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NHC home TeacherServe Divining America 19th Century Essay:
Roman Catholics and Immigration in Nineteenth-Century America
Julie ByrneDept. That Religion, duke University©National humanities CenterLinks to digital resources
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The story of roman inn Catholicism in the nineteenth century IS the story of immigration. Untilabout 1845, the roman Catholic populace of the United states was a tiny minority the mostlyEnglish Catholics, who were regularly quite socially accomplished. But when several years ofdevastating potato famine led millions of Irish Catholics to flee to the United claims in the mid 1840s, the challenge of American Catholicism began to change drastically and also permanently. In thespace that fifty years, the Catholic populace in the United states suddenly revolutionized from atight-knit group of landowning, educated aristocrats into an incredibly varied mass of urbanand rural immigrants that came from numerous different countries, spoke different languages, helddifferent social statuses, and also emphasized various parts of your Catholic heritage. Countless members of other faiths—Jews, Protestants, and even some Muslims, Hindus andBuddhists—arrived in the successive waves of massive immigration to the United says betweenthe 1840s and also 1920s. But Catholics native various countries were the most numerous—and themost noticed. In 1850 Catholics comprised only five percent that the full U.S. Population. By1906, they comprised seventeen percent of the total populace (14 million out of 82 millionpeople)—and made up the single largest spiritual denomination in the country. When your students hear the enormity of the demographic and religious shift caused byimmigration, castle will start to understand why so plenty of American citizens ended up being uneasy aboutthe so-called "Catholic hordes." adjust is always difficult, and also this to be a huge change. Whydid points change? Why did so many Catholics involved the United claims at this time? Why didthe country take them? come answer this questions, you might paint for her students a scene ortwo that the wide Western-hemisphere trend towards economic and social "modernization." Thenewly centralized states that Europe and the brand-new World were promoting capital investment inurban industries that disturbed old customs of farming, handmade labor, and land inheritance. Anew managerial "middle class" of clerks and also bureaucrats was prospering in the cities, butthousands the peasants to be displaced from your land and labor by new farming techniques. TheCatholic citizen of Italy, Poland, components of Germany, and also the east European kingdoms ofwhat are now Slovakia and also the Czech Repuclic started to cast their eyes towards America. The country had a growing human being reputation for autonomous ideals and work opportunity. For these peoples, aswell as for French Canadian Catholics come the phibìc of the united States and also Mexican Catholics tothe south, the opportunity for a brand-new life totally free of poverty and oppression to be too an excellent to pass up. Countless sons, fathers, and later entirety families left behind their previous lives and also possessionsand boarded overfilled ships sailing for new York.America, because that its part, docked delivery after delivery at Ellis Island for both idealistic and practicalreasons. It was the American ideal to welcome the foreigner; all the country"s establishing groupsand plenty of of its leading citizens had actually been, after ~ all, immigrants. The motto ~ above the frosting ofLiberty, "Give Me her Tired, her Poor," exemplified the strong tie between immigration andfreedom in the nationwide imagination. But much more practically speaking, America"s new industriesand booming frontier towns demanded huge quantities the cheap labor. So immigration was abenefit come both sides—at least in theory.

