“Catholicism was hated in all the colonies, and legal in just three.” (Charles Coulombe – Puritan Empire)
One (of the many) problems with the principles of “separation of church and state” and “religious freedom” as we were taught in our youth regarding the founding of our country is that these are purely an amalgam of Protestantism and the “Enlightenment.” When we look at the historical record, we see that what the Puritan Pilgrims meant by “freedom of worship” was “freedom from Rome and even from the Church of England which is far too Rome-ish.” In no way, shape, or form, did the early settlers allow, or even desire, true freedom of worship for anyone but themselves in their own anti-Catholic Protestantism. What they really came to establish was a Protestant nation, free from the influence of Catholicism and with no freedom whatsoever for Catholics or any other competing religion.
Once the Protestant British ran off the original founders of the New Catholic Christendom in the New World, France and Spain, they persecuted Catholics, making it illegal in most of the colonies to practice the Catholic faith in public, and even punishable by death to attempt to convert someone to Catholicism. This was not absolutely true evenly across all of the colonies, but it was certainly the norm, particularly in Puritan influenced colonies (Puritanism was one of the darkest heresies to come out of the religious revolution of the 16th century – Coulombe). Before the (Protestant) “reformed church” Dutch brought the first black slaves from Africa to the colonies, the English already were using Irish Catholics as slaves or, at best, indentured servants.
This is why I have trouble donning my Pilgrim outfit to celebrate people who “just wanted to be allowed to worship in freedom,” because it is highly misleading. Yes, they did come to worship in freedom. However, it was a Protestant freedom only. They had no intention of ever allowing the Church of Rome any kind of reasonable freedom.
History is written by the winners, as the old saying goes. Our history is dominated by the Protestant view, which tells a sugary story that sounds great in civics class and in our grade school plays with all the kids cutely dressed as Pilgrims. However, the reality was much darker.
Interesting footnote. Maryland was originally established as a colony where Catholics were completely free. Keep in mind that all but one colony (Georgia) was founded under the Catholic Stuarts (before the English kicked them out and made it illegal for a Catholic to have the throne).
As opposed to the Puritan, Anglican, and Reformed Church colonies, The Catholic leadership of Maryland actually gave true freedom of religion to everyone – including Protestants. However, it backfired. As the Protestant population eventually outnumbered the Catholics, the Protestants, having assumed power, simply made it illegal to be Catholic.
Truth is, America was founded on Protestant Only freedom of worship.
Another interesting footnote is that the Protestant British were the most “anti-native American” in addition to being anti-Catholic. The Catholic French and Spanish worked much better with the native Americans, and black legends surrounding Cortez aside, many of the native American chieftains were ennobled as Princes back in Europe with official titles of nobility by the Spanish and French Catholic rulers.
There is a reason that Montezuma’s headdress is in a museum in Vienna, Austria.
A third footnote. While it may seem presumptuous to speak of which invading, colonizing country treated the native Americans with more civility, I make the case that it is not about whether or not one people conquers another, as this is the course of human history. “Vae Victis” (“Woe the vanquished”) is part of everyone’s history, including the native Americans themselves in dealing with each other. The real measure is how the conquering force treats the conquered. By that measure, the Catholic French and Spanish were far superior to the Protestant British. The native Americans would have been far better off had we stayed a Catholic land.
(Source and Inspiration: Charles Coulombe – Puritan’s Empire)