Tandy, James Napper (1737?–1803), merchant, Volunteer, and radical politician, was born probably in the Cornmarket, Dublin. His father, James (1706?–1790), was one of six sons of John Tandy (d. 1741), who had land at Drewstown, near Kells, Co. Meath. James was a member of the guild of merchants and was from 1752 listed in Wilson's Dublin Directory as an ironmonger. With his wife, Maria Bella (née Jenkins), he had, besides James, a younger son, George (d. 1793), who lived later at Lisburn, Co. Antrim, was a lieutenant in the Blue battalion of the Ulster regiment of Volunteers in 1779, and dabbled in local liberal politics.
Dublin politics James Napper Tandy was admitted to the quaker school at Ballitore, Co. Kildare, on 5 April 1749. Little is known of his youth and early career, but it can be assumed that he kept up his father's connection with Co. Meath, for his wife, Anne (1736?–1819), was a daughter of James Jones of Whitehall, near Platten, about 30 km east of Kells. She was described, when they married in 1765, as ‘an agreeable lady with a large fortune’ (Freeman's Journal, 26 Feb. 1765). Tandy followed his father into trade and first appeared in Wilson's Dublin Directory in 1779, when he was described as a merchant of 16 Dorset Street. In later issues he was said to be of 21 Cornmarket (1780–83), 180 Abbey Street (1785), and 67 or 97 Bride Steet (1786–95). He was admitted, by birthright, to the guild of merchants (24 October 1760), and was elected warden (1786), junior master (1788), and finally senior master (1789) of the guild. He is referred to by Sir Edward Newenham (qv) of Belcamp, Co. Dublin, as ‘agent for my landed estate’ (July 1784). Prospering, Tandy took shares in the Grand Canal Co. (1783) and in the Dublin Insurance Company against Fire (1783); he was a founder member of the Dublin chamber of commerce (1783) and was eventually elected a trustee of the prestigious Royal Exchange (December 1791).
Tandy was first involved in Dublin politics in the 1760s as an associate of Charles Lucas (qv). After Lucas's death, in 1771, he participated with Newenham and Dublin radicals in a campaign to encourage freeholders to assert their independence of their landlords. Tandy was president of the Dublin Society of Free Citizens, one aim of which was to remove electoral and parliamentary corruption. The revolt of American colonists (1775) elicited sympathy among Irish liberals and radicals, who objected to the British government's plan to deploy soldiers on the Irish army establishment against the rebels. Tandy's anti-war stand – in response to a call for a public fast in support of the war in December 1776 he issued a public letter to the lord mayor denouncing it – gained him entry into Dublin municipal politics (1777) as a representative of the merchants’ guild on the common council. He continued to hold this office until after his departure from Ireland (1793), proving dedicated, capable, and (though disliked by the aldermen) popular.
In October 1778 Tandy joined the Dublin corps of Volunteers, of which the colonel was the duke of Leinster (qv). At about the same time he began campaigning for ‘free trade’ – by which he meant opposition to the control of trade from London – and helped persuade the growing Volunteer movement to adopt the cause. In an attempt to persuade the British government to free Irish trade he called for a boycott of British goods, and at an aggregate meeting of Dublin citizens secured a non-importation agreement (mid 1779). Tandy was the leading light in the Volunteer demonstration in College Green (4 November 1779). He then took up constitutional reform, but failed to persuade his corps to do likewise, and was expelled (23 April 1780). He responded by founding his own Dublin Independent Volunteers and publishing a strongly worded manifesto addressed to the duke.
Parliamentary reform Tandy was now the best-known and most influential of the middle-class radicals who pressed more vigorously for reform than the moderate, deferential ‘patriots’. The defeat in the house of commons of bills for the reform of parliament and protecting duties (April 1784), together with its support for a paving tax, raised such an outcry in Dublin that the political initiative passed to Tandy and the radicals. A protesting crowd, excited by Tandy's oratory at a political demonstration on 5 April, invaded the House of Commons. On the common council he supported resolutions recommending non-consumption of foreign produce until protective duties were levied on domestic produce. The charge against him by Dublin Castle, that his real object was to emulate the American colonists, was unfounded. Another charge – that the Liberty corps of Volunteers, of which Tandy was artillery commander, was recruiting catholics and lower-class protestants – was admitted.
