republican Spy (Northampton, Mass.), Mar. 29, 1806, 3; and the Reporter (Brattleboro, Vt.), May 3, 1806, 2. The case produced neither trial report nor execution sermon to elaborate.

The inflammatory possibilities of such a trial are evident in the case of Bathsheba Spooner and her foreign, in this instance British, confederates for the 1778 murder of her husband. See Deborah Navas, Murdered by His Wife: A History with Documentation of the Joshua Spooner Murder and Execution of His Wife, Bathsheba, Who Was Hanged in Worcester, Massachusetts, July 2, 1778 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999).

(65.) [Dominic Daley and James Halligan], Report of the Trial of Dominic Daley and James Halligan for the Murder of Marcus Lyon, … April 1806 (Northampton, Mass., 1806), 9. Modern distance measurement: 116 miles; Richard D. Brown, “‘Tried, Convicted, and Condemned, in Almost Every Bar-Room and Barber’s Shop’: Anti-Irish Prejudice in the Trial of Dominic Daley and James Halligan, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1806,” New England Quarterly 84 (2011): 205–33.

(66.) Irene Quenzler Brown and Richard D. Brown, The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler: A Story of Rape, Incest, and Justice in Early America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 361n45.

(p.327) (67.) “Ezra Witter,” in Franklin B. Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with the Annals of the College History, vol. 5, June 1792–September 1805 (New York: Henry Holt, 1911), 94–95.

(68.) Ezra Witter, A Discourse Delivered in Wilbraham, November 17, 1805, Occasioned by the Murder of Marcus Lyon (Springfield, Mass., n.d. [1805?]), 8. Possibly Witter was the anonymous letter writer in Hampshire Federalist, Mar. 11, 1806.

(69.) Witter, Discourse, 13. Word order of “state-prisons” and “crowded” here reversed.

(71.) [Daley and Halligan], Report of the Trial, 32. In 1800 gentlemen of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences asked local leaders to enumerate their capital criminals, suicides, and poor and to report whether they were “natives or foreigners.” Christopher P. Bickford, Voices of the New Republic: Connecticut Towns, 1800–1832 (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2003), first solicitation to Connecticut towns, 6, 9.

(72.) William Lincoln, History of Worcester, Massachusetts, from Its Earliest Settlements to September 1836 (1836; reprint, Worcester, Mass.: Charles Hersey, 1862), 199–200. Blake’s political identification from his Oration, Pronounced at Worcester, on the Anniversary of American independence: July 4, 1796 (Worcester, Mass., 1796).

(73.) Halligan’s other attorney was Jabez Upham. Daley’s attorneys were Thomas Gold and Edward Upham. Report of the Trial, 6.

(74.) [Daley and Halligan], Report of the Trial, 24. Ages in Hampshire Federalist (Spring-field, Mass.), June 10, 1806, 3.

(79.) [Daley and Halligan], Report of the Trial, 52–53. When Irish immigrants became more numerous in the decades after 1830, prejudice increased; see Charles and Tess Hoffman, Brotherly Love: Murder and the Politics of Prejudice in Nineteenth-Century Rhode Island (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993).

(80.) [Daley and Halligan], Report of the Trial, 63, 65. Blake’s defense covers pp. 28–65. The text says that Blake supplied it in writing (from memory) to the lawyer, who compiled the report. In November and December 1805, New York newspapers advertised an Irish edition of Curran’s speeches, including the one Blake quoted. Curran’s popularity is evident in that his speech opposing standing armies was reprinted in a Jeffersonian paper in Richmond, Va., in 1802, and in Isaac Riley’s publication in 1809 and 1811 of a two-volume New York City edition of Curran’s speeches.

(81.) Blake and other defense attorneys were praised in [Dominic Daley and James Halligan], Brief Account of the Murder of Marcus Lyon (Palmer, Mass., n.d. [1806]), 11. (p.328) Two editions of this pamphlet appeared. The first sixteen-page edition is held at the Forbes Library, Northampton. The second fourteen-page edition held by American Antiquarian Society lacks the elegy for the convicts.

