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

By Eileen Anderson


'The Duel'

Reactions to this New Imperialism

The Irish-Americans' support for the war continued even after the invasion of Puerto Rico.

It is semiofficially announced that Porto Rico will be held by the United States as a naval and military station, commanding the West Indies. Its possession will go toward making up the heavy expenses of the War to the United States. Our flag -once run up- will float over the islands permanently. (23 July 1898)

The comparisons to Ireland continue and Meehan attempts to justify US imperialism as a form of assistance and not exploitation. He compares English and Spanish imperialism and claims that England has changed its tactics. England now adopts legal measures to control its subjects while Spain tries to bully them into submission. US imperialism, on the other hand, will be neither brutal nor political, because its principle goal is assisting the Islands.

The government of Spain, over her colonies, had been, like that of England over Ireland under the Crommwellian conquest; and it produced naturally the same results-insurrections of the people, driven to despair against the irresponsible military tyranny to which they were being subjected […] But there is a difference. The wily Anglo-Saxon has always adopted the legal and parliamentary method of robbing its victims of their rights; while the Spaniard true to his African instincts relies on his big guns, - and fails. [Now] we shall know whether our example, for the liberty of the human race, has borne its appropriate fruit. In the advocacy of human freedom the United States has always stood alone… (30 July 1898)

In this framework, the US is obligated to take over these Islands because of a moral obligation to help them.

Spain surrendered to the US in October 1898 and it gave up control of its colonies to the US. When it became clear that Cuba was to become independent and Puerto Rico was to remain under U.S. control, [4] the debate on the repercussions of the United States becoming a colonising nation reared its head. The Irish-American maintained that the Puerto Ricans were better off with their new status than they were under Spanish control and continued to print articles that vilified Spain. However, by 1899, as the US policies of control became more apparent, the Irish-American began to speak out against the Government policies regarding Puerto Rico. The paper felt that the government was putting unfair taxes on the Islanders which would hinder economic growth. The ‘lower House of Congress, last week, passed a tariff bill inflicting an almost intolerable and unnecessary revenue burden on the island of Puerto Rico’ (3 March 1898).


In spring 1900, as the Foraker Act [5] was being debated in congress, The World published an article entitled ‘Shall Porto Rico be our Ireland?’ The article implies that Puerto Rico should be automatically granted the right to statehood. It was one of a number of articles and editorials in both newspapers which question the tariffs that were being levied on Puerto Rican products. Both papers opposed the way the federal government was treating the Puerto Rican colonists and demonstrated empathy for them. They resented seeing the United States follow a British example, by incorporating Puerto Rico the same way they had seen Ireland become part of the British Commonwealth a hundred years before in the Act of Union.

Many of the other headlines referred to Puerto Ricans as ‘Colonists’ and criticised the McKinley administration for denying the Puerto Ricans their rights. Their empathy and self-identification with the Puerto Rican people is evident and their prediction of what would occur in the island under US occupation was dire.

Eileen Anderson


[1] The author is a PhD. Candidate at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is finishing her dissertation entitled, “Resisting Anglicization: Strategies of Identity Formation in Irish and Puerto Rican Communities in the United States”.

[2] It also referred to as the British-American Alliance in the Irish World

[3] A regiment based out of New York that fought in the Revolutionary War and the Spanish-American War. Historically, the men in the unit were of Irish descent.

[4] Even after the Treaty of Paris, there was still fighting in the Philippines.

[5] This act established a civilian government in Puerto Rico and put into effect all federal laws of the United States on the island. It was based on the ideas of the British Commonwealth system. It gave the Puerto Ricans limited representation and no voting rights.


- Doyle, David Noel, Irish Americans: Native Rights and National Empires: the Structure, Divisions, and Attitudes of the Catholic Minority in the Decade of Expansion, 1890-1901 (New York: Arno Press, 1976).

- Ellis, Elmer (ed.), Mr. Dooley at his Best (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1938).

- Fanning, Charles (ed.), Peter Dunne Finley. Mr. Dooley and the Chicago Irish: The Autobiography of a Nineteenth-Century Ethnic Group (Washington, D.C.: Catholic UP, 1987).

- Filler Louis (ed.), The World of Mr. Dooley (New York: Collier Books, 1962).

- Green, Paul (ed.), Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

- Irish World and American Industrial Liberator articles from January 1898 to May 1900.

- Irish-American articles from January 1898 to May 1900.

- Miller, Kerby A., Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

- McCaffrey, Lawrence, The Irish Diaspora in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976).

- O'Grady, Joseph P., How the Irish Became Americans (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1973).

- Rodechko James Paul, ‘Patrick Ford and his search for America: a case study of Irish-American journalism, 1870-1913’, PhD. dissertation (University of Connecticut, 1967).


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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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