John Eoghan Kelly  mining engineer, writer, activist

John Eoghan Kelly, ca. 1915  ©

John Eoghan Kelly, ca. 1925  ©


Born 4 May 1896 to pioneer electrical engineer and Irish nationalist John Forrest Kelly, and social worker Helen Tischer.  Worked as a mining consultant in Mexico and central America during the 1920s.  Wrote an academic history, Pedro de Alvarado, Conquistador (Princeton University Press, 1932), and co-authored an adventure documentary, The Incurable Filibuster: Adventures of Col. Dean Ivan Lamb (Farrar & Rinehart, 1934).  As a reserve U.S. Army officer, G-2, reported on communist revolutionaries.  In late 1936, lectured to Army groups on the Spanish Civil War.

By 1938, was the principal U.S. lobbyist for Gen. Francisco Franco’s Nationalist Spain.  His efforts to network influential elites, including keynote speaker Senator David I. Walsh during the American Legion’s 20th National Convention, explain in part Congress’s reluctance to lift the U.S. arms embargo to Loyalist Spain.  Kelly’s activism illustrates the power of a private individual not only to influence public opinion but also to affect foreign policy.

After a witch hunt by Ralph Ingersoll’s socialist tabloid, PM, FBI agent provocateur John Roy Carlson, and Walter Winchell’s “Jergens Journal” radio show, Winchell pressured his friend J. Edgar Hoover to prosecute Kelly under a technicality of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (in 1943).  Following World War II, Kelly lobbied for a private sector steel mill in New England and wrote short stories.  He died in Washington, D.C., on 18 June 1954.


John Eoghan Kelly Papers

Core collection: approx. 5,682 document pages.

Subsidiary collection: approx. 7,562 document pages.

FBI File 65-1461: approx. 1,721 unexpurgated document pages.

Available to researchers, at Charlestown, MA, by appointment.


John Eoghan Kelly Bibliography

Comprising 53 speeches, 1 radio broadcast, 3 published works,

144 published non-fiction articles, 12 published short stories,

23 letters-to-the-editor, 118 draft non-fiction articles,

3 unpublished books, 82 draft short stories, 16 poems.

“Arguing Americanism: John Eoghan Kelly’s Franco Lobby, 1936–43.”  PhD Dissertation

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), a Great Debate raged in America between supporters of Madrid’s Loyalist revolutionaries and those of Gen. Francisco Franco’s rebel Nationalists.  This dissertation employs new archival sources to document the long overlooked pro-Nationalist half of the argument.  Franco lobbyists—engineer turned writer John Eoghan Kelly, progressive humanist Ellery Sedgwick, art deco muralist Hildreth Meière, homemaker Clare Singer Dawes, philanthropist Anne Morgan, libertarian pundit Merwin K. Hart—were a far more diverse group than the “fascist crackpot” or “Catholic hierarchy” labels of prevailing historiography.  Why did these Americans work so hard and sacrifice so much to back an unpalatable dictator in distant Spain during a time of unprecedented domestic crisis?  Sources indicate that they found unity of purpose in their loathing of international Marxism.  Though bracketed by the 1920s Red Scare and 1950s McCarthyism, pro-Franco anticommunism differed fundamentally: it was not state sponsored but opposed to the New Deal state, which it judged to be soft on communism while favoring Franco’s Soviet-backed Loyalist enemies.  Consequently, Franco lobbyists’ critique of the Roosevelt presidency attracted Justice Department ire and a conviction for Kelly in 1943 under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  Caught in a historical singularity, pro-Franco anticommunists were patriots to themselves but un-American to their state.  Franco lobbyists provide an interesting cultural study, for they emphasized traditional core values while advocating modern solutions to socio-economic problems; they were politically important too, for they not only influenced public opinion but also affected U.S. foreign policy.

At a deeper interpretive level, it appears that these lobbyists were not interested in Franco’s Spain per se, but rather in utilizing Spain’s tragedy to reaffirm American principles.  Yet Franco lobbyists’ argument with pro-Loyalists over the soul of Americanism, at a time when their state was sympathetic to communism, became so corrosive that it reconfigured American national identity through the Cold War liberal consensus.

Michael E. Chapman, Boston College, 2006

Arguing Americanism: Franco Lobbyists, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Foreign Policy, and the Spanish Civil War.  Kent State University Press, 2011.

Affirming U.S. national identity through an argument over communism in Spain

In 1938, a pivotal year for world peace and political ideology, a vicious debate raged in the United States between supporters of the two sides in the Spanish Civil War, who sought to either lift or retain the U.S. arms embargo that was prejudicial to the Loyalists of Spain’s Republican government.  This study employs new archival sources to document a small yet effective network of lobbyists—including engineer John Eoghan Kelly, publisher Ellery Sedgwick, homemaker Clare Dawes, muralist Hildreth Meière, and philanthropist Anne Morgan—who successfully capitalized on the inertia of President Franklin Roosevelt’s weak, distracted, and divided administration to promote Gen. Franco’s Nationalist Spain and keep the embargo in place.

When pro-Franco lobbyists took issue with their pro-Loyalist counterparts over the extent of communist or fascist influence in Spain, or which side committed the worst atrocities, the heated argument they created drew thousands of otherwise unconcerned Americans into the debate.  But their argument was never really about Spain.  It was over the soul of Americanism, over the definition of democracy and who should do the defining.  Pro-Loyalists of the Popular Front, who slurred their detractors as antisemitic fascists, wanted the pure democracy of the ballot box, whereas pro-Nationalists, who damned pro-Loyalists as godless reds, favored the checks-and-balances of indirect democracy.  In defending Americanism against communism by pointing to what was happening in Spain, the argument that Franco lobbyists intensified became the critical precursor of a fundamental change in that Americanism: the Founders’ meritocratic form of democracy survived, but only at the expense of other founding principles, as evidenced by the illiberal repression of McCarthyism, the arbitrary government of the national-security state, and the entangling political alliances of the Cold War liberal consensus.

In addition to demonstrating how non-state actors can affect foreign policymaking, Arguing Americanism contends that while Roosevelt was eager to arm Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist China he had little interest in helping Republican Spain.  Because Franco lobbyists were critical of the New Deal order, which they saw as sympathetic to communism, Roosevelt used the FBI to silence them.  With its analysis of the FBI’s investigation of Kelly, and discussion of Spanish Civil War propaganda movies, Arguing Americanism will appeal to political and cultural historians as well as those of U.S. foreign relations.

Michael E. Chapman, Peking University, 2010