Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Home - Articles - Church History - Catholic Morals - Prayers - Prayers Answered - Saints Children's Bible - History

The Great Immigration

At the taking of the first census of the United States, in 1790, the
country contained a population of about four millions in its territory
of less than one million of square miles.

Sixty years later, at the census of 1850, it contained a population of
more than twenty-three millions in its territory of about three millions
of square miles.

The vast expansion of territory to more than threefold the great
original domain of the United States had been made by honorable purchase
or less honorable conquest. It had not added largely to the population
of the nation; the new acquisitions were mainly of unoccupied land. The
increase of the population, down to about 1845, was chiefly the natural
increase of a hardy and prolific stock under conditions in the highest
degree favorable to such increase. Up to the year 1820 the recent
immigration had been inconsiderable. In the ten years 1820-29 the annual
arrival of immigrants was nine thousand. In the next decade, 1830-39,
the annual arrival was nearly thirty-five thousand, or a hundred a day.
For forty years the total immigration from all quarters was much less
than a half-million. In the course of the next three decades, from 1840
to 1869, there arrived in the United States from the various countries
of Europe five and a half millions of people. It was more than the
entire population of the country at the time of the first census;--

A multitude like which the populous North
Poured never from her frozen loins to pass
Rhene or the Danaw, when her barbarous sons
Came like a deluge on the South and spread
Beneath Gibraltar to the Libyan sands.

Under the pressure of a less copious flood of incursion the greatest
empire in all history, strongest in arts and polity as well as arms, had
perished utterly. If Rome, with her population of one hundred and twenty
millions, her genius for war and government, and her long-compacted
civilization, succumbed under a less sudden rush of invasion, what hope
was there for the young American Republic, with its scanty population
and its new and untried institutions?[316:1]

An impressive providential combination of causes determined this great
historic movement of population at this time. It was effected by
attractions in front of the emigrant, reinforced by impulses from
behind. The conclusion of the peace of 1815 was followed by the
beginning of an era of great public works, one of the first of which was
the digging of the Erie Canal. This sort of enterprise makes an
immediate demand for large forces of unskilled laborers; and in both
hemispheres it has been observed to occasion movements of population out
of Catholic countries into Protestant countries. The westward current
of the indigenous population created a vacuum in the seaboard States,
and a demand for labor that was soon felt in the labor-markets of the
Old World. A liberal homestead policy on the part of the national
government, and naturalization laws that were more than liberal,
agencies for the encouragement of settlers organized by individual
States and by railroad corporations and other great landed proprietors,
and the eager competition of steamship companies drumming for steerage
passengers in all parts of Europe--all these co÷perated with the growing
facility and cheapness of steam transportation to swell the current of
migration. The discovery of gold in California quickened the flow of it.

As if it had been the divine purpose not only to draw forth, but to
drive forth, the populations of the Old World to make their homes in the
New, there was added to all these causes conducive to migration the
Irish famine of 1846-47, and the futile revolutions of 1848, with the
tyrannical reactions which followed them. But the great stimulus to
migration was the success and prosperity that attended it. It was
success that succeeded. The great emigration agent was the letter
written to his old home by the new settler, in multitudes of cases
inclosing funds to pay the passage of friends whom he had left behind

The great immigration that began about 1845 is distinguished from some
of the early colonizations in that it was in no sense a religious
movement. Very grave religious results were to issue from it; but they
were to be achieved through the unconscious co÷peration of a multitude
of individuals each intent with singleness of vision on his own
individual ends. It is by such unconscious co÷peration that the
directing mind and the overruling hand of God in history are most
signally illustrated.

In the first rush of this increased immigration by far the greatest
contributor of new population was Ireland. It not only surpassed any
other country in the number of its immigrants, but in the height of the
Irish exodus, in the decade 1840-50, it nearly equaled all other
countries of the world together. The incoming Irish millions were almost
solidly Roman Catholic. The measures taken by the British government for
many generations to attach the Irish people to the crown and convert
them to the English standard of Protestantism had had the result of
discharging upon our shores a people distinguished above all Christendom
besides for its ardent and unreserved devotion to the Roman Church, and
hardly less distinguished for its hatred to England.

