His Excellence, the Irishman John Hughes
John William Tuohy
When Anti-Irish Catholic fever was at his highest point, efforts were made to defend the made to defend the church in print, most notably by Bishop Michael O'Connor and his paper, the Pittsburgh Catholic, and by Father James Mullon, a tough, former merchant sailor, who used his paper, the Cincinnati Telegraph Journal, to balance the racist and bigoted Cincinnati Journal.
As courageous as this was, these two tiny newspaper had little or no effect overall. They were simply overwhelmed by the Nativists publication, which, in 1849 alone, a slow year for the Anti-Catholic crowd, printed an estimated 2,200,000 pages of anti-Catholic pages in books, newspapers and journals.
The Church did, however, have a few minor victories. Father John Hughes, later Bishop of New York, was stationed in Philadelphia, and decided to join the insanity by sending in a letter to the editors of the Nativist paper, The Protestant, under the pseudonym "Mr. Cramer".
In these letters, there was a series of them, Hughes/Cramer, brought the charges against the Catholics to what he thought was the height of absurdity. It wasn't. The editors placed an ad in the next edition begging Mr.Cramer/ Hughes to send in more articles on the evils of Romanism.
So Hughes sat down at his desk and penned what he considered to be the most ridiculous letter of his life, accusing the Catholics of being behind everything that had gone wrong to everyone in the world over the past decade. Hughes said that he was positive that he had gone overboard that time, no one, he reasoned, in their right mind could believe such rubble. But they did.
The editors sent Hughes/Crammer a check and asked for more. Hughes wrote several more letters, each more insane then the next, before he became bored with the hoax and wrote to the Catholic Truth Teller, explaining what he had done. The editors over at the Protestant wrote a front page editorial denying Hughes claim and insisted that there really was a Mr. Cranmer out there, someplace, if, in fact he hadn’t already been kidnapped and sent to Rome for execution at the hands of the Pope. After that, the church sent out Hughes, one of its best and brightest scholars, to confront the Nativist’s in public debate, but these were usually disrupted by armed gangs of Know Nothing thugs.
Later, as Bishop of New York, Hughes continued to combat the Nativists and as a result, oddly enough, played a small hand in taking religion out of America’s public school system.
By 1840, hundreds of Parishes were supporting their own schools, with most of this growth took place in the larger Eastern cities where Catholic students were forced to read aloud from the King James bible and history books referred to John Hus as "a zealous reformer from popery" who was "burned at the stake by deceitful Catholics"
This was so appalling to some Catholics that in one year 20,000 Catholic and mostly Irish students were pulled out of public schools by their parents. Still, at the time, the vast majority of the inner city Catholics were desperately poor and even the minimal cost of a parochial education was well beyond their means. As result, most Catholic remained within the public school system.
In 1840, the New York city schools, public and private, were under the direct control of a private non-profit, corporation called the Public School Society which administered city funds for the schools. The state’s Governor, William H. Seward, a Protestant who was sympathetic to the Catholic's complaints of text book biased, agreed to withhold state funding of the city’s schools until the Public School Society agreed to drop it anti Catholic text from the children’s books which were provided to the schools by the Public School Society. Bishop Hughes then suggested that the withheld funds be given to his burgeoning, but broke, Catholic school system.
A fierce political battle broke out over the issue, and Hughes, using the considerable clout of the Catholic dominated Democratic party, walked away the winner, more or less. While his Catholic school system didn't receive any state funding, the Public School Society was abolished, the anti-Catholic text books tossed out and from that day on all of New York's state and city schools would be run along strictly non-sectarian lines.
But the New York victory left a sour taste in the mouths of Nativist.
In 1844, the issue came to a head in Philadelphia when the local Bishop, Francis Patrick Kenrick requested that the local government allow Catholic school children to read their own Bible in class, as opposed to the Protestant King James version which they were forced to read every morning at the start of classes. The next day, several newspapers twisted the Bishops simple request to the point that a mob surrounded the Bishops house with torches, intent on burning it to the ground, but were dispersed by the local police before any damage could be done.
The Kensington riots broke out a day later. A group of thugs marched into the Catholic Ghetto of Kensington, outside of Philadelphia, led by a 12 year boy who carried an American flag. A small but determined group of Catholics marched out to meet the mob and defend their homes. Shots were fired and the 12 year boy flew dead on to the ground. The next day, May 7th, an armed mob of 2,500 marched back into Kensington under a banner "THIS IS THE FLAG WHICH WAS TRAMPLED UPON BY THE IRISH PAPIST!"
Years later one of the residents recalled (During the Mass there was) "The startling clamor of an approaching mob was heard, many a rosy countenance assumed the hue of the lily (the men in the Church rose quietly and strode to the doors) nearer and nearer came the cries, nearer and bearer came the shouts, but the celebrant, if he felt any fear, showed none, as the God of the battles lay before him. Nearer and nearer came the yells and as they passed behind the church the solemn misery nobis was over"
To save their homes and shops from being burned to the ground, non-Catholics placed signs in their windows "No Popery Here!". Before the riot was over, 81 Homes, two Catholic Churches, two rectories, two convents, and a Catholic library were burned to the ground. Forty people were left dead and another 60, including nine Priests, were severely beaten.
In New York, John Hughes, was outraged at the attack. To ensure the safety of his flock, Hughes assembled a make-shift militia of Catholic faithful and pledged them with the oath (You will) resolve, after taking as many lives as you can in defense of your property, to give up, if necessary, your own lives to the same cause"
It was, more or less, for show. The Bishop had gone through the trouble of inviting the press to the gathering as a means to make the local bigots aware, that the New York church, if provoked, defend itself.
After the administering the oath, Hughes turned to the assembled reporters and said "If a single catholic church is burned, (as were those in Kensington) in the city of New York, then this city will become a second Moscow...They (The Kensington Catholics) should have defended themselves and their churches since the authorities could not, or should I say would not, do it for them"
When Hughes was invited to city Hall by Mayor Robert Morris, a Naivest sympathizer, he was asked; "Do you fear some of your Churches too, will be burned sir?"
"No sir” Hughes replied “but I am afraid that some of your churches will be burned. We can protect our own. I come to warn you for your own good."
The Mayor asked if Hughes could at least restrain his Catholic Militia, now an estimated 2,000 strong, from rioting and Hughes replied "I have not the power, you must take care that these men are not provoked"
Not a single Catholic church in New York was harmed.