Antebellum Irish Immigration and Emerging Ideologies of “America”- A Protestant Backlash

Author: Dunne, Robert
Year:2002
Pages:172
ISBN:0-7734-7215-0
978-0-7734-7215-0
Price:179.95
This provocative book, which crosses disciplines, argues that the confrontation between antebellum Irish immigrants and mainstream Americans helped reshape American ideology and, in particular, the American Dream Myth. As Irish immigrants became a growing presence in the United States, American society reacted in what Dunne calls a “Protestant backlash: clerical and lay interests banded together and attempted to codify the very definition of “America” and thereby relegate Irish immigrants to society’s margins. In an exhaustive examination of self-help manuals, political pamphlets, religious tracts, newspaper editorials, and instructional novels, this study contrasts the disparities between the actions of nativists and their rhetoric of reaffirming “American” identity. It also critiques current trends in multicultural studies and posits a strong cases for studying marginalized groups from European backgrounds within the larger context of their interactions with mainstream society.

“The arguments that Professor Dunne puts forth in his book are a well-reasoned and well-documented corrective to the present-day orthodoxy that simplifies and distorts the meaning and significance of ethnic Americans by consigning them all into the dustbin of ‘white male oppressors.’ . . . Perhaps we will soon move beyond what currently passes for multiculturalism to a truer, deeper, more nuanced examination of what made – and makes – America unique. I can think of no better place to begin than with Robert Dunne’s fine work.” – Peter Quinn

“There is a rich historical literature on anti-Catholic sentiment in nineteenth-century America, especially for those political historians who study the amazing rise of the Know Nothing party. Americans today are largely unaware of the rioting that occurred between Protestants and Irish Catholics over such items as tax money for education and which version of the bible should be utilized in public schools. What Dunne brings to this already rich history is a literary cultural approach that helps to show how Irish Catholics reacted to Protestant attacks. . . . Dunne’s ability to show the ongoing literary battle between Protestant and Irish Catholic attempts to influence their followers reveals the larger battle over cultural supremacy and acceptance . . . . Multicultural, ethnic, literary, as well as political culture scholars will all glean something from the Irish Catholic attempt to maintain their minority identity in the midst of a Jacksonian society that was bent on the maxim that ‘the majority rules.’” – Matthew Warshauer

Reviews

“…a provocative analysis of internecine ethnic conflict in the decades before the American Civil War, as well as a call to include white ethnics in contemporary multicultural treatments of American history…..an intriguing look at the construction of identity and the role that class and ethnicity play in the ‘myth of the American Dream.’ …Dunne argues that Irish Catholic immigrants consciously adopted the rhetoric of earlier nativisits, marginalizing newcomers from southern and eastern Europe so as to make themselves seem more ‘American.’ This is the most innovative aspect of Dunne’s work: Irish Catholic immigrants both challenged the common assumption that ‘American’ meant Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, while at the same time reaffirming that cultural mores different than their own merited special, intolerant , treatments….an instructive text that raises complex and intriguing questions concerning ethnicity and the American Dream. Even when it does not answer these queries it is a rewarding read, forcing one to reconsider the social construction of identity and the nature of what constitutes ’America’.” – New Hibernia Review

“Dunne’s book joins a growing literature calling for the re-examination of Irish American in terms of its unique cultural attributes and its profound impact on shaping contemporary America society. Furthermore, it is a call to arms against recent attempts to confine the Irish and all other European-American males within the grope of a homogenous master class holding sway over American civilization. His work represents a shot across the bow of these assumptions about the nature of ethnicity in America. As Dunne shows, an examination of the literary history of the Irish in antebellum American sheds light on how ethnic and racial minorities define themselves as well as shape the definitions given them by an ever-changing mainstream culture.” – Irish Studies Review

“The arguments that Professor Dunne puts forth in his book are a well-reasoned and well-documented corrective to the present-day orthodoxy that simplifies and distorts the meaning and significance of ethnic Americans by consigning them all into the dustbin of ‘white male oppressors.’ . . . Perhaps we will soon move beyond what currently passes for multiculturalism to a truer, deeper, more nuanced examination of what made – and makes – America unique. I can think of no better place to begin than with Robert Dunne’s fine work.” – Peter Quinn

“There is a rich historical literature on anti-Catholic sentiment in nineteenth-century America, especially for those political historians who study the amazing rise of the Know Nothing party. Americans today are largely unaware of the rioting that occurred between Protestants and Irish Catholics over such items as tax money for education and which version of the bible should be utilized in public schools. What Dunne brings to this already rich history is a literary cultural approach that helps to show how Irish Catholics reacted to Protestant attacks. . . . Dunne’s ability to show the ongoing literary battle between Protestant and Irish Catholic attempts to influence their followers reveals the larger battle over cultural supremacy and acceptance . . . . Multicultural, ethnic, literary, as well as political culture scholars will all glean something from the Irish Catholic attempt to maintain their minority identity in the midst of a Jacksonian society that was bent on the maxim that ‘the majority rules.’” – Matthew Warshauer

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface; Foreword; Introduction
1. American Ideology and the American Dream
2. Justifying the “Bible in the Counting House” for Mainstream Americans
3. “The Enemy is Here and in Our Midst”: The Protestant Backlash Against Irish Catholic Immigration
4. Resisting America’s Devilish Temptations: Willy Burke and The Cross and the Shamrock
5. The Process of Fitting into the “Main Cultural Stream”: The Irish Catholic Presence in Connecticut
6. Coda/Irish American Culture in a Multicultural Curriculum: No Irish Need Apply?
Notes; Bibliography; Index