“The Balance of Trade with Great Britain Seems to be Still Against Us”

April 28, 1883

William A. Rogers

“The Balance of Trade with Great Britain Seems to be Still Against Us”

Anglo-American Relations; Immigration; Irish Americans; U.S. Foreign Policy;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Great Britain; Ireland;

650 Paupers arrived at Boston in the Steamship Nestoria, April 15th, from Galway, Ireland, shipped by the British Government.

Cartoonist W. A. Rogers uses the language of debates in the early 1880s over tariff policy and "the balance of trade with Great Britain" as a vehicle to criticize the British government's policy of paying for the transport of impoverished Irish to the United States.

The Irish have been one of the largest immigrant groups in American history, with Americans of Irish descent constituting today 10 times the population of Ireland.  During the potato famine years of the 1840s, the Irish were by far the most numerous immigrant class arriving in the United States.  Although the stream of emigration continued to flow from Ireland in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, from 1871 to 1880, the Irish totals dropped to third place with 436,871, just behind the English (the "silent" immigrants of the period) and almost 300,000 below the number of Germans.

The Irish moved to the United States for a variety of reasons, but economic and political factors were especially important in the 1870s and 1880s.  It was a period of poor harvests and famines in Ireland, which hit the western and southwestern regions particularly hard.  The floating poorhouse in this cartoon is from Galway in western Ireland.  It was also a time of the political unrest of the Land War of 1879-1882 which was fought over the eviction of tenant farmers.  (For more on the famines and Land War, see the archive for the cartoon of February 28, 1880, "The Herald of Relief from America.")

Shortly after this cartoon appeared, Harper's Weekly reported (May 12) that the steamship Catalonia arrived in Boston Harbor bearing 1200 Irish paupers "sent at the expense of the British government."  The newspaper complained that they were without money, and that most would be on the dole at least temporarily.  The news item unfavorably contrasted the open-door policy toward the destitute Irish with the closed-door policy which Congress implemented against the industrious and law-abiding Chinese immigrants under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Harper's Weekly was also concerned about the Irish support of political violence against the British.  Over the years, Irish-Americans had supported a variety of political organizations which agitated for Irish home rule or independence.  Leaders in America were divided over methods and goals, but there was a faction which condoned violence.  In the early 1880s, some Irish arrested by the British as dynamiters claimed American citizenship, which provoked tensions in diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the United States.  (In the cartoon, the poorhouse ship is met by a New York political hack in a boat called "The Dynamite.")

In the same issue as this cartoon (April 28), an editorial urged the Irish-American National Convention meeting in Philadelphia to denounce "unequivocally and completely ... all sympathy with murder as a means of [political] agitation ..."  Particularly at issue was the assassination on May 6, 1882, of Britain's chief secretary of Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and his under secretary, T. H. Burke, in Dublin's Phoenix Park.  Editor George William Curtis contended that other Americans would be receptive to constitutional change for more just and equitable laws in Ireland, home rule, or even independence, if only terrorism were rejected.  The next week, Curtis expressed disappointment in the convention's resolution which blamed the British government as the source of violence, without condemning the "Phoenix Park murders" explicitly.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Balance of Trade with Great Britain Seems to be Still Against Us”
June 17, 2024

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