Papist Patriots and the Making of 18th- and 19th-Century Catholic Identity

Paul Harvey

Continuing on with our series on new/newish works in early American Catholicism and its relationship to broader themes of American religion and politics, today I'm featuring a book Mike Pasquier blogged about before: Maura Farrelly, Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity. I'm pairing it up with a work whose appearance comes with renewed sadness and grief: Jon Gjerde's Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America. Jon Gjerde (1953-2008) arrived at Berkeley while I was a graduate student. Although I was never his student, I knew him as a warm, kind person, a tremendous historian who bore his learning lightly, and as eager to talk about his family or his analysis of the Minnesota Timberwolves as to explain his techniques of analyzing demographic data from the nineteenth century. He died of a heart attack in 2008. 

After the jump, more on both books.

First, a review of Maura Farrelly's work, which I recently had the great pleasure of reading. As a former journalist, Maura writes with a crystalline clarity on her subject, engaging from page one to the end. She starts with a simple question that is very obvious -- and yet not so obvious since I've never seen it asked in such a clarifying way before, to wit: why did Catholics support the American revolution, given the anti-Catholic bent of Anglo-American Protestantism (as seen in the Quebec Act, for example)?

The book is a searching, well-researched answer to that question, finding that Catholics in the ear before the massive immigration tides of the 1840s and after had "Americanized" themselves, identifying with republicanism. This raises immediately another question: given that there were more Catholics in the South than in the North prior to the 1830s or so (primarily because of Maryland and Louisiana), how did American Catholics square the circle of republicanism, a hierarchical church, and slaveholding. Her answer comes in part in this book and even more clearly in a terrific article soon to appear in Early American Studies, entitled "American Slavery, American Freedom, American Catholicism," which examines how much Catholic republicanism mirrored and paralleled that created by southern slaveholders. American Catholicism, as she explores was "born in a slaveholding context," much in the same way that Edmund Morgan famously explored for Virginia republicanism in American Slavery, American Freedom.

Anyway, a quick review of Papist Patriots from choice, and you can also read a much more extensive and detailed one (which takes issue with the author on a few points) here (part I) and here (part II).

Farrelly, Maura Jane.  Papist patriots: the making of an American Catholic identity.  Oxford, 2012.  305p index afp; ISBN 9780199757718, $35.00. Reviewed in 2012aug CHOICE.
Farrelly (Brandeis Univ.) offers a fresh look at Catholics in America. Previous narratives about Catholics in the New World typically focused on early Spanish missionary efforts or immigrant Catholics in the 19th and 20th centuries. Farrelly's unique account of Colonial Catholicism focuses on the experiences of Maryland Catholics during the 17th and 18th centuries and how, regardless of anti-Catholic sentiments, they were staunch supporters of the patriot cause. The logically organized book begins with a discussion of English attitudes toward Catholics that have shaped English foreign and domestic policies for centuries. Against this backdrop, Farrelly explores the personal and political experiences of English Catholics in the New World and why they ultimately embraced independence from the mother country. This fresh perspective and exploration of the Colonial Catholic American identity is well written, highly readable, and well researched; there is an extensive notes section at the end of the book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduate collections. -- A. P. Hancock, Emmanuel College

Next up, a review of Jon Gjerde's work, uncompleted upon his death

Gjerde, Jon.  Catholicism and the shaping of nineteenth-century America, ed. by S. Deborah Kang.  Cambridge, 2012.  273p index; ISBN 9781107010246, $99.00; ISBN9780521279666 pbk, $32.99. Reviewed in 2012aug CHOICE.
Gjerde (d. 2008; formerly, Univ. of California, Berkeley) presents a new perspective on a familiar topic in US history--Protestant America's encounter with Roman Catholicism in the 19th century. Instead of focusing on the nativism that characterized the period, Gjerde points to a conversation between Protestants and Catholics over their different understandings concerning the fundamental basis of US society. Protestants took pride in their commitment to religious freedom while questioning Catholicism as being beyond the pale in its incompatibility with the premises upon which they had built the nation. Immigrant Catholics welcomed the religious freedom their adopted nation offered and sought to be full participants in the formation of the still-new nation, while at the same time erecting barriers to prevent Catholic assimilation. Gjerde suggests the tension between pluralism in the US and national identity, but was unable to resolve it. The author died before completing his book. Kang (California State Univ., San Marcos) edited it for publication, adding only a preface and epilogue explaining the origins of the book and where Gjerde would have gone with the topic in the concluding chapter, if he had lived to write it. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. -- B. F. Le Beau, University of Saint Mary

And a bit more about the work, from the work's website:

Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America offers a series of fresh perspectives on one of the most familiar themes – the nation’s encounter with Catholicism – in nineteenth-century American history. While religious and immigration historians have construed this history in univocal terms, Jon Gjerde bridges sectarian divides by presenting Protestants and Catholics in conversation with each other. In so doing, Gjerde reveals the ways in which America’s encounter with Catholicism was much more than a story about American nativism. Nineteenth-century religious debates raised questions about the fundamental underpinnings of the American state and society: the shape of the antebellum market economy, the transformation of gender roles in the American family, and the place of slavery in an ostensibly democratic polity were only a few of the issues engaged by Protestants and Catholics in a lively and enduring dialectic. While the question of the place of Catholics in America was left unresolved, the very debates surrounding this question generated multiple conceptions of American pluralism and American national identity.


Christopher said…
All of these books on early American Catholicism look great. Thanks for the reviews/notices!

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