As Catholics, Independence day should provide an even bigger feeling of pride and divine providence. In some ways, Independence Day was our deliverance out of Egypt, an end to a long era of persecution and tumult. What, you did not know this…
It is no surprise to you that I am equating Passover, Easter and Independence day, they are my favorite Holidays. Anyone who knows me recognizes this reality. So, this is an act of love and devotion for me.
We should probably start at the beginning, our Catholic history in America.
The Province of Maryland, aka the Maryland Colony—was founded in 1632 as a safe haven for English Catholics fleeing anti-Catholic persecution in England. The colony was established by Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore (also known as Lord Baltimore). The Maryland Colony's first settlement was St. Mary's City, which was built along the Chesapeake Bay. It was the first settlement in the New World to guarantee religious freedom for all Trinitarian Christians.
In 1649, Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, the first law in the New World designed to encourage religious tolerance, 17 years after it’s founding.
Yes, the first ACT of RELIGIOUS LIBERTY was yours, it was in the Colony of Maryland. However, it did not last long. Historians and History books often tell of the Catholic origins of Maryland but not the Protestant response. It did not take long for the Protestant believers to devise a plan to occupy and build roots in Maryland and take over the civil government, then enacting laws to forbid the practice of Catholicism.
In 1754, only 5 years later, the Puritan response was implementing repealing the Religious Liberty statute.
Yes, in fact, the Colony where Religious Liberty is rooted, is the same colony which later enacted the most Anti-Catholic laws. Double Taxation, ordinance upon ordinance against the Church and it’s teaching of the faith. It became illegal for a Catholic to hold public office.
The intolerance did not stop there, by the time of the Revolution, all of the colonies, except Pennsylvania had Anti-Catholic laws. Most did not allow Catholics the Vote, hold public office and in some cases would not allow Priests into the Colony.
In 1759 Massachusetts, Christmas celebrations were banned because of the Puritanical belief that because of Catholic influences, making ‘merry’ on the Lord’s birthday defiled his divinity.
Divine Providence struck when Joseph Carroll, an extremely wealthy Catholic from Maryland was asked to accompany John Adams and Samual Chase, in the early days of the First Continental Congress, on a mission to negotiate support from French Canadian peoples. While the mission was unsuccessful, both Chase and Adams were so impressed with his patriotism to the cause of American Liberty they raised his position and standing among the Congress.
The second event that helped to dissipate the anti-Catholicism in the colonies was the emerging French support and Washington’s budding friendship with young Lafayette.
During the winter at Valley Forge became the landmark event, long forgotten, but still felt today. As the new year approached, Washington understood that conscriptions among the various militia’s from the colonies were coming to an end on December 31st. Cold, beleaguered, hungry, and defeated, these units were ready to go home, and accept the fate that laid ahead…except…Washington had other plans.
He summoned a pamphlet writer from Philadelphia, help craft an appeal to the Troops. A clarion call of unity and dedication to the cause of Liberty…”these are the times that try men’s souls..” yet, just before this…Washington using the same motivations changed the course of History…but few know how!
The Units from Massachusetts were beginning their late celebration of Pope’s Day, an American Colonist version of Fawkes Day…an anti-Catholic Celebration where the Pope’s likeness, made with Hay and garments, was burned in effigy.
Washingon hearing of the celebration rode to the gathered masses and demanded they take down the scarecrow like figure of the Pope and never to hoist it again. Only due to his appreciation as a leader and how his men held him in reverence, was this annual celebration ended. It never was formally held again…
John Carroll, continued to rise in importance in the First and Second Continental Congress…first as a contributor, then as a source of fortune through friends and associates. His son became the first Bishop of America, assigned to Baltimore.
Catholics continued to suffer after the lull from the Revolution thru to the Great Awakening in the 1830’s…as the Irish and German Catholics immigrated, but that is for another day.
Our founding was a great emancipation for the Catholic Faith in the Colonies. Many states continued to have anti-Catholic statutes on their books thru the early 1800’s, most removed by the War of 1812. Yet, few were observed and acted upon.
Washington, Adams, Chase and Carroll ushered in a new era of real and secured Religious Liberty for Catholics. This true freedom was not obtained until the 1960’s…but the roots are as deep as any in our Founding.
Our Independence day, July 4th, holds a special, deep place…or at least it should in the hearts of all Catholics