Activist, orator, lawyer, Democrat, Irish nationalist, and defender of the Union, Thomas Francis Meagher helped to mobilize the Irish community in America on behalf of the Union. Born August 23, 1823, in Waterford, Ireland, Meagher was the scion of a prominent merchant family. Meagher rejected a career in business, however, in favor of political activism. Between 1843 and 1848, he immersed himself in Irish politics, embracing the nondenominational, culturally oriented patriotism of the Young Ireland movement. As the Revolutions of 1848 convulsed European states, Meagher began to speak of an Irish revolution against British rule. Nicknamed ''Meagher of the Sword,'' his public embrace of violence attracted the attention of the British government. Conviction for treason resulted in exile to Tasmania.
Meagher escaped from Tasmania in 1852. Making his way to New York City, he became a part of the growing Irish-American community, speaking widely and to popular acclaim about Irish nationalism. He became a member of the New York City bar, edited the Irish News, and joined enthusiastically in Democratic politics. Like many other Irish immigrants, Meagher was passionately devoted to Irish nationalist causes, while also immersed in American political debates.
Politics proved troublesome in 1861, however, when the nation plunged into civil war.
while camp life was often frustrating for everyone. Immigrant units, however, helped to establish a precedent for the place of immigrants in American life. By proclaiming simultaneously immigrant identity and a commitment to the Union, soldiers could assert their ability both to assimilate and to retain their heritage. Before the war, immigration had been the source of a great deal of political tension. After the war, communities could point to the service of their sons as proof that they had both a right to stay and a role to play in American culture.
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