The Irish revolutionaries’ passion for political sovereignty integrated economic theories and practical application. The independence of both the public and private sectors from all foreign influence was significant for these early 20th century nationalists. However, it is not self-evident that those economic ideas emerged from endogenous intellectual formation or are universally applicable. The global history perspective observes that the Irish revolutionaries learned from the world around them. It additionally reveals specific relationships that would be neglected if the historical narrative was limited to a dialectic between just Ireland and the other. The Irish revolutionaries saw a world full of case studies to emulate and reject. It is from these case studies that a principle was developed to reject international finance.
International finance is defined as institutional private entities, usually banks, that provide loans and transfer capital. While it may have the pretense of being separate from government, it often collaboratively works together with it. The dominant creditors of core nations weaved periphery nations into a new subtle financialized imperial structure. Wall Street became a negative epithet to generally characterize international finance’s close association with the United States of America while not being exclusive to it. The ambitions of these institutions were and continue to be hotly debated. This narrative held sway over the thoughts of Irish revolutionaries upon their first confrontation with it.
On the heels of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921, American finance offered its help to the new Irish Free State. An investment firm, Farson Sons & Co., privately messaged Irish President Eamon de Valera  about a $20 million loan which was later publicized in The New York Times . The article suggested, “several bankers in the financial district” were interested in the endeavor as well. There was no official public response to these solicitors but private correspondence between the Irish revolutionaries show their hostile attitudes. Immediately after the Farson request, Joseph Connolly, Irish Consul General to the United States, wrote to Michael Collins, Irish Minister of Finance and signer of the treaty, warning:
Wall Street is very much alive and very keen on placing money in Ireland…They are, however, so insistent and occasionally so insidious that I feel every precaution should be taken to prevent exploitation…these people imagine that the whole Irish Race is pauperized and that we can do nothing for ourselves without Wall Street money. Wall Street’s activities in Cuba and Poland are likely to result in much evil for those countries. As a matter of fact they control the whole government of the former…I feel that you are all as fully conscious of the dangers of American finance as I am. 
The charged connotations indicate, not a dispassionate financial matter, but an enflamed excoriation. Connolly implicates Wall Street in a scheme to exploit Ireland based on some amount of racial inferiority too. He cited Cuba and Poland as Irish parallels where Wall Street’s evil was metastasizing if not completely occupying those nations. He further shed light on the shared sentiments among, not just Michael Collins, but all his comrades.
Harry Boland, Irish Special Envoy in the United States, also wrote to Collins a month later:
I might be permitted however, to express an opinion which I gathered during my stay in America, and I would strongly urge on the Government about to take Office in Ireland not to float their Loans on the American Market…Some of the smaller South America Republics, such as [Dominican Republic] and Haiti were financed by the National City Bank of New York, who in turn succeeded in having American Armies of Occupation drafted into these Republics and then took control of the complete resources of these two unfortunate countries, all revenue being turned in to the officials of the National City Bank. 
Boland reinforces Connolly’s assertions while adding explicit reference to the interwovenness, between Wall Street and the United States government, in constructing a financial imperial empire. The comparison to smaller nations is again employed by Boland to emphasize the Irish parallel. He also suggested that it was during his expedition in the United States between 1919 and 1922 that solidified his position. These striking passages require further investigation to ascertain a bigger picture. An understanding of Irish revolutionary economic thought, the cited case studies, and other substantial financial events occurring around them all provide critical context in better explaining these letters and perhaps a century of eventual Irish economic history.
On 9 July 1919, Boland wrote to Arthur Griffith, Irish Minister of Home Affairs, regarding his desire to receive “literature…as the economic side of the question is a powerful weapon…[and to] send [him] along all facts and figures of taxation, trade returns, shipping, etc.”  It’s clear that Griffith influenced Boland’s economic thought during the aforementioned period. Griffith was the founding father of the Sinn Féin party and a major intellectual influence on many of the Irish revolutionaries. One of the best sources of this influence was his original 1904 and later revised 1918 book, “The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland”, in which he hoped to distill the success of Hungary’s approach to independence. While it is more widely known for his admiration of Hungary’s political push for dual monarchy, he also discussed significant economic issues. He opined on the siphoning of Hungarian wealth by Austrian financiers, the origins of free trade as “a subtle scheme for English world-conquest,”  and the promotion of protectionist policies.
