J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

America’s Anti-Catholic Turnaround

I think it was Prof. John Fea who recently alerted me to these Belief.net articles by Steven Waldman from 2008:
Anti-Catholicism defined British polity in the eighteenth century after the ouster of James II in 1688’s “Glorious Revolution” and Parliament’s choice to skip his heirs in favor of the Protestant George I. Anti-Catholicism was even stronger in Puritan-rooted New England and tinged the rhetoric of the pre-Revolutionary arguments, as Waldman wrote:
During the lead up to revolution, rebels seeking to stoke hatred of Great Britain routinely equated the practices of the Church of England with that of the Catholic Church. In the late 1760s and early 1770s, colonists celebrated anti-Pope Days, an anti-Catholic festival derived from the English Guy Fawkes day (named for a Catholic who attempted to assassinated King James I). . . .

Roger Sherman and other members of Continental Congress wanted to prohibit Catholics from serving in the Continental Army.

In 1774, Parliament passed the Quebec Act, taking the enlightened position that the Catholic Church could remain the official church of Quebec. This appalled and terrified many colonists, who assumed this to be a British attempt to subjugate them religiously by allowing the loathsome Catholics to expand into the colonies. Colonial newspapers railed against the Popish threat. . . . In Rhode Island, every single issue of the Newport Mercury from October 2, 1774 to March 20, 1775 contained “at least one invidious reference to the Catholic religion of the Canadians,” according to historian Charles Metzger.
At top is Paul Revere’s cartoon “The Mitred Minuet,” engraved for Isaiah Thomas’s Royal American Magazine. It’s another example of American anti-Catholic (and anti-Québec and anti-Scottish) propaganda.

However, Anti-Catholicism is also a clear example of how American Patriots changed their tenets, or at least their policies. At the start of the war they were trying to be more British than the British, and thus more anti-Catholic. But they soon realized they wanted to win over the French Catholic inhabitants of Canada, which meant toning down the “evil Papists” talk.

Gen. George Washington, not from New England and skeptical of people’s abilities to discern the ways of providence, was a leading voice for religious acceptance. Waldman wrote, “On September 14, 1775, he banned the practice of burning effigies of the Pope once a year.” I think that’s a reference to Washington’s letter on how to treat the Canadians and accompanying orders to Col. Benedict Arnold. But those documents applied only to Arnold’s small contingent in Canada.

On 5 November, Washington took the bigger step by ordering his own larger body of troops around Boston, most of them New Englanders, not to celebrate Pope Night:
As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.
At the time, one of the general’s senior aides at headquarters was Stephen Moylan, an Irish immigrant to Pennsylvania whose brother Francis had just become the Roman Catholic bishop of Kerry. Moylan might even have drafted that paragraph for the commander-in-chief’s approval. I don’t think a lot of the New England troops or officers knew about his background, however.

Later the Congress made alliances with France and Spain, only a few years after some of those same American politicians had accused those Catholic powers of conspiring against their British liberties. Soon after the war, even Boston had a Catholic church, and the federal government required itself to be neutral on all religious questions. (Tax support for Congregationalist churches continued in most of New England for decades.) This was one of the biggest turnarounds of the Revolutionary movement, so complete that most of us don’t recognize the religious prejudices it started out with.


MJ Sentance said...

Dr. Michael Ryan has a nice piece on the anti-Catholicism (highlighting Concord's intolerance)here:


J. L. Bell said...

The article on Concord is interesting in that most people from Revolutionary Concord had probably never seen a "papist" to know of. For that matter, they were probably scarce and quiet in Boston before the war as well. But they were the official enemies of the British Empire.

Pacificus said...

What is it exactly that the American Whigs/Patriots had against the Scots? The Scots at this time weren't Catholic, or rather the Scottish church/kirk was Presbyterian, or Protestant, and the Scots didn't necessarily support the Jacobite kings because they were Catholic, at least not according to what I've learned about Scotland's Jacobite uprisings.

