Irish Anti-Imperialist and Nationalist Economics

This dissertation was submitted in part fulfilment of the Master of Arts in History in July 2021 for University College Dublin.

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For my mother and father who have supported and encouraged me in all my pursuits. For my sister and brother-in-law who showed me companionship. For my grandparents who all instilled in me a dedication for hard work, education, and a love for Ireland.


I’d like to acknowledge all my professors at the University College Dublin, Dr. Mark Jones, Dr. William Mulligan, Dr. Hussein Omar, and Dr. Tadhg O’Hannrachain. They all played key parts in stimulating and cultivating my growth as a historian. Dr. Diarmaid Ferriter, my supervisor, provided the initial clue that opened up the path to the full realization of my project. His discussions and feedback were very valuable in tightening my argument and improving the standards of my evidence. Thank you to all my fellow M.A. students with who I had thought-provoking discourse. Finally, thank you to all my twitter colleagues for encouraging and inspiring my research.


This paper looks to examine an episode during the transition from the Irish Revolution (1919-1921) to Irish Free State government concerning the intersection of international finance and nationalism. In December 1921 and January 1922, Joseph Connolly and Harry Boland both wrote letters to Michael Collins which urged the rejection of a $20 million loan offer by Farson, Sons. & Co. brokerage and private investors in the New York financial market. Rather than dryly pecuniary, these letters uniquely disparaged the potential investors as “evil” and warned of the “dangers of American finance.” They alluded to the tragedies of America's dollar diplomacy in Latin America, the Caribbean, and further. They explicitly connected foreign finance and loss of national sovereignty. They also asserted that the new-found control of the state entitled it to Irish capital as well as the exercise of nationalist monetary and fiscal policy. In order to fully understand the letters’ content, context, and significance it is necessary to investigate the economic theories, nationalist rhetoric, and global influences that shaped them. While these two letters are a small sample, they offer lodestones that connect many facets of Irish nationalist economic theory, that is often dismissed in existing literature, and the Irish perspective in a global discourse on imperialism, national liberation, and economic development. The findings expand, complicate, and reveal insights on a wider century of isolation, opening, growth, and constriction in Irish economic history.


Money was central to the Irish Revolution of 1916-1921. Its guerrilla warfare required guerilla finance. Although successful in raising about $6 million[1], the revolutionaries were constrained by the challenges of raising and transporting funds for a technically illegal war against the biggest empire in the world, the United Kingdom. Even after the Anglo-Irish Treaty ended the revolution, official state revenues and expenditures were handicapped by the destructive forces of the prior conflict followed by the immediate Irish Civil War. So why did cash-strapped revolutionaries turned statesmen scornfully reject a generous $20 million loan offer from American institutional investors? They did so because, one, they viewed the foreign Wall Street as insidiously imperialist, and two, they believed in nationalist economics.

The Irish revolutionaries raised most of their funds through grassroots efforts but desired the institutional financial market when they started the campaign in 1919. They were prohibited from those markets, as an unrecognized revolutionary government, under Blue Sky Laws[2]. The 6 December 1921 signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty enabled the recognized Irish Free State to sell bonds in the United States of America. Shortly thereafter on 11 December 1921, The New York City brokerage firm, Farson, Sons, & Co., privately and publicly[3] offered the new Irish Free State a $20-25 million loan to be raised on the international bond market centered in New York City. Farson, Sons, & Co. favorably endorsed the scheme as a “good investment” comparable to respectable bonds of Canada and Australia. The Irish revolutionaries seemed to have their ideal financing option fall into their lap yet by this time the Irish unexpectedly rebuffed it.

On 12 December 1921, Joseph Connolly, the Irish revolutionary Consul General to the U.S., wrote a letter to Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary Minister of Finance and Intelligence, reacting to the proposal.

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…there were many millions of pounds held in the banks and that these banks would automatically come under the Irish Government…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.[4]

The charged words indicate, not a dispassionate pecuniary matter but an excoriation. He implicates Wall Street’s motivation as having to do with their perception of some amount of racial superiority over the Irish. He cited Cuba and Poland as Irish parallels where Wall Street’s evil was metastasizing if not completely occupying those nations. He also alluded to capital held in Irish banks as another reason to not need the foreign money. He further alluded that Collins and most likely other comrades shared these attitudes.

