John C. Pinheiro, Professor of History and Chair Director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Acton Lecture Series lecturer, has written a new book, recently reviewed at First Things. Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War argues that virulent anti-Catholicism was the “defining attitude undergirding the early Republic and antebellum years.”
Alan Cornett of First Things calls Pinheiro’s book “fresh” and “convincing.” Pinheiro asks his reader to recall that Catholics were seen as invading a primarily Protestant United States, bringing a superstitious faith with them. Lyman Beecher, the famed abolitionist, began the Native American Party to combat Catholicism:
The new Native American Party gave Beecher’s ideological framework political expression. Casting themselves as a non-partisan and patriotic alternative to the corrupt Democrats and Whigs, the Native Americans pointed to rising Irish Catholic immigration and the influx of Jesuits as dangers from which American republicanism must be protected.
Like the Catholics, Joseph Smith’s Latter-Day Saints were also deemed a threat to Protestant and republican America, but for different reasons. “What made Mormons a threat was their ability to organize, succeed, and prosper outside the prevailing white Protestant paradigm, much like Jewish Americans.” However, following the death of Smith, and the migration of the Mormons to the West, “Catholics remained as the only major, visible threat to republican government.”
Cornett points out that Pinheiro’s work illustrates how the groundwork of American foreign policy was created out of this severe anti-Catholicism.
Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War promises to be a solid addition to the understanding of American political and religious history.