Guiding student Discussion

But concept doesn"t constantly translate right into the feelings and experiences of real civilization in realsituations. Immigration was claimed to be useful to the immigrant and to the country, however italso unleashed countless fears, insecurities, and troubles top top both sides. It could be a an excellent idea tobrainstorm through your students about the optimistic and negative FEELINGS the both natives andimmigrants might have proficient at the time. Allow the student imagine and also talk around what itmight have actually felt prefer for the immigrants, who didn"t recognize "the ropes" or in many instances thelanguage. Allow them likewise imagine what it can have felt choose for those currently living inAmerica, that saw your cities readjust so quickly: all of sudden there to be a Catholic church in everyneighborhood. Immigrant is, the course, still really much a part of the American reality andpublic debate. Some of your students may be Catholic themselves and may be surprised come hearof the previous low standing of the "assimilated" religion they know. Several of your student mayknow of immigrant from firsthand experience, being immigrant or youngsters of immigrantsthemselves. Others may know around immigration from news reports or experience withneighbors. Don"t hesitation to do the connections between the realities and perceptions ofCatholicism and also immigration then and also now. Their experience of the present realities have the right to helpthem recognize the past, and vice versa. Then, refocus the discussion to make the point that in the nineteenth century, the immigrants"RELIGION, Catholicism, became a focal point for these feelings around immigration on both sides. The immigrants held onto Catholicism for spiritual comfort and also group identity. The olderAmericans blamed Catholicism for the immigrants" "foreign ways." Both political parties usedCatholicism as a way of resisting the other. Just how did the immigrants express your feelingsthrough their faith? how did protestant Americans usage Catholicism together a "substitute" forimmigration issues?After number of years in America, countless Catholic immigrants came to be sorely disillusioned. "American Dreams" of affluent farmland and easy money evaporated in the run-down, neglectedquarters of huge cities and also died during long hrs working lowpaying, backbreaking jobs. Yetsooner or later, many families managed to enhance their economic situations, with luck,ingenuity, difficult work, and—they strongly believed—help native God, the saints, and also the Church.For it was the Catholic Church, an ext than any other organization, the made a concerted initiative towelcome the new Catholic immigrants. Catholic citizens helped them discover jobs and also homes; sister (nuns) taught their kids English in Catholic schools; priests tried to safeguard theirpolitical interests and shield them from a sometimes hostile good news environment; the localchurch held religious festivals and social events. That is essential to anxiety that for the immigrants,the neighborhood Catholic church was not just a church; it was the focal suggest of a wholecommunity, a whole way of life. Also if the relationship between the Church and Catholicimmigrants to be often much from perfect, regional parishes noted millions of heartbroken,homesick immigrant men and women the acquainted comforts the ritual and also belief that gave theirworld meaning. College student should recognize what components of Catholic ritual and belief set it except ProtestantChristianity, although it should additionally be emphasized that there is much much more continuity thandifference in between the two develops of Christianity. Catholic tradition had actually held because that centuriesthat the institutional Church, v its extremely organized power structure topped through the pope in Rome,was the sole source of spiritual nurture, divine authority, and also final salvation;that thesacraments—religious rituals like the Mass and confession—were the main means of humancontact through the divine; andthat the saints—who, like Mary, the mom of Jesus, to be holypeople hosted up as instances by the Church—could be referred to as upon in prayer come "intercede" forCatholics v the Father and the Son. The reformers of the Protestant reformation objectedvehemently to these emphases, insisting instead onless pecking order in church structure,theBible rather than sacraments together the resource of revelation indigenous God, andJesus himself together theonly crucial intercessor through God the Father. For 4 centuries Catholics and also Protestants hadwaged real and polemical wars against each other about these and other problems that calcified theirmutually antagonistic positions. In the context of nineteenth-century America, where Bible-believing, evangelical Protestants constituted the clear majority, the Catholic decimal faith, withits fancy rituals and statues that the saints, appeared to many people an extremely strange, also "wrong." of course, for Catholics these to be natural and familiar methods to to express their belief in God. There to be nothing strange around them at all. In fact, they believed Protestants to be strange and"wrong." to Protestants, the immigrants" religion was reason for great consternation. Protestants pridedthemselves on living in a nation founded together a protestant "light unto the world," together the Puritansput it. Lock felt intimidated that America can soon end up being a "Catholic" country; castle worriedthat the Catholic religion, v its hierarchies and also traditions, had actually made the immigrant unsuitablefor democratic and individualistic America. They even mused even if it is the Catholics werecoming in droves in order to colonize America for the pope! The church could try to protectthe immigrants, yet they might do small to counter the prejudice Catholic immigrants faced in"mainstream" America every day. Neighbors dubbed Catholics names, employers refused topromote them, landlords rented them your worst apartments, papers blamed them for risingcrime rates, and also banks refused them loans. A famous national organization, the AmericanProtective Association, was started specifically to encourage anti-Catholicism and also otherprejudices. All this because Catholics believed a different Christianity 보다 Protestants? partially no, andpartly yes. On the one hand, anti-Catholicism wasn"t all around Catholicism; the was partly aboutclass, too. Many civilization of the upper classes didn"t particularly pay attention to Catholics" religion, but assumed that due to the fact that the immigrant were poor, foreign, and different, that meantthey were also dirty, dangerous, and lazy. Many world of the reduced classes suspect theimmigrants represented competition for jobs, homes, and also social prestige that rightly belonged tothem. ~ above the other hand, anti-Catholic prejudice was around religion. Because that Catholics did become an excellent American citizens—winning political races, arranging labor unions, opening businesses, and founding schools and also hospitals. However no matter how tough Catholics strived come prove theywere good, upstanding, patriotic American citizens, part Protestants would never accept them,simply due to the fact that they to be Catholic. This instance of naked prejudice may be a hard thing forstudents concerned around "equality" and also "tolerance" come hear. Others may feel much more sympathetictowards the Protestants" religious conviction. Again, stating the continuities with contemporary instances the prejudice would only aid to illuminate both.Given the social stigma of being Catholic, students might naturally wonder why most Catholicpeople who involved this country remained Catholic. There are several reasons, every one of whichspeak come the very teen-accessible worry of "identity"—how civilization have it, develop it, or adjust it. One reason Catholics remained Catholic is the they truly believed that Catholicism to be the "right"religion, and also converting come Protestantism was simply not one option. An additional is the Catholicismwas one "alternative," "different" faith in America at the time, and also some Catholics wore that"differentness" as a badge of proud or a marker of identity in one unfamiliar environment. Finally, some stayed out of habit and also culture. They were Catholics in the Old World, thereforethey to be Catholics in the New, and that was that. The American public"s resistance to immigration culminated in a series of immigrationrestriction regulations passed in the beforehand 1920s that inserted quotas top top the numbers of people allowed fromeach international country. Quotas for Catholic countries were collection so low the Catholic immigrationvirtually stopped by 1924.