Harry Boland, Irish revolutionary Special Envoy to the United States, also wrote to Collins on 17 January 1922:

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. I would like to see Ireland financed by the Irish money lying in Irish and English banks…Some of the smaller South America Republics, such as San Domingo 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. Consul Connolly…also utters this warning.[5]

Boland reinforces Connolly’s assertions while adding the connection between Wall Street and the United States government, in constructing a financial imperial empire. The comparison to smaller nations is again employed by Boland which emphasized Irish identification with non-white people and the U.S. as a colonizer, like Britain, rather than as usually portrayed as friendly in relation to Ireland. He affirmed Connolly’s point that Irish money was available in the banks. He also introduced that his opinion was formulated during his journey in the U.S. between 1919 and 1922, which contrasted the original bond market scheme.

The only record of Michael Collins’ response to these warnings is a brief letter to Gavan Duffy, Irish revolutionary Minister of Foreign Affairs, on 9 February 1922. He stated, “due note has been taken of the extracts from Mr. Boland’s report.”[6] The inference from this and the subsequent not following through with Farson, Sons, & Co.’s request indicated that Collins and the rest of the government heeded Connolly’s and Boland’s letters. The timing of this rejection also marks it as one of the first fiscal and monetary policy actions of the Irish Free State. This choice was made under the pressure of government revenue and expenditure problems too. The subsequent years showed the Irish Free State fell into deficit spending. As Fitzgerald suggests, “the government was highly constrained in its early years in the resources that it could deploy.”[7] This makes it even more noteworthy that the government turned down the U.S. Farson loan.

The loan proposal and two letters have remarkable significance for how underdiscussed they are in the existing literature. The only sources that touched upon these documents are Carroll’s “Money For Ireland”[8], Ferriter’s “The Transformation of Ireland”[9], and Fitzpatrick’s “Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution.”[10] Carroll, Ferriter, and Fitzpatrick highlighted the uniqueness of this episode, but none elaborated on it. Most of the literature concerned with the subject of revolutionary finance focus on the Dáil Loan fundraising or administrative accounting matters of the new Irish Free State. Perhaps its omission is because of its timing in the immediate transitionary moment from revolution to state-formation. However, this paper will seek to better elaborate on these documents and reveal their explanatory power in revaluating Irish economic history.

It will investigate the key explicit aspects of the documents: the background of Farson, Sons, & Co., Wall Street, imperialism, subjugated Latin American and Caribbean nations, and Irish money & banking. It will also explore the implicit aspects: the background of Irish economic nationalism, the global anti-imperial discourse of the turn of the 20th century, and simultaneous economic events happening around the globe. The outline of this paper will be separated into three subsequent chapters. Chapter 1 will define American financial imperialism as a concept and connect Connolly and Boland to a network of anti-imperialist discourse. Chapter 2 will highlight the case studies specified by Connolly and Boland and describe American financial imperialism’s negative effects on them. Chapter 3 will explore the background of Irish economic nationalism that inspired Connolly’s and Boland’s attitudes. Taken all together, this investigation will conclude the key lessons and reflect on its modern-day utility.

My methods of study include primary sources from the time period as well as secondary sources from later ones. The primary sources will encompass personal correspondences, newspapers, published books, memoirs, and official government documents. The secondary sources include biographies, national histories, transnational histories, and scholarly journals. I wanted more archival material from exclusive university and national libraries but covid regulations prevented me from accessing them, however, I’ve assembled enough accessible sources to make this a non-issue. I will also employ methods of global history to place the Irish experience in global narratives concerning nationalism, economics, and imperialism of their time. There is no way of explaining these letters, especially the cited cases, without the synthesis of parallel national and transnational histories. The methods of global history create a more robust explanation than those that are constrained to the national container alone. Finally, more recent contributions from the monetary and development economic fields will be used to substantiate the theories of the revolutionaries.

For chapters 1 and 2, Peter James Hudson’s “Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean” and Emily S. Rosenberg’s “Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy” will be the most useful in defining American financial imperialism and how it was implemented in Cuba, Haiti, and Santo Domingo. Their works are in line with the existing literature’s consensus on these matters. Newspapers like The Nation and The New York Times will corroborate the consensus with the real-time reports. Patrick McCartan’s memoirs “With de Valera in America” is also a significant text that will provide key insights in connecting Connolly and Boland to anti-imperialist thought in chapter 1. Furthermore, Joseph Connolly’s “Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly: A Founder of Modern Ireland” and pamphlet, “How Does She Stand?: An Appeal to Young Ireland,” both written in the 1950s provide many details on his influences that are relevant to both chapters 1 and 3. He wrote these after a long career as an insider in the Fianna Fail government. His later publications illuminate his 1921 thinking and corroborate his intellectual antecedents. Finally, chapter 3 will be most concerned with Arthur Griffith’s “The Resurrection of Hungary” and Friedrich List’s “National System of Political Economy” to explain the prevailing economic doctrine of the revolutionary period. Other sources will be used to legitimize and expand on Irish economic thought of the time period and in prior eras.

