President U.S. Grant: “Catholicism is A Greater Threat Than the Confederacy”

Photo Source: Thomas Nast

Since the “alleged” first landing of Spanish explorers in North America during the 1400s, to the creation of the United States controlled by a predominantly English population, the cultural idea of citizenship has remained murky. The idea of citizenship in American culture is not the same as legal citizenship. One can be a legal citizen, but largely not regarded or treated as such within the culture itself. A modern example of a group of people being treated as second-class citizens is the unequal treatment of people of color. However, a group of people whom many Americans would not immediately assume were treated as such are Catholics. Much has changed, and much has stayed the same, but there was a time in American culture that Catholics were seen as an enemy to American democracy and were not treated as full citizens.

Numerous relics left behind throughout American history prove a long-standing fear and support for anti-Catholicism in the American colonies. Prime facets of anti-catholic expression throughout American history include political cartoons, policy, and speeches.

The Americans River Ganges by Thomas Nast, largely known by historians as an anti-catholic political cartoon, is shown above. The cartoon symbolically depicts Roman Catholics as crocodiles who were invading to devour American school children. This not only depicts Catholics as foreign invaders trying to dismantle the country and cause fear, but also further instills fear by involving children. At the time the cartoon was published in 1871, there was a movement of sorts in which religious schools were seeking state funding since there were no laws previously passed to deal with the funding of schools. Thomas Nast, as well as many Republicans at the time, believed that the separation of church and state would disintegrate if government funding were provided to religious schools. Additional details in the background of the cartoon such as the school resembling a fortress depict the level of protection people felt was necessary to protect themselves against the threat of a “Catholic American Theocracy.” The American River Ganges by Thomas Nast is historical evidence of an anti-catholic view in the U.S. that lasted well into the Civil War.

Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar, appropriated for their support, shall be appropriated to any sectarian schools. Resolve that neither the State nor Nation, nor both combined shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford to every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistical dogmas. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. –President U.S. Grant at the Society of the Army of Tennessee Convention in Iowa, 1875. Source: Huffington Post

Above is a quote from a larger speech given by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 on his stance regarding the funding of “sectarian” schools. It is important to notice that President Grant is referring mostly to Catholics when he says “sectarian” schools. This quote from a 2 term president of the United States is further proof of how widespread and long-lasting the perception of Catholics has been in the United States. Not only were Catholics treated as if they were invading America, but also as if they were a larger threat than the confederacy by a major president of the United States.

It somewhat makes sense that not much changed from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War in regard to the treatment of Catholics, because not much with Catholics at the time had actually changed. Compared to 2018, where according to “A Closer Look at Catholic America” by Michael Lipka, 42% of American Catholics are of an ethnicity or race other than white Americans. Throughout much of American history, especially between the signing of the Declaration and the Civil War, not much changed in the demographics of American Catholics which would have likely been the vehicle for change. It is commonly known throughout history that major shifts in cultural perception can take decades if not centuries to develop and change. This begs the question of why were Catholics seen as different in the first place?

Why Haven’t Catholics Been Treated As Full Citizens Throughout American History?

Analyzing historical expressions of an anti-Catholic American past go to prove that there was, in fact, a real anti-catholic perception perviously held culturally by Americans. However, what the evidence at its surface does not yield, is why Catholics were ever treated negatively in the first place.

“Conciliarism and the American Founding” by Michael D. Breidenbach provides an interesting look inside the history associated with the underlying perceptions of Catholic immigrants in the early American colonies. Breidenbach alludes to the fact that the American perceptions of Catholics at the time did not come out of no where. The American perception of Catholics was not specifically unique to North America, it must not be forgotten that everyone residing in North America other than Native Americans are indeed immigrants. When a new country is beginning to form on the basis of a large population hailing from a different land, the perceptions, world view, and culture of the immigrants are likely to travel along with them.

What made Catholicism so odious to early American Protestants and justified English and colonial penal laws was the pope’s claim (and Catholics’ apparent acceptance of it) that he held temporal power over all civil rulers, including the right to depose a secular authority. The fear of “popery,” then, stemmed in part from the specter of “ecclesiastical tyranny.” -Michael D. Breidenbach on page 486 of “Conciliarism and the American Founding”

In the quote above, Breidenbach is identifying that the central reason Catholics have been feared in American culture is because the pope was claimed to be “superior to all civil rulers.” In relation to the cultural perceptions of the 1870s, it makes sense that Americans would see Catholicism as a threat to democracy because of the Catholic rhetoric involving the pope and his proclaimed powers, which could have struck a nerve in Americans’ pre-existing fear of a theocracy and imposition of their democratic process; however, it is not to say that this fear was justified.

What Were the Implications of This In More Modern Day Chicago?


Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Reflecting back on the second-class citizen treatment of Catholics in America, unions can also be seen as proof of an enduring and lasting effect of history on the cultural perception of Catholics. Without much knowledge pertaining to the exact becomings of unions and their relationship with Catholics, their existence as a necessity can still be concluded. If unions were born out of an abuse of factory workers imposed by the factory owners, then it would make sense that the somewhat culturally underprivileged Catholics would fall victim to negative treatment as well. According to Heath W. Carter in “Union Made,” “Many wage earners were faithful churchgoers who eschewed class activism.” Seemingly the only way to negotiate wages and fair treatment was to come together in the formation of unions, even though many Christians “considered it wrong according to [their] conscience to become part of an organization which governed the rights of [their] fellow-man.”


Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

Nearby Union Park, the site and home to many of Chicago’s unions (hence the name UNION Park), still exists many unions functioning to this day. One difference however is that the surrounding area is now inhabited by high-income earning people housed in massively expensive apartments. The more east one goes from Union Park, the “nicer” the stores and facilities seem to become, most likely to appeal to the neighborhood’s new inhabitants.



Photo Source: Spencer Bailey

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