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The Confederate Lawyer
August 16, 2013

Americanism, Yale, Catholics, and Protestants
by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — American Catholics are particularly tempted to compromise with their fellow citizens. It is in our history. It would be wrong to deny the Catholic contribution to the founding of the United States, but it would also be wrong to deny that the United States was originally primarily a Protestant undertaking.

Maryland was founded by Catholics but taken over by Protestants at the end of the seventeenth century. The Quaker government of Pennsylvania was opposed to all religious persecution; even during the harsh persecution of Catholics in the early eighteenth century, the Catholic Church in Philadelphia remained open and active. There were Catholics in most of the colonies, particularly between 1666 and 1688, but Catholics were never truly tolerated in the colonies of Georgia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

One characteristic of Protestantism is that it constantly splits into more and more denominations. In the American colonial period, the disputes over Church government were seen as more important than the disputes over doctrine. John Stuart Mill mentions both kinds of disputes in "On Liberty." New England was staunchly Congregationalist or Presbyterian. Many of the Middle Atlantic colonies were Episcopalian.


In 1722, Yale purged its Rector and most of its faculty for holding two forbidden beliefs. They had denied the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and they believed in episcopal ordination.


In 1722, Yale purged its Rector and most of its faculty for holding two forbidden beliefs. They had denied the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and they believed in episcopal ordination. The belief in episcopal ordination was considered the worse of the two. The purge does not seem to have worked very well. Two of Yale's greatest early benefactors were Elihu Yale and Bishop Berkeley, both Anglican. Many Yale graduates left the Congregationalist Church and became Episcopalians.

Connecticut also experienced a split into two rival Congregationalist churches over the issue of colonial government control of the appointment of the clergy. After American Independence, the first Episcopal bishop smuggled into America came to Connecticut.

Massachusetts endured a worse division. Its established Congregationalist Church split into two factions. The stronger one, the Unitarians, denied the divinity of Christ. The weaker one, the Trinitarians, proclaimed His divinity.

Legal discrimination against Catholics persisted in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut for half a century after Independence.

In Virginia, the Episcopal Church won its battle to keep its property but lost its privileged position under the law. Upon completing the struggle for Independence, 10 of the 13 original states enjoyed religious liberty, at least for Catholics and Jews.

The acquisition of Florida and the Louisiana Purchase added Catholics to the population, and more Catholics lived between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. Most of the United States now had a lot of denominations with equal legal standing, and the states were faced with the problem of writing laws that would regulate such issues as property ownership by such churches. Often, the solution was to empower the church to name a group of trustees. This was sometimes problematic for Catholics. In 1798, the trustees of a Catholic parish in Philadelphia appointed a pastor without the consent of the Bishop of Baltimore. The pastor did not submit to the authority of the bishop until 1802.

In 1809, the trustees of a parish in Norfolk, Virginia, appointed an unauthorized pastor and then went into schism. The schism did not end until the Diocese of Richmond was formed in 1820-22. The problem was finally resolved by compromises. In some states, the bishop was allowed to incorporate himself. In other states, the trusteeship system was kept but the bishop was allowed to appoint the majority of the trustees.

The compromises are largely the result of Archbishop Hughes of New York, who took a firm stand in defense of his rights against the trustees of his cathedral in 1834. By 1871, the Supreme Court finally recognized the distinctions at law between hierarchical churches and Congregationalist churches.

Like so many things, the religious problems in America have their origins in the War Between the States.

President Jefferson Davis and the Blessed Pius IX respected each other. The North had a practice of enticing Irishmen to immigrate to the United States; the North promised them a homestead in the Midwest but then intercepted them in New York and drafted them into the Northern Army. The Blessed Pius IX tried to stop this deceptive practice. Most of these draftees served under Protestant officers.

After the War, the Republican Party was dominated by proponents of harsh treatment of the defeated South, anti-Catholic bigots, proponents of prohibition of alcohol, and proponents of public schools with a Protestant curriculum. This experience led many Catholics to form an allegiance to the Democrat Party, which unfortunately persists today.


...the religious problems in America have their origins in the War Between the States.

Archbishop Ireland of Saint Paul, Minnesota, was one of the few Catholics prominent in the new Northern establishment. He was a state chaplain of the Northern veterans' organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). In the new nationalist postwar America, Archbishop Ireland, Cardinal Gibbons, and the American Paulist fathers were largely responsible for a new trend in the Catholic Church knows as Americanism. It was democratic and tended toward the idea of a particular American theology. It took a particularly virulent form in France, where it was condemned as a heresy. Although a book with a foreword by Archbishop Ireland was formally condemned, the American proponents of Americanism escaped condemnation — barely.

There have been a number of attempts by Paulists and other followers of Cardinal Gibbons and Archbishop Ireland to put a democratic American spin on Catholic theology, particularly Father John Courtney Murray. They were particularly strong in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II.

We must realize that the doctrine of the faith is not democratic, that the struggles for religious freedom and accommodation in America are not universal, and that the secular Protestant conformity demanded by the triumphant Republican Party in the late nineteenth century is unhealthy.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

This column may be forwarded, posted, or published if credit is given to Charles Mills and fgfBooks.com.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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