Of particular importance, the existing literature that discusses Griffith’s economic thought is in need of clarification. It is very well established that there is a link between Griffith’s economics and that of List’s.[11] Scholars have correctly identified this but treated it in either an obscured or maligned fashion. Daly wrote that Griffith “misinterpreted”[12] List’s ideas. McCartney wrote that Griffith “overestimated” his influence.[13] Bartlett wrote that Griffith’s views were a “misreading”[14] of List. These authors have valuable overall contributions, but they all fail to elaborate on the specifics of Griffith’s and List’s economics which makes their dismissive claims unsubstantiated. They also don’t consider any secondary sources by scholars of economics and List. Their sentiment is that Griffith’s economics were naïve, vague, or provincial. Instead, this paper will contribute a more accurate description of Griffith’s economic nationalism and a suggestion that it was realist, sophisticated, and global.

There is an adjacent argument made by Fanning[15], Daly[16], O’Grada[17], and McCabe.[18] They all suggest that post-1922 Irish state economic policy departed from the visions promoted during the revolutionary period. While Daly is critical of Griffith, she highlighted the diminishment of his ideas.[19] They all offer two general points: one, the elite establishment, whose perspectives aligned with Britain, engaged in a subtle counter-revolution within Cumann na nGaedheal’s initial regime, and two, de Valera’s post-1932 Fianna Fail economic nationalism was degraded and similarly coopted to preserve the continuity of pre-1922 imperial economics. The adjacent argument made by these authors shows a dissonance between Griffith’s economics and its nominal inheritors. Cumann na nGaedheal was pro-treaty and thus associated with Griffith. By 1932, Fianna Fail vocalized relatively more radical nationalist economics than the conservative predecessors. These inspections highlight a departure but still leave the reader asking: What were they departing from? The economics of Griffith remain shrouded. This investigation answers that question and in doing so illuminates the context of economic thought that Connolly and Boland found themselves in during the revolutionary period. Through a close reading of the primary sources of Griffith and List, rather than reliant on secondary ones, tenets can be identified that connect to the sentiments found in Connolly’s and Boland’s letters.

American Financial Imperialism

The first task is to understand the more flagrant elements of the letters that concern the United States’ turn of the 20th century financial imperialism. Since three of the four cited cases are in Latin America and the Caribbean, most of the discussion will focus on that context. The experience of Poland, as the geographic outlier, was more obscure and has scarcer scholarship on the subject. Regardless, the majority of these examples have sufficient evidence and scholarship to reveal what Connolly and Boland were alluding to in their letters.

The intersection of imperialism, finance, and the United States of America at the turn of the 20th century is a unique synthesis. It contrasts earlier explicit forms of conquest, colonization, and domination. American financial imperialism has much more obscured operating logic. It often blurs the line between paternalism and parasitism. The paternalism centers around the protection of former colonies from European control as well as the international free market from national sovereignties. This is best characterized by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 State of the Union where he said, “if a nation…keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference…Chronic wrongdoing…may…ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and…the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States…to the exercise of an international police power.”[20] The Monroe Doctrine was U.S. President Monroe’s view that the western hemisphere was now closed off to further European colonization. In his 1823 congressional address, Monroe said “the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves.”[21] Roosevelt interpreted this as an allowance for the U.S. to preserve that non-interventionist stance by intervening. Roosevelt articulated that subjugation was conditional on the upholding of contractual international relationships, however, Roosevelt also indicated that the suppression of European interference in the Western Hemisphere as realist reason for the U.S. He said,

in order to enforce the payment of its obligations; for such temporary occupation [by European powers] might turn into a permanent occupation. The only escape from these alternatives may at any time be that we must ourselves undertake to bring about some arrangement by which so much as possible of a just obligation shall be paid. It is far better that this country should put through such an arrangement, rather than allow any foreign country to undertake it. To do so insures the defaulting republic from having to pay debts of an improper character under duress, while it also insures honest creditors of the republic from being passed by in the interest of dishonest or grasping creditors. Moreover, for the United States to take such a position offers the only possible way of insuring us against a clash with some foreign power. The position is, therefore, in the interest of peace as well as in the interest of justice. It is of benefit to our people; it is of benefit to foreign peoples; and most of all it is really of benefit to the people of the country concerned.[22]

The paternalist aspect reflects either altruism or benevolent vassalage. Roosevelt’s advocacy cemented this form of rhetoric that justified past and enabled future imperial developments.

The inverse aspect of parasitism has a negative connotation that should be emphasized because deceptive and unethical methods were frequently utilized to further imperial objectives at the expense of national welfare and sovereignty. “Strong personal and financial ties between Wall Street and despotic and dictatorial regimes…[and] support for US military occupation by finance capital”[23] were the deciding factors for exploitative policies rather than voluntary acceptance from the inflicted national population. Thus, while paternalist rhetoric should not be erased, from the motivations of both Americans and even the subjugated peoples, it should be discounted in light of its reliance on subversion of democratic norms and oppressive execution. Parasitism results from the foreign monopolization of local financial activities that optimized the society for value extraction rather than economic development. American private financial entities were both beneficiaries of the distorted economic structure and tools of the U.S. government’s imperial organization. In “Bankers and Empire: How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean”, Peter James Hudson explained:

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.[24]

Rosenberg said, “at the heart of dollar diplomacy: a triangular relationship among financial advisers wishing to practice their new profession of fiscal rehabilitation of foreign countries; investment bankers seeking higher interest rates in foreign markets; and activist governmental officials eager to assert international influence.”[25] The more subtle use of private financial entities provided camouflage that supported Roosevelt’s more paternalistic rhetoric. Instead of a soldier pointing a gun, a banker allocated a loan or demanded collection. “Governmental officials, in effect, called on bankers to take care of things that they wanted done.”[26] This didn’t stop soldiers from being used as the enforcers of last resort. Loan contracts stipulated “in the case of default, the United States was granted the right to military intervention”[27] and bank charters included powers “to undertake the management of a sovereign government.”[28]

The relationship between the U.S. government officials and private financiers was one of aligned interests. It was not a simplistic top-down plot but the convergence of the U.S. government’s emergence as a geopolitical superpower and growth of the U.S. financial sector, euphemized as Wall Street.[29] American financial imperialism was, again, a synthesis. A variety of paternalistic and parasitic ambitions motivated a dynamic network of individuals rather than a static cabal. Americans or American principles were not unique compared to other nationalities and principles throughout history in their ambition to dominate. As wealth and power grow, so do opportunities for abuse. As Hudson and Rosenberg contend, American financial imperialism was the result of a historical process regarding the evolution of the American nation-state and financial institutions. The uniqueness is found in the implementation of financial mechanisms.

With the general concept of American financial imperialism explained, the question remains of: how Boland and Connolly came to learn of it? Further, what was it about their short journeys in America that altered their attitude from one that would be conducive to the initial Wall Street friendly 1919 Dáil Loan plan to one that wasn’t? It is probable that they came across American publications commenting on such matters. It is also likely that their interaction with fellow anti-imperialist diasporas, in diverse cosmopolitan centers like New York City, provided a more in-depth global education.[30] However, there exists little direct evidence for those two vectors. The missing links are Dr. William Maloney and de Valera’s Cuban analogy blunder.

Dr. Maloney was ethnically Irish, born in Scotland, and lived in the U.S. He became disenchanted with the British Empire and took an active role in Irish-American activities for Irish independence. He found his way into the orbit of de Valera’s cadre during their time in America and became a friend. Connolly said:

Maloney was one of the cleverest and most subtle minds I encountered among the friends of Ireland in New York…It became frequent practice for…us to have lunch together…and very soon Billy Maloney and I were intimate friends. He had a risible wit…Back of it all there was a cool, calm mind that was Maloney and the generous helping hand for anyone who needed help. He was linked up professionally and socially with many of those who were in the top flight of the American social register…It was Maloney who, with de Valera’s approval, got the Commission established for the purpose of investigating the conditions in Ireland in 1920. The whole organisation and planning of that organisation bore the Maloney stamp.[31]

The intimacy of Maloney’s relationship with Connolly was very strong. Connolly respected Maloney’s intellect, social connections, and unique political contribution. Connolly considered Maloney a major figure in the Irish struggle, as his commission “focused world attention on the misconduct of British forces in Ireland and brought pressure to bear on the British government to bring about a cessation of hostilities.”[32] Boland was also very fond of Maloney shown by his “farewell gift to Dr. Maloney, his unfailing mentor…a photograph inscribed ‘from Harry to the Doc.’”[33] Boland was a “dear friend”[34] of Maloney’s and was reliant on him as his personal physician. “Harry Boland suffered from severe anxiety and exhaustion and was one of many who received medical advice from Dr. Maloney during his time in America…Boland…referred to himself as his ‘little brother.’”[35] Patrick McCartan, another Irish revolutionary official in de Valera’s American cadre, provided corroboration that Maloney was seen as a “sincere man of fine intellect…[and] as the most valuable recruit to the Irish movement in his time.”[36] McCartan added:

Maloney was some way, Devoy said, connected by marriage with Oswald Garrison Villard, who owned The Evening Post. With Villard’s assent, Maloney had almost turned that paper into an Irish organ. Devoy, Cohalan and others of the Clan had been allowed to express themselves in it, as if it were the Gaelic American…The powerful support of the Evening Post had shown the American Administration that the Irish here were not silenced and isolated; and that their cause would not down.[37]

Maloney’s publishing outlets circulated reports from his commission[38] and other articles favorable to the Irish cause. The Irish revolutionaries and supporters were ingratiated into the journalistic network of Maloney and Villard. The perspective that led them to support Irish independence was part of a general anti-imperialism and anti-racism belief structure.

Villard was the editor of The New York Evening Post and The Nation. Villard was also a founder of the American Anti-Imperialist League, which lobbied for the freedom of territories taken in the Spanish-American War, and the NAACP, where he served as treasurer and on its board for many years.[39] Villard’s publications and associations provided an outlet for progressive causes. For example, The Nation published a series by James Weldon Johnson, the field secretary of the NAACP, on the American occupation of Haiti in 1920 which “shocked the US public…and prompted a number of investigations.”[40] “The Nation was the only prominent national publication that regularly covered” U.S. financial imperialism while “for readers of the mainstream media such as the [New York] Times, most of this news simply did not exist.”[41]According to McCartan, “Maloney was one of the founders of the Haiti-Santo Domingo Independence Society, which later helped to force the U.S. Government to relax its grasp on these Republics.”[42] There was “an interlocking relationship among the NAACP, the Nation, and an American front group, the Haiti-Santo Domingo Independence Society, which, by [a journalist’s] admission, ‘we at the Nation organized’… the Nation was to afford a strident, unbridled, antimilitary, and unashamedly partisan pulpit.”[43] McCartan cited Maloney, in his memoirs, when he commented on the American subjugation of both Haiti and San Domingo.[44]

Maloney and his journalistic network influenced the Irish revolutionaries. McCartan noted, Maloney “gathered news for us and helped us in our policy.”[45] Maloney injected imperial terminology into Irish arguments against Britain. He wrote that Irish conscription was a matter of conscientious objection to imperial conscription rather than national.[46] He more generally wrote, “so long as England governs Ireland, the privileged, the parasitic, and the professional Loyalists will exercise their religious, national, and imperial right to administer, on behalf of the Empire, the satrap of Ireland.”[47] These criticisms “resonated with both Americans and Irish nationalists.”[48] As mentioned by McCartan, Maloney also enabled Irish independence advocates to write in his publications. Connolly, himself, wrote a half page letter to the editor for The Nation in March of 1922.[49] It would be hard to imagine he wasn’t familiar with its ideas and anti-imperialist context. Now that Maloney’s profile has been established, this investigation can turn to the two most relevant articles that connect Ireland to American financial imperialism.

In February of 1920, the Nation published the article, “America’s Ireland: Haiti-Santo Domingo by An Onlooker.”[50] The article detailed the travesties committed by the U.S. in Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Cuba. It discussed the collaboration between the U.S. government and private financial entities, specifically the National City Bank which was called out in Boland’s letter. Finally, the article’s theme analogized the U.S.’ unjust domination of a neighboring island to the relationship between Britain and Ireland. There are many parallel points between this article and the two letters of Connolly and Boland. In that same issue, an editorial titled “Our Caribbean Imperialism” explained that the U.S. occupation of Haiti and Santo Domingo was “despotic” and led to “large corporations and shrewd capitalists…acquiring great quantities of fertile land in the islands.”[51] While the author of the first article was anonymous, it is not an improbable theory that Maloney – the Haiti-Santo Domingo independence advocate, Irish nationalist, and recipient of familial privilege to write carte blanche – was behind it. Maloney was known to write anonymously.[52] Even if he was not the author, given the frequency and intimacy of Maloney’s interactions, it is more likely that the article’s narrative found its way to the Irish revolutionaries in American between 1919-1922. As previously mentioned, McCartan confirmed Maloney as the source of his knowledge about American financial imperialism in these nations. Maloney wrote other articles such as his 3 April 1920 article in America, titled “America’s Policy Toward Ireland.”[53] It illustrated his breadth and depth of how Ireland fit into a global narrative. He emphasized the more ethical side of