The Ramonat Seminar #4: Early American Catholic

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral seen above in the featured image section, is located in Cincinnati, Ohio. I chose this location and one of it’s various Catholic institutions because it use to be a boom town, and one of the many centers of the New West after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While the Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian nation did not stand the test of time (for the most part even in rural sections of the Midwest), this new frontier was seen as a battle ground in more ways than one, especially when it came to spreading the (Protestant) Christian message in the face of mass Catholic integration (new European Catholics, Mexicans, Native Tribes, etc.), and pre-colonization by Catholic nations such as Spain in those areas. So, that begs the question, what were people saying about Catholics back then?

I used LUC’s library’s digitized newspaper collection stretching from 1690 to the present to find out…kind of. The advent of the internet and digital archival work make this useful source of primary sources much easier to browse than years before. I’m happy to be able to access such information so easily, with a bit of a learning curve, then to have to dig up this kind of stuff manually which scholars would have had to do years ago. Some of the articles were smudged or harder to read, and though we had the constraint of observing peoples’ thoughts about Catholics before the outbreak of the Civil War (Pre-1860’s), it was still a lot of material to shift through.

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I framed my search around the concept of “Manifest Destiny”, first purposed around the period beginning in the 1840’s-1850’s (though Manifest Destiny as a concept and driving American principle can arguably be seen as established in American policy then, and used for God ordained expansionism and exceptionalism ever since). The three key terms I utilized in my search were “Catholic Church” (19953 hits in total)”, “Papist” (1251 hits in total), and “Romanist” (85 hits in total), two of which I borrowed from our reading Catholicism And The Shaping Of Nineteenth-Century America by Jon Gjerde.

Working my way backwards in reverse chronological order, I investigated a number of newspapers within my three set parameters (Between 1840-1850, using one of the three keywords, and printed by or aimed at an American audience), and finally chose three to illustrate my findings. I chose these three articles keeping in mind two of the terms (Romanist and Papist) had overwhelming negative things, while Catholic Church had the most hits the most variety of sources because it is a more “neutral term”. These views were more in line with the readings we did but, with more time, especially using the more neutral term “Catholic Church”, I’m sure more positive/neutral results could have been found.

New-Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire) “A Little of Every Thing

  • Keyword: “Catholic Church”
  • Specific Article: Though it covered a variety of territories and topics (in line with the articles’ title), the bit about the church near the end talks about Rev. Dr. Spring of New York reply to the Bishop Hughes, who says that “infidelity was preferable to Catholicism“, which the newspaper interpreted to mean “an intolerant spirit”.
  • In General: Too broad a scope to pin down an overwhelming feeling from what I looked at alone

Morning News (New London, Connecticut) “Too Romish for Rome 

  • Keyword: “Papist”
  • Specific Article: Rev. Mr. Newman (Anglican) of the Oxford Movement who expressed Puseyist views (derogatory term for Tractarianism that grew into Anglo-Catholicism that pushed the Catholic history/practices of the church), was accused of being too “romish”, who he says (aka The Church) is too “lukewarm” to convey the message he wants.
  • In General: Concentrated in certain newspapers and overwhelming negative sentiments

The Farmers’ Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) “From the Boston Recorder. Protestant Associations

  • Keyword: “Romanist”
  • Specific Article: Exaggerations of the Catholic church and the dangers it poses to civil and religious liberties in tandem with Pagans, and more so than the “innocent” religion of Mohammed in comparison. It says they’re the most idolatrous, evil, lying institution of despots focused only on “money, money, MONEY!”, calling themselves the one true church.
  • In General: Broader newspaper coverage and leaned heavily on the negative

Some interesting research questions I thought about were as follows…

“How did Catholics respond to the rise of Nativism and anti-Catholic practices throughout this period? Did the responds differ in the hierarchy compared to the laity? Did it impact practice at all?”

“What was the reputation of the newspaper in its’ time? What influence did it have on what it reported, who its’ main audience was, and how they presented the Catholic Church?”

“Do Catholics from diverse ethnic and geographical locations receive the same stereotypes or, do these factors play a role in them?”

While this search was by no means all inclusive of the time periods’ feelings towards Catholic Americans and or the Church in general (due to the specific keywords I used, few sources, etc.), it was a very new and fun experience for me! Though my time was limited, and my knowledge limited, I am happy that I got to mess around with this source of information, which will hopefully help me later on as we start to unpack Catholic immigration in Chicago during this period of early American Catholic history, through their eyes for once hopefully!

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