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|The Papacy's love affair |
with America's Confederacy
"Throughout its short history, the Confederate government sought earnestly and repeatedly to gain some kind of foreign support. The closest it ever came was in 1863, when His Holiness Pope Pius IX sent a letter addressed to the 'Illustrious and Hon. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. "
Davis interpreted this communication as a form of recognition, even though some measure of his interpretation was subject to false expectations. The letter was reported in Southern newspapers with the implication that Pope Pius IX supported the Confederacy. The President hoped that this letter would be the first step towards widespread European recognition of the Confederate government, but it proved to be the only such communication, and within two years, the Confederacy would be dead. Still, the letter does raise the question of why the Holy Pontiff would express public friendship to the Confederacy.
When the Civil War erupted in America, pitting the North against the agrarian society of the Confederacy, social, political, and even religious organizations were forced to take sides. Two of the country's major churches, the Baptists and the Methodists, divided over the issue of slavery – the Baptists remaining separated to this day. The Catholic Church, however, did not break in half, though its unity was severely strained. Instead of dividing, Episcopal alliances were virtually along geographical lines, and the Holy See took the curious position of showing sympathy for the slaveholding Confederacy. The reason for this was that the pope, Pius IX, saw the same kinds of threatening tendencies in the American North that had driven him from his papal throne in Italy in 1848. These tendencies in both Italy and America came in the form of progressivism towards a more centralized democracy, economic reform, and opposition to aristocracy. They were considered to be liberal in both Catholic and Southern society, and were viewed as dangerous to the spread of Catholicism. Furthermore, the Church's own political weakness in America severely hindered her ability to attempt to change anything about slavery other than the hearts of those who condoned it. The Catholic Church considered the tendencies of the North to be more dangerous than slavery, and considered the conservative Southern society to be more suitable to the spread of Catholicism than the North.
. . . .
The most important Catholic opinion on the American Civil War was that of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius IX. As noted, after surviving the Italian Revolution over a decade earlier, the pope rethought his past tendencies and adopted conservative policies that reinforced the constant tradition and teachings of the Catholic Church. For the Pope, the situation in America was all too familiar. Liberalism was thriving in the North and progress towards a centralized liberal democracy seemed to remove traditional values from American society. In the South, the pope saw a society that clung to traditional religious and family values, which he believed to be more conducive to Catholic principles despite its support of slavery.
Until he became President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis attended Baptist churches. After becoming President, he was baptized into the High Anglican Church. He developed a great respect for the Catholic Church, however, probably due to his attendance at a Dominican Catholic High School in Kentucky for two years. He kept this respect throughout his life and developed a personal, although distant, relationship with Pope Pius IX during the Civil War. In Roman Catholics, he saw friends whom he could trust and who would not turn their backs on the "oppressed." In 1863, Jefferson Davis penned a letter to Pope Pius IX in which he acknowledged the concern that the Holy Father had shown for America in the letters the pope had written to the bishops of New York and New Orleans. In these letters, the Pope conveyed his sadness over the Civil War, and voiced his desires to see it end quickly. Davis assured the pope that the Confederacy wanted the war to end as soon as possible and that they were merely fighting so that they could live in peace under their own government.
That Pope Pius IX referred to Jefferson Davis as the "Illustrious and Hon. President" could have been merely formal and respectful language, but behind the Pope's words in the letter seems to lie a hint of implied recognition of the Confederate government, or at least a desire to recognize it. Curiously, Cardinal Antonelli, the papal secretary of state during Pius IX's pontificate, claimed that the pope had not yet recognized the sovereign independence of the Confederate States, but had in fact recognized their belligerency – the first step towards formal recognition. In his letter, Pope Pius IX showed his gratitude that the Confederacy was eager for an end to violence, while acknowledging that the North did, in fact, have separate rulers and a separate government and that Southerners were not merely rebels: "May it please God at the same time to make the other peoples of America and their rulers…receive and embrace the counsels of peace and tranquility." Pius IX concluded the letter with a subtle hint that he saw a bright future for relations between the Vatican and Confederacy, were it to become a sovereign nation: "We, at the same time, beseech the God of pity to shed abroad upon you the light of His grace, and attach you to us by a perfect friendship." What the pope meant by "perfect friendship" is unknown, but it indicates that the pope saw something attractive in the Confederacy – so attractive that he was willing to stand alone as the only European leader willing to formally associate himself with its government.
