The population history of the country during the first period of urbanization and industrialization had four notable characteristics. First, the native population prospered and moved westward to fill the continent. At the same time, Americans began sharply to control the size of their families so that population growth after the middle of the nineteenth century no longer depended solely on native reproduction. Second, millions of immigrants from Germany and Great Britain came to join the native population in its westward migration, and they also adopted the new style of the small family. Third, the collapse of the Irish economy expelled millions from that country and added a heavy stream of Irish to the transcontinental flow (Table 3, page 168). They too followed the predilection for family limitation. Fourth, interaction between evangelical Protestantism and Catholicism—especially of the Irish variety reformed two basic elements in American urban culture, the broad Protestant and Catholic allegiances.
At least until 1870, when the standard of living commenced its steady rise in both the United States and Europe, the story of our population and its immigrants was the story of poor farmers, poor peasants, and poor artisans accustomed to subsistence living, who in moving were seeking an opportunity for a decent living for themselves and their families. The sheer abundance of cheap farmland .enabled the
great mass of the nation's white farmers to support large families and for their children to survive. In this era, as always in our history, the rural areas supplied a disproportionate number of the nation's children; even today rural births consistently outrun those in town or city. Moreover, until the twentieth century the death rate among children in American cities was always higher than in the countryside.
Up to 1840 almost all population growth stemmed from natural increase, white and Negro, and although the birth rate fell steadily during the nineteenth century, until 1860 it still continued to exceed European rates. From then on, American birth rates declined in the same general ratios as those of England, France, and Sweden. Scholars do not yet understand the cause of this decline; but it is a long-term historical trend participated in both by natives and immigrants, with only a few very short exceptions and slight reversals. For the moment, all that can be said is that Americans and Europeans limit their families as they become urban industrial peoples.
The native population established the directions for the streams of continental migration which the immigrants followed. Prior to 1870 Americans moved westward in roughly parallel bands: migrants from New England and New York filled the upper Midwest; families from the Southeast settled the lands from Alabama to Texas; and people from Virginia and Pennsylvania settled in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, and in southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. With the coming of the railroad and the rapid development of the Midwest, settlers from the entire North and Midwest overran the plains, mountain, and Pacific regions.
Slavery was an effective barrier against mass European immigration into the South, but millions of Germans, English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish joined the westward movement in the fifty years after 1820. Farm counties in the Midwest were as rich an ethnic patchwork in those years as the blocks of Manhattan.
Historians of the era have fully documented the special ethnic contributions brought by these immigrants to the first stages of our urbanization and industrialization. In the mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, there was an "English Row" of houses belonging to calico printers from
Lancashire; English and Scottish workers supplied the skilled labor in the cotton and woolen mills of New England and New York; the woolen weavers and knitters of Philadelphia and Lowell, as well as those of Thompsonville, Connecticut, were Scottish. In the 1820s, English, Scottish, and Welsh miners opened up the anthracite mines of eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, and what is now West Virginia. Cornishmen, seeking lead, were the first foreigners to settle in Wisconsin; they also dominated copper mining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and they cut the first railroad tunnels through the Berkshire Hills. The early history of American labor inherited many of its distinguishing features from the British tradition. The great "Ten-Hour" strikes of the big cities, when skilled artisans turned out in vast numbers to demand shorter hours and higher pay, the first fraternal organizations like the Masons or the Odd Fellows, and many of the workers' insurance and benefit funds were in most places initiated by English and Scottish immigrants.
No city or town north of the Ohio River was without a German quarter, and many of the small towns were composed almost entirely of Germans. In the big cities German peasants suffered from poverty and slum housing as severely as did the thousands of Irish peasants and were as cruelly exploited in the cheapest trades. Like the English, however, the skilled among them maintained their tradition of workingmen's associations which flourished in all manner of clubs, benefit associations, and labor organizations.
