Bishop Hughes and the Mayor of New York

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIII (14) start of chapter

Flushed with their unholy triumphs of church-burning, convent-wrecking, and house-pillaging, a chosen band of the Philadelphia rioters were to be welcomed with a public procession by their sympathisers of New York; but the stern attitude of the Catholics, obedient to the voice and amenable to the authority of their Bishop, dismayed the cowardly portion of their enemies, and taught even the boldest that discretion was the better part of valour.

It was not the first time that the Catholics of New York had taken a firm stand against the frenzy of the 'No Popery' faction. Shortly after the burning of the convent in Boston, there was an attempt made to destroy St. Patrick's Cathedral. But the church was put in a state of defence; 'the streets leading to it were torn up, and every window was to be a point whence missiles could be thrown on the advancing horde of sacrilegious wretches; while the wall of the churchyard, rudely constructed, bristled with the muskets of those ready for the last struggle for the altar of their God and the graves of those they loved. So fearful a preparation, unknown to the enemies of religion, came upon them like a thunderclap, when their van had nearly reached the street leading to the Cathedral: they fled in all directions in dismay.'(41)

A meeting of the native Americans of New York was called in the City Hall Park, to give a suitable reception to their brethren from Philadelphia. The time for action had thus arrived. Bishop Hughes had made it known through the columns of the Freeman's Journal,(42) then under his entire control, that the scenes of Philadelphia should not be renewed with impunity in New York; and he was known to have said—in reply to a priest who, having escaped from Philadelphia, advised him to publish an address, urging the Catholics to keep the peace—'If a single Catholic church were burned in New York, the city would become a second Moscow.' There was no mistaking his spirit and that of his flock—excepting, of course, the 'good cautious souls who,' as the Bishop wrote, 'believe in stealing through the world more submissively than suits a freeman.' The churches were guarded by a sufficient force of men, resolved to die in their defence, but also resolved to make their assailants feel the weight of their vengeance. By an extra issue of the Freeman, the Bishop warned the Irish to keep away from all public meetings, especially that to be held in the Park. He then called upon the Mayor, and advised him to prevent the proposed demonstration.

'Are you afraid,' asked the Mayor, 'that some of your churches will be burned? '

'No, sir; but I am afraid that some of yours will be burned. We can protect our own. I come to warn you for your own good.'

'Do you think, Bishop, that your people would attack the procession?'

'I do not, but the native Americans want to provoke a Catholic riot, and if they can do it in no other way, I believe they would not scruple to attack the procession themselves, for the sake of making it appear that the Catholics had assailed them.'

'What, then, would you have me do?'

'I did not come to tell you what to do. I am a churchman, not the Mayor of New York; but if I were the Mayor, I would examine the laws of the State, and see if there were not attached to the police force a battery of artillery, and a company or so of infantry, and a squadron of horse; and I think I should find that there were; and if so, I should call them out. Moreover, I should send to Mr. Harper, the Mayor-elect, who has been chosen by the votes ' of this party. I should remind him, that these men are his supporters; I should warn him, that if they carry out their design, there will be a riot; and I should urge him to use his influence in preventing this public reception of the delegates.'(43)

There was no demonstration. And every right-minded man, every lover of peace in the city, must have applauded the course taken by Dr. Hughes, to whose prudent firmness was mainly attributable the fact that New York was saved from riot, bloodshed, murder, and sacrilege, and, above all, from that dreadful feeling of unchristian hate between man and man, citizen and citizen, neighbour and neighbour, which such collisions are certain for years after to leave rankling in the breast of a community.

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

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