Pius IX's correspondence with Jefferson Davis implies that he favored the South during the Civil War and recognized values in the South that were uncommon in the progressive world. The South's respect for religion, rejection of rampant industrialization, emphasis on family, and opposition to strong centralized secular government were very similar to traditional Catholic principles, so the Pope easily could have considered the South the fertile place in America to spread the Catholic Faith. He may have also seen the South as a sovereign nation which would perhaps one day faithfully follow the Church's teachings.
What is for sure is that by 1863, the Vatican understood that the Lincoln administration seemed less interested in returning the South to the Union than in punishing it into complete submission. When the Emancipation Proclamation reached Rome in the fall of 1862, the Vatican reaction was negative. L'Osservatore Romano condemned it as a desperate and hypocritical measure which freed no slaves but encouraged rebellion in the South. The Jesuit Journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, portrayed the war as a hopeless and unjust struggle of the North to punish the South.
"During President Davis' imprisonment following the defeat of the Confederacy, Pope Pius IX sent a picture of himself to Jefferson Davis with the hand-written inscription: "Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Along with this picture, the pope sent a miniature crown of thorns which the Sovereign Pontiff had woven with his own hands. Such a gift, said a great niece, was "never before conferred on any but crowned heads." Robert E. Lee, pointing to his own portrait of Pius IX, told a visitor that he was "the only sovereign in Europe who recognized our poor Confederacy.".
The Civil War proved to be one of the most trying for the Catholic Church in America, and the involvement of Pope Pius IX shows that the war had many international effects. Because of the affinity between Catholic and Southern moral and social principles, one could argue that Pope Pius IX believed that the Southern culture provided a more suitable atmosphere for the spread of Catholicism, despite the issue of slavery. Spreading the Catholic Faith was the primary mission, and the American bishops believed that the necessary abolition of slavery would eventually follow. The report of Bishop Martin Spalding to Pope Pius IX in 1863 (serialized in L'Osservatore Romano) warned that the immediate emancipation of the slaves would not only force them into an inferior class, but would also make it more difficult to bring them into the Church. He noted that in heavily Catholic New Orleans, almost half of the slaves had been freed by 1860 through a change in their masters' hearts, and had become some of the most devout Catholics that he had ever seen.
As late as August, 1864 (eight months before General Lee's surrender at Appomattox), Rufus King, a Federal liaison to Rome, was admitting that papal offices remained unenthusiastic about the Union cause and Cardinal Antonelli was still concerned over the dangers of untimely emancipation. Pope Pius IX himself had recently confessed to a British diplomat that his real sympathies were with the Confederacy. The Pope and Cardinal, however, suppressed their feelings in the face of rising Federal fortunes on the battlefield and the promise of a quicker end to the bloodshed. But the evidence exists to believe it plausible that Pope Pius IX would have liked to give official recognition to the Confederacy in its beginning, and mourned its defeat in its demise."
[ from a Southern U.S. conservative blog : http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/archive-2007-01150rebels_in_rome.htm
The following are excerpts from a web site designed to promote both the old Catholic Church and the old South:
"President (Jefferson) Davis was not without solace during confinement. A rosary sent by some sisters in Savannah reached him. More notably, comfort was extended by the Vicar of Christ himself, Ven. Pope Pius IX. It took the form of a crown of thorns woven by the pope with his own hands and a portrait of the pontiff autographed with the words from Scripture, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." The crown, with thorns about two inches long, is such that it is hard to see how the pope could have fashioned it without hurting himself.
