Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Massachusetts and the exercise of religion

On the 17th of June 1700, the law of Massachusetts’ was proclaimed to the world, that, the presence of a Catholick priest in Massachusetts merited death by the state. Such was the spirit of love, freedom and godliness in John Winthrop’s city on the hill, the pure protestant Jerusalem. Soon New York had the same statute.

As in mother England, catholicism was a capital offense. The tragically, repetitively, unfortunate Anne (nicknamed Goody, an appellation given to women in Massachusetts then) Glover was hanged on 16 November 1688. In a 1689 book, Memorable Providences, Cotton Mather, who interrogated, tells of her witchcraft. Anne, had survived Cromwell’s massacres, at Drogheda and elsewhere, he chose to dispense with further genocide, only because of the logistics, and deported or sold other irish. She was sent, as a slave, to Barbados, then, as a ‘servant’ to Massachusetts. She was accused by children. By test, though she could recite the Our Father, in latin and gaelic, but not in english, she was a proven witch. During the trial’, Mather referred to the hag as a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholick and obstinate in idolatry. Our Lady of Victories Eucharistic Shrine, Boston, has a plaque to Ann Glover as the first catholic martyr of Massachusetts. She was the first witch hanged in America, and the last woman hanged in Boston.

Sebastian Râle was a Jesuit missionary in the disputed territory of lAcadie/Massachusetts in, what is now, Maine. There were several attempts on his life. On August 23rd, 1724 the Massachusetts militia caught their prey. His scalp was displayed triumphantly in Boston.

A hundred years ago at the college of the Holy Cross, the new archbishop, soon to be cardinal, William Henry O’Connell spoke at length to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Boston diocese. O’Connell. He was the eleventh child of potato failure parents. He was a vain glorious, powerfully arrogant, prince of the church, who enjoyed splendor and ambition, and overlooked corruption. He was a militantly, triumphal, proponent of the one, true church:
The Puritan has passed. The Catholic remains.The city where a century ago he came unwanted he has made his own .... The child of the immigrant is called in to fill the place which the Puritan has left.
James Michael Curley, was at different times: congressman, governor and mayor. He was a scion of the starving time emigrés too. Many irish at the turn of the twentieth century, had great positions in the church and the state, in the new world. Perhaps, Boston was the easiest example. In 1914 he said:
“The day of the Puritan has passed; the Anglo-Saxon is a joke; a new and better America is here.”
In a novel, in 1956, and a movie, in 1958, The Last Hurrah, Edwin O’Connor writes of a similar character. Spencer Tracy plays Frank Skeffington. That and All the King’s Men are the two american political novels. La Dernière Fanfare is the french, hurrah, has a different caché. I do not have in front of me the script, but if memory serves, and my copy of the book is 457, or so, pages and I can’t find the passage now. But, O’Connell was the eleventh child, James Michael Curley had seven children. And the line, which is in some other movie, is something like, “We have eight, or ten children, they (the Puritan/Anglo-Saxon/Yankee/Brahmin/Wasp) have small dogs.” That is how democracy, and demographics, can displace bigotry and entrenched, monied interests.

That is how that establishment staggered, of course they still had the money, and they still do. But the despised, wretched, immigrants (this includes canadiens, poles, italians, litvaks, greeks, latinos) had the bodies. This is why the Republican party has always wanted to suppress the vote, and spread fear and hatred of immigrants. But the worst thing of these immigrants was their religion. Attempts to americanise, the newcomers, always was to de-romanise them*. In the case of the irish, this had failed until the last generation, and in Boston, there were self-inflicted wounds. There is still a lingering catholicism in Massachusetts, but it is not triumphant or strong, it is bickering, beleaguered, weak and weary.
*and now they are attempting to de-democratise the remaining catholics

postscriptum: On the night of McCain’s acceptance speech, I watched Spencer Tracy; the line wasn’t in the movie, although a similar vein of material was present. I would like to re-encounter that film.

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