Catholics in Post-Revolutionary America

From the end of the war in 1781 through the mid-19th century, Catholic adherents grew in number, due mainly to the immigration of many from Europe. During this time, the Church in the U.S. saw several firsts, including the establishment of the first dioceses and the first bishops. However, problems would be raised within the Church and, perhaps more visibly, from outside the Church in the form of nativism.

-In 1785, Father John Carroll would write to the Congregration for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome a report about the status of the U.S. Church. This report is provides some of the earliest insight into the work of the fledgling U.S. congregations. (The report is found on pages 257-216).

-An internal issue that the Church in America had to face early on, and would continue into the 19th century, was how to address lay trusteeism. In order to alleviate such a problem, Carroll wrote to St. Peter's Church in New York City in 1787 to address how the lay system was to be handled. (The letter is covered on pages 1-4).

-A momentous event in the history of the U.S. Church occurred in 1789, when Pope Pius VI created the Diocese of Baltimore, the first in the U.S., and named John Carroll the first bishop. The order came through this papal bull. (The bull is covered on pages 337-343).

-By 1808, the U.S. had grown geographically and in population, including Catholics. This led Pope Pius VII to split the original Diocese of Baltimore into four new sees (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, Kentucky) and to raise Baltimore up to the level of archdiocese. The only trans-Allegheny diocese was in Bardstown, and the impressions of the first bishop there, Benedict Joseph Flaget, can be found here. (The narrative is found on pages 68-72).

-Much like Carroll in 1785, the third Archbishop of Baltimore, Ambrose Marechal, wrote a report to the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in 1818 on the status of the U.S. Church. This report provides important insight to the early 19th century work of the Church in America.

-French historian and writer Alexis de Tocqueville came to the U.S. in 1831 to view American prisons. When he left less than a year later, he had more than his report on prisons. Additional information he gleaned became his famous work Democracy in America, a portion of which is presented here that discusses the role of Catholics in the country. (The section is found on pages 299-302).

-The Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith was a main source of funding for the U.S. Church from the 18th century through the 19th century. As such, Archbishop Samuel Eccleston wrote the Congregation in 1838 to not only express gratitude for the funding, but to also discuss issues pertinent to the U.S. Church

-Despite progress in the 19th century, the prejudice against the Church did not end. As more Catholic immigrated from Europe, new organizations were formed to combat this rise, including the American Protestant Association. The address to the APA's board and the organization's constitution states that the reason for it's existence is "To awaken the attention of the community to the dangers which threaten the liberties, and the public and domestion Institutions, of these United States, from the assaults of Romanism."

-The opposition to Catholics wasn't only accomplished by words. In Philadelphia in 1844, a series of riots (two articles about which are included here) occurred between nativists and Irish Catholic immigrants due to rising anti-Catholic sentiment in the city. The two separate riots, in May and in July, would leave several dead and a number of Catholic churches burned.

-The rising tide of nativism would eventually lead to the formation of a party based mainly on these principals. The American (or Know Nothing) Party arose in the 1850s, with anti-Catholicism as one of its' basic tenets, as seen in its platform here and here. Though the party would win numerous elections in Massachusetts in 1854 and some small offices around the country, it would barely register any votes in the 1852 presidential election, and its candiate, former President Millard Fillmore, would lose badly in 1856. However, the presence of a national party at least partly based on anti-Catholicism was unsettling to the U.S. Church.

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