Thomas Francis Meagher was born in the City of Waterford, Ireland, on August 3,
1823. At the age of 11 years he was placed under the care of the
Jesuits, at Clongoweswood, County Kildare, where he displayed
studious tendencies and oratorical talents. He was then sent to
Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire, England, under that same order.
After an elaborate course of general study, including classics,
mathematics, history and literature, he completed his education
in 1843. His first appearance in public life is thus described
by Mr. D. B. Sullivan, M. P. :
" Early in 1846, when the Repeal
Association was still powerful, ere yet the country had ceased
to throb to the magic of O'Connell's voice, a well featured, graceful
young gentleman rose on the crowded platform, in Conciliation
Hall, towards whom the faces of the assembly turned in curiosity.
Few of them had heard of his name; not one of them - if the chairman,
William Smith O'Brien, be excepted - had the faintest idea of
the talents he possessed. He addressed the meeting on an ordinary
topic, and at first, a seeming affectation of manner, a semi-Saxon
drawl, and a total lack of suitable gesture, produced an unfavorable
impression. He was boyish, conceited, and too fine a gentleman,
the audience thought; but, warming with his subject, and casting
off the restraints that hampered his utterances at first, he poured
forth a stream of genuine eloquence, vivified by the happiest
allusions, and enriched by imagery and quotations as beautiful
as they were appropriate, he conquered all prejudices and received
the enthusiastic applause of his audience. O'Brien complimented
him warmingly, and thus the orator of Young Ireland made his debut
on the political platform. When the 'peace resolutions' were introduced,
Meagher found himself called on to subscribe to a doctrine which
his soul abhorred, - that the use of arms was at all times unjustifiable
and immoral, - and delivered a speech on that occasion, which
for brilliancy and lyrical grandeur has never been surpassed.
Alluding to O'Connell he said:
"I am not ungrateful to the man who struck the fetters from my limbs while I was yet a child, and by whose influence my father, the first Catholic that did so for two hundred years, sat for the last two years in the civic chair of my native city. But the same God who gave to that great man the power to strike down one odious ascendancy, and enabled him to institute in this land the laws of religious equality - the same God who gave to me a mind that is my own, a mind that has not been mortgaged to the opinion of any man or set of men, a mind that I was to use and not surrender... There are times when arms alone will suffice, and when political ameliorations call for 'a drop of blood,' and for many thousand drops of blood. ... The soldier is proof against an argument - but he is not proof against a bullet... It is the weaponed arm of the patriot that can alone prevail against battalioned despotism... Then I do not condemn the use of arms as immoral, nor do I conceive it profane to say that the King of Heaven - the Lord of Hosts! The God of Battles - bestows his benediction upon those who unsheathe the sword in the hour of a nation's peril. From that evening on which, in the valley of Bethulia, He nerved the arm of the Jewish girl to smite the drunken tyrant in his tent, down to this our day, in which He has blessed the insurgent chivalry of the Belgian priest, His almighty hand has ever been stretched forth, from His throne of light, to consecrate the flag of freedom - to bless the patriot's sword! Be it in the defense, or be it in the assertion of a people's liberty, I hail the sword as a sacred weapon; and if it has sometimes taken the shape of the serpent, and reddened the shroud of the oppressor with too deep a dye, like the anointed rod of the High Priest, it has, at other times, and as often, blossomed into celestial flowers to deck the freeman's brow.
"Abhor the sword - stigmatize the sword? No, for in the passes of the Tyrol it cut to pieces the banner of the Bavarian, and, through those cragged passes, struck a path to fame for the peasant insurrections of Innsbruck! Abhor the sword - stigmatize the sword?Meagher No, for at its blow a giant nation started from the waters of the Atlantic, and by its redeeming magic, and in the quiverings of its crimsoned light, the crippled colony sprang into the attitude of a proud Republic - prosperous, limitless, and invincible! Abhor the sword - stigmatize the sword? No, for it swept the Dutch marauders out of the fine old towns of Belgium - scourged them back to their own phlegmatic swamps - and knocked their flag and sceptre, their laws and bayonets, into the sluggish water of the Scheldt."
"I learned it was the right of a nation to govern itself, on the ramparts of Antwerp; I learned the first article of a nation's creed, upon those ramparts, where freedom was justly estimated, and where the possession of the precious gift was purchased by the effusion of generous blood. I honor the Gelgians for their courage and their daring, and I will not stigmatize the means by which they have obtained a citizen King, a chamber of deputies."
