Developments in the Political Thought of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Lucas, Katherine (2020). Developments in the Political Thought of Theobald Wolfe Tone. PhD thesis The Open University.



Theobald Wolfe Tone continues to occupy a hugely significant place in Irish history as the widely recognised founder of the modern republican movement. Yet his political ideas have largely been dismissed as inconsistent and ill-formed, insofar as they have been properly assessed at all.

The aim of this thesis is to provide new insights into Tone’s ideas through textual analysis of his written works, both in published and in manuscript form. It begins by contextualising Tone’s early life, including his time studying in London, considering his early pamphlets and essays. Chapter Two argues that his understanding of Irish identity was based not on early romantic ideas about nations, but a more archetypal republican interpretation of citizen-state relations. Chapter Three offers the first full analysis of his engagement with Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicanism during his spell in the new American republic, while also addressing similarities between his arguments and those of the American colonists against the British government. Chapter Four then addresses one of the most common historiographical arguments, that Tone was a child of the French Revolution and radical Enlightenment. It argues that many of the ideas he ostensibly took from his time in France in fact corresponded closely with wider republican ideas about political virtue. Finally, Chapter Five tackles his relationship with the 1798 rebellion against British rule, the main reason for his enduring legacy. It details which elements of the rebellion strayed from his original intentions, such as its descent into violence.

This thesis provides the most in-depth analysis to date of Tone’s political thought and argues that classical republicanism was one of the most significant influences on his political philosophy.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions