Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein and one of the architects of the 1921 peace treaty with Britain, is elected president of the newly established Irish Free State.
In 1905, Griffith founded Sinn Fein, a political party dedicated to independence for all of Ireland. From its inception, the party became the unofficial political wing of militant Irish groups in their struggle to throw off British rule. In 1911, the British Liberal government approved negotiations for Irish Home Rule, but the Conservative Party opposition in Parliament, combined with Ireland’s anti-Home Rule factions, defeated the plans.
With the outbreak of World War I, the British government delayed further discussion of Irish self-determination, and Irish nationalists responded by staging Dublin’s Easter Uprising of 1916. Though Griffith played no direct part in the rebellion, he was imprisoned along with other nationalist leaders. In 1918, with the threat of conscription being imposed on the island, the Irish people gave Sinn Fein a majority in national elections, and the party established an independent Irish Parliament–Dail Eireann–which declared Ireland a sovereign republic.
In 1919, the Irish Volunteers, a prototype of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), launched a widespread and effective guerrilla campaign against British forces. During this time, Griffith acted as head of the Irish Republic and led civil disobedience efforts. In 1921, a cease-fire was declared, and in 1922 Arthur Griffith and a faction of former Sinn Fein leaders signed a historic treaty with Britain, calling for the partition of Ireland, with the south becoming autonomous and the six northern counties of the island remaining in the United Kingdom.
Griffith was subsequently elected the first president of the new country but died in the same year just as civil war broke out in Ireland over the partition. The cause of death was ruled overwork. William Cosgrave succeeded him as Dail Eireann leader, and in 1923 the Irish Free State, which later grew into the modern Republic of Ireland, defeated Eamon De Valera’s Irish Republican forces. Several years later, the IRA was reorganized as an underground movement that continued its struggle for northern independence.