Thomas Meagher

Thomas Meagher

Thomas Meagher was born in Waterford, Ireland,on 23rd August, 1823. A member of the Young Ireland Party, an organization dedicated to Irish independence.

After a failed Irish uprising in 1848 Meagher, John Mitchel and seven other men were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Queen Victoria later commuted Meagher's sentence to transportation for life.

Meagher escaped from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1852 and made his way to the United States where he studied law and became a journalist in New York. In 1856 he became editor of the Irish Times.

On the outbreak of the Civil War Meagher organised the Irish Brigade to fight for the Union Army. He accompanied Major General Irvin McDowell in July, 1861, when Abraham Lincoln Lincoln sent him to take Richmond, the new base the Confederate government. On 21st July McDowell engaged the Confederate Army at Bull Run. The Confederate troops led by Joseph E. Johnson, Thomas Stonewall Jackson, James Jeb Stuart and Pierre T. Beauregard, easily defeated the inexperienced Union Army.

Promoted to the rank of brigadier general, his regiment was decimated at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, 1863. Six months later he was placed in command of the military district of Etowah.

After the war Meagher was appointed secretary of Montana Territory where he served as acting governor. On 1st July, 1867, Thomas Meagher was drowned in the Missouri River after falling from a steamboat.

Primary Sources

(1) D. B. Sullivan describing a speech made by Thomas Meagher at a meeting of the Repeal Association in 1846.

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.

(2) Thomas Meagher, speech at a meeting of the Repeal Association in 1843.

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.

(3) Thomas Meagher, speech in court after taking part in the 1848 Irish Uprising.

I do not despair of my poor old country - her peace, her liberty, her glory. For that country I can do no more than bid her hope. To lift this island up, to restore her native powers and her ancient constitution - this has been my ambition, and this ambition has been my crime. Judged by the law of England, I know this crime entails upon me the penalty of death, but the history of Ireland explains the crime and justifies it. Judged by that history I am no criminal, and deserve no punishment: judged by that history, the treason of which I stand convicted loses all its guilt, has been sanctified as a duty, and will be ennobled as a sacrifice. To my country I offer, as a pledge of the love I bore her, and of the sincerity with which I thought and spoke and struggled for her freedom, the life of the young heart; and with that life the hopes, the honors, the endearments, of a happy, a prosperous and honorable home. Proceed, then, with the sentence which the law directs - I am prepared to hear it - I trust I am prepared to meet its execution. I shall go, I think, with a light heart before a higher tribunal - a tribunal where a Judge of infinite goodness, as well as infinite justice, will preside, and where many of the judgments of this world will be reversed.

(4) Thomas Meagher, statement in court before being sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in 1848.

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.

(5) Thomas Meagher, speech when recruiting men for the Irish Brigade in 1861.

Never, never, I repeat it, was there a cause more sacred, nor one more great, nor one more urgent; no cause more sacred, for it comprehends all that has been considered most desirable, most valuable, most ennobling to political society and humanity at large; no cause more just, for it includes no scheme of conquest or subjugation, contemplates no disfranchisement of provincialism and inferiority.