Ignatius L. Donnelly

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Ignatius L. Donnelly
Ignatius-Donnelly.jpg
U.S. Congressman, populist, fringe scientist and writer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 3, 1869
Preceded by Cyrus Aldrich
Succeeded by Eugene McLanahan Wilson
2nd Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota
In office
1860–1863
Governor Alexander Ramsey
Preceded by William Holcombe
Succeeded by Henry Adoniram Swift
Personal details
Born Ignatius Loyola Donnelly
(1831-11-03)November 3, 1831
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died January 1, 1901(1901-01-01) (aged 69)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Political party Various
Spouse(s) Katherine McCaffrey and Marian Hanson
Profession lawyer, farmer, author, politician

Ignatius Loyola Donnelly (November 3, 1831 – January 1, 1901) was a U.S. Congressman, populist writer and amateur scientist, known primarily now for his theories concerning Atlantis, Catastrophism (especially the idea of an ancient impact event affecting ancient civilizations), and Shakespearean authorship, which many modern historians consider to be pseudoscience and pseudohistory. Brother to Eleanor C. Donnelly, Donnelly's work corresponds to the writings of late 19th and early 20th century figures such as Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, and James Churchward and has more recently influenced writer Graham Hancock. The concept of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization became the inspiration for the 1969 pop song hit Atlantis by Donovan and the 2009 film 2012 by Roland Emmerich.

Early life and education[edit]

Donnelly was the son of an Irish immigrant, Philip Carrol Donnelly, who had settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On June 29, 1826, Philip married Catherine Gavin, a 2nd generation American of Irish ancestry.

After starting as a peddler, Philip studied medicine at the Philadelphia College of Medicine. He later contracted typhus from a patient and died at age 31, leaving his wife with five children.

Catherine provided for her children by operating a pawn shop. Ignatius, her youngest son, was admitted to the prestigious Central High School, the second oldest public high school in the United States. There he studied under the presidency of John S. Hart, excelling primarily in literature.

Donnelly then decided to become a lawyer, and became a clerk for Benjamin Brewster, who later became Attorney-General of the United States. Donnelly was admitted to the bar in 1852. In 1855, he married Katherine McCaffrey, with whom he had three children. In 1855, he resigned his clerkship, entered politics and participated in communal home building schemes.

Becoming the object of rumors of financial scandal, he moved to the Minnesota Territory in 1857, where he settled in Dakota County. Together with several partners, Donnelly initiated a utopian community called Nininger City. However, the Panic of 1857 doomed the attempt at a cooperative farm and community and left Donnelly deeply in debt.

Political and literary career[edit]

Donnelly entered politics and was lieutenant governor of Minnesota from 1860–1863. He was a Republican Congressman from Minnesota in the 38th, 39th, and 40th congresses, (1863–1868) and a state senator from 1874–1878. As a legislator, Donnelly advocated extending the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau to provide education for freedmen so that they could protect themselves once the bureau was withdrawn. Donnelly was also an early supporter of women's suffrage. After leaving the Minnesota State Senate in 1878, Donnelly returned to his law practice and writing.

In 1882, Donnelly published Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, his best known work. It details theories concerning the mythical lost continent of Atlantis. The book sold well, and is widely credited with initiating the theme of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization that became such a feature of popular literature during the 20th century and contributed to the emergence of Mayanism. Donnelly suggested that Atlantis, whose story was told by Plato in the dialogues of Timaeus and Critias, had been destroyed during the same event remembered in the Bible as the Great Flood. Citing research on the ancient Maya civilization by Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg and Augustus Le Plongeon, he believed it had been the place of a common origin of ancient civilizations in Africa (especially ancient Egypt), Europe, and the Americas. He also thought that it had been the original home of an Aryan race whose red-haired, blue-eyed descendants could be found in Ireland.

A year after Atlantis, he published Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel, in which he expounded his belief that the Flood, as well as the destruction of Atlantis (and the extinction of the mammoth), had been brought about by the near-collision of the earth with a massive comet. This book also sold well, and both books seem to have had an important influence on the development of Immanuel Velikovsky's controversial ideas half a century later.

Donnelly, c. 1898

In 1888, he published The Great Cryptogram in which he proposed that Shakespeare's plays had been written by Francis Bacon, an idea that was popular during the late 19th and early 20th century. He then travelled to England to arrange the English publication of his book by Sampson Low, speaking at the Oxford (and Cambridge) Union after which his thesis "Resolved, that the works of William Shakespeare were composed by Francis Bacon" was put to an unsuccessful vote. The book was a complete failure and Donnelly was discredited.

As well as writing, Donnelly made several other campaigns for public office during the 1880s. He made a losing campaign for Congress (this time as a Democrat) in 1884. In 1887, he successfully campaigned for a seat in the Minnesota State Legislature as an Independent. During this period, he was also an organizer of the Minnesota Farmers' Alliance.

In 1892, Donnelly wrote the preamble of the People's Party's Omaha Platform for the presidential campaign of that year. He was nominated for Vice President of the United States in 1900 by the People's Party. Also known as the Populist Party, the People's Party was a development of the national Farmers' Alliance, and had a platform that demanded abandonment of the gold standard (and later for free silver), abolition of national banks, a graduated income tax, direct election of senators, civil service reform, and an eight-hour day. That year, Donnelly also campaigned for governor of Minnesota, but was defeated. Despite Donnelly's leadership role in the People's Party which protested the railroad companies corrupting government and advocated government regulation of the railroads he received $10,000 from the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad Company.[1]

Marriages[edit]

His wife Katherine died in 1894. In 1898, he married his secretary, Marian Hanson.

Death[edit]

Donnelly died on January 1, 1901, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, age 69 years. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul, Minnesota. His personal papers are archived at the Minnesota Historical Society.[2]

State park[edit]

During the 1930s, an organization was formed to lobby for the creation of a state park at Donnelly's home at Nininger near Hastings, Minnesota. The house was still standing in 1939, but the effort failed and the house has since been demolished.[3]

Works[edit]

His books include:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lens, Sidney. The Labor Wars: From the Molly Maguires to the Sitdowns. Doubleday & Co.: NY, 1973. 365 pp., p. 36.
  2. ^ MnPALS Union Catalog – Basic Search at www.mnpals.net
  3. ^ A personal reminiscence of a visit to Nininger during the 1930s is available at the Internet Sacred Text Archive|Sacred-Texts website.
  • William Friedman and Elizebeth Friedman, The Shakespearean ciphers examined, Cambridge University Press, 1957. Chapter III.
  • Hicks, JD (1921). 'The Political Career of Ignatius Donnelly', Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 8, pp. 80–132.
  • Ridge, M (1962). Ignatius Donnelly: The Portrait of a Politician, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, reprinted 1991 by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William Holcombe
Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota
1860–1863
Succeeded by
Henry Adoniram Swift
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Cyrus Aldrich
U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 2nd congressional district
1863–1869
Succeeded by
Eugene McLanahan Wilson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Thomas E. Watson
Populist Party Vice Presidential candidate
1900 (lost)
Succeeded by
Thomas Tibbles