Why did this pope who is a Venerable of the Church seek to comfort Davis, who was not a Catholic? (It should be noted that he was the only European prince of the day to recognize — at least in a de facto way — the Southern nation, the Confederate States of America.) His father sent him as a boy to Kentucky to be schooled by Dominicans. While among them young Davis — he was but nine — asked to be received into the Church. His desire was not realized.
Certainly the Catholic Bishops of the South were sympathetic. There is no record of any failing to support the Confederacy. One of them, Bishop Patrick Lynch of Charleston, South Carolina, became President Davis' envoy to Ven. Pope Pius IX "heroes of the fighting like the twenty Confederate generals who were Catholic, including, very notably, Gen. James Longstreet, a convert,"
"The song Dixie, virtually the national anthem of the South, was written by a Catholic, Dan Emmet."
[ from http://www.catholicism.org/catholicism-south.html ]
There was no lost between Abraham Lincoln and the Roman Catholic Church. Here is what Lincoln proclaimed about Roman Catholicism at the conclusion of the trial of the ex-Catholic priest, Mr. Chiniquy, author of the book, Fifty Years in the Church of Rome.
: Abraham Lincoln stated, "As long as God gives me a heart to feel, a brain to think, or a hand to execute my will, I will devote it against that power which has attempted to use the machinery of the courts to destroy the rights and character of an American citizen. But there is a thing which is very certain; it is, that if the American people could learn what I know of the fierce hatred of the generality of the priests of Rome against our institutions, our schools, our most sacred rights, and our so dearly bought liberties, they would drive them away, tomorrow, from among us, or would shoot them as traitors. . . . The history of the last thousand years tells us that wherever the Church of Rome is not a dagger to pierce the bosom of a free nation, she is a stone to her neck, and a ball to her feet, to paralyze her and prevent her advance in the ways of civilization, science, intelligence, happiness, and liberty. . . . I do not pretend to be a prophet. But though not a prophet, I see a very dark cloud on our horizon. And that dark cloud is coming from Rome. It is filled with tears of blood. It will rise and increase, till its flanks will be torn by a flash of lightening, followed by a fearful peal of thunder. Then a cyclone such as the world has never seen, will pass over this country, spreading ruin and desolation from north to south. After it is over, there will be long days of peace and prosperity; for popery, with its Jesuits and merciless Inquisition, will have been forever swept away from our country. Neither I nor you, but our children, will see those things." According to the book, America or Rome, Christ or the Pope by John L. Brandt, it was published in the various papers that Lincoln was born a Catholic, baptized by a priest and therefore was to be considered a renegade and an apostate. Although this was false, Mr. Chiniquy said to Lincoln at the time, "That report is your sentence of death." The book further records that Lincoln's murder was planned in the home of Mrs. Surratt, a Roman Catholic. Booth, the murderer, was a Roman Catholic. Mr. Lloyd, who had the carbine that Booth wanted for "protection," was a Roman Catholic. Dr. Mudd, who set Booth's fractured leg, was a Roman Catholic. Garrett, in whose barn Booth tried to hide, was a Roman Catholic. The death of Lincoln was announced by Roman Catholics several hours before it occurred at St. Joseph, Minnesota, forty miles from a railroad and eighty miles from the nearest telegraph station. This fact is established in history.
After being apprehended, Booth said, "I can never repent. God made me the instrument of his punishment." Prominent government officials said, "We have not the least doubt but that the Jesuits were at the bottom of the great iniquity." Mr. Chiniquy, Colonel Edwin A. Sherman and General Harris, friends of Lincoln, investigated the matter and unequivocally affirmed that Rome was the instigator of Lincoln's assassination."