The so-called triumvirate of Tandy, John Binns (qv), and William Arnold sought, with the aid of Ulster liberals like William Todd Jones (qv), to broaden the basis of the campaign for the reform of parliament. The campaign was extended at a meeting in Dublin which called for a wider franchise that would include even catholics (7 June). Within a few months it was faltering and Tandy's influence waning; the radical reform congress he organised in October 1784 was a failure. Tandy was not discouraged and subsequently ‘was prominent in the opposition to every issue that animated public disquiet’ (Kelly). He rallied Dublin opinion against proposals by Thomas Orde (qv) for the liberalisation of commercial relations between Ireland and Great Britain (1784–5), directed popular resistance to the establishment of a new police system in Dublin (March 1786), and led the group on the common council that objected to the decision of the board of aldermen to nominate as a sheriff the second-in-command of the police (1788). When he waged a campaign against the nomination as lord mayor of another police official, William James, he was successful; James resigned and Tandy's candidate, Henry Howison, replaced him (1790). Tandy's influence on the corporation was restored. His influence on the Dublin city and county electorates was shown in the parliamentary elections of 1790, when he campaigned successfully in the city for Henry Grattan (qv) and Lord Henry Fitzgerald (qv) and in the county for Newenham and John Finlay. He welcomed enthusiastically the revolution in France and was eager that Ireland should emulate it. On 14 July 1791 (the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille) 200 Volunteers commanded by Tandy marched through Dublin streets; six months later he signed an address in praise of the revolution, which was sent to Bordeaux.
It was Tandy who, at the request of Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) and Thomas Russell (qv), convened the first meeting of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen (9 November 1791), which was ‘chiefly composed of the Tandean party in the city’ (Drennan). Elected its first secretary, he was influential but never dominant, and in taking part in the society, which called for catholic relief as well as reform of parliament, was ‘putting to the most extreme hazard his popularity among the corporations of the city of Dublin’ (Tone). At the end of January 1792, when he introduced a pro-catholic motion on the common council, he was heavily outvoted. On 20 February 1792 the solicitor general, John Toler (qv), in a debate in the house of commons, made an insulting remark about Tandy's personal appearance (which was ungainly). Tandy requested an explanation. Toler (an accomplished dueller) indicated his willingness for a duel. Tandy again requested an explanation. Toler then sued for breach of parliamentary privilege and Tandy was ordered to the bar of the house but evaded arrest by escaping through a window. His failure to fight damaged his reputation. By 15 September 1792, William Drennan (qv) believed that Tandy ‘has lost much of his weight in the city’; at the common council elections two months later his vote fell and only five of the thirty men returned favoured catholic relief.
In order to regain his position Tandy courted the catholics and revitalised the remnants of the Volunteers. Although the Dublin convention of the Catholic Committee rejected Tandy's advances (c.7 December 1792), some Dublin United Irishmen led by Archibald Hamilton Rowan (qv) supported his efforts to create, on the model of the Garde Nationale in Paris, a new Volunteer battalion, ‘nicknamed National Guards’ (Drennan), by distributing an address, ‘Citizen soldiers, to arms!’ (16 December). But when some Dublin Volunteers convened on 27 January 1793 in defiance of a proclamation, Tandy, lacking in resolve, advised them to disperse. He turned next to the Defenders, a clandestine movement mainly of lower-class catholics, and took their oath, which proved his undoing, for this was a capital felony. Tandy was summonsed to appear on 16 February 1793 at Dundalk assizes on the relatively minor charge of distributing a tract, Common sense, the previous summer. Learning that a more serious charge was to be made against him (communicating with Defenders at Castlebellingham), he fled. On 12 April 1793 an acquaintance of William Drennan told him ‘that he saw Tandy land from a wherry at Holyhead’. He was scarcely heard of again in Ireland until he landed from another vessel in a remote part of Donegal five and a half years later.
Exile Tandy eventually crossed the North Sea to Hamburg and took ship for America, arriving there by the beginning of October 1795. Although he seems not to have got involved in local affairs, exile and age had not weakened Tandy's enthusiasm for Irish politics. Like Tone (who had arrived earlier), he approached the French plenipotentiary at Philadelphia; unlike Tone (who received only a letter of introduction) he was rewarded with an invitation from the Directory to go to France (March 1797). He followed Tone back across the Atlantic, reached Paris via Hamburg (late May), and announced himself as a representative of the United Irish. After four years’ away from Ireland and little or no communication with the leaders of a party that during his absence had been transformed from a reformist club to a revolutionary movement, he was unqualified for this role. Serious differences with the approved United Irish ambassador in France, Edward Lewines (qv), as well as with Tone, led to the creation of two rival camps. In Tandy's camp was Thomas Paine, whose prestige in radical circles was still high in France, the Scottish radical Thomas Muir, James Blackwell (qv), a French-educated Irishman, and two recently arrived United Irish exiles, James Coigly (qv) and Arthur McMahon (qv). Tandy's behaviour was reckless. To the French authorities he exaggerated his military experience, his influence in Ireland, and the willingness of the Irish to support a French invasion; to the United Irish leaders in Ireland he exaggerated, through the medium of Coigly (whom he sent to Ireland on a mission to obtain from them Lewines's dismissal), the preparedness of the French to invade; to the British authorities he signalled his presence in France by obtaining publicity in the press and at a grand St Patrick's day dinner (17 March 1798). The Directory recognised the existence of the two camps by appointing Tandy (commissioned a général de brigade, despite his lack of military experience other than as a colonel of the Dublin Independent Volunteers) to head an expedition to Ireland with a staff consisting of his own followers.
