Irish Power

Irish Power

Steven P. Erie’s Rainbow’s End is a major study of Irish-American political organizations in eight cities. Although the focus of Erie’s book is on the forces behind the successes and failures of such powerful figures as Richard Daley, James Michael Curley, David Lawrence, and Pat Nash, and the organizations they built, Rainbow’s End has broad implications for the racial tensions that now characterize every large city in America.

The Irish in many respects used political power to achieve goals similar to those now sought by blacks. Through impressive registration campaigns, which often included getting thousands of immigrants naturalized so they could vote, Irish-Americans by the end of the nineteenth century had gained far more power than warranted by their numbers alone in cities from New York to San Francisco. In the process, Irish-Americans laid claim to the rewards of power: “On the eve of the Depression, more than one third of the Irish workforce in machine cities government jobs were held by Irish-Americans; in Jersey City, 58 percent; in Albany, 41 percent.

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