The comparison of Hungary to Ireland proved remarkably similar. Hungary was oppressed by Austria as Ireland by Britain. Hungary’s wealth, especially in gold, was invested in Austria by Hungarian banks rather than used to develop local industry as Ireland’s was also sent off to Britain. Griffith concluded the policies of Hungary, such as a national bank, subsidies for emerging industries, and a consular service to promote global trade among others, would greatly benefit Ireland.  The common thread was protectionism. Griffith endorsed not just political but economic sovereignty too. In his mind, Ireland needed to move up the industrial value chain of development and not remain beholden to the mature competitors in Britain. This wasn’t just a game of catchup for the peripheral colony but a renaissance of Irish productivity. Griffith viewed Ireland of the ancient and medieval periods as one of the most prominent exporting nations.  It was only artificial British legal prohibitions, on those prosperous industries, that degenerated Ireland. The rekindling would come through national protectionism. A key plank excluded foreigners from economic decision making that could leave Ireland in peripheral subservient relationship where it could be pigeonholed into a raw exporter of a cash crop or resource. Griffith’s influence is evident but now we must turn to who’s book he wished “to see in the hands of every Irishman.”
Friedrich List was Griffith’s major influence on economics. List’s 1841 work, “The National System of Political Economy”, was the one recommended by Griffith. One of the major components of List’s text is the cultivation of “a self-supporting system of commerce and credit which is independent of the world outside” as well as others like tariffs. List was a German economist in the early 19th century and is credited as the founder of the protectionist development school of economic thought. Griffith cited List as a man “whom [England] hated and feared more than any man since Napoleon – the man who saved Germany from falling prey to English economics, and whose brain conceived the great industrial and united Germany of to-day.” List influenced the economic progress that Germany undertook in the second half of the 19th century. Although, the advocation of these ideas resulted in his exile from Germany in 1824 and his migration to the United States. It was there that he refined his theories learning from the United States’ strategy of forgoing free trade policies in pursuit of the emulation of the original protectionist tactics that made Britain an industrial success. Griffith, perhaps with fraternal inclinations, suggested the Irish-American economist father, Mathew Carey, and son, Henry Charles Carey, duo provided List insights they independently formulated. Griffith bestowed the same mythical stature on the Carey's inspiration of American economics as he did with List to Germany’s.
The younger Carey wrote a seminal work in which he advocated the continuation of United States’ President Abraham Lincoln’s debt-free greenback credit system. He suggested that foreign capitalists wished to keep the United States in a state of lower value production and extraction of raw resources and agriculture. This would create dependence on the creditor nations. The debtor would buy finished value-added products made with its raw materials for higher prices in addition to paying debts. This would result in more and more money leaving the debtor nation than coming in which would further increase the demand for more foreign credit. This dependent relationship could be upended, according to Carey, by the United States’ government issuing greenbacks as a form of credit and money. He argued the government’s issuance of them increased its sovereignty over the development of its economy since it was not bound to foreign creditors’ allocation decisions and debt repayments. Carey contrasted the gold system to greenbacks as the real culprit of financial crisis in the face of criticisms. Griffith and List were less concerned about the gold system and rather more so with the system of bankers that happened to use gold.
One of the foundational roots that unites these economic influences, including Hungary, Germany, and the United States, is national control of credit and money. If domestic banks didn’t extend credit for development, it was a problem. If foreign banks extended credit for exploitation, it was a problem. By focusing on this aspect, Griffith’s ambivalent if not positive position on gold can be diminished as a significant divergence from Carey. Instead, Griffith’s main point, that Irish gold is sitting dormant because of the neglect of Irish banks to develop Irish industry, is in more agreement with Carey. Griffith noted, “the enormous sum of £50,000,000…[of] Irish gold deposited in our banks is sent to London and there exchanged for paper.” This reveals an additional reason why the Irish would turn down foreign creditors. The Irish didn’t need the money once they gained control of their nation. As far as they were concerned, after the establishment of an independent Irish state they could muster the financial resources that were lying in wait. Substantiation is found in Boland’s and Connolly’s letters. Boland said, “I would like to see Ireland financed by the Irish money lying in Irish and English banks.” Connolly said, “there were many millions of pounds held in the banks and that these banks would automatically come under the Irish Government should peace be established.” De Valera, commented on adjacent matters pertaining to the American Dail Loan, where he said “we can never allow Government funds to be controlled by strangers.” These three excerpts illustrate the shared understanding among the Irish revolutionaries on the importance of the existing Irish financial resources. In the winter of 1919, gaining control over those resources may have seemed farfetched but, after the signing of the treaty in the winter of 1921, it was inevitable. The post-treaty Farson request fell on deaf ears.
