Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Lois P. Agnew


constitutive rhetoric, Fenian, Fenian Brotherhood, Irish nationalism, rhetorical history, sovereignty

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Modern Languages | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


This dissertation traces the constitutive rhetorical strategies of revolutionary Irish nationalists operating transnationally from 1858-1876. Collectively known as the Fenians, they consisted of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the United Kingdom and the Fenian Brotherhood in North America. Conceptually grounded in the main schools of Burkean constitutive rhetoric, it examines public and private letters, speeches, Constitutions, Convention Proceedings, published propaganda, and newspaper arguments of the Fenian counterpublic. It argues two main points. First, the separate national constraints imposed by England and the United States necessitated discursive and non-discursive rhetorical responses in each locale that made it near impossible to sustain transnational consubstantiality for the movement. Second, North American Fenian strategies to gain sovereign recognition for Ireland relied on and helped to further substantiate the palliative Constitutional wishes of equality that undergirded the racial and settler inequalities of the United States. After establishing the exigency and framework for the project, Chapter 2 examines the transnational attempts by Fenian leadership to constitute the "Irish nation" in the diaspora across existing national borders. It argues that, despite the shared vision and motives, the separate national constraints negotiated by each arm of the movement made it impossible to maintain a shared strategy for achieving Irish freedom. Chapter 3 then focuses on the Constitutions created by the North American organization in order to constitute Irish sovereignty, demonstrating how the scenic conditions wrought by these Constitutional enactments contributed to a legitimacy crisis that led to the schism in the Fenian Brotherhood and paved the way for multiple failed invasions of Canada. Chapter 4 examines the constitutive rhetorical strategies of The Fenians' Progress, a propaganda tract used by the wing that sought to invade Canada, and limns the rhetorics of respectability this faction employed as they appealed to the U.S. for recognition of Fenian belligerent status. Chapter 5 juxtaposes the rhetorics of "skirmishing" and "settling" in The Irish World in the mid-1870s in the wake of the failed Canadian invasions, tracing the rhetorics of settler solidarity these otherwise anti-imperialist Irish-Americans invoke in print. It concludes by discussing the Fenian case's implications for rhetorical theory.


Open Access