Tandy embarked at Dunkirk on the Anacréon, a fast-sailing corvette, on 2 September and landed on Rutland Island off the Donegal coast on the 17th. Tandy, perhaps drunk, issued a vainglorious proclamation, ‘Liberty or death!’, but there was no United Irish organisation in north-west Donegal to rally. On learning of the rout at Ballinamuck of the French expedition of Jean-Joseph Humbert (qv), he re-embarked. Veering north, the Anacréon reached the Norwegian port of Bergen. Tandy and Blackwell, both disguised, set off (2 October) intending to go via Christiania, Copenhagen, and Hamburg overland to Paris. They reached Hamburg, an imperial free city neutral in the war, on 22 November 1798, and sought passports from the French consul to enter France, which were politely refused. Their movements and plans had been reported to the British authorities by George Orr and John Powell Murphy, who had deserted the Anacréon at Bergen and had reached London; the deserters’ information had been passed on to Sir James Craufurd, the British minister in Hamburg. After leaving the French consul, Tandy, Blackwell, and two other Irishmen, William Corbet (qv) and Hervey Montmorency Morres (qv), dined with Samuel Turner (qv), who, ostensibly a United Irishman exiled in Hamburg and generous to fellow Irishmen arriving there, was reporting to Craufurd. On Turner's information, Craufurd inveigled the chief magistrate into arresting the four Irishmen as British subjects, criminals wanted by his government (24 November). Craufurd then demanded that they be handed over to him for despatch to England, while the French consul demanded the release of Tandy and Blackwell as French officers; the Hamburg senate played for time by involving Prussia, Austria, and Russia as advisers. An international crisis over the detained Irishmen developed and persisted for nearly a year. Craufurd eventually obtained custody of them (29 September 1799).
A few days later Napoleon Bonaparte returned from Egypt and by his coup d'état of Brumaire (9 November) made himself virtual dictator of France. One of his first acts was to reprimand Hamburg publicly for extraditing the Irishmen. Tandy was arraigned before the court of king's bench in Dublin (10 February 1800). He claimed its protection under the terms of the proclamation of 6 October 1798, which had ordered certain persons, himself included, to surrender by 1 December 1798 or stand attainted of high treason, arguing that his imprisonment at Hamburg had prevented him from surrendering. Discharged, he was rearrested and tried at the Lifford assizes (7 April 1800) for his actions in Donegal. Offering no defence, he was convicted of high treason and sentenced to be hanged on 4 May 1801. But the lord lieutenant, Lord Cornwallis (qv), had been secretly instructed, even before the arrival of the prisoners in Ireland, to safeguard his life. Pressure was put on Tandy to turn informer, which he refused, then to choose between immediate execution and transportation, which he also refused to do. Finally it was considered prudent to advance peace negotiations between Britain and France by releasing him quietly.
Death and reputation Tandy was put aboard the Favourite Nancy bound for France and landed at Bordeaux on 14 March 1802, ten days before the peace of Amiens was signed. Regarded as a hero, he was invited to review the troops paraded in his honour and informed that, as a général de brigade no longer on active service, he would receive half pay amounting to 2,000 livres, a figure increased to 3,000 when by order of Bonaparte he was promoted to général de division (26 May 1802). He enjoyed life in Bordeaux, socialised with Hugh Barton (qv), an old friend, considered venturing into the wine trade, and in September of that year received a visit from his son, James (qv), with whom he had corresponded during his long absence abroad. James Napper Tandy died 24 August 1803 at his lodgings, 2 rue Moncheuil, Bordeaux. His funeral was largely attended. While living in the city he had had a son by his mistress, Marie Barrière, to whom in his will (made only hours before his death and disputed by James Tandy) he left the residue of his estate.
Tandy was remembered by John Edward Walsh (qv) as having ‘a dark, yellow, truculent-looking countenance, a long drooping nose, rather sharpened at the point’ (Walsh, 133), a description confirmed in a portrait of Tandy painted from a drawing by James Petrie (qv). Another portrait was published in Cox's Irish Magazine (October 1808). Tandy's importance in the 1770s lay in ‘his articulation of the political aspirations of the middle classes’ and in the 1780s in his pointing ‘the way forward for the disaffected Protestant, Presbyterian and Catholic middle classes who resented their political marginalisation’ (Kelly). The judgement that by the late 1790s ‘Tandy's notoriety bore no relation to his significance as a revolutionary leader’ (Síle Ní Chinnéide) is fair. He is remembered most for being mentioned in a famous ballad, ‘The wearing of the green’ (1802).
In the 1970s a descendant, Dr A. Tandy Cannon of Fenit, Co. Kerry, was in possession of some Tandy papers.