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A Know-Nothing Compares "Romanism" with "Republicanism"

In the mid-nineteenth century, the arrival of large numbers of Catholics from Ireland and Germany made the new immigrants' faith and its place in American society a hot-button issue. Such ideas found their expression in the anti-Catholic polemics of agitators like Thomas Whitney and in the "nativist" politics of groups like the so-called "Know-Nothing" party. This 1856 tract, published while Whitney was serving as a Know-Nothing U.S. Congressman from New York, outlines the supposed distinctions between the "Romanism" of the Catholic Church and the "Republicanism" of the American political system, institutions that Whitney suggests are inherently contradictory.

[W]e set out to show that Romanism is diametrically opposed to Republicanism . . . the Romish Church, in its whole character and spirit, is hostile to the character and spirit of our free institutions. The simple fact that one is an absolute government, and the other a popular government, establishes the antipodal. These are the extremes of social organism, and when extremes meet, decomposition of one or the other must ensue, unless the repulsive power is sufficient in the one or the other to prevent an actual contact.

American Republicanism cultivates intelligence among the people. Romanism suppresses intelligence.

American Republicanism recognizes and secures to all men the right of trial by jury. Romanism adjudicates in the sombre dungeon of the inquisition, or through the will of a single prelate, who may be at once the accuser, the judge, and the executioner.

American Republicanism ensures the freedom of the press, and the right of free speech. Romanism silences, or else muzzles the press and forbids discussion; it puts a bridle on the lips of its subjects, as we do on the lips of our state-prison convicts.

American Republicanism secures to its citizens the right of suffrage in the choice of their rulers, with the power to impeach and remove. Romanism chooses its executive officer or sovereign, by a vote of the college of cardinals; that sovereign holds his authority, which is absolute for life, and the cardinals are appointed by him. The people have no voice.

American Republicanism secures the full liberty of conscience to all its people, and to the stranger within its gates. Romanism pronounces liberty of conscience to be a wicked heresy.

American Republicanism permits every human creature to read and study the Word of God. Romanism forbids it. In a word, American Republicanism is FREEDOM; Romanism is slavery.

. . . “The hierarchy [of the Romish Church] in the United States, professes attachment to the government, and her children from the Emerald Isle (made desolate and repulsive through priestcraft), avail themselves of the liberty we give to them, and weave the harp of the oppressed, downtrodden Erin, in the folds of the unsullied ensign of American Liberty. What a mockery of their own vassalage! What a contrast! The relic of national degradation blended with the emblem of national glory and might!

. . . American Republicanism is the parent of progress; it encourages the development of human energy, and gives free play to the faculties. It expands the intellect, invigorates the soul, and elevates the standard of the individual man. It builds locomotives, erects manufactories, disembowels the earth, causing her to yield up her treasures to the uses of man. It encourages commerce and sends it smoking steamships to the far ends of the earth. It strikes out into the wilderness, talks with the savage without enslaving the soul, and develops the resources of the earth. Romanism gives to the red man a cross and a rosary; American Republicanism places in his hands a Bible and a hoe. It builds a school-house for his children, and teaches him that sowing and reaping are more manly and more profitable than hunting and fishing.

. . . Where Romanism prevails, there is stagnation and public lethargy. Where American Republicanism prevails, there is industry, intelligence, energy, and public prosperity.

Source | Thomas R. Whitney, A Defence of the American Policy, 1856, excerpted in John Gjerde, ed., Major Problems in American Immigration & Ethnic History (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), 144-146.
Creator | Thomas Whitney
Item Type | Pamphlet/Petition
Cite This document | Thomas Whitney, “A Know-Nothing Compares "Romanism" with "Republicanism",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed June 6, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1133.

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