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An Alternative View to the Propaganda
The Irish-American Press and the Spanish-American War

By Eileen Anderson [1]




The importance of alternative views on the Spanish-American War has been largely ignored and the discourse of the New York Irish is particularly significant because it frames the debate by equating imperialism with Anglo identity and emphasises the role that many other ethnic communities played in the formation of a more pluralistic US identity. The New York press shaped the course of events of the Spanish-American War. The fierce competition for readers that led the editors of New York Journal and New York World to print exaggerated reports of Cuban sufferings and inspired their reporters to create news to increase sales has been well-documented. These newspapers played a significant role in shaping mainstream public opinion on US involvement and on imperialism in Puerto Rico and the Philippines and dominated the discourse relating to the war. However, the New York/Irish-American press and the syndicated newspaper columns of Finley Peter Dunne presented alternative views of war-related issues and US imperialism which reached a significant audience.

The Rough Riders charge at San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War
(Sons of the American Revolution)


When the United States entered into the conflicts in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands in the late nineteenth century, it was abandoning its original policies of not becoming directly involved in wars with European colonial powers, and it was aligning itself politically with England (against Spain). This ideological shift transformed aspects of the social structure and culture as well. The US was already a multicultural nation and this attempted homogenisation of identity and the new imperialistic role was problematic for many non-Anglo communities. For Irish/Catholic New Yorkers, the reconfiguration would be more serious. Many had come to the Americas to escape Anglo hegemony and believed that emphasis on Anglo culture would hinder their ability to negotiate a place in the US power structure. US support for England was an overt attempt to downplay the Irish presence in the United States and to justify their marginalisation. The same rationale of Anglo superiority would later be used to deny independence to Puerto Rico and the Philippines after the War.

…Anglo-Saxon racism was a chic ideology in American Universities, drawing rooms, and private clubs.[…] Survival of the Fittest Social Darwinism, another English import, provided a scientific and sociological framework for Anglo-American nativists. They not only used it against ‘inferior breeds’ in the United States, but as a propaganda weapon justifying military and economic imperialism in Latin America and in the Far East, claiming that America was bringing the advantages of a superior civilization to the benighted savages of an underdeveloped world. (McCaffrey 1976: 113)

This resurgence of kinship with the British would also justify an imperialistic stance to which some of the Irish were vehemently opposed due to their own long history as a British colony.

Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer primarily viewed the war and the occupation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines as a way of promoting their publications. However, Patrick Ford, who ran the Irish World from 1870-1913, Patrick Meehan, who edited the Irish-American from 1857-1906, and Finley Peter Dunne, whose syndicated column was published throughout the nation, believed that US imperialistic endeavours had important consequences which contradicted their ideas of what the US should represent. Several generations of Irish and US-born Irish (who came from a variety of backgrounds) coexisted in New York; and there was no single Irish viewpoint on all the issues involving the War. However, the majority of these Irish viewed US Imperialism in the Philippines and Puerto Rico as an ‘anti-American’ idea and the sympathy that they had for the Cubans, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans stemmed from their own history as a colony of England.

However, the events leading up to the war and the resulting surge of US nationalism which occurred during the battles, split Irish opinion and often challenged the idea that Irish communities could be US citizens and still remain loyal to Ireland. The Irish viewed US imperialism as one of the consequences of an assertion of Anglo traditions and an attempt to negate all other nationalities and ethnicities. The war brought issues of citizenship and human rights to the fore, and forced the Irish in the US to align themselves with other ethnic groups in way that they had not been inclined to do previously.

In the late 1800s many new Irish immigrants were still arriving in the US and by early 1900, the Irish population amounted to nearly five million people (Miller 1985: 493). The New York, The Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, and The Irish-American were the two newspapers that the New York Irish were most likely to read. By the 1870s The World was more widely read than The Irish-American (which had previously been the most popular paper among the Irish communities) and ‘by the eighteen nineties and early twentieth century the circulation was regularly listed at 125,000”(Rodechko 1967: 525). The paper also had a significant readership outside New York.

Patrick Meehan shared Ford’s belief that Ireland should be liberated from England. However, the two men often differed on the methods of achieving liberation, which led them to advocate different causes in the US. Ford supported the US labour movements and believed that social mobility in the US would empower US-Irish to fight England, while Meehan was a Catholic who tried to reconcile Catholic doctrine with Irish freedom movements. Both Ford and Meehan supported the idea that aligned Irish identity with the Catholic Church and reported extensively on Church events in the US and in Ireland; however, the primary focus of these papers was news related to Ireland. They also reported on US-Irish concerns about the consequences of a war with Spain and their sympathy for the Caribbean and Philippine Islands is apparent. Ford saw the similarities between Irish and Cuban/Puerto Rican history and his extensive coverage reflected on the parallels of the situations.

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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 11 November 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Anderson, Eileen, "An Alternative View to the Propaganda: The Irish-American Press and the Spanish-American War
" in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 163-170. Available online (, accessed .


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