Even at the Altar and in the Pulpit

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIV (5) start of chapter

Strange as it may appear, this anti-foreign insanity caught hold of the sons of Irish Catholics; nay, its presence was detected at the altar and in the pulpit! It was too base an infirmity to touch a generous mind, and those who were affected by it were weak and vain and foolish, and Americans knew them to be such. Where one is born is a matter of accident. If this be so under ordinary circumstances, it is eminently so with the children of emigrants; they may have been born at either side of the Atlantic, or at sea. Absurd instances might be told of the sons of Irish Catholic emigrants boasting of their American birth, and expressing their sympathy with the Know Nothing's hatred of foreigners. The humble, honest parents, redolent of the soil, endowed with a brogue rich and mellifluous enough to betray their origin, were they met with on the Steppes of Russia or in the desert of Sahara; and the unworthy son railing, with the choicest accent of the country in which he was accidentally 'dropped,' against the land of his fathers! Such spectacles have been witnessed, to the infinite shame of the miserable creatures whose vanity was too much for a weak head and a poor heart. But that such melancholy spectacles were witnessed—were possible—is a proof of the madness that seized on the public mind. The high-minded American Catholic took his stand by hi& Irish co-religionist, to whose fidelity, liberality, and enthusiasm he justly attributed much of the marvellous progress which the Church had made, and was destined to make, in America. There were, among Catholics, a few exceptions to this generous and wise policy; but, on the whole, the religious sympathy held all other feelings in control, or effectually neutralised the poison of the national infection.

Like fever or cholera, this politico-religious epidemic was milder or more virulent in one place than in another. Here it seized hold of the entire community; there it caught but a few individuals. Here it signalised its presence by riots; there by bloodshed. In this city its congenial result was a burning, or a cowardly assassination; in the other, a stand-up fight, in which the Irish Catholic had to encounter enormous odds against him. That comparatively little mischief was done to ecclesiastical property may be accounted for by the manner with which, as by one impulse, the Catholics rallied round churches and convents wherever there was a probability of their being assailed. In New York, Know Nothingism made little external display in mischief and outrage; which fact may be accounted for in two ways—the one, that the Irish population had by this time grown too powerful to be wantonly trifled with; the other, that they listened in an obedient spirit to the advice of the Archbishop, who wisely believed that the madness would speedily die out if left to itself, and if not stimulated by opposition; that it was something similar to a conflagration of flax, violent for the moment, but without any enduring power. The Archbishop was right in his judgment. It was a frenzy of the hour, artfully inflamed by angry sects, and skilfully directed by unscrupulous politicians—men who would stop at nothing which could in any way further the objects of their selfish ambition. The fury of the madness did die out; but the feelings to which it gave rise, or evoked into new life, did not so readily pass away.

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