I haven't examined the evidence closely enough to make an informed judgment about it, but there are some who argue that the plot to assassinate, not only President Lincoln, but many other leaders of his administration was orchestrated and carried out almost exclusively by Roman Catholics, not just from the South, but from Rome and from the Catholic province of Quebec in Canada.Here's a very well-done video about Roman Catholic involvement in Lincoln's assassination: [ which may require that you watch it on YouTube ]
"the Church has been the largest denomination in the United States since 1850 because of the massive waves of Irish —and then German, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, and Latin American — immigration that began hitting the shores of New York and Massachusetts in the 1830s. Indeed, between 1830 and 1860, the Catholic population in the United States grew by more than 900 percent, and by the outbreak of hostilities between the North and the South in April 1861, there were more Catholics living in the Diocese of Boston alone than there were in all eleven states that would ultimately secede from the Union, plus Maryland—the state that was home to the oldest diocese in the United States and had been the epicenter of English-speaking American Catholicism for more than 200 years."
Dolan, American Catholicism, 58; and Benjamin J. Blied, Catholics and the Civil War (Milwaukee: n.p., 1945), 53.
For a quick survey of the complete history, see my Church&slavery.html webpage.
Pope Gregory XVI's 1839 "Apostolic Letter" condemning the slave trade was only addressed to the dozen U.S. bishops meeting in "4th Provincial Council of Baltimore". Although the letter was very progressive for its time, In supremo apostolatus [www.papalencyclicals.net/Greg16/g16sup.htm ] had so little impact - even to the council where it was promulgated - that the wikipedia summary of that council (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provincial_Councils_of_Baltimore) doesn't even mention it.
This is the way one Roman Catholic historian explained his church's view of slavery in the mid–19th century :
"The Roman Catholic Church had taken no position on slavery either before or during the war. 'By their silence,' one Catholic writer explained ' our prelates (i.e. hierarchy) divorced this burning political question from church affairs.' "
"During the colonial time, the Roman Catholic Church was the state religion in French possessions. All other churches were suppressed. The [enslaved people] were compelled to be baptized. Since the Africans cherished their custom and ways of life, this led to conflict and rebellions. . . the economy of Orleans Territory [which became the state of Louisiana] was based on the cruel system of chattel slavery. Africans and Native Americans were considered property. At the top of society were a few rich [enslaving] owners and at the bottom were masses of [enslaved people]. Individual families and joint corporations owned [enslaved persons]. . . But one of the biggest [enslaving] owners was the Roman Catholic Church. The Jesuits, Capuchins and Ursulines had plantations run by [enslaved] labor and all three engaged in the [enslavement] trade."
[ from www.coax.net/people/lwf/1811-rebellion.htm ]
In 1838, the superiors of the Maryland Province of the Jesuits, which included Georgetown College in the nation's capital, decided to improve the school's financial health by selling all 272 of its African-American men, women and children slaves to Henry Johnson, the former governor of Louisiana, and to Louisiana landowner Jesse Batey for $115,000, the equivalent of $3.3 million in 2016 dollars.
[ from http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Shame-of-the-Jesuits-by-Ray-McGovern-African-americans_Autobiography_Ethics_Jesuits-160417-19.html
Taney is best-known today as the author of the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 Supreme Court decision that invalidated the Missouri Compromise and held that African slaves or anyone descended from African slaves could never be United States citizens.
Taney asked in his opinion: "The question is simply this: can a negro whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen, one of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution?"
His (original intent) answer is still controversial today. "We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States," Taney said. "On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them."
The Dred Scott decision is seen today and was seen in its time as one of the contributing factors that led to the Civil War. Among its biggest critics was Abraham Lincoln, who spoke at length about the case in his debates with Stephen Douglas."
"The Rev. William M. Aitcheson was my childhood priest and my history teacher. A fervent advocate of the Confederacy, he used to joke about "Saint Robert E. Lee" in his homilies at church. When I was in middle school in the early 2000s, he taught a Civil War history class for the home-school group at my church in the small Shenandoah County town of Woodstock, Va.
He was also a former Ku Klux Klan member, who in 1982 was fined $26,000 for burning crosses in the yard of an African-American family and on the grounds of two Jewish establishments – a fine he had never paid. Before that, he was charged with six cross-burnings in Maryland and with sending a threatening letter to Coretta Scott King. He had also been charged with making pipe bombs and was found with various weapons and bombmaking materials in his bedroom and basement."