Tone, (Theobald) WolfeBorn Jan. 20, 1763, Dublin
Died Nov. 19, 1798, Dublin
Irish republican and rebel who sought to overthrow English rule in Ireland and who led a
French military force to Ireland during the insurrection of 1798.
The son of a coach maker, Tone studied law and was called to the Irish bar (1789) but soon gave up his practice. In October 1791 he helped found the Society of United
Irishmen, a predominantly Protestant organization that worked for parliamentary reforms,
such as universal suffrage and Roman Catholic emancipation.
In Dublin (1792) he organized a Roman Catholic convention of elected delegates that
forced Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. Tone himself, however, was
anticlerical and hoped for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to
the attainment of Irish political freedom.
By 1794 he and his United Irishmen friends began to seek armed aid from Revolutionary
France to help overthrow English rule. After an initial effort failed, Tone went to the United
States and obtained letters of introduction from the French minister at Philadelphia to the
Committee of Public Safety in Paris.
Arriving in the French capital (February 1796), Tone presented his plan for a French
invasion of Ireland and was favourably received. The Directory then appointed one of the
most brilliant young French generals, Lazare Hoche, to command the expedition and made
Tone an adjutant in the French Army.
On Dec. 15, 1796, Tone sailed from Brest with 43 ships and nearly 14,000 men. But the
ships were badly handled and, after reaching the coast of west Cork and Kerry, were
dispersed by a storm. Tone again brought an Irish invasion plan to Paris in October 1797,
but the principal French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, took little interest.
When insurrection broke out in Ireland in May 1798, Tone could only obtain enough French
forces to make small raids on different parts of the Irish coast. In September he entered
Lough Swilly, Donegal, with 3,000 men and was captured there. On November10 at his
trial in Dublin he defiantly proclaimed his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair
and open war to produce the separation of the two countries.” Early in the morning of
November 12, the day he was to be hanged, he cut his throat with a penknife and died
seven days later.