In celebrating the 240th anniversary of American independence and the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, it’s worth remembering the role that Catholics and Catholicism played in 1776.
10. Finally, though many Catholics immigrated to America prior to 1846, they never did so in considerable numbers. Even when they migrated in fairly sizable groups they could not compete with the native Protestant population. Everywhere they lived they formed, at best, an interesting minority. All of this changed in the mid-1840s when famine and Revolution drove Irish and Germans (both Catholic and Lutheran) in huge numbers to the United States. Many of these Catholic immigrants were understandably poor, and the old English animosities against the Irish rose with ferocity. Many in the public sphere began to talk openly about a “papal takeover,” and even the level-headed of American society feared some kind of Vatican conspiracy to destroy the American republic from within and by her own laws and tolerance. Catholic immigration to the United States remained steady until the 1870s when huge numbers of Southern Europeans, Jews, and eastern Mediterraneans migrated across the Atlantic. In large part, the American Progressive movement arose as a way to halt the further Catholicizing and Hebrewization (my made-up word) of America, desiring to “yank the hyphen out of hyphenated Americans.”