In May 1880, a nation-wide organization – the Irish National Land and Industrial League of the United States – had been established in support of the Irish Land League’s fundraising efforts in the US. In the meantime, however, the mantle of organizing a campaign and raising funds was grasped unofficially by the Irish World, and its editor and proprietor Patrick Ford. Now ten years old, the paper, more properly known as the Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, was the largest and most important Irish-American newspaper, with a weekly circulation of 35,000.
Early in the year, Ford told his readers that he would accept contributions and forward them to Ireland. In March, the paper additionally introduced a ‘Spread the Light Fund’ based on the suggestion of a reader for ‘a special fund to scatter the Irish World as a sunbeam into every dark nook of Ireland’. From this point on, the Irish World would, in effect, become the principal vehicle for distributing funds from the US to Ireland.
Ford, seemingly intent on keeping ahead of the new national body, significantly increased the paper’s coverage of the spontaneously and rapidly proliferating local branches of the league, principally under the banner of SPREAD THE LIGHT. Within weeks, the term quickly began to take on significance beyond that of the fund for distributing newspapers in Ireland. In the columns of the paper, it embraced a set of propaganda and educational banners such as: Correct Ideas Must Precede Action; Education Means Freedom; Men Cannot be Enslaved When a Full Knowledge of the Rights is Garnered by Him. The paper’s editorial view was that what was needed was a ‘new system’, one of ‘Cooperative Harmony’, and ‘the first and most important work to be done is to Spread the Light’.
In June, the paper provided “A Call to Every Intelligent Irishman, to Every True patriot, to Every Real friend of Justice, to Aid in Spreading the Light” noting:
‘…Man has been given dominion over this Earth…. by the Landlord Above, without Rent or Tribute, save alone the tribute of honest labor and the homage of a thankful heart. If this is so….how comes it that Man is DISINHERITED?… while a comparatively few men have gotten possession of the wealth of Nature and labor, there are nine hundred millions of bare backs and as many millions of empty stomachs in the world….It is not the Irish Land question, or the English Land Question, but the Land Question itself that we must study and solve…’
The central problems, it was argued, were Labor, Money and, most importantly, Land reforms (and their obverse sides: Anti-Monopoly, Anti-Usury, and Anti-Rent). To achieve such reform required the ‘three great columns known as Greenbackers, Labormen and Socialists’. All of them aimed ‘for the same strongholds of the enemy’ and the ‘main, if not the only difference…is which objective point shall be FIRST attacked’. Through ‘fraternization and fusion’ they could ‘Organize, Consolidate, Act and Conquer’.
The term was picked up and promoted by many other radicals from outside the Irish cause. Henry George used it, as did agitators within the Knights of Labor. It reflected the view that, for the workers to take on the monopolists, there was need for education, which sat between the other two important activities – agitation and organization.