The history of these anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, native-born Americans is intertwined with the violent history of the Archdiocese of New York, and particularly, St, Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
Fervent anti-Catholicism colored political and religious life in the thirteen American colonies. Surprisingly, this intolerance of Catholics waned prior to the American Revolution, probably for a number of reasons.
The reasons for this sudden change include:
1. support for the patriot cause by American Catholics, as well as assistance from Catholic nations such as France and Spain.
2. the Enlightenment, the philosophical, scientific, and cultural movement that had a mostly negative impact on religious practice, but which also spread a spirit of toleration.
3. the small size of the Catholic population, which comforted English Protestants. Catholics were only 1% of the total population of 2,500,000.
4. both lay and spiritual leaders of the American Catholic community who were deemed non-threatening. These prominent lay figures were deeply integrated into American society, despite their Catholicism, such as the Charles Carroll, a rich planter from Maryland, and Dominick Lynch, a successful businessman from New York.
Despite the progress made regarding the toleration of Catholics during the American Revolution, anti-Catholic feelings returned in the 1830s. This correlated with the rise in the number of Catholics in America due to the increasing immigration of the Irish and the Germans, especially to New York.
The influx of Catholic immigrants enraged native-born Americans, who felt threatened for both economic and religious reasons. First, native-born Americans did not want to compete for employment with immigrants, who were more likely to work for lower wages. Second, American Protestants were meanwhile experiencing the Second Great Awakening. Evangelical churches such as the Baptists and Methodists led this widespread religious revival. These denominations held negative views of Catholicism - the Roman Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon and the Pope was the anti-Christ. Protestants disagreed with the theology of these morally questionable Catholic immigrants, who seemed to be invading their cities.
Because poorer Protestant Americans were more desperate for jobs and less educated, they were more likely to believe anti-immigrant propaganda and join the Nativist movement. Throughout the 1830s until the Civil War, nativists rose in several waves to defend American ideals and morals. This began with a passionate group of preachers who attempted to spark public anger and disgust against Catholics by connecting the typically undisclosed Catholic traditions of the confessional and the convent to sexual misconduct (Shelley, 99).
Shelley, Thomas J. The Archdiocese of New York: The Bicentennial History 1808-2008. France: Editions du Signe, 2007.