Historians Debate

In part ways, the Catholic immigrants of the nineteenth century confronted as much conflict withintheir churches together without. The dispute raged in between Church leaders about the best strategy todeal through the immigrants—"Americanize" castle as quickly as possible, or encourage them toretain your own national language and also faith customizeds as long as castle could. The supporters ofthe an initial view, referred to as "Americanists," had tendency to it is in theological liberals and also social progressiveswho were rather optimistic, in the spirit of the "Gilded Age," around the compatibility betweenAmerica and the Catholic religion. The advocates of the 2nd view, considered"conservatives," often tended to be traditionalists who concerned America"s infatuation v the newtechnology, "materialism," and social reform together a dangerous paper definition for maintaining the troubledimmigrants" faith. Often the immigrant themselves had their very own opinions in the matter, butwere caught between warring bishops. Over the long term, both the Americanists and also theconservatives "won": the pope pronounce in favor of the conservatives in 1891, however as newgenerations to be born, the course, Catholics became quite "Americanized" as elements of the OldWorld devotional culture and theology were slowly left behind and also shades of a new, moreindividualistic and democratic Catholicism appeared. Scholars of American Catholic background have universally thought about immigration by far the mostdynamic pressure in the nineteenth-century American Church, yet they continue to dispute the issueof "Americanization." The magisterial backgrounds of American Catholicism created successivelyby man Gilmary Shea, Peter Guilday, and also John Tracy Ellis native the 1890s come the 1950sconsidered "Americanization" a great thing and countered well-known perceptions the Catholics"unfitness because that America with plenty of examples the American Catholic achievement. Much more recenthistories by Jay Dolan and Patrick Carey (1990s) reconsider the merits of "Americanization" inlight of modern-day discussions that "Catholic difference" and also "multiculturalism." your work suggests that traditional immigrant Catholicism contributed to an altering the definition of"America" from a country of Anglo-Saxon Protestants come a culture of diversified regions andpeoples. They likewise carefully distinguish between spiritual styles, political leanings, and also socialstatus associated with different ethnic groups within Catholicism; because that example, the IrishCatholic political makers in brand-new York were much different than German Catholic sodalities inthe Midwest, despite both kinds of groups prospered out the the immigrant Catholic experience. Various other historians have actually pointed out that principles like "Americanization" and also "assimilation"assume there to be a meaningful "American" population, when in fact immigration chin wasovershadowed and also interimplicated through the good social disputes over slavery and, after ~ the CivilWar, the so-called "Negro problem"—issues whose very existence proves the a homogeneous"American" population could no be taken for granted (Jenny Franchot, Roads come Rome).
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Newly-ordained African-American priestsNew Orleans, Louisiana, 1934Library of Congress
Otherstudies have actually taken increase the background of afri Americans who were themselves Catholics; this minority within a decimal persevered with little attention from your Church transparent theperiod of European immigrant (Stephen Ochs, Cyprian Davis).

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Some historians have found the "differences" in between Catholics and also Protestants in this period overplayed; both groups, forexample, were implicated in a broad social concern to develop a "domestic" faith alongside church attendance that emphasized religious commodities in the home and family prayer (Colleen Mcdannell, Ann Taves). Still various other historians have actually painted in good detail the complicated social human beings of the immigrant neighborhoods, raising the question whether ordinaryimmigrant Catholics yes, really noticed or cared around the "mainstream" Protestant human being much at every (Robert Orsi).