The specific examples cited by Boland and Connolly bolstered the economic theories. Cuba was a small nation tied up in the United States’ imperial expansion of the early 20th century. The Irish revolutionaries identified with themselves with its struggles. It circulated so much so in their minds that de Valera’s February 1921 press blunder would become a key debate in Irish nationalist circles. In the Westminster Gazette, he would allude to the relationship of the United States to Cuba. He appeared to endorse a similar version for Britain and Ireland. The public reaction feverously accused him of “reneging on Ireland’s right to sovereignty…[and] an offer of surrender.” Collins was even critical of de Valera. The Irish in America and Ireland all made these critiques based on their implicit acknowledgment that Cuba was a subjugated and occupied colony. Rather than a far-flung mystery, the events in the Caribbean were critical components that informed the Irish nationalist project.
Cuba was colonized by the United States as a spoil of the Spanish American War of 1898. It maintained direct and indirect control of the country for the early half of the 20th century. It justified its occupation through the Monroe Doctrine in securing the stability of the Western Hemisphere from Europeans. While outright military expeditions and occupations were used in various instances, it would be through the new financialized imperial structure that the United States would dominate Cuban affairs. In his investigation, “Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean”, Peter James Hudson explains:
The use of finance and banking was emerging as a potent tool of US diplomacy – a policy of ‘dollar diplomacy,’ of purportedly substituting dollars for bullets. According to the policy, private banks, financial advisers and experts, and foreign state worked together in an attempt to bring political stability to the Caribbean region through the organization of nominally national government banks, through the institution of currency reform and the refunding of sovereign debt, and taking control of customs collection and revenue distribution.
Bankers became the new soldiers in the fight for American imperialism. Bank contracts included clauses like, “in the case of default, the United States was granted the right to military intervention.” Bank charters even stipulated the power “to undertake the management of a sovereign government.” Bankers were not anonymous apolitical private actors that operated in the platonic ideal free market, but interconnected apparatchiks of the United States government’s imperial project. In this context, Irish revolutionaries were accurate in their suspicions of Wall Street.
Farson Son & Co. was alleged to be guilty by association but it’s worth reviewing how exactly they were connected to these imperial projects in the Caribbean. Operating under the name, Farson Leach & Co., the firm bought $1 million in bonds and arranged for the selling of an additional $28 million for the city of Havana, Cuba in 1902. Farson Son & Co. would go on in 1924 to handle the selling of shares for the American & Foreign Power Co. which was a subsidiary of Electric Bond & Share Co. which was a further subsidiary of General Electric. American & Foreign Power Co. had operations in Cuba. C.E. Mitchell, the president of the National City Bank of New York , was also on the board of directors. These business interests, managed by G.E.’s Cuban functionary Henry Catlin, would buy out Cuban General Gerardo Machado’s electric company, donate $500,000 for his presidential campaign, and continually wine and dine him. Machado would become one of the first tropes of American backed puppet dictators in undeveloped nations.
His repression of protests by labor, students, and intellectuals became the necessary conditions for Wall Street’s expansion in Cuba during the 1920s, and as his rule descended from democracy into dictatorship, his grasp on power was a much dependent of foreign loans as domestic force; US bankers willingly turned a blind eye to the horrors of his regime as long as amortization payments were made according to schedule.
Machado claimed, “the government of Cuba is in duty bound to lend protection to the financial institutions…as the well-founded reputation of a powerful institution like The National City Bank of New York cannot be destroyed.”  President Machado would guide Cuba not by the hopes of the Cuban people but by the greed of foreign bankers. While the Irish revolutionaries didn’t observe these events yet at the time of the Farson request, they would be aware of the rumblings. The aftermath of Farson-G.E.-City Bank infiltration proved the suspicions to have merit. The infiltration and puppeteering of Machado was a further loss of sovereignty for the Cuban nation.
