Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Growing Romish Menace


By 1880, it was clear even to the most obtuse politicians that “the Catholic vote” was becoming key to a successful national campaign.  This combined with other factors, such as the surprising popularity of Leo XIII among non-Catholics, and the able leadership of the American Church by Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop John Ireland (1838-1918), and Bishop John Joseph Keane (1839-1918), then bishop of Richmond, Virginia, and from 1886 to 1896 first rector of the Catholic University of America.  This brought about a resurgence of nativist hysteria, ironically chronicled in many of the cartoons of foreign-born Thomas Nast (1840-1902).
John Sherman, Romish Sympathizer
As the election of 1880 approached, Hayes’s announcement that he would abide by his promise to serve only one term greatly relieved the Republican leadership.  He had been an exceptionally unexceptional president, while Democrats, convinced he had stolen the election, referred to him as “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency” throughout his tenure.
If Hayes was completely unexceptional, however, his chosen successor, Treasury Secretary John Sherman (1823-1900) was completely unacceptable.  Brother of General Sherman, he was believed to share his sibling’s Catholic sympathies.
To counter the growing Romish Menace, the Republicans nominated James Garfield, like Grant and Hayes from Ohio.  A “safe” candidate, he was selected on the thirty-fifth ballot.  As was by now usual, his platform included opposition to aid to Catholic schools and advocacy of a constitutional amendment to that effect.
General Winfield Scott Hancock
To oppose Garfield, the Democrats selected General Winfield Scott “Hancock the Superb” Hancock (1824-1886).  Neither candidate can be said to have fired the public’s imagination, although Hancock ran a strong campaign.
Two factors probably secured Garfield’s election, despite the general lack of enthusiasm.  The first was a letter written by Ellen Ewing Sherman, wife of General Sherman, to the Catholic Herald.
Probably upset that her brother-in-law did not receive the Republican nomination, Mrs. Sherman urged Catholics to vote for Hancock.  This was because Garfield would — in her opinion — do everything in his power to harm the Church.
Having to tolerate Catholics under the thumb of the Vatican was bad enough.  That they would allow a woman to presume to give an opinion and interfere in politics was ample proof that the Romanists could not be trusted to behave like good Americans and leave the trouser-wearing, whiskey-drinking, and cigar-smoking to the menfolk.
James A. Garfield
The second was the fear that aid to Catholic schools would allow priests in alliance with the pope to indoctrinate children in un-American beliefs and practices, and ultimately take over the entire United States school system.  As a result of the fear-mongering, a number of nativist organizations gained a new lease on life, while others were established to combat the Romish Menace.
Republicans spread false reports that Hancock was secretly a Catholic.  He would allegedly build a Catholic chapel in the White House and take orders directly from the Vatican.  Garfield was elected, but again by a very narrow margin.  Six months after Garfield took office, Charles Guiteau, like Henry George a disappointed office-seeker, murdered the president.
Chester Allen Arthur (1829-1886), selected as Garfield’s running mate by virtue of his having even less personality than the bland Garfield, succeeded to the presidency.  After three and a half years during which his chief accomplishment was avoiding scandal, Arthur announced his retirement, leaving the field clear for the nomination of Blaine, the obvious choice.
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