The new people also brought with them the conflicts of the British Isles. Cornish and Irish mobs—the "pasties" versus the "codfish"—fought pitched battles in the copper country of upper Michigan; the rooms of the New England textile mills were segregated to the disadvantage of the Irish; English and Irish Protestants brawled and rioted in every city; and the murders by the Molly Maguires were an echo of less drastic Irish attacks on their British colliery foremen.
Yet many of the qualities peculiar to the various immigrant cultures were soon lost. Those which could easily be absorbed, like labor unions and lager beer, disappeared into the general cultural scene, and individual manifestations were ground off in the cultural clash between Protestant and Catholic. The 1820-1870 migrations of German and
Irish Catholics met a special kind of Protestantism when they landed—not an established state religion but a collection of thousands of small congregations. But for all its fragmentation, Protestantism flourished during these years and developed into a general Protestant-American consciousness.
A blend of the colonial institutional inheritance with later religious enthusiasms gave the Protestantism of the years between 1820 and 1870 its particular character. Late eighteenth-century colonial Americans had not been churchgoers. Theirs was probably the most secular of all our cultural periods, and scholars estimate that only 10 percent of the population at most belonged to any church at all. Simultaneously the Revolution gave rise to the apprehension that established churches were agents of monarchical tyranny and laid down a tradition that our nation would be one without state-supported churches. All Protestant denominations were in effect compelled to become voluntary, competitive organizations. Except perhaps in the case of the Quakers and some pietists, Protestantism was oriented toward bringing in the unchurched, and most congregations for the sake of their own survival had to adopt not an exclusive but a recruiting mission.
Our colonial history was marked by continual strife along denominational lines—among Anglicans, Quakers, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and pietists of various kinds. Some of the confrontations were of course plainly rooted in the home countries, as in the cases of German pietists or Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, but many were not. When Massachusetts Congregationalists persecuted Quakers or Baptists, or when Connecticut Congregationalists expressed their disapproval of Methodists, they were discriminating against their own kind.
The evangelical drives for membership dampened interdenominational conflict and eroded doctrinal lines. Most late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American Protestants believed that the individual had to discover God, not vice versa, and that there were rewards and punishments in this world and the next for good Christian behavior. Accordingly waves of evangelism, with ministers welcoming the unchurched into Protestant fellowship, swept the country from 1795 through the next half century or more.
A millennial hope that the spread of Christianity and of liberal
human institutions would bring the Kingdom of God to the United States suffused the era. The means, of course, were individual, "an elevated state of personal holiness." Churchgoing grew more popular. Simultaneously Protestantism became more and more unified both in doctrine and practice, and no deterrent stood in the way of intermarriage between members of different denominations. When conflict arose with Catholic immigrants, a generalized Protestant sentiment defended the voluntarism and individualism of their way of life and warded off Catholic incursions into Protestant control of political organizations and public institutions for education and welfare.
As always in America, the blacks had a separate history. At the time of the Revolution there were no Negro congregations in Northern cities. Blacks attended white Protestant churches, although sometimes, as in Philadelphia, they were segregated to a balcony. In the early nineteenth century the growing emancipation and democratic sentiment in the small black colonies of the Northern cities engendered a move toward self-determination for Negroes in religious matters, so that by the 1840s every city had its black churches and fraternal organizations. The full flowering of this black urban culture nevertheless awaited the substantial migration of blacks to Northern cities, which began in the 1890s.
The massive migration of Germans and Irish from 1830 to 1870 changed the religious composition of the nation. Since the seventeenth century America had been a Protestant country, whether or not devoutly or secularly so; now it became a Protestant-Catholic nation. By 1870 Catholics constituted the largest single religious group, about 40 percent of the churchgoers, and such has been the balance of immigration ever since. A drastic leap in numbers, however, did not immediately imply a unified American Catholicism. Instead, Catholicism during this era was able only to discover and lay down the institutional framework on which later generations would build a Catholic culture for all classes. Until
then, the poverty and fragmentation of the Church and its immigrant membership outweighed every extraneous consideration. Yet in facing poverty, fragmentation, and the contemporary Protestant attack, the foundation of a broad cultural unity was formed.
