In 1867 forty Irish-American freedom fighters, outfitted with guns and ammunition, sailed to Ireland to aid in the effort to end British rule. Yet they never got the chance to fight. British authorities arrested the fighters for treason as soon as they landed, sparking an international conflict over migrant citizenship that dragged the United States and England to the brink of war. Under the Starry Flag recounts this gripping tale and legal saga, a prelude to today's immigration battles.
The Fenians, as the freedom fighters were known, claimed American citizenship. British authorities disagreed, insisting that naturalized Irish Americans remained British subjects. Following in the wake of the Civil War, the Fenian crisis dramatized anew the idea of citizenship as an inalienable right, as natural as freedom of speech and religion. The captivating trial of these men illustrated the stakes of extending those rights to arrivals from far-flung lands. The case of the Fenians, Lucy E. Salyer shows, led to landmark treaties and laws acknowledging the right of exit. The U.S. Congress passed the Expatriation Act of 1868, which guaranteed the right to renounce one’s citizenship, in the same month that it granted citizenship to former American slaves.
Occurring at a critical historical moment, the small ruckus created by these impassioned Irish Americans provoked a human rights revolution that is not, even now, fully realized. Placing Reconstruction-era debates over citizenship within a global context, Under the Starry Flag raises questions that still echo in the world today.