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  An American Manifesto
Thursday November 27, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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MIDDLE CLASS

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Bibliography

Chapter 6:
Popular Religion in the Nineteenth Century

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John Hughes came to America in 1817, and “went to work as a gardener and stonemason at Mount St. Mary’s College and seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Working there rekindled in him a childhood dream of becoming a priest,” but the head of the seminary refused the gardener’s request to enroll and study for the priesthood.  Fortunately he impressed Mother Elizabeth Bayley Seton—canonized later as America’s first native-born saint—and she interceded with Mount St. Mary’s.  Hughes was ordained a priest in 1826 and moved to Philadelphia.  Immediately he began to battle anti-Catholic bigotry.

Between 1820 and 1830, immigration had swelled the U.S. Catholic population 60 percent to 600,000, with no end in sight.  The new immigrants were mostly Irish—impoverished, ignorant, unskilled country folk, with nothing in their experience to prepare them for success in the urban environs to which they were flocking.  Hughes believed that the relentless barrage of anti-Catholic prejudice that greeted them in their new land was demoralizing the already disadvantaged immigrants and holding back their progress. (Stern 1997)

   Hughes was determined to fight the nativists that oppressed the Catholic immigrants and began a spirited campaign against the bigotry under which the Catholics suffered.  When a cholera epidemic hit Philadelphia in 1834, the Protestant nativists were quick to blame the Catholic immigrants.  But Hughes “worked tirelessly among the sick and dying” and acidly noted how many Protestant ministers had fled the city while he and the “Catholic Sisters of Charity... had cared for the cholera victims without regard for their own safety.”  In 1838, Hughes was made bishop in New York, a care of 60,000 Catholic souls in a city of 300,000.  He immediately set about improving educational opportunities for New York’s Catholics (Stern 1997).

In 1838, as now, the public schools were a political catspaw with which powerful interests tried to injure their political enemies.  The New York Public School Society, with the help of state funding, was a Protestant organization that taught Protestantism in the schools using the Protestant Bible.  “Hughes (with the support of New York’s 12,000 Jews) wanted an end to such sectarian education, and he wanted, above all, state aid for Catholic schools, just as the state had funded denominational schools before 1826 (with no one dreaming of calling such aid unconstitutional).  But the Protestants preferred a policy of no state aid for denominational schools rather than allow any money to go to Catholic schools, and passed “the Maclay Bill of 1842 [that] banned all religious instruction from public schools and provided no state money to denominational schools.” (Stern 1997)

After this defeat, Hughes threw himself into building up the Catholic schools without help from the state.  “‘We shall have to build the schoolhouse first and the church afterward,’ he said” expressing a sentiment that has inspired the Catholic Church in the United States ever since.  By his death, the New York diocese boasted over 100 schools.  It needed them.  In 1845 the Irish potato crop failed, and between 1845 and 1860, over two million Irish crossed the Atlantic on the so-called “coffin ships,” suffering a mortality rate greater than African slaves endured on the Middle Passage. (Stern 1997)

Arriving in the United States, the Irish found that their problems had just begun.  Those who had means moved into the interior.  “On the other hand, the destitute, the disabled, the broken down, the very young, the very old [stayed in New York.  They were] the scattered debris of the Irish nation.”  The contemporary descriptions of the Irish in New York City are familiar to the modern ear.  Family life had disintegrated; alcoholism and drugs were epidemic.  Gangs roamed the streets, fighting one another and the nativists, but mostly preying on their fellow Irish, robbing houses and businesses in their neighborhoods.  In 1850, an estimated 50,000 Irish prostitutes, the “nymphs of the pave” worked the streets.  It was up to Hughes to do something about it.  He decided to use the “scattered debris” as brick to build the Catholic Church.  (Stern 1997)

Buying up abandoned Protestant churches in Irish wards, he taught the Irish a religion of personal responsibility, stressing confession to people who had often never received any religious education.  “Self-control and high personal standards were the key... Certain conduct was right, and other conduct was wrong.  People must not govern their lives according to momentary feelings or the desire for instant gratification: they had to live up to a code of behavior that had been developed over thousands of years.”  But this was not “a pinched and gloomy affair.”  Hughes taught that “if you keep the commandments, God will be your protector, healer, advisor, and perfect personal friend.” (Stern 1997)  It was the same message that Protestant revivalists had been communicating to unchurched Americans.

Hughes also had a message for women, with the cult of the Virgin Mary directed at Catholic women, who outnumbered men by up to 20 percent in mid-century.  “Mary was Queen of Peace, Queen of Prophets, and Queen of Heaven.”  Hughes inspired Catholic women to take control of their lives, inspire their families and become a force for good.  “By the 1850s, they began to be major forces for moral rectitude, stability, and progress in Irish neighborhoods of the city.”  And the nuns, “managing hospitals, schools, orphanages, and church societies” demonstrated what women could aspire to.  (Stern 1997)

By the 1890s, the Irish represented only 10 percent of arrests for violent crimes, down from 60 percent.  “Three-quarters of the police force was Irish.” And almost a third of the city’s teachers were Irish women. These lace-curtain Irish were often mocked by the press for their “puritanical” attitudes, but in the 1860s all this was in the future, so when he died shortly after the draft riots of 1863, Archbishop Hughes had felt he had been a failure.  (Stern 1997)


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Click for Chapter 7: The Best Schools

 

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 TAGS


What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Sacrifice

[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values


Pentecostalism

Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill