[See also Life in America - Coal Mines]
Boston - pro-Union
Aid from the Irish was not expected. They had opposed Lincoln, favored slavery, fought reform, & upheld the Democratic Party & the South. Moreover those who now called for their help were the very men who for the preceding 6 years, had sponsored the restriction of Irish rights & privileges.
Yet stronger ties bound the Irish to the Union. Complete acceptance of lawfully-established government was basic to the thinking of all Irish Catholics; that was at the root of their complaint that abolitionists were revolutionaries. But in April 1861 there was no doubt as to which section was revolutionary. The issue was not slavery but unity, & the Church in Boston agreed with Bishop Hughes that "It is one country & must & shall be one."
As the war unfolded more practical reasons drew the ranks of common Irishmen, the bounties that surpassed the average annual earnings of the common laborer rendered patriotism exceedingly profitable. In addition, Great Britain's southern sympathies, clear from the start, encouraged Irish hopes of a war with England that would free Ireland as well a slaves.
The government was quick to take advantage of Irish feeling. An Irish brigade was organized, & Meagher was advanced to the generalcy on the basis of dubious military qualifications but of undoubted popularity with his countrymen. Boston alone mustered 2 regiments. The Columbian Artillery, banned by Know-Nothings 7 years earlier, emerged from its disguise as a fraternal organization, & under its old commander Thomas Cass furnished the nucleus of the 9th Mass. Regiment. The 28th, also almost exclusively Irish, was formed later.
The war quickened understanding & sympathy. Serving with their own kinsmen & their own chaplain under their own green flag, assured of complete religious equality, the Irish lost the sense of inferiority & acquired a sense of belonging. They were no longer unwanted aliens.
At home, too, antagonisms grew less bitter. The community needed the Irish. The government relaxed its discrimination against them. The 2-year amendment was repealed & the foreign-born regained their full civic rights, with the result that the Irish politicians advanced to municipal office in even larger numbers. By 1862 Bible-reading had paled as an issue. The legislature revoked the law making it compulsory.
- Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, p. 208-211
Irish opposition to anti-slavery in Boston, 1854 -
The Burns case clearly linked the immigrants to pro-slavery forces & man-hunters. The [Boston] Pilot supported the rendition of the fugitive slave; & the selection of the Columbian Artillery & the Saarsfield Guards to protect him against indignant mobs seeking his freedom incited an inflammatory handbill:
Americans to the Rescue!
Americans! Sons of the Revolution!
A body of seventy-five Irishmen, known as the
have volunteered their services to shoot down the
Citizens of Boston!
and are now under arms to defend Virginia in
Kidnapping a citizen of Massachusetts!
Americans! These Irishman have called us
"Cowards, & Sons of Cowards"!
Shall we submit to have our Citizens shot down
by a set of vagabond Irishmen?
- Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, p. 198