Short and sweet: the Protestant Crusade is excellent background reading. Really gives a feel for what was happening in the antebellum 19th century in America.
This extremely well sourced and detailed book was on the list as general background. I know so very little American history in general and Catholicism in America in particular that this seemed a good place to start. As has been the case repeatedly, books I’ve read for general background tend to have quite a bit to say about schooling. The Protestant Crusade contains a few choice tidbits about the part schools played in the conflict between the established Protestant Americans and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century.
For example: had not run across the Dudleian Lectures before. As the Oracle Wikipedia explains:
The Dudleian lectures are a series of prestigious lectures on religion at Harvard University, where they are the oldest endowed lectureship. They have been given every year from 1755 to the present. The lectures were endowed by Paul Dudley in 1750 with a sum of £133 6s 8d. Dudley specified that the topic of the lectures should rotate among four themes, so that students would hear each one before graduation:
1. The principles of natural religion.
2. The truths of scriptural revelation.
3. “The detecting and convicting and exposing the idolatry of the Romish church, their tyranny, usurpations, damnable heresies, fatal errors, abominable superstitions, and other crying wickedness in their high places”.
4. “The validity of the presbyterial ordination of ministers” (specifically, in the form practiced at the time in Scotland and Geneva, and among Englishmen who opposed the episcopal ordination of the Church of England).
Harvard: from its roots a bastion of civility and open-mindedness. These lectures were going strong at the beginning of the 19th century, and, according to Billington, they were widely published.
Another: the Ursuline sisters had a convent near Boston in the 1830s, to which wealthy non-Catholics sent their daughters for schooling. From Harvard’s own website, we read about how, around the turn of the century, the hellfire-style Calvinist Puritanism of Harvard’s founders had given way to Unitarian Universalism among the Brahmins. While this may seem like a huge swing, it actually makes sense: if people are saved through no merit of their own but solely through the unmerited will of God, why not everybody? It’s almost a quibble, theologically, over what the exact number of saved people is. And while the superficial change might seem striking – for a Unitarian, there’s no point in dressing like Solomon Kane or being all dour or even reading the Bible (you’re saved regardless of any of that) – in reality, the truly fundamental beliefs, those that really distinguished the Pilgrims from all other peoples, remained unchanged: that they’re the smart, righteous ones who by rights are and ought to be in charge.
But the unenlightened peons outside Harvard didn’t get with the program instantly. The poor Brahmins were faced with schools for their daughters that were still run along traditional Puritan lines. Better to send them to be schooled by Catholic sisters (!) than by people who would treat them all like little Hester Prynnes.
The commoners got even, I guess, by burning the convent to the ground in 1835, based partly on the usual accusations against the sisters – that the convent was a whore house for priests, that women were kept there against their wills, that the resulting illegitimate children were murdered and buried on the grounds. When inspection showed none of this to be true, it didn’t matter – those tricksy nuns obviously hid things really, really well. Billington suggests simple class resentments played some part.
One more, related accusation: the No Popery crowd also pointed out that Catholic schools like the Ursuline convent school were suspiciously available for well-off Protestants when they weren’t for poor Catholics, which proved that the Church was more interested in brainwashing Protestant kids than in educating their own. Hmmm.
Billington was not apparently Catholic, but seemed sympathetic to the plight of the millions of Catholic immigrants and their ongoing persecution by ‘nativists.’ I need to put together a timeline, with Brownson and Hecker, Mann and Bernard, Seton and Drexel mapped out against Archbishop Hughes, anti-Catholic publications, the Know-Nothings and the various riots and church burnings, etc. Also, really, really need to look at a few contemporary textbooks (Billington names a bunch, bless him!).
I wish he’d covered the next 50 years as well. What I’d like to see are books with this level of detail through Al Smith’s loss on up to the election of JFK.
I’ll write more on this soon. Still have a bit to go to finish it.