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15 May

A Giant Among Men: Daniel O’Connell’s philosophical influences

 Alarmed at the progress of a Giant of their own Creation

Alarmed at the progress of a Giant of their own Creation.
© National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The satirical picture above (1831) from the National Portrait Gallery London depicts Daniel O’Connell approaching the Irish Channel, with Anglesey (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland) and Stanley (Chief Secretary of Ireland) attempting to restrain him by a large document headed PROCLAMATION. O’Connell holds a paper on which is written “Repeal of the Union”, in his other hand a paper bearing “Agitation within the letter of the law”.The implication is that O’Connell “is a monster produced by human machinations” (more details available from the British Museum).

Depicting O’Connell as Frankenstein’s Monster is appropriate, philosophically speaking: the DoIP notes that in his early life O’Connell had been “receptive to the leading radical philosophies of the day, including the revolutionary humanism and egalitarianism of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft” (p. 255).  These two philosophers were, of course, the parents of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Godwin’s Political Justice greatly influenced the young O’Connell regarding the nature and purpose of government. Godwin confirmed O’Connell’s abhorrence of political violence. O’Connell came to see the end of government as the happiness of the many, and since everyone was governed, everyone should participate in governing. O’Connell’s political path was set during his law training in Dublin and London from 1794-7: “in the spring of 1797 he was already a democrat in politics and a Deist in religion” (Thomas E. Hachey, Lawrence J. McCaffrey (eds) Perspectives On Irish Nationalism, University Press of Kentuckyp. 105.)

O’Connell had been converted to Deism by his reading of Paine’s Age of Reason. He rejected it after a decade as a “miserable philosophy” and returned to Catholicism. He remained radical however, seeking Catholic Emancipation from the Penal Laws (successfully, in 1829), and then repeal of the 1801 Act of Union. He insisted however that “no political change whatsoever is worth the shedding of a single drop of human blood”.

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30 Mar

Women, in whatever country ye breathe

Women, in whatever country ye breathe – wherever ye breathe, degraded, awake! Awake to the contemplation of the happiness that awaits you when all your faculties of mind and body shall be fully cultivated and developed; when every path in which ye can exercise those improved faculties shall be laid open and rendered delightful to you, even as to them who now ignorantly enslave and degrade you.

William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler, Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, 1825 (extract available)