Category: History Essay

Although the U.S. has for several years praised itself for its separation of the state and church as well as its tradition for religious practices and freedom, the country has suffered from different types of religious bigotry such as anti-Catholicism. Various forms of intolerance related to religion such as anti-Catholicism, nativism, and anti-Semitism were inherited from the United Kingdom. They flourished as a result of several years of war between the U.S., Spain, and France. As a result, Catholics who resided in most, if not all, colonies controlled by the U.S., became the victims of discriminatory laws. Generally, they were excluded from the universal suffrage (voting). Catholics were also denied the right to hold political office. This document critically analyzes various aspects of Anti-Catholicism in North America.

Historical Background

The age of Reformation is considered as the first roots of anti-Catholicism in North America. It is due to the fact that one of the main aims of Reformation was to correct the alleged excesses and errors of the Catholic Church. Proponents of anti-Catholicism established strong positions aimed at opposing the stand and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, the Papacy, in particular, and the general clerical hierarchy of the Catholic Church was opposed. Protestant leaders in the North American colonies were at the forefront in spreading sentiments against the Catholic Church. Some of the greatest critics were the Anglican, Calvinist, and Lutheran traditions. In addition, both Scottish and English identities were to a huge extent opposed to the ideologies presented by Catholicism. Historians wrote that most English speaking people were anti-Catholics. Since, to be English, and individual in the colonies was expected to be against Catholicism.

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It is also important to note that most of the colonists from Britain such as Congregationalists and Puritans came to America in order to avoid persecution meted by the Church of England. The modes of worship and the doctrines of the Catholic Church were rooted deeply in the Roman Church. As a result of this, most of the religious culture that had arrived early in North America portrayed some of the most extreme and harshest form of anti-Catholicism bias. Most negative attitudes against the Catholics were mostly spread by the Protestant denominations. An anti-Catholics bias that was applied universally was composed by John Tracy Ellis and taken to Jamestown in 1607. It was cultivated vigorously in all the American colonies from Georgia to Massachusetts. Colonial laws and charters that were made up of huge amounts of specific instructions against Catholicism had immense political powers.

Scholars are of the opinion that the common and general hatred against Catholicism could influence the Puritan and Anglican clergy and laity to come together and share a common ground despite several disagreements between them. The law that prohibited Catholic settlers was passed in the Colony of Virginia in 1642. The Massachusetts Bay Colony also enacted a similar statute five years later. The Act of Toleration was enacted in 1649, which made blasphemy and the use of other offensive religious languages and names punishable offenses. In 1654, the law was repealed. It once again outlawed Catholicism. In 1692, the former government of Catholic Maryland was overthrown; and the officials established the Church of England as a legal institution. It then went ahead to enact heavy taxes that forced the Catholics to support the financing of the church. Catholics were prohibited from participating in politics and other laws; and regulations were implemented to ban Church’s Sacrament, Mass, and Catholic schools. In the Rhode Islands, civic restrictions were imposed on Catholics in 1719.

Catholics in Maryland had to flee their homes and become refugees. The only place that they could get a safe haven was in Pennsylvania. William Penn was a Quaker who had previously been harassed due to his religious affiliations. It prompted him to implement broad grants of civil rights that tolerated people who had different denomination and religious beliefs. Therefore, people who believed in God irrespectively of their denominations could reside there peacefully without persecution. There were increased risks that France and England were about to go to war. It renewed the past suspicion against the Catholics. The Quaker government in Pennsylvania nevertheless did not oblige when it was coerced to violate its traditional practices and pass harsh laws against Catholicism.

John Higham, a historian, describes anti-Catholicism as one of the most powerful and among the oldest anti-foreign traditions that affected the cultural and intellectual history of North America. However, this famous observation by Higham basically portrays three different forms of anti-Catholicism nativism that had a vibrant and long life in the U.S. To start with, the cultural distrust directed towards the Catholics was a result of the public culture of the North Americans. It was rooted in a significantly Protestant and British ordering of human society. Second, there was the intellectual distrust of Catholics that was based on various philosophical and epistemological ideas that were initially revealed in Scottish (Common Sense Realist) and English Enlightenment, as well as the political thought of the British Whig tradition. The third one was the nativist distrust directed towards the Catholics regarded as deviant individuals in American society. This perception was common among the duty of the mainstream Protestants that involved boundary maintenances, where Emile Durkheim’s reading was utilized to explain how outsiders had assisted insiders to regulate social control.

Studies have shown that deep roots of anti-Catholicism were exhibited among British and German Protestants after the reformation. These immigrants brought with them the hostilities that they possessed against the Catholics in North American colonies. During the colonial period in America, there were two forms of anti-Catholic rhetoric being widely distributed. The first one resulted from a theological heritage that was present during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. During this time, rampant religious wars were experienced between the Biblical Anti-Christ and that of the Whore of Babylon types that consisted of anti-Catholic ideologies and thoughts. They lasted until the end of the 17th century. The second form of rhetoric variety concentrated on the assumed schemes of the Catholic states which were aggressive to both Classical Liberalism and Marxism. Historians have critically analyzed the factors that motivated the occurrence of anti-Catholicism. One of the commonly proposed factors is prejudice directed towards Catholics. The rest of American society considered them as having a deep bias against the Americans.

19th and 20th Centuries Anti-Catholicism

Anti-Catholicism is considered as an embedded aspect of American society for hundreds of years. It is despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has made significant contributions as well as the demographic impact since the 18th century. In addition, it is important to note that the Catholic Church currently has more than 58 million members. It is the biggest religious denomination in the U.S. Nevertheless, during the American Revolution, individuals who practiced Catholicism were minorities; they were increasing distrusted. The Catholics were mainly composed of Spanish and French colonists and a few numbers of Irish and German Catholics in Maryland and Middle colonies.