Irish and Africans Americans had lots in common and lots of contact during this period; they lived side by side and shared work spaces. In the early years of immigration the poor Irish and blacks were thrown together, very much part of the same class competing for the same jobs. In the census of 1850, the term mulatto appears for the first time due primarily to inter-marriage between Irish and African Americans. The Irish were often referred to as "Negroes turned inside out and Negroes as smoked Irish." A famous quip of the time attributed to a black man went something like this: "My master is a great tyrant, he treats me like a common Irishman." Free blacks and Irish were viewed by the Nativists as related, somehow similar, performing the same tasks in society. It was felt that if amalgamation between the races was to happen, it would happen between Irish and blacks. But, ultimately, the Irish made the decision to embrace whiteness, thus becoming part of the system which dominated and oppressed blacks. Although it contradicted their experience back home, it meant freedom here since blackness meant slavery.
An article by a black writer in an 1860 edition of the Liberator explained how the Irish ultimately attained their objectives: "Fifteen or twenty years ago, a Catholic priest in Philadelphia said to the Irish people in that city, 'You are all poor, and chiefly laborers, the blacks are poor laborers; many of the native whites are laborers; now, if you wish to succeed, you must do everything that they do, no matter how degrading, and do it for less than they can afford to do it for.' The Irish adopted this plan; they lived on less than the Americans could live upon, and worked for less, and the result is, that nearly all the menial employments are monopolized by the Irish, who now get as good prices as anybody. There were other avenues open to American white men, and though they have suffered much, the chief support of the Irish has come from the places from which we have been crowded."
It is important to note, however, the Douglass’s direct contact with the Irish at fundamental moments during his childhood and adolescence at times bolstered, and perhaps sparked, his resolve to become a free man.
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he came upon a speech in the Columbian Orator on Catholic emancipation in Ireland which had been delivered by Arthur O’Connor in the Irish House of Commons. Douglass was impressed by O’Connor’s sentiments and his declaration that he would “risk everything dear to [him] on earth” for Ireland’s independence. Douglass wrote that O’Connor provided him with a powerful vocabulary to voice beliefs within his “own soul” which “boldly” vindicated human rights and “enabled”Douglass “to utter thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery” .O’Connor demonstrated to Douglass the powerful way that language can provoke a nation toward change.
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