Article

Anti-Catholicism in the United States

Mark S. Massa

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History


Published online June 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780199329175 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.316

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Historian John Higham once referred to anti-Catholicism as “by far the oldest, and the most powerful of anti-foreign traditions” in North American intellectual and cultural history. But Higham’s famous observation actually elided three different types of anti-Catholic nativism that have enjoyed a long and quite vibrant life in North America: a cultural distrust of Catholics, based on an understanding of North American public culture rooted in a profoundly British and Protestant ordering of human society; an intellectual distrust of Catholics, based on a set of epistemological and philosophical ideas first elucidated in the English (Lockean) and Scottish (“Common Sense Realist”) Enlightenments and the British Whig tradition of political thought; and a nativist distrust of Catholics as deviant members of American society, a perception central to the Protestant mainstream’s duty of “boundary maintenance” (to utilize Emile Durkheim’s reading of how “outsiders” help “insiders” maintain social control).

An examination of the long history of anti-Catholicism in the United States can be divided into three parts: first, an overview of the types of anti-Catholic animus utilizing the typology adumbrated above; second, a narrative history of the most important anti-Catholic events in U.S. culture (e.g., Harvard’s Dudleian Lectures, the Suffolk Resolves, the burning of the Charlestown convent, Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures); and finally, a discussion of American Catholic efforts to address the animus.

Keywords: American Protective Association; Anti-Catholicism; Catholic League; Guy Fawkes Day; Governor Al Smith; Know Nothings; Ku Klux Klan; Last Acceptable Prejudice; Maria Monk; nativism; The New Anti-Catholicism; Rebecca Reed

Article.  11588 words. 

Subjects: US Cultural History ; History of Religion

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