Returning to Cuban dollar diplomacy before 1922, Irish revolutionaries would have had sufficient evidence to make accusations. The pernicious plans of Wall Street dismayed Cubans. They had seen international financial firms carry out the objectives of the United States government. The country’s finances and infrastructure was optimized to restrict Cuba into a sugar cash crop producer in order to best maximize the revenues for the imperial powers. This left desires for more industrial diversification and populist reforms unfulfilled. It became painfully obvious by 1920 that the monoeconomy was systemically vulnerable to the fluctuations of one commodity. Global sugar prices rose through World War I only to crash severely in 1920. Debts undertaken with the promise of higher revenues from higher sugar prices and demand were no longer payable. Cubans were in a panic and their eyes were especially affixed to the National City Bank of New York. Hudson explains:
The increasing prominence of the City Bank in the affairs of the country signified the death of Cuban sovereignty. The  banking crash represented the extension of a new regime of colonialism wherein the country’s sugar mills and commercial banks were absorbed by Wall Street, and the country’s future was pledged as collateral to US capitalism.
The crash represented a wholesale transfer of national Cuban assets and capital to foreigners. The perplexed Cubans who fought against colonial subjugation by faraway Spain saw their nation further regressing into a situation where Cubans were again working on the plantations of a foreign elite. The Cuban economic crash would have been global news, particularly in New York City where Connolly and Boland spent much time.
They were no doubt acquainted with this specific case of the dangers of American finance. For them, the lure of Wall Street was a farce. The best intentions of such schemes were made irrelevant by imperial plans. Nations that accepted the Faustian bargain would be steered towards colonial economics of raw commodity exports and upon any debt problems would have their national assets confiscated with the threat of outright United States military occupation leaving the nation undeveloped and owning little. The comparison of Ireland to Cuba was a common thought among supporters of the Irish cause but some overzealous ones were not worried about American influence. Bourke Cockran was an Irish-born American congressman. He was a staunch promoter of the original military intervention in Cuba. In an unintended ominous fashion, he advocated:
invoking the principle which was pursued eighteen years ago when on [Cuba] this republic intervened to end atrocities unspeakable…now for one reason which impels the United States to intervene in Cuba, there are a thousand reason[s] impelling it to intervene in Ireland. The conditions are analogous in every respect but one. The outrages which this government felt called upon to in Cuba lasted for ten years. The outrages which we now denounce…have existed unbrokenly in Ireland…not for ten years nor for ten times ten years, but for ten times ten times ten years!
Cockran, although a relatively unknown figure in the American portion of the Irish revolution, would have stirred conversation. Questions on intervention by the United States military against the British in Ireland would have swirled. Connolly and Boland probably considered Cockran’s proposal well-intended but greatly misguided and foolish. It appeared that Cockran was among the few Irish supporters who considered the American relationship to Cuba beneficial and thus apt for application to Ireland. Cockran’s peculiar round peg into a square hole opinion of occupational independence may have been simply the marketing optics of empire. It’s interesting to note the political marketer was a direct mentor to Winston Churchill, a man whose marketing of empire in civilized optics knew no bounds, which may lend merit to perhaps duplicitous intentions of Cockran.
The American financial imperial empire expanded to other countries besides Cuba. Haiti, also referenced by Connolly and Boland, was under similar conditions. The United States occupied Haiti in 1915. It was rumored that “City Bank controls the National Bank of Haiti…[and] the occupation…was ‘of, by, and for…City Bank…more powerful though less obvious, and more sinister,’ than the State Department or the US Marines.” The government funds of Haiti were directly controlled by City Bank. Any nationalist opposition to this new fact of Haitian reality would be met with oppression by the bankers and their allies in the military. Haitian protests against foreign control of the national finances, prohibitions of foreign ownership of land, and repudiation of debt obligations caused anxiety among Americans. This fomented the need for occupation and further solidification of the financial imperial structure. However, it was only after Haitian protestors massacred political opponents, such as American supported Haitian president Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, that gave casus belli for an immediate, if not also haphazard, military intervention. As the years past the occupation’s offenses included fraudulent elections, a new constitution dictated by Americans, forced labor of roads, and brutal repression of dissidents. In October of 1921 congressional hearings in the United States investigated the accusations. These hearings along with other reports were prominent news in the period of 1919-1922. Just as the proximate Cuban financial crisis created headlines, the Haitian hearings would put these stories in the papers most likely read by Connolly and Boland. Right next door to Haiti, the Dominican Republic underwent similar events with the United States’ occupation starting in 1916 and by 1921 news churned of official withdrawal plans. These nations, cited specifically by Connolly and Boland, were key influences but others not cited could have also played a role.
