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  An American Manifesto
Tuesday April 21, 2015 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter













Mutual aid






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


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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“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing

Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


©2007 Christopher Chantrill