(83.) Ann Daley, “Petition for the Pardon of Her Son Dominick Daley under Sentence of Death in Hampshire County,” Pardons Not Granted file, 1780–1820, Massachusetts Archives. Caleb Strong endorsed the petition, stating that the Council advised him not to grant the petition.

(84.) Hampshire Federalist (Springfield, Mass.), June 10, 1806, 3. The text is 1 John 3:15, a broad statement on divine love, sinfulness, and human responsibility. This contemporary evidence of Cheverus’s text presents the thrust of his sermon. Scott D. Seay, Hanging between Heaven and Earth: Capital Crime, Execution Preaching, and Theology in Early New England (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009), compiled a database of all printed execution sermons in the colonies and the United States and found that Cheverus was the only person who chose this or any text from John.

(85.) James Russell Trumbull, History of Northampton, Massachusetts, from Its Settlement in 1654, vol. 2 (Northampton, Mass.: n.p., 1902), 589–92. The full text of Cheverus’s sermon is lost. It is not in any U.S. Catholic archive. Cheverus returned to France, but his ship and papers were lost at sea. He rose to the rank of cardinal, so his papers could be in the Vatican. The passage quoted by Trumbull is from the paragraph reportedly from Cheverus’s sermon in M. Hamon [André Jean Marie], The Life of Cardinal Cheverus, Archbishop of Bordeaux, and Formerly Bishop of Boston, from the French of J. Huen-Dubourg [pseudo.], trans. E. Stewart (Boston: n.p., 1839), 87. This was Trumbull’s chief source for Cheverus in Northampton. The authenticity of the text cannot be verified and, having passed through translation by both French and English writers, may be doubted. Publication in Boston within possible memory of the event, and reproduction by a Northampton historian familiar with oral traditions, provide credibility.

(86.) Trumbull, History of Northampton, 591. Trumbull’s account follows Hamon’s Life of Cardinal Cheverus almost verbatim.

(87.) Hampshire Federalist (Springfield, Mass., June 10, 1806), 3; Boston Gazette, June 12, 1806, 2; Portsmouth (N.H.) Oracle, June 14, 1806, 3; Reporter (Brattleboro, Vt.), June 14, 1806, 3; Salem Register, June 16, 1806, 3; Salem Gazette, June 17, 1806, 3; Courier (Norwich, Conn.), June 18, 1806, 3; Freeman’s Friend (Salem, Me.), June 18, 1806, 3; Eastern Argus (Portland, Me.), June 19, 1806, 2; Haverhill (Mass.) Museum, June 24, 1806, 4; Post-Boy (Windsor, Vt.), June 24, 1806, 199. At least four papers reported the execution without mentioning a nationality, and several carried advertisements for the printed trial report but did not report the execution.

(p.329) (89.) Trial of Frederick Eberle and Others, at a Nisi Prius Court, Held at Philadelphia, July 1816 (Philadelphia, 1817), 17, 134; Friederike Baer, The Trial of Frederick Eberle: Language, Patriotism, and Citizenship in Philadelphia’s German Community (New York: New York University Press, 2008 esp. chap. 3), “Germans and Anglicized Eyrisch-Germans: The Parties,” 69–94.

(90.) Baer, Trial of Frederick Eberle, 177; Sarah Barringer Gordon, “The First Disestablishment: Limits on Church Power and Property before the Civil War,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 162 (2014): 307–72.

(91.) Report of the Trial of Henry Phillips, for the Murder of Gaspard Denegri, … 9th and 10th Jan. 1817. With the Address of the Chief Justice to the Prisoner, in Pronouncing Sentence of Death, and an Appendix Containing a Concise History of the Prisoner’s Life (Boston: Russell, Cutler, 1817), 4, 5; report of M’Cann acquittal in Hampden Federalist (Springfield, Mass.), Mar. 22, 1817, 2.

(94.) Henry Phillips, Trial of Henry Phillips for the Murder of Gaspard Dennegri [Boston: Bangs, 1817], 5. This twenty-four-page account was advertised January 15, five days after the trial ended; the forty-eight-page account by Russell, Cutler, advertised as “just published,” was issued January 30.