After the first flood-tide the relative number of the Irish immigrants
began to decrease, and has kept on decreasing until now. Since the Civil
War the chief source of immigration has been Germany; and its
contributions to our population have greatly aggrandized the Lutheran
denomination, once so inconsiderable in numbers, until in many western
cities it is the foremost of the Protestant communions, and in Chicago
outnumbers the communicants of the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, and
the Methodist churches combined.[318:1] The German immigration has
contributed its share, and probably more than its share, to our
non-religious and churchless population. Withal, in a proportion which
it is not easy to ascertain with precision, it added multitudinous
thousands to the sudden and enormous growth of the Roman Catholic
Church. But there is an instructive contrast between the German
immigrations, whether Catholic or Protestant, and the Irish immigration.
The Catholicism of the Irish, held from generation to generation in the
face of partisan and sometimes cruelly persecuting laws, was held with
the ardor, if not of personal conviction, at least of strong hereditary
animosity. To the Germans, their religious sect, whether Catholic,
Lutheran, or Reformed, is determined for them by political arrangement,
under the principle cujus regio, ejus religio. It is matter of course
that tenets thus acquired should be held by a tenure so far removed from
fanaticism as to seem to more zealous souls much like lukewarmness.
Accustomed to have the cost of religious institutions provided for in
the budget of public expenses, the wards of the Old World state-churches
find themselves here in strange surroundings, untrained in habits of
self-denial for religious objects. The danger is a grave and real one
that before they become acclimated to the new conditions a large
percentage will be lost, not only from their hereditary communion, but
from all Christian fellowship, and lapse into simple indifferentism and
godlessness. They have much to learn and something to teach. The
indigenous American churches are not likely to be docile learners at the
feet of alien teachers; but it would seem like the slighting of a
providential opportunity if the older sects should fail to recognize
that one of the greatest and by far the most rapidly growing of the
Protestant churches of America, the Lutheran, growing now with new
increments not only from the German, but also from the Scandinavian
nations, is among us in such force to teach us somewhat by its example
of the equable, systematic, and methodical ways of a state-church, as
well as to learn something from the irregular fervor of that revivalism
which its neighbors on every hand have inherited from the Great
Awakening. It would be the very extravagance of national self-conceit if
the older American churches should become possessed of the idea that
four millions of German Christians and one million of Scandinavians,
arriving here from 1860 to 1890, with their characteristic methods in
theology and usages of worship and habits of church organization and
administration, were here, in the providence of God, only to be
assimilated and not at all to assimilate.

* * * * *

The vast growth of the Roman Catholic Church in America could not but
fill its clergy and adherents with wonder and honest pride. But it was
an occasion of immense labors and not a little anxiety. One effect of
the enormous immigration was inevitably to impose upon this church,
according to the popular apprehension, the character of a foreign
association, and, in the earlier periods of the influx, of an Irish
association. It was in like manner inevitable, from the fact that the
immigrant class are preponderantly poor and of low social rank, that it
should for two or three generations be looked upon as a church for the
illiterate and unskilled laboring class. An incident of the excessive
torrent rush of the immigration was that the Catholic Church became to a
disproportionate extent an urban institution, making no adequate
provision for the dispersed in agricultural regions.

Against these and other like disadvantages the hierarchy of the Catholic
Church have struggled heroically, with some measure of success. The
steadily rising character of the imported population in its successive
generations has aided them. If in the first generations the churches
were congregations of immigrants served by an imported clergy, the most
strenuous exertions were made for the founding of institutions that
should secure to future congregations born upon the soil the services of
an American-trained priesthood. One serious hindrance to the noble
advances that have nevertheless been made in this direction has been the
fanatical opposition levied against even the most beneficent enterprises
of the church by a bigoted Native-Americanism. It is not a hopeful
method of conciliating and naturalizing a foreign element in the
community to treat them with suspicion and hostility as alien enemies.
The shameful persecution which the mob was for a brief time permitted to
inflict on Catholic churches and schools and convents had for its chief
effect to confirm the foreigner in his adherence to his church and his
antipathy to Protestantism, and to provoke a twofold ferocity in return.
At a time when there was reason to apprehend a Know-nothing riot in New
York, in 1844, a plan was concerted and organized by a large Irish
society with divisions throughout the city, by which, in case a single
church was attacked, buildings should be fired in all quarters and the
great city should be involved in a general conflagration.[321:1]

The utmost that could have been hoped for by the devoted but inadequate
body of the Roman Catholic clergy in America, overwhelmed by an influx
of their people coming in upon them in increasing volume, numbering
millions per annum, was that they might be able to hold their own. But
this hope was very far from being attained. How great have been the
losses to the Roman communion through the transplantation of its members
across the sea is a question to which the most widely varying answers
have been given, and on which statistical exactness seems unattainable.
The various estimates, agreeing in nothing else, agree in representing
them as enormously great.[321:2] All good men will also agree that in
so far as these losses represent mere lapses into unbelief and
irreligion they are to be deplored. Happily there is good evidence of a
large salvage, gathered into other churches, from what so easily becomes
a shipwreck of faith with total loss.