A nineteenth-century American Catholic, whether immigrant or native-born, inevitably bore an inherited reputation for having advanced the traditions of "popery," which had been the bogy of Great Britain for two hundred and fifty years and had made Catholics the object of deep-seated national prejudice there. Through English colonists and the colonial wars against the French this prejudice was transferred to America, and Catholics of whatever origin were stamped as a negative reference group in the early Republic. Events overseas made matters worse. The campaign in England to remove the last civil penalties from Catholics spawned a deluge of anti-Catholic literature that poured across the Atlantic until the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. At the same time, Protestant ministers and organizations were single-mindedly seizing on anti-Catholicism to inspire popular enthusiasm for affiliating with a Protestant church. The American Bible Society not only published anti-Catholic tracts but even launched a campaign to spread the King James Bible among Catholics. The campaign naturally aroused an angry response among the American bishops. Furthermore the stubborn refusal of poor immigrants to accept the free Bibles gave rise to a widespread belief that Catholics were opposed to the Bible—a conviction that was to play a prominent part in the public-school and nativist controversies of the forties and fifties. Finally, well-known Protestant ministers began to preach anti-Catholic sermons as part of their proselytizing efforts. The Reverend Lyman Beecher of Boston delivered three Sunday sermons in as many churches on August 10, 1834, speaking out violently against Catholicism and its regular clergy and further inflaming an already explosive situation in that city. He and his fellow ministers may be said to have contributed directly to the first burning of a convent in the United States, which took place on the following day. All this fervor, anger, and prejudice preceded (or dated from the very start of) the great wave of German and Irish Catholic immigration. When that tide appeared, the nation's cities, large and small, entered upon three decades of anti-Catholic rioting marked by the burning of churches, orphanages, and convents.
The frequency and virulence of Protestant attacks did not automatically unite the largely impoverished mass of native American, French, German, and Irish Catholics. In 1820 the church was a weak and scattered organization made up of parishes from the old French empire at New Orleans, St. Louis, and Detroit, from the old colonial parishes in Maryland and their more recent offshoots in Kentucky, and of churches in most of the Eastern cities. Because there was but one major facility for training diocesan priests here, St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, priests had to be recruited from France, Germany, Italy, England, and Ireland, and they brought with them the diverse national styles endemic to European Catholicism. In addition, no strong hand existed to enforce unity. During the long colonial years of intolerance and penalties against Catholics and of official neglect by the English bishop who had formal charge, priests here evolved an independent collegial style for the management of their common affairs. Perhaps fortunately for Catholicism in America, in view of the variety of backgrounds of the new waves of immigrants, the early nineteenth-century Church depended upon the initiative of scattered bishops who coped with their growing dioceses as best they could. Differences among them had to be reconciled by occasional provincial meetings, most frequently held in Baltimore, where the bishops gathered to legislate for the American Church. In its decentralization and widespread use of democratic and federal forms both within dioceses and among them, the Church of these years reflected the general political thrust of its era.
By 1870 the Catholic Church had four and a half million members. Its parishes were scattered across the land from city slums to Midwestern farm counties, along the banks of every railroad and canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Such massive growth forced the Catholic Church into a position not unlike that of its Protestant opposition. The sheer necessity of building churches at a rate rapid enough to bring the Mass within reach of the incoming tides of newcomers necessarily delivered much of the power of the organization into the hands of the parish. Popular church-building priests and successful fund-raising congregations became the models of the day. Although Catholic immigrants
varied a great deal in their use of the Church, some depending upon it solely for its sacraments and others, especially Germans, bringing with them a custom of a village church and related clubs and societies, one can see in this emphasis on fund raising and on the building of churches and parochial schools the beginnings of the transformation of many a European church into the typical American Catholic parish of bingo, basketball, and building funds.