(97.) Boston Daily Advertiser and Repertory, Jan. 23, 1817, 2; Trial of Henry Phillips, 17; Lemuel Shaw and George Sullivan to Governor John Brooks, Boston, Jan. 18, 1817, Inactive Pardons and Pardons Not Granted collection, re: Henry Phillips, Massachusetts Archives.

(98.) Shubael Bell and 136 others, Petition to Gov. John Brooks, et al., Jan. 29, 1817, and Henry Phillips, Petition to Gov. John Brooks, et al., Jan. 29, 1817 (in hand of Lemuel Shaw, attested by him and S. Bell, Gaoler), Inactive Pardons and Pardons Not Granted collection, re: Henry Phillips, Massachusetts Archives.

(99.) Report of the Trial of George Ryan, before the Superior Court, at Charlestown, N.H., in the County of Cheshire, May Term … 1811 … for Highway Robbery (Keene, N.H., n.d.). Many New England newspapers reported this episode without mentioning Ireland or the Irish, e.g., New England Palladium (Boston), Mar. 15, 1811, 1; William M’Donnough, Trial of William M’Donnough, on an Indictment for the Murder of His Wife, Elizabeth M’Donnough, before the Hon. Supreme Judicial Court, … at November Term, Holden at Boston … on the Fourth Tuesday of November, 1817 … from Minutes Taken at the Trial, by a Gentleman of the Bar (Boston, 1817), 5, 8, 15, 53; Boston Repertory, Jan. 20, 1818, 2.

(100.) Stephen Murphy and John Doyle, Report of the Trials of Stephen Murphy and John Doyle, before the Supreme Judicial Court, at Dedham, Oct. 23, 1817, for the Rape (p.330) of Rebecca Day, Jun., on the 10th Aug. 1817. By a Gentleman of the Norfolk Bar (Boston, 1817), 7, 16, 21.

(101.) Michael Powers, Life of Michael Powers, Now under Sentence of Death, for the Murder of Timothy Kennedy (Boston, 1820), 5–7. The crime and Powers’s flight, capture, and trial were covered in press accounts from Portland, Maine, to Richmond, Virginia. Accounts began with the Boston Daily Advertiser or the Boston Patriot and Daily Mercantile Advertiser but were often abbreviated. Shortened accounts often omitted an Irish reference.

(102.) Repertory (Boston), Mar. 9, 1820, 4. Between 1811 and 1831 the paper was also known as the Repertory and General Advertiser, Boston Advertiser, and Boston Daily Advertiser.

(103.) John Wood Sweet, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730–1830 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 309–10. Hugh Henry Brackenridge, American Chivalry, was published in several parts: 1792, 1795, 1805, 1815.

(104.) “Irish Emigrants,” Essex Patriot (Elizabeth-town, New Jersey), May 31, 1817, 1.

(105.) “Irish Emigrants,” 1; Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 32.

(107.) Michael Martin, Trial of Michael Martin, for Highway Robbery, before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, for the County of Middlesex, October Term, 1821. Reported by F. W. Waldo, Esq. (Boston, 1821), 5, 6.

(108.) [Redford Webster], Miscellaneous Remarks on the Police of Boston; as Respects Paupers; Alms and Work House; Classes of Poor and Beggars; Laws Respecting Them; Charitable Societies; Evils of the Justiciary; Imprisonment for Debt; Remedies (Boston, 1814), 5, 8, 14, 15, 24. The whole report is forty-two pages. Connecticut leaders showed the same concern and tracked capital crimes and suicides “and whether committed by natives or foreigners.” They counted the poor, “whether natives or foreigners,” as well as “free blacks; their number, vices and modes of life, their industry and success in acquiring property; whether those born free are more ingenious, industrious and virtuous, than those who were emancipated after arriving to adult years.” Bickford, Voices of the New Republic, 6, 9.

(109.) [Webster], Miscellaneous Remarks, 8, 32. “Flagitious” means “atrocious” or “infamous.”