• U.S.

THE CONGRESS: Irishman v. King

3 minute read

No statement of regret, no message of condolence issued last week from William Hale (“Big Bill”) Thompson, who once won notoriety and Irish votes by promising to “bust King George in the snoot” if that monarch did not mind his own business. With the submergence of Chicago’s blatant Mayor in 1931, the Irish Question seemed to have become virtually extinct in U. S. politics. Last week a dying gasp was heard in the U. S. House of Representatives.

The Senate was already in recess when George V died. Few minutes after the House met next day, Foreign Affairs Chairman McReynolds solemnly uprose to offer a resolution that President Roosevelt be requested to communicate the House’s sorrow & sympathy to the British Government and “that as a further mark of respect to the memory of King George the House do now adjourn.”

“The question,” called Speaker Byrns, “is on agreeing to the resolution.”

As Speaker Byrns prepared to call for a voice vote, a stocky, red-faced, small-chinned, little figure popped out of the cloakroom, began shouting: “Mr. Speaker! Mr. Speaker!” It was Ohio’s Representative Martin Leo Sweeney, oldtime Cleveland politician, apostle of Father Coughlin and Dr. Townsend who, as national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, made 1,000 anti-British speeches before going to Congress.

“As many as are in favor say Aye,” called Speaker Byrns, looking the other way.

“Aye,” rumbled the House.

“Mr. Speaker! Mr. Speaker!” bawled Representative Sweeney, his wisp of white hair bobbing.

“As many as are opposed say No,” called Speaker Byrns, still looking the other way.

“No!” cried Representative Sweeney. “Mr. Speaker! Mr. Speaker!”

“Motion carried,” said Speaker Byrns. “The House stands adjourned.”

To newshawks Hibernian Sweeney later explained: “I recall that it was during King George’s reign that the Black & Tans invaded Ireland. . . . Many of my relatives were among the victims of that outrage. … I had nothing against the King personally, but he represented a symbol not in harmony with our democracy. I intend to protest against the whole thing.”

Motoring to the British Embassy, the Canadian, Irish and South African Legations, Secretary of State Hull conveyed the official condolences of the U. S. Government to the Governments of the British Commonwealth. The sorrow of the people of the U. S. was bespoken by President Roosevelt, who added in his message to Edward VIII: “I had the privilege of knowing His Majesty during the War days, and his passing brings to me personally a special sorrow.”

A White House luncheon honoring Lady Lindsay, wife of the British Ambassador, was canceled, the White House Congressional reception postponed a fortnight. The affection which the Wartime Assistant Secretary of the Navy conceived for Britain’s “Sailor King” was not, however, enough to cause him to half-staff the White House flag, as Roosevelt I did when the British Ambassador died in Washington in 1902. Then T. R. explained that it was not because Lord Pauncefote had been a distinguished diplomat, but because he was a “damned good fellow.”

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