Daniel O'Connell, as we bring him into focus, after generations of bitter criticism, misrepresentation, and neglect, becomes a very modern man.
The principles which he held with such consistency and expounded with such consummate eloquence are, by modern standards, enlightened, even prescient.
They are wholly pertinent questions which are of deep concern to all of us. The reader of history will perceive that the span of O'Connell's life, 1775-1847, witnessed profound changes in political arrangements, in power structures, and in national boundaries in the Western world.
One of the more important of these developments has been the growth of nationalism, not only here but throughout the world.
As the national consciousness affected Ireland, it cannot be interpreted, even understood, except as it was awakened by O'Connell.
He entered public life as an opponent of the Act of Union of 1800, a measure which was to infect British relations with Ireland for a century and a quarter. O'Connell earned and held in the Western world high rank among the individuals who promoted religious liberty and separation of Church and State, cardinal principles in the American tradition.
Since the first half of his public life was devoted to the restoration of Catholic rights, he realized that he could not rationally insist upon rights for his fellow communicants which he would deny to others.
His concept of true religion was of something lived wholly apart from interference or support by civil authority.
As we shall see, he carried his zeal for religious liberty to the support of the Jews in their struggle to life the disabilities imposed by English law.