Sunday, January 30, 2011

More on the "City of Brotherly Love" and its hatred for Catholics

Yesterday we talked about the Philadelphia riots in May 1844. Churches and a convent , were burned, a school was destroyed, hundreds of Irish Catholics lost their homes to the mob and scores of people were left dead or injured. A grand jury blamed the riots on the Catholics. Bishop Fenwick, who had done everything possible to quell his flock and keep them calm under attack from the nativists who claimed that Catholics were trying to get the bible out of the public schools, changed his strategy. No longer confident that Catholics could expect protection in a Protestant dominated society he began to creat a Catholic Ghetto, a society within the larger society with its own schools and organizaitons where Catholics would not be exposed to the prejudices of the Know-Nothings and their nativist friends. But the trouble was not over. On July 3—just short of two months after the first riots, Father John Patrick Dunn of Saint Philip Neri parish in the Southwark District was warned that an Independence Day parade scheduled for the next day and led by the Know-Nothings, might attack his church. The parish applied to the Governor for the formation of a volunteer force, armed from the local arsenal to defend the church. The request was granted. The Pennsylvania militia was also put on alert and weapons were handed out--twenty-five rifles--to those appointed to guard the church building.
In the event, the parade went on without incident but the next day a nativist mob of several thousand, hearing there were weapons at the church, gathered outside the building. The mob demanded that the weapons be removed. Despite the legitimacy of the weapons having been authorized by the governor, the sheriff complied. However after the sheriff left, a speaker whipped the crowd into a frenzy demanding that representatives of the mob be authorized to search the church for yet more weapons. You would think the sheriff would have found them all but when an alderman, the sheriff (who had returned) and seventeen of the mob entered the Church they an incredible amount of armaments—fifty-three muskets, ten pistols, a keg of gunpowder and ammunition—being guarded by ten armed men. This was far in excess what the governor had authorized. Had the Catholics been storing weapons on their own in anticipation of a papal invasion? It sounds silly to us, but not the Know-Nothing mobs whose newspapers and preachers had been admonishing to protect the American Republic "from the bloody hand of the pope." At nightfall, after the crowd had returned to their homes, the little arsenal was removed
The tension escalated with incredible stupidity being shown by those very officials the governor had charged with guarding the church. In addition to the militia, the sheriff had gathered a posse of 150 men. They seemed to go out of their way to incite the mob. They brought cannon to defend the church and then actually fired on the crowd when the crowd began to pelt them with stones. Most of the soldiers sent to protect the buildings left during the night of July 6th but the crowd returned, led by the alderman and the sheriff—who apparently couldn’t decide whose side he was on. The few remaining soldiers abandoned guarding the church, the mob turned two of the cannon on the building, weakening the walls. The mob broke into the church trashing the interior. That evening the soldiers returned with more cannon which they turned on the mob. The mob having seized the cannon earlier brought, turned them on the soldiers. Fighting raged through the night but by July 8th the soldiers had captured all the cannon and the crowd dispersed. Approximately 20 people had died and 50 were injured. The Grand Jury blamed the Catholics for the incident,.
Philadelphia became a strong-hold of the Know-Nothing party. Their candidate won the mayoralty in 1854 with the promise to fire all non-American born city employees. The Catholic immigrant population, feeling that they could not count on the city government for justice, withdrew into their own enclave, building Catholic schools to avoid the public ones and forming various Catholic organizations—including Militia—to protect themselves and avoid contact with the Protestant population. This strategy of withdrawing into closed Catholic Ghettoes would become increasingly popular for most working-class Catholics in the ninetenth and well into the twentieth centuries.
The Philadelphia riots were far more serious than the Charlestown Convent burning—not only in scope but in breadth—in as that Charlestown people of what might be called “the better sort” that is educated and middle class were appalled at the violence while in Philadelphia, although the mayor and the governor played their roles well, the mob was by no means limited to the poor and working classes. Even more disconcerting is that while Boston had a long history of “anti-popery,” Philadelphia had always been, even in colonial days, a city of great tolerance where the Catholics had existed in peace with their neighbors. These riots marked a clear change in the place Catholics held in American society. But Philadelphia was not the only place where Know-Nothingism raised its ugly—plug ugly—face. But more about that tomorrow. Also, i found that I had written a bit more on the Charlestown Convent burning and forgot to publish it--so more of that in a day or two as well.
Today's image is "Citizen Know-Nothing"--a nineteenth century nativist engraving depicting the ideal "American Man" --white, of Anglo-Saxon background, and Protestant.

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