The founders of "The Nation" were three young men, two of whom were Catholics and one a Protestant, all were free from the slightest taint of bigotry, and were anxious to unite all creeds and classes for the country's welfare..They were Charles Gavan Duffy, who became editor; Thomas Osborne Davis, and John Blake Dillon. All three were members of Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association, and would later become to be known as Young Ireland.The name suggested by Duffy for the paper was "The National" but Davis disagreed, suggesting "that the use of an adjective for such a purpose was contrary to the analogies of the English language," and suggested "The Nation." This they all agreed to. "We desired to make Ireland a nation," Duffy wrote, "and the name would be a fitting prelude to the attempt.". In due course and after many other consultations between the founders, the following announcement was made as to the date of publication, the name of the journal, and the contributors:.
On the first Saturday in October will be published the first number of a; DUBLIN WEEKLY JOURNAL TO BE CALLED "THE NATION," for which the services of the most eminent political writers in the country have been secured. It will he edited by Charles Gavan Duffy, Editor of The Vindicator, aided by the, following distinguished contributors:— JOHN O'CONNELL, ESQ., M.P.; Thomas Osborne Davis, Esq., Barrister-at-Law; W. J. O'Neill Daunt, Esq., Author of The Green Book., John B. Dillon, Esq., Barrister-at-Law Clarence Mangan, Esq., Author of Anthologia Germanica and Litterae Orientales; The Late Editor of the London Magazine and Charivari, J. C. Fitzgerald, Editor of The True Sun, And others whose 'names we are not at liberty to publish.". (For some reason, the paper did not appear until the second Saturday (15th) of October, 1842.)
The Prospectus, which was written by Davis with the exception of one sentence, it was stated,
"The projectors of the NATION have been told that there is no room in Ireland for another Liberal Journal; but they think differently. They believe that since the success of the long and gallant struggle which our fathers maintained against sectarian ascendancy, a NEW MIND has grown up amongst us, which longs to redress other wrongs and achieve other victories; and that this mind has found no adequate expression in the press. "The Liberal Journals of Ireland were perhaps never more ably conducted than at this moment; but their tone and spirit are not of the present but the past;—their energies are shackled by old habits, old prejudices, and old divisions; and they do not and cannot keep in the van of the advancing people. "The necessities of the country seem to demand a Journal able to aid and organise the new movements going on amongst us—to make their growth deeper, and their fruit 'more racy of the soil'— and, above all, to direct the popular mind and the sympathies of educated men of all parties to the great end of nationality. Such a Journal should be free from the quarrels, the interests, the wrongs, and even the gratitude of the past. It should be free to apply its strength where it deems best— free to praise—free to censure; unshackled by sect or party; able, Irish, and independent. "Holding these views, the projectors of the Nation cannot think that a Journal, prepared to undertake this work, will be deemed superfluous; and as they labour, not for themselves but for their country, they are prepared, if they do not find a way open, to try if they cannot make one. "Nationality is their first object—a nationality which will not only raise our people from their poverty, by securing to them the blessings of a domestic legislature, but inflame and purify them with a lofty and heroic love of country—a nationality of the spirit as well as the letter—a nationality which may come to be stamped upon our manners, our literature, and our deeds—a nationality which may embrace Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter, Milesian and Cromwellian, the Irishman of a hundred generations, and the stranger who is within our gates; not a nationality which would preclude civil war, but which would establish internal union and external independence—a nationality which would be recognised by the world, and sanctified by wisdom, virtue, and time.
As could be seen by the prospectus, as political objectives went, the programme was certain to be of immense assistance to Daniel O'Connell in his efforts to revive the agitation for Repeal, but O'Connell also knew and felt that he was receiving, for the present, a powerful support from them; but he knew also, that they were outside of his influence, and did not implicitly believe that Repeal would be yielded to "agitation;" that they were continually seeking, by their writings, to arouse a military spirit among the people; showing plainly, that while they helped the Repeal Association, they fully expected that the liberties of the country must be fought for in the end: it was in appearance only that they worked in harmony.. The radicalism of The Nation was shown when in 1843 it published what was to become one of the most famous examples of 19th century Irish nationalist poetry, The Memory of the Dead, about the 1798 rebellion, by John Kells Ingram of Trinity College Dublin. Its opening stanza epitomised the viewpoint of The Nation:
The lengthy poem was later published in The Spirit of the Nation by James Duffy. John Mitchel join the staff of The Nation, in the autumn of 1845. On Mitchel's frequent trips to Dublin, he had come in contact with the Repeal members who gathered about the The Nation Office and it was in the spring of 1843, that he became a member of the Repeal Association. For the next two years Mitchel wrote both political and historical articles and reviews for The Nation. He covered a wide range of subjects, including the Famine, on which he contributed some influential articles which attracted significant attention. The reason Mitchel resigned his position as leader writer on The Nation, he himself outlined, writing years afterwards, Mitchel explained how he came to regard as "absolutely necessary a more vigorous policy against the English Government than that which William Smith O'Brien, Charles Gavan Duffy and other Young Ireland leaders were willing to pursue" in 1847, when he severed his connection with The Nation, he says, "I had watched the progress of the famine policy of the Government, and could see nothing in it but a machinery, deliberately devised, and skillfully worked, for the entire subjugation of the island—the slaughter of portion of the people, and the pauperization of the rest," and he had therefore "come to the conclusion that the whole system ought to be met with resistance at every point, and the means for this would be extremely simple, namely, a combination among the people to obstruct and render impossible the transport and shipment of Irish provisions; to refuse all aid to its removal; to destroy the highways; to prevent everyone, by intimidation, from daring to bid for grain and cattle if brought to auction under 'distress' (a method of obstruction which put an end to Church tithes before); in short, to offer a passive resistance universally; but occasionally, when opportunity served, to try the steel. To recommend such a course would be extremely hazardous, and was besides in advance of the revolutionary progress made up to that time by Mr. Duffy, the proprietor of The Nation, Mitchel as a result resigned from the journal, and started his own paper, The United Irishman.
- Who fears to speak of Ninety-Eight?
- Who blushes at the name?
- When cowards mock the patriot's fate
- Who hangs his head in shame?
- He's all a knave, or half a slave,
- Who slights his country thus;
- But a true man, like you, man,
- Will fill your glass with us.
Women also wrote for paper, and published under pseudonyms such as Speranza (Jane Elgee - Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde's mother), Eithne (Marie Thompson), and Eva (Mary Eva Kelly, wife of Kevin Izod O'Doherty). The role played by some of its key figures in the paper in the ill-fated Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 cemented the paper's reputation as the voice of Irish radicalism. Dillon was a central figure in the revolt and was sentenced to death. (The sentence was later commuted.)
Its original triumvirate of founders followed differing paths. Davis died, aged 30, in 1845. Both Dillon and Duffy became MPs in the British House of Commons. Duffy eventually emigrated to Australia where he became a state premier, before being knighted as a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Dillon died in 1866. His son, John Dillon became leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party while his grandson, James Dillon, became leader of Fine Gael. The Nation continued to be published until the late 19th century. Later political figures associated with the paper included T. D. Sullivan and J. J. Clancy.