This was all he was allowed to say, for though the audience were electrified and applauded enthusiastically, moral force resolutions were passed, and O'Brien, Meagher, Duffy, Reilly and Mitchel left the hall forever. Thenceforth "Meagher of the Sword," a designation typical of his leonine courage, ancestral escutcheon, and a presage of his military career in the United States, became the virtual leader of "Young Ireland." In 1848 he was one of the three delegates appointed to present an address of congratulations to the French Republican Government, and, in a speech delivered before his departure, he counseled his countrymen to send a deputation to the Queen, asking her to convene the Irish Parliament in the Irish capital.
"If the claim be rejected, if the throne stand as a barrier between the Irish people and the supreme right - then loyalty will be a crime and obedience to the executive will be treason to the country... If the Government of Ireland insist on being a government of dragoons and bombardiers, of detectives and light infantry, then, up with the barricades and invoke the God of Battles!"
In the Young Irish disorders, in Ireland in 1848 the following nine men were captured, tried and convicted of treason against Her Majesty, the Queen, and were sentenced to death. John Mitchell, Morris Lyene, Pat Donahue, Thomas McGee, Charles Duffy, Thomas Meagher, Richard O'Gorman, Terrence McManus and Michael Ireland.
Before passing sentence, the judge asked if there was anything that anyone wished to say. Meagher, speaking for all, said:
"My lord, this is our first offense, but not our last. If you will be easy with us this once, we promise, on our word as gentlemen, to try to do better next time. And next time ---sure we won't be fools to get caught."
Thereupon the indignant judge sentenced them all to be hanged by the neck until dead and drawn and quartered. Passionate protest from the world forced Queen Victoria to commute the sentence to transportation for life to far away wild Australia.
In 1874, word reached the astounded Queen Victoria that Sir Charles Duffy who had been elected Premier of the colony of Victoria, Australia was the same Charles Duffy who had been transported 25 years before. On the Queen's demand, the records of the rest of the transported men were revealed and this is what was uncovered:
|Thomas Francis Meagher
||Brigadier General, United States Army and Governor of Montana.
||Brigadier General, United States Army.
||Brigadier General, United States Army.
||Governor General of Newfoundland.
||Attorney General of Australia, in which office
|Thomas D'Arcy McGee
||Member of Parliament, Montreal, Minister of Agriculture and President Council, Dominion of Canada.
| John Mitchell
|| A prominent New York politician. This man was the father of John Purroy Mitchell, Mayor of New York City at the outbreak of World War I .
In Defense of Meagher
Within the past few years, no less than eight
significant writers have come to the aid of truthful
history-telling to defend the honor and reputation
of Thomas Francis Meagher. Thomas Keneally,
in his The Great Shame, Gary Forney, in Thomas
Francis Meagher, Richard S. Wheeler, in The
Exile, Paul Wylie, in The Irish General, and The
River’s Edge by Lenore Puhek are all full length
books that cover the life of Meagher, although
Wheeler’s work is fiction, based on historical
facts, Keneally’s tome covers much more than
Meagher. Forney, Wheeler, Wylie, and Puhek
are all Montana writers.
Other writers with fact-based essays on the Irish-American hero, include
John Hearne, a Professor in Waterford, Ireland, Jon Axline, a Montana historian, and David Emmons, a History Professor from the
University of Montana. All are well worth reading.
Here’s a sampling of some of the above writers regarding the man:
Governor Green Clay Smith issued a memorial on July 3, 1867: “He was
a man of high social qualities, great urbanity, a high order of intellect, a brave
soldier, a true gentleman, and an honor to his territory and government.”
~ Paul Wylie, p. 322
“Whatever may have been the faults of Thomas Francis Meagher, he was
one of the most brilliant and talented Irishmen who have made this country their
~ Paul Wylie, p. 325
Thomas Francis Meagher noted “that without a legislature, Montana would be
nothing more than a government farm parceled out among federal overseers, tax
gatherers, and bailiffs”.
~ Paul Wylie, p.254
“Meagher was of the wrong party, the wrong church, and was far too vocal
in his opposition to the status quo in Montana.” ~ David Emmons, History Professor, University
“…..Thomas Francis Meagher fought to bring political order, establish his
church, add a bit of elegance, and infuse others with his dream of a glorious future
for Montana ---- a legacy worthy of consideration.”
~ Gary R. Forney, p.221
“(Meagher) had a deep interest in Montana, wished fundamentally to do his
work well, and that out of his work, warmth of feeling, and vigor of personality, he
gained the affection of the people of Montana as no other early leader was able
~ Merrill Burlingame, Montana writer & educator
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Thomas Francis Meagher Division of AOH
P.O. Box 1916
Helena, Montana 59624