The global perspective of the Irish revolutionary period can expand this history to reveal the synchronicity of countries influenced by international finance that could implicitly contribute to the comprehension of the Irish revolutionaries. Russia, Italy, and Germany all interacted with representatives of the Irish revolutionary government in various ways. These interactions would incentivize awareness of the happenings of those countries. Russia was an obvious fellow traveler to Ireland. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution was recognized by the Irish revolutionaries as a similar oppressed vs. oppressor dynamic. Patrick McCartan was the Irish envoy to Russia. His mission was to establish a treaty of mutual recognition by each of the revolutionary states along with military and economic support. In New York City, Boland even lent a hand in these negotiations by safeguarding the collateral of Russian crown jewels for two $20,000 loans from Ireland to Russia.
International finance was a major feature in Bolshevik Russia. Vladimir Lenin, leader of Bolshevik Russia, was no stranger to economic thought and he emphasized the role of international finance in his last works before the 1917 revolution. According to Lenin, “finance capital…was the primary engine of the global capitalist system and the driver of the crises tormenting the colonized and downtrodden.” The Bolsheviks repudiated the foreign debts of Tsarist Russia which was the largest net international debtor in the world at the time. This was the largest debt default in economic history. As one of the first acts of the new government, along with the confiscation of all foreign assets to pour salt in the wound, it infuriated international finance. The Russian Civil War that followed was notable for the foreign support of the anti-Bolshevik faction known as the White Army. The allied powers of World War I, such as Britain and the United States, would provide supplies and astonishingly troops to defeat the Bolshevik or Red Army. It would not be erroneous for the Irish revolutionaries to conclude international finance’s presence precipitated the instability that led to backlash of the Bolsheviks and the subsequent interventions on Russian soil as its revenge. It would also mark one of the first instances of the United States using military troops outside the Western Hemisphere in the protection of international finance.
Italy was another outpost for Irish revolutionary liaisons. Sean O’Kelly, Irish envoy to Italy, and George Gavan Duffy, Irish Minister of External Affairs, interacted with officials of the Vatican and Italy from 1920-1922. They would seek support from the Pope and Italian figures. They even earned the admiration of soon to be fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, who proposed covertly selling guns to the Irish through his existing military connections in Italy. This scheme was never finished because of the British learning of the plot. This would position the Irish ambassadors in proximity to the financial events occurring in Italy at that time. The Biennio Rosso of 1919-1920 was a period of economic turmoil and inflation that led to socialist and anarchist uprisings across Italy. “By 1921, Italy’s external public debt…was more than five times the country’s annual export trade…The struggling liberal governments of the postwar period sought political and economic concessions…but without success.”  The Irish revolutionaries witnessed another example of international finance strangling a nation to the point of internal collapse.
O’Kelly and Duffy also attended the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to unsuccessfully plead their case for recognition. As a byproduct, they would see firsthand what international observers  infamously cautioned was odious foreign debts put upon Germany. The Irish had found common cause with the Germans against the British in the past and had an affinity for them. The Germans assisted revolutionary activities throughout various Irish struggles. The most popular example was Sir Roger Casement’s 1916 attempt to secure diplomatic support from German officials and their enablement of Irish prisoners of war to return to fight for the revolutionary cause. He was later arrested, sentenced, and hung for treason by the British. During the revolutionary period, Charles Bewley was appointed the Irish envoy to Germany. He was joined by IRA quartermaster, Robert Briscoe, in an effort to secure guns from Germany. These four Irish revolutionaries had direct contact with Germany and would have seen the dejected and disarrayed nation as not only a casualty of World War I but of international financial burdens too.
The rationale for why the Irish revolutionaries rejected international finance has been elucidated by a global history perspective. An examination of events in Germany, Italy, Russia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and the United States was crucial in understanding the allusions and contexts the Irish revolutionaries employed in their warnings. International finance was unnecessary because of the untapped wealth in Ireland and evil because of its myriad conquests of nations. The Farson affair also signified the first act in the economic story of Ireland for the next hundred years. The attitudes expressed by Boland and Connolly would reinforce Irish protectionist policies for the remainder of the first half of the 20th century. Since the protectionist policies were half-measures they weren't effective in growing the Irish economy. The resentment of a mediocre outcome would diminish such attitudes leading to the acceptance of the 1948 Marshall Plan and the 1958 Whitaker-Lemass embrace of liberalization. International finance saturated Ireland in the following decades leading to the 2008 financial crisis and the revelation of the illusory growth of a hollow economy produced by liberalization. The IMF, ECB, and EC bailout and imposed austerity further contorted Ireland into a position unthinkable to Irish revolutionaries. The dangers of American finance ring as true today as they did in 1921.
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