Almost Incredible

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIV (6) start of chapter

I might possibly be accused of romancing if I ventured to describe the feeling of hostility to which abuse and misrepresentation of Catholics—Irish Catholics especially—gave rise in the Protestant mind of America. Horrible as such a confession may sound in the ears of rational men, Protestants of good repute have since declared, that at one time they believed that to kill a Catholic priest, or burn down a Catholic church, would be doing the most acceptable service to God! I had heard this from the most reliable sources in more than one State; yet it was so monstrous, I hesitated to give it credence. But while I wavered between doubt and belief, I myself heard from the lips of a Catholic convert—a gentleman of worth and good social position—the same confession, in almost the very same words. I naturally thought, what must have been the sentiment of a low and vulgar mind, when such was the feeling of a man of good character and so-called liberal education? Until I heard him, I did not thoroughly appreciate the moral blindness and savage frenzy of the genuine Know Nothing.

An alderman of a certain city in Tennessee informed a friend of mine that such was his feeling in his youth that 'he considered it doing an honour to the Deity to take his double-barrelled shot-gun, and shoot any Catholic he might meet.' He does not hold that opinion now; as he has been a zealous Catholic since the Christmas of 1865, when he was received into the Church.

In another city of Tennessee an Irishman, named Hefferman, was shot during the Know Nothing excitement; but the three men who were the cause of his death joined the Church which they hated and persecuted in his person.

Indeed, such was the astounding rampancy of assertion—such the omnivorous swallow of public credulity—that when the Catholic Church of Nashville was in the course of erection, it was stated in the newspaper which borrowed its inspiration from the present Governor Brownlow, that the vaults, or basement of the building, were intended for the incarceration of Protestants when the Pope was to come over and take the country! It was also asserted, and rather widely believed, that John Mitchell, who had started the Citizen newspaper, was an agent of the Jesuits; in fact, a Jesuit in disguise! I must admit that the credulity which converted basements of churches into dungeons ought not to be quoted as a conclusive proof of the insanity of Know Nothingism; for I have heard much the same thing announced in a solemn place, and with owl-like gravity, not long since, and not in America.

The honest 'No Popery' zealots were not bad but only misguided men; and when they had the opportunity of forming a right judgment—of emancipating themselves from the leading-strings in which interested bigots had held their minds—they unhesitatingly made the fullest and most generous atonement.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America