BBC came out with what seems to be a decent history of Scotland, and episodes 6, 7, and 8 talk about Scotland's role leading up to and during the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, and the reasons behind the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century. According to this narrative, the Scottish Covenanters, while horrid and oppressive during their Rule of the Saints, had wide support in Scotland and gained power politically and in the church and proposed the exact protection rights and limited monarchy that resulted in the Glorious Revolution and 1689 Bill of Rights in their National Covenant of the late 1630s (I believe). They initially supported the Parliamentarians against Charles the 1st because of his forcing of religious changes on the Scottish Kirk, but then switched to support Charles the II because they had forced him to sign their National Covenant and were not a fan of the Cromwellian dictatorship that resulted from the Commonwealth. And most Scots supported the Jacobite Stuart kings over the Georgian kings because they promised even more reforms and protection of rights and limited monarchy than was practiced under William and Mary, Queen Anne, and the Georgian kings. Most Scots seemed not to like Catholicism, and given their reasons in supporting the Stuart kings over the Georgian ones, and given Scotland's struggle for its independence for hundreds of years against England, you'd think the American rebels would have liked the Scots and invoked their struggles as their own. So I don't quite understand the American rebel's dislike of the Scots during the colonial debate and the war for Independence, especially since John Witherspoon was a Scot as was James Wilson, and both were at the forefront of the colonial debate in support of American rights and during the Independence movement...

Here's the BBC "A History of Scotland," episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 8 talks specifically about Scotland's influence on the American Revolution. In addition, it's interesting how much the American Revolution and Thomas Paine had an influence on the Scottish Radical War of 1820.


Anyway, someone care to explain the American rebels dislike of the Scots during the 1760s and 1770s?

J. L. Bell said...

New Englanders distrusted Scotsmen more than Americans to the south. And they seem to have had several reasons for doing so (I'm not saying these were good reasons):

1) New Englanders distrusted anybody who wasn't Congregationalist. This included Presbyterians as well as Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, &c. It must have galled them tremendously when visiting Englishmen referred to their meetinghouses as "Presbyterian."

2) New Englanders distrusted outsiders. Many of the most prominent Scotsmen in pre-Revolutionary Boston were relatively recent arrivals without roots or deep business ties within the colony and therefore inclined to side with the Crown: John Mein, James Murray, the McMasters brothers, &c.

3) Lord Bute was a Scotsman. He was having an affair with the king's mother. (Not really.) He had too much influence on the young king. (Not after the first few years.) And he was behind the Stamp Act. (No, he wasn't.)

4) The ’45. The Stuart Pretenders.

5) They talked funny. And they dressed funny, at least in political cartoons.

Pacificus said...

I guess I don't understand what made them dislike the Scots because of The '45. It seems the Stuarts/Pretenders were promising reforms and freedoms for Scotland that were yet to be given by the Georgians despite the promises of the Glorious Revolution, hence we know why the Jacobites supported the Pretenders, but assuming the American New Englanders were aware of this history, I wonder why The '45 made them dislike Scots?

James Murray? Tell me more about this James Murray, if you could. Do you have any information on him? I take it he settled in Boston? The reason I ask is because I descend from the Murray line of Scotland (although I realize there are quite a lot of Murrays), and I have a few ancestors named James Murray, though I don't know if any of them ever lived in Boston during that time. Perhaps they were a distant relative though...

Looking at my family line, I see I have several ancestors who lived in North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia that lived during the Revolution and perhaps fought in it (hopefully on the right side!). In fact I have a relative named William Burgess who was born and lived in Albermarle County, VA during Jefferson's time. I wonder if he ever ran into Jefferson...I'm not sure if he was part of the aristocratic class or not though...

J. L. Bell said...

Here's a collection of James Murray's letters that includes biographical information. His sister Elizabeth was also prominent in Boston; I've listed her in the tags as Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith Inman.

J. L. Bell said...

The 1745 uprising didn't turn New Englanders against the Scots, I think. It confirmed their long-held suspicion about the Scots.

New England was settled by people moving away from the early Stuart governments. American Puritans rejoiced at the fall of Charles I and later protected three "regicides." They felt vindicated when the later Stuart kings turned Catholic and James II was deposed. While the rest of the British Empire became dubious about Oliver Cromwell, he remained a hero in New England.

Given that background, it was easy for New Englanders to add the ’45 to their list of reasons to be suspicious about the Scots. Even if that wariness meant overlooking the similarities between Congregationalism and Presbyterianism, the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, &c.

As with Catholics, however, once the war started, American Patriots were open to support from any quarter. As I recall, that included a ship of "Highlanders" that arrived in Boston harbor in the summer of 1776, not realizing the British military had left.