The ethnically fragmented hierarchy and parishes and the pressure for church building were manifested in a particular movement of local-ism—trusteeism—during these years. The trustee movement surfaced in open conflict immediately after the Revolution when local congregations asserted their right to appoint priests and control parish budgets in place of the bishop. In New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Norfolk, and Buffalo certain parishes resisted all attempts at discipline for as long as forty years. The difficulties had many dimensions, but the ethnic one proved to be the most obdurate. English priests had been the first to staff the American Church, and trustee clashes took the form of battles between American parishioners and the customs of French priests who fled here from the French Revolution, or between newly formed Irish congregations and native and French styles. Irish-German confrontations fired by English-language conflicts arose in the North and Midwest.
To cope with these conflicts—and they remained bitterly divisive throughout the nineteenth century—the Church was compelled to adopt the rule that special churches for single nationalities might be established within the boundaries of the parishes established for each diocese. Moreover, the bishops endeavored to maintain harmony by calling regular meetings of all the parishes under their supervision. This episcopal compromise, later repeated when Catholics from Southern and Eastern Europe arrived, made it possible for the Church to maintain a troubled unity during the great migrations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So successful were these devices in enabling the Church to stay in contact with newly arrived immigrant groups that
when the twentieth-century Church began to speak for all the urban poor in political and philanthropic affairs, the general public found this representation acceptable.
Perhaps even more important for future Catholic culture than the halfway house of the ethnic Church was the establishment of parochial education. The beginning of the parochial system is customarily dated from the opening of a school for poor children in 1810 by Sister Elizabeth Seton at St. Joseph's Parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She employed the Sisters of Charity, of whom she was the American founder, to staff the school, and she operated it with free materials and without tuition for the children of the area. The basic formula of an elementary school attached to every church was seized upon by the most ambitious bishops as the best chance for the survival of Catholicism in Protestant America. In 1884 the Council of Baltimore adopted it as the official task of all dioceses. Thus, unlike in Europe, where universal education was yet to be established as a national norm, and where state funds and long-established endowments supported both churches and schools, American Catholic communities faced a double burden of creating a network of schools and churches sufficient to serve the waves of immigrants flooding in from abroad. The sheer poverty of some Catholic communities, like that of Boston, doomed the effort to failure in these first decades. Elsewhere, especially in German-settled cities where the desire for foreign-language teaching lent an additional impetus for local support, and in dioceses of aggressive bishops who successfully solicited funds and teaching orders from Europe, a rough approximation of the goal was attained before the Civil War. Despite the universal emphasis of the parochial-school drive for a free education for every Catholic child, such a massive and relentless fund-raising effort imposed its class mark on Catholic education because it firmly anchored the parochial system to the parents of children of the working class and middle class, the very members of each urban parish who were making their way most successfully.
The building of the parochial system, begun on a large scale to meet the needs of the immigrants' children in the 1840s, had two consequences for American urban culture. First, it began the secularization of the public schools, dominated until that time by Protestants; second, it helped to build a characteristically American style of Catholic culture.
During the forties, Bishop John Hughes of New York and Bishop Francis Kenrick of Philadelphia pressed for the abolition of Protestant teaching in the public schools and for municipal or state aid to parochial schools. An explosion of antiforeign, anti-Catholic prejudice, resentment, and rioting greeted these demands. In every state where Catholics sought funds in the mid-nineteenth century they were refused. Not only did this outcry tend to draw German, Irish, and American Catholics together, but the gigantic effort required to build and to maintain thousands of schools committed each parish to an enduring social task: the education of children. The goal of literacy, both Catholic and secular, for any child who presented himself at the school door meant that the Catholic Church was as securely tied to the task of Americanization through education as were the contemporary public schools. Moreover, because the building and financing of its schools rested with the families of the parish, the values of the Church itself became tied to the hopes and values of child rearing which its neighborhood supporters possessed.