It might seem surprising, in view of the many and diverse resources of
attractive influence which the Roman Church has at its command, that its
losses have not been to some larger extent compensated by conversions
from other sects. Instances of such conversion are by no means wanting;
but so far as a popular current toward Catholicism is concerned, the
attractions in that direction are outweighed by the disadvantages
already referred to. It has not been altogether a detriment to the
Catholic Church in America that the social status and personal
composition of its congregations, in its earlier years, have been such
that the transition into it from any of the Protestant churches could be
made only at the cost of a painful self-denial. The number of accessions
to it has been thereby lessened, but (leaving out the case of the
transition of politicians from considerations of expediency) the quality
of them has been severely sifted. Incomparably the most valuable
acquisition which the American Catholic Church has received has been the
company of devoted and gifted young men, deeply imbued with the
principles and sentiments of the High-church party in the Episcopal
Church, who have felt constrained in conscience and in logic to take the
step, which seems so short, from the highest level in the Anglican
Church into the Roman, and who, organized into the Order of the Paulist
Fathers, have exemplified in the Roman Church so many of the highest
qualities of Protestant preaching.

He is a bold man who will undertake to predict in detail the future of
the Roman Church in America. To say that it will be modified by its
surroundings is only to say what is true of it in all countries. To say
that it will be modified for the better is to say what is true of it in
all Protestant countries. Nowhere is the Roman Church so pure from
scandal and so effective for good as where it is closely surrounded and
jealously scrutinized by bodies of its fellow-Christians whom it is
permitted to recognize only as heretics. But when the influence of
surrounding heresy is seen to be an indispensable blessing to the
church, the heretic himself comes to be looked upon with a mitigated
horror. Not with the sacrifice of any principle, but through the
application of some of those provisions by which the Latin theology is
able to meet exigencies like this,--the allowance in favor of
invincible ignorance and prejudice, the distinction between the body
and the soul of the church,--the Roman Catholic, recognizing the
spirit of Christ in his Protestant fellow-Christian, is able to hold him
in spiritual if not formal communion, so that the Catholic Church may
prove itself not dissevered from the Church Catholic. In the common
duties of citizenship and of humanity, in the promotion of the interests
of morality, even in those religious matters that are of common concern
to all honest disciples of Jesus Christ, he is at one with his heretic
brethren. Without the change of a single item either of doctrine or of
discipline, the attitude and temper of the church, as compared with the
church of Spain or Italy or Mexico, is revolutionized. The change must
needs draw with it other changes, which may not come without some jar
and conflict between progressive and conservative, but which
nevertheless needs must come. Out of many indications of the spirit of
fellowship with all Christians now exemplified among American Catholics,
I quote one of the most recent and authoritative from an address of
Archbishop Ryan at the Catholic Congress in Chicago in 1893. Speaking on
Christian union, he said:

If there is any one thing more than another upon which people
agree, it is respect and reverence for the person and the
character of the Founder of Christianity. How the Protestant
loves his Saviour! How the Protestant eye will sometimes grow
dim when speaking of our Lord! In this great center of union
is found the hope of human society, the only means of
preserving Christian civilization, the only point upon which
Catholic and Protestant may meet. As if foreseeing that this
should be, Christ himself gave his example of fraternal
charity, not to the orthodox Jew, but to the heretical
Samaritan, showing that charity and love, while faith remains
intact, can never be true unless no distinction is made
between God's creatures.[325:1]

Herein is fellowship higher than that of symbols and sacraments. By so
far as it receives this spirit of love the American Catholic Church
enters into its place in that greater Catholic Church of which we all
make mention in the Apostles' Creed--the Holy Universal Church, which
is the fellowship of holy souls.

* * * * *

The effect of the Great Immigration on the body of the immigrant
population is not more interesting or more important than the effect of
it on the religious bodies already in occupation of the soil. The
impression made on them by what seemed an irruption of barbarians of
strange language or dialect, for the most part rude, unskilled, and
illiterate, shunning as profane the Christian churches of the land, and
bowing in unknown rites as devotees of a system known, and by no means
favorably known, only through polemic literature and history, and
through the gruesome traditions of Puritan and Presbyterian and
Huguenot, was an impression not far removed from horror; and this
impression was deepened as the enormous proportions of this invasion
disclosed themselves from year to year. The serious and not unreasonable
fear that these armies of aliens, handled as they manifestly were by a
generalship that was quick to seize and fortify in a conspicuous way the
strategic points of influence, especially in the new States, might
imperil or ruin the institutions and liberties of the young Republic,
was stimulated and exploited in the interest of enterprises of
evangelization that might counter-work the operations of the invading
church. The appeals of the Bible and tract societies, and of the
various home mission agencies of the different denominations, as well as
of the distinctively antipopery societies, were pointed with the alarm
lest the great West should fall under the domination of the papal
hierarchy. Naturally the delineations of the Roman system and of its
public and social results that were presented to the public for these
purposes were of no flattering character. Not history only, but
contemporary geography gave warnings of peril. Canada on one hand, and
Mexico and the rest of Spanish America on the other, were cited as
living examples of the fate which might befall the free United States.
The apocalyptic prophecies were copiously drawn upon for material of
war. By processes of exegesis which critical scholarship regards with a
smile or a shudder, the helpless pope was made to figure as the
Antichrist, the Man of Sin and Son of Perdition, the Scarlet Woman on
the Seven Hills, the Little Horn Speaking Blasphemies, the Beast, and
the Great Red Dragon. That moiety of Christendom which, sorely as its
history has been deformed by corruption and persecution, violently as it
seems to be contrasted with the simplicity of the primeval church, is
nevertheless the spiritual home of multitudes of Christ's well-approved
servants and disciples, was held up to gaze as being nothing but the
enemy of Christ and his cause. The appetite of the Protestant public for
scandals at the expense of their fellow-Christians was stimulated to a
morbid greediness and then overfed with willful and wicked fabrications.
The effect of this fanaticism on some honest but illogical minds was
what might have been looked for. Brought by and by into personal
acquaintance with Catholic ministers and institutions, and discovering
the fraud and injustice that had been perpetrated, they sprang by a
generous reaction into an attitude of sympathy for the Roman Catholic
system. A more favorable preparation of the way of conversion to Rome
could not be desired by the skillful propagandist. One recognizes a
retributive justice in the fact, when notable gains to the Catholic
Church are distinctly traced to the reaction of honest men from these
fraudulent polemics.[327:1]

The danger to the Republic, which was thus malignantly or ignorantly
exaggerated and distorted, was nevertheless real and grave. No sincerely
earnest and religious Protestant, nor even any well-informed patriotic
citizen, with the example of French and Spanish America before his eyes,
could look with tolerance upon the prospect of a possible Catholicizing
of the new States at the West; and the sight of the incessant tide of
immigration setting westward, the reports of large funds sent hither
from abroad to aid the propagation of the Roman Church, and the accounts
of costly and imposing ecclesiastical buildings rising at the most
important centers of population, roused the Christian patriotism of the
older States to the noblest enterprises of evangelization. There was no
wasting of energy in futile disputation. In all the Protestant
communions it was felt that the work called for was a simple, peaceful,
and positive one--to plant the soil of the West, at the first occupation
of it by settlers, with Christian institutions and influences. The
immensity of the task stimulated rather than dismayed the zeal of the
various churches. The work undertaken and accomplished in the twenty
years from 1840 to 1860 in providing the newly settled regions with
churches, pastors, colleges, and theological seminaries, with
Sunday-schools, and with Bibles and other religious books, was of a
magnitude which will never be defined by statistical figures. How great
it was, and at what cost it was effected in gifts of treasure and of
heroic lives of toil and self-denial, can only be a matter of vague
wonder and thanksgiving.

The work of planting the church in the West exhibits the voluntary
system at its best--and at its worst. A task so vast and so momentous
has never been imposed on the resources of any state establishment. It
is safe to say that no established church has ever existed, however
imperially endowed, that would have been equal to the undertaking of it.
With no imposing combination of forces, and no strategic concert of
action, the work was begun spontaneously and simultaneously, like some
of the operations of nature, by a multitude of different agencies, and
went forward uninterrupted to something as nearly like completeness as
could be in a work the exigencies of which continually widened beyond
all achievements. The planting of the church in the West is one of the
wonders of church history.

But this noble act of religious devotion was by no means a sacrifice
without blemish. The sacred zeal for advancing God's reign and
righteousness was mingled with many very human motives in the progress
of it. Conspicuous among these was the spirit of sectarian competition.
The worthy and apostolic love for kindred according to the flesh
separated from home and exposed to the privations and temptations of the
frontier, the honest anxiety to forestall the domination of a
dangerously powerful religious corporation propagating perverted views
of truth, even the desire to advance principles and forms of belief
deemed to be important, were infused with a spirit of partisanship as
little spiritual as the enthusiasm which animates the struggles and the
shouters at a foot-ball game. The devoted pioneer of the gospel on the
frontier, seeing his work endangered by that of a rival denomination,
writes to the central office of his sect; the board of missions makes
its appeal to the contributing churches; the churches respond with
subsidies; and the local rivalry in the mission field is pressed,
sometimes to a good result, on the principle that competition is the
life of business. Thus the fragrance of the precious ointment of loving
sacrifice is perceptibly tainted, according to the warning of
Ecclesiastes or the Preacher. And yet it is not easy for good men, being
men, sternly to rebuke the spirit that seems to be effective in
promoting the good cause that they have at heart.

If the effect of these emulations on the contributing churches was
rather carnal than spiritual, the effect in the mission field was worse.
The effect was seen in the squandering of money and of priceless service
of good men and women, in the debilitating and demoralizing division and
subdivision of the Christian people, not of cities and large towns, but
of villages and hamlets and of thinly settled farming districts. By the
building of churches and other edifices for sectarian uses, schism was
established for coming time as a vested interest. The gifts and service
bestowed in this cause with a truly magnificent liberality would have
sufficed to establish the Christian faith and fellowship throughout the
new settlements in strength and dignity, in churches which, instead of
lingering as puny and dependent nurslings, would have grown apace to be
strong and healthy nursing mothers to newer churches yet.

There is an instructive contrast, not only between the working of the
voluntary system and that of the Old World establishments, but between
the methods of the Catholic Church and the Protestant no-method. Under
the control of a strong co÷rdinating authority the competitions of the
various Catholic orders, however sharp, could never be allowed to run
into wasteful extravagance through cross-purposes. It is believed that
the Catholics have not erected many monuments of their own unthrift in
the shape of costly buildings begun, but left unfinished and abandoned.
A more common incident of their work has been the buying up of these
expensive failures, at a large reduction from their cost, and turning
them to useful service. And yet the principle of sectarian competition
is both recognized and utilized in the Roman system. The various
clerical sects, with their characteristic names, costumes, methods, and
doctrinal differences, have their recognized aptitudes for various sorts
of work, with which their names are strongly associated: the Dominican
for pulpit eloquence, the Capuchin for rough-and-ready street-preaching,
the Benedictine for literary work, the Sulpitian for the training of
priests, and the ubiquitous Jesuit for shifty general utility with a
specialty of school-keeping. These and a multitude of other orders, male
and female, have been effectively and usefully employed in the arduous
labor Romanam condere gentem. But it would seem that the superior
stability of the present enterprise of planting Catholicism in the
domain of the United States, as compared with former expensive failures,
was due in some part to the larger employment of a diocesan parish
clergy instead of a disproportionate reliance on the regulars.

On the whole, notwithstanding its immense armies of immigrants and the
devoted labors of its priests, and notwithstanding its great expansion,
visible everywhere in conspicuous monuments of architecture, the
Catholic advance in America has not been, comparatively speaking,
successful. For one thing, the campaign was carried on too far from its
base of supplies. The subsidies from Lyons and Vienna, liberal as they
were, were no match for the home missionary zeal of the seaboard States
in following their own sons westward with church and gospel and pastor.
Even the conditions which made possible the superior management and
economy of resources, both material and personal, among the Catholics,
were attended with compensating drawbacks. With these advantages they
could not have the immense advantage of the popular initiative. In
Protestantism the people were the church, and the minister was chief
among the people only by virtue of being servant of all; the people were
incited to take up the work for their own and carry it on at their best
discretion; and they were free to make wasteful and disastrous blunders
and learn therefrom by experience. With far greater expenditure of
funds, they make no comparison with their brethