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Proceedings of the Fourth Congress at Atlanta, GA., April 28 to May 1, 1892
In Memoriam
Hon. William Erigena Robinson, Brooklyn


BY PROF. GEORGE MACLOSKIE.

Hon. W. E. Robinson, the famous "Richelieu" of American journalism, died after a brief illness, at his home in Brooklyn, on January 23, 1892, in the seventy-eighth year of his age, and was buried in Greenwood, Rev. Drs. John Hall and T. De Witt Talmage assisting at his obsequies. As he was a representative Scotch-Irishman, and, in the language of the New York Recorder, "for over twenty years one of the most picturesque figures in American politics," he is well entitled to a place in our obituary.

Born at Unagh, near Cookstown, in County Tyrone, Ireland, May 6, 1814, he early manifested literary ability of a high order. His father is described to us by a lady who remembers him, as "a lovely old man, and, I think, an elder in the Presbyterian Church," and, along with his other children, was engaged in trade. William, however, did not take to trade, but setting himself, first secretly, to the study of Latin and Greek, soon contrived to attend Cookstown Academy, and afterward proceeded to the Belfast Academical Institution. The time of his youth was marked by political ferment in Ireland, Daniel O'Connell being prominent as the great agitator for Repeal, and although Robinson's surroundings in Presbyterian Belfast were antagonistic to O'Connell and to Repeal, he seems even then to have thrown himself heartily into the Nationalist cause.

In 1836 he emigrated to America, arriving in New York, after a voyage of sixty-six days, with a British sovereign in his possession. When coming up New York Harbor, he sketched out the lines which afterward became popular:

The Emigrant's Song.

Hail! brightest banner that floats on the gale!
Flag of the country of Washington, hail!
Red are thy stripes, as the blood of the brave,
Bright are thy stars, as the sun on the wave;
Wrapped in thy folds are the hopes of the free.
Banner of Washington! blessings on thee!

Mountain tops mingle the sky with their snow;
Prairies lie smiling in sunshine below;
Rivers, as broad as the sea in their pride,
Border thine empires, but do not divide;
Niagara's voice, far out—anthems the sea;
Land of sublimity! blessings on thee!

Hope of the world! on thy mission sublime,
When thou didst burst on the pathway of Time,
Millions from darkness and bondage awoke;
Music was born when Liberty spoke:
Millions to come yet shall join in the glee,
Land of the pilgrim's hope! blessings on thee!

Traitors shall perish and Treason shall fail;
Kingdoms and thrones in thy glory grow pale!
Thou shalt live on, and thy people shall own
Loyalty's sweet, where each heart is thy throne.
Union and freedom thy heritage be;
Country of Washington! blessings on thee!

In the following year he entered Yale College, having $10 wherewith to begin his academic career. Soon, however, he took a high place in his class, and became remarkable for his ability as a writer and as an orator; and his college course appropriately closed by his being the valedictorian of the celebrated class of 1841, of which he ultimately proved to be the last survivor. In the early part of his attendance at Yale he became a frequent contributor to the New Haven Herald, and afterward editor of the New Haven Daily Courier, and he founded the Yale Banner. He also founded a Chapter of the "Phi Upsilon" secret society. His first appearances as a speaker were by way of lecturing on Ireland, which made him a hero with Hiberno-Americans who sympathized with his advocacy of the independence of their country and his denunciations of Saxon wrongs. All his life proved that he was entirely honest and sincere in his attitude on this subject, and we should remember that the Ireland of his youth was differently placed from that of our day; its land tenure, ecclesiastical polity, and political system being enormously wrong, though in our time they have been, in a great measure, set right.

The presidential campaign of "Tippecanoe" Harrison gave further scope for his oratory, and opened his way into American politics. Ere long he was in demand all over the country, and he became a protege of Horace Greeley, who engaged him to lecture for the Whig party, and also to contribute to the Log Cabin, an important political sheet in that election. After the electoral campaign he attended lectures on law, till he was appointed, in 1843, as the Washington correspondent of the New York Tribune. His letters to the Tribune, under the assumed name of "Richelieu," gave a graphic picture of proceedings in Congress, and were so full of humor and satire that their author promptly won both fame and trouble. His description of the daily retreat of an honorable Congressman behind the Speaker's chair for the purpose of lunching, by stealth, on sausages which issued from his pocket, wrapped in paper, was so racy that it reached European as well as American papers, and was withal such an outrage on Congressional proprieties that it led to his temporary expulsion from the Reporters' Gallery. When another correspondent, on being afterward ejected for the same offense against the Senate, asked for a nomination to the Presidency of the United States by way of vindication of the liberty of the press, Robinson humorously suggested that it was he who, being the first offender, should be made President, and the other should be made Vice President. At this time ho had an opportunity to declare his principles on the two subjects of Daniel O'Connell and American slavery. Having been chosen orator for St. Patrick's Day celebration in Washington in 1847, and learning that O'Connell was not to be toasted because he had uttered some words against slavery, Robinson declared that he would not speak unless O'Connell was toasted, and this compelled the pro-slavery men to yield. In the same year he organized measures for the relief of the Irish famine, and succeeded in securing the authority of Congress for dispatching the frigate "Macedonian" to the relief of the starving people. Soon after this he was set up at the Whig convention, in New York City, for a nomination to Congress, and failed by a solitary vote.

In the uprising in Ireland of 1848, he used his pen to advocate the cause of its independence, and in 1849 he became editor of a New York paper, The People, strongly opposed to England and favoring Ireland. His speech on "Celt and Saxon," delivered before a representative convention of college fraternities in Hamilton College in 1851, was published at length in the Tribune, and gave rise to much comment in Europe as well as here. It was discussed in the British House of Lords and by the London Times.

In 1854 he loft Washington in order to enter on the practice of law in New York City, at which he continued till his appointment by President Lincoln, in 1862, to the office of Collector of Internal Revenue for the Third District of New York, an office which he faithfully discharged till his resignation in 1866, with a view to reenter politics. Being rather independent as to his views of American politics, he did not change much in accepting a nomination for Congress from the Democratic party in Brooklyn, which resulted in his election. In Congress he was distinguished for his antipathy to Britain, but he was esteemed as a man of integrity, and he advocated and secured the passage of valuable measures. One of these was the naturalization law, which led to the abrogation of the outrageous and oppressive claims for perpetual allegiance, formerly pressed by old-world monarchs upon America's adopted citizens. He also moved the bill favoring the construction of the Brooklyn bridge, which was passed March 2, 1869, just at the close of his first term in Congress. Having offended some of the Democrats by his independent course as a Congressman, his legislative career was interrupted for a time.

We next find him, in 1871, united with Mr. Patrick Ford in the editorship of the Irish World, where he was free to put in practice the process (according to the phrase first employed by him) of "twisting the tail of the British lion." In 1880 he was again returned to Congress by the Democrats, and a third time in 1882; but in 1884 he broke the party traces, and was rejected by the leaders. He then returned to support himself by journalism, and continued in harness till his death.

He was married in 1853, and leaves three daughters and two sons, one of the latter following the father's profession of journalism. His Irish Nationalist sympathies and spirit of liberality rendered him a favorite in Roman Catholic circles, especially with the late Archbishop Hughes, of New York; but he retained his Protestant profession. Dr. Talmage very justly bore testimony at his funeral to his industry, perseverance, self-reliance, integrity, courage, genius, and faith in God. Though Robinson moved in political circles about New York when Tweed flourished, and when a writer of his mark could fetch a high price, he was not contaminated by the evil example. We have evidence of this not only in the testimony of his critics, but in the fact that whilst he worked assiduously for his support, he neither lived sumptuously nor accumulated wealth. Such a life leaves a fragrant memory.

Some of our readers may recall his striking appearance at the Scotch-Irish Congress in Pittsburg in May, 1890. He read a valuable historical paper on "The Prestons of America," and we had an opportunity of marking his noble bearing, tall though slightly stooped with age, his handsome face, long snow-white curling locks, oratorical powers still retained. He usually carried a blackthorn stick, perhaps a shillalah hinting of his Hibernianism. We strongly suspect that his middle name "Erigena" (Irish-born), was not baptismal, but adoptive, by way of testimony that he was not ashamed of his country.


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