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James Green Douglas

 

 

 

 

James Green DouglasJames Green Douglas (11 July 1887 – 16 September 1954) was an Irish nationalist active in the Irish White Cross from 1920 to 1922. He was appointed by Michael Collins as chairman of the committee to draft the Irish Free State Constitution following the Irish War of Independence.

An Irish senator and businessman, he was born in Dublin, the first son and the first of nine children of John Douglas (1861–1931), originally of Grange, co. Tyrone, who owned an outfitter's and drapery business at 17–19a Wexford Street, Dublin, and his wife, Emily (1864–1933), daughter of John and Mary Mitton of Gortin, Coalisland, co. Tyrone. His parents were both Irish, and the Douglas family, consistently Quaker, can be traced through the male line to Samuel Douglas of Coolhill, Killyman, co. Tyrone.

Raised in a strict Quaker household, James G. Douglas attended the Quaker elementary school of Gertrude Webb at Rathgar, and in 1898 entered the Friends' school at Lisburn as a boarder. In 1902, aged fifteen, he commenced a three-year apprenticeship in his father's shop, and also embarked on a radical course of self-education and reading, spending evenings in the National Library of Ireland.

Douglas was, during 1905, the honorary secretary of the recently formed Young Friends' Association, and service in the Quaker community provided useful administrative experience. An interest in Irish politics led him to join the parliamentary debating society that met once a week in the Imperial Hotel. Already favourable to Irish home rule, he hoped for a peaceful settlement between Britain and Ireland.

On 14 February 1911, at the Eustace Street Quaker meeting-house, Dublin, Douglas married Georgina (Ena) Culley (1883–1959), originally of Tirsogue, Lurgan, co. Armagh, who had been a fellow apprentice. They lived first at Hannaville Park, Terenure, and later moved to St Kevin's Park. Their children were John Harold Douglas (1912–1982) and James Arthur Douglas (1915–1990). In 1914 James G. Douglas visited the USA as a representative of the Young Friends, a visit that formed a basis for his appreciation and understanding of American Quakers.

During the Easter rising of 1916 Douglas and his family assisted in the provision of relief, but refused any military protection. Opposed to the use of force, Douglas developed an understanding sympathy for the ideals of its executed leaders. During 1918 he was the Quaker chaplain at Mountjoy gaol, and visited English conscientious objectors imprisoned there.

Douglas was seen as a positively neutral person in a politically mistrustful world, and when an American relief committee was set up to assist victims of the Black and Tan outrages, $5000 was sent to him by Hollingsworth Wood, an American Quaker, which led to the foundation of the Irish White Cross. This organization was supported by the Sinn Féin leadership and by practically all the Irish churches, and between 1920 and 1922 Douglas was its central administrative figure. Through it he befriended Michael Collins, who became guarantor for its non-political aims.

Much trusted by Collins, Douglas was nominated as a member of the committee that met in 1922 to draft the free state constitution. In the same year he was chairman of the postal commission, which reorganized the public communications services. In December 1922 Douglas was elected by members of the Dáil to serve in the first senate, where he was seen as an authority on constitutional law, and was its ‘vice-chairman’ from 1922 to 1925.

In the new state Douglas was a voice for moderation, pragmatism, and peace. In 1924–5, during the discussion on legislative provisions for divorce, he played a significant part. A man of strict integrity, he was sometimes subject to deliberate misrepresentation, or misunderstanding unbelief. As a practical administrator, accuracy and truth rather than inflammatory rhetoric were his tools in the advancement and defence of the senate.

When De Valera's 1937 constitution was introduced, Douglas's advice was a powerful persuasive to its recognition of other churches in addition to the Roman Catholic church. Under that new constitution he was returned as a senator, and continued until his defeat in the 1943 election. Subsequently, he joined the Fine Gael party and was re-elected to the senate during 1944 to 1948, being nominated by the taoiseach after that.

Douglas took an enlarged view of Ireland's place in the world, and his speeches on external affairs had an unusual quality of statesmanship. Support for international institutions and the rule of law was signalled in his presidency of the League of Nations Society of Ireland, and his membership of the Irish Institute of International Affairs. In 1934 he represented Ireland at the International Labour Conference in Geneva. He also represented his country at inter-parliamentary conferences in Copenhagen, Brussels, Rome, and Oslo, and at the congress of Europe in 1948.

Douglas was prominent in Irish commercial life. He took over the family's drapery business on the death of his father in 1931, was a founder of the National Land Bank, a president of the Linen and Cotton Manufacturers' Association, and a member of the council of the Federated Union of Employers. Resident at Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, he died of heart failure at 96 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin, on 16 September 1954 and was buried on the 18th at the Friends' burial ground, Temple Hill, Blackrock, Dublin. At his funeral he was described as a ‘man of independent mind … never subservient … ever mindful of the right of the individual against the state or against the party. His charity knew no bounds of religion, or party or nationality’ (Irish Times, 17 Sept 1954).

 

See also:
Douglas families in Lurgan

 

 

 

 

 

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Last modified: Wednesday, 18 July 2018