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Dr. Patrick Geoghegan: Daniel O’Connell v. The Chartists
Thu, March 23, 2017, 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM EDT
The intensity of Daniel O’Connell’s campaign against Chartism in the late-1830s stunted their efforts to gain support in Ireland, and undermined the movement in Britain. The reasons for his opposition have never been fully understood, and becomes more confusing when it is revealed that he played a key role in its foundation. Indeed, some people in the movement even credited him with naming ‘The People’s Charter’ from which the Chartists drew their inspiration. This paper will explore how O’Connell, the Liberator who had led a successful civil rights campaign in Ireland in the 1820s, became involved in the movement in the 1830s, and the factors which led to him breaking from it. At his trial for conspiracy in 1844, O’Connell claimed that he had kept Ireland free from the ‘pollution’ of Chartism, and boasted that if he had not opposed the movement it would have ‘spread from one end of Ireland to the other’. For O’Connell this was a war against ‘socialists – rank, arrogant, and blasphemous infidels’. By examining the way O’Connell prescribed Chartism in Ireland, and destroyed its attempts to gain support, it is possible to re-evaluate his later political leadership and the changing nature of Irish society. Viewed in this way, O’Connell’s war against the Chartists was nothing less than a battle for the future direction of nationalism in Ireland, and reflected his deeper concerns about class, society, and the use of violence.