Continuity and Change: The Irish Role in American Politics

Author: Jacob McKenna

Professor Bob Schmuhl wrote a piece for Irish America about the role of Irish politicians and citizens in the American political system.

By Bob Schmuhl - Published 10.2016 in Irish America


For the second straight White House election, the Democratic and Republican candidates for vice president grew up in strong Irish American and Catholic families. Eyebrow-arching in itself, the fact that these four figures share a similar heritage helps illustrate what you might call the Irish political diaspora within the U.S. From the time of the Great Hunger through the early decades of the 20th century, the American Irish tended to be nearly as faithful to the Democratic Party as to the Catholic Church. Big-city political organizations worked with machine-like efficiency, delivering goods, services and jobs to recent immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere. These new Americans said thank you with their Democratic votes on Election Day.

The parish and the precinct – along with the neighborhood pub – were institutions that contributed to shaping the identity and community of Irish Americans. Before long, the hurly-burly of electoral politics seduced second- and third-generation O’Briens and Brennans to run themselves for city and state offices.

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