A Letter from Antoni Ostrowski to Daniel O’Connell (September 1839) – Source Analysis, Part I, I/2022

Part I

Antoni Ostrowski’s letter to Daniel O’Connell (September 1839)

“From now on you are a Polish man for us…”

The above letter addressed to Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) comes from the post-November period, when the writer, Ostrowski, was one of the few senators who decided to leave the country after the fall of the uprising (1830-1831). At that time, he tried, with great energy, to work for the unification of the conflicted Polish emigration. He was convinced that unification was to be facilitated by the convocation of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) in exile and therefore devoted much attention to this undertaking immediately after reaching France in 1832. Nevertheless, as with many Poles who were then living outside the country, he was very interested in the involvement of high-profile figures in the Polish cause, particularly politicians. Almost from the very start, Daniel O’Connell and his supporters (members of the House of Commons of the British Parliament, who were generally called O’Connellites or repealers, from the word repeal, referring to their main postulate of the repeal of union with Britain) focused their attention on the dramatic events unfolding in Poland (Kingdom of Poland). They were also largely responsible for the continuing interest in Poland among the Irish in the first half of the nineteenth-century Ireland (1830s and 1840s).

In his letter, on behalf of the members of the Sejm in exile, including his own, Ostrowski expressed that they had “great respect and great gratitude” for Daniel O’Connell. They desired, in such a symbolic way, to thank the Irish Liberator for dozens of official speeches, both parliamentary and those delivered at countless political rallies, where he so often emphasised the importance of the Polish Question. He underscores this in this letter by stating that the Irish leader spoke as “We would have spoken”, and hence he was a Pole in their eyes. However, it also applied to the issue of the government grants, which were so urgent from the perspective of the Polish emigrants. The support of the British Government had to be renewed annually, and it was on these occasions that the role of the Irish leader seemed invaluable. This had also been confirmed by Lord Dudley Stuart (1803-1854), Vice-president of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland, more than a month earlier (18 August 1839), when he asked O’Connell “to again exert himself in the Commons on behalf of the Polish refugees”.[1] It was thanks to O’Connell and his involvement a year earlier, during the debate on providing support to Polish exiles, that a decision was made to considerably increase the amount of this grant (from £ 10,000 to £ 15,000).  

Ostrowski also turned to O’Connell for help. Being self-assured concerning the advocate of the Polish cause, he was convinced that he could give the right advice, “to show the necessary steps” that should be taken towards the British Government to arrange the “appropriate” reception of members of the Polish Sejm. It was believed that this was in the power of the Irish leader, who, after 1834, when his motion to repeal the union with Britain turned out to be a complete failure,  approached the Government. This was reflected in an informal agreement (the “Lichfield House Compact”) between the Whigs, Radicals and O’Connellites, which made it possible to reappoint William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848), as Prime Minister. The anticipated visit of Polish representatives of the Sejm (see below: „Emigration – Attempts to Convene the Sejm”) was to fall at a special time. In May 1839, Tsarevich Alexander, son of Tsar Nicholas and heir to the Russian throne, visited London, which provoked a strong reaction among Polish emigrants, as well as a large element of the British public. Relatively soon, they expressed their dissatisfaction by means of hastily organised political rallies. Particularly significant was the assembly arranged for the last day of the Tsarevich’s visit (May 31). Among the distinguished speakers for Poland and the Poles were Daniel O’Connell and one of the leaders in the campaign for Catholic emancipation, Thomas Wyse (1791-1862).

On this occasion, a large element of British public opinion received the visit of Tsar Nicholas to London, in 1844, with great dissatisfaction. At that time, the right-wing Polish Dziennik Narodowy, published in Paris, wrote (citing the organ of English Catholics, The Tablet) about condemning those Englishmen who received the despot in London with great ceremony. The article presented the incongruity of the situation between O’Connell, who was sent to prison in the same year, and the Tsar’s visit: “It is impossible to imagine a greater contradiction in the character and merits of two men than that between the liberator of Ireland and the oppressor of Poland. If O’Connell, through his work and his efforts for the cause of liberty, deserved the dark walls of the prison, then why … [would] Nicholas … not be worthy of the loudest human worship, or even the honours of apotheosis … for the cause of tyranny, rape and cruelty…?”[2]

Despite the efforts made to achieve the best possible reception, there was no official visit of Ostrowski and Polish parliamentarians to England,[3] and Ostrowski soon even thought about leaving France for Austria (See „Antoni Ostrowski and Polish-Irish Historical Contexts”).

Adam A. Kucharski and Robert T. Tomczak

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[1] A letter from Lord Dudley Stuart to Daniel O’Connell, 18 August 1839 (University College Dublin, P12/4/A/59, Papers of Daniel O’Connell: Lord Dudley Coutts Stuart Vice-President of the LAFP asking him to speak in the Commons on behalf of the Polish refugees), no page number.

[2] Dziennik Narodowy, 6 July 1844, No. 170, p. 683; see Radosław Żurawski vel Grajewski, ‘Hotel Lambert wobec wizyty cara Mikołaja I w Londynie w 1844 r.’, in Acta Universitatis Lodziensis. Folia Historica, Vol. 70 (2001), pp. 133-147.

[3] As can be assumed, Antoni Ostrowski visited England much earlier, in 1832, concerning the efforts to form the Sejm in exile; see Stanisław Szpotański, ‘Sejm w emigracyi’, in Biblioteka Warszawska, Vol. II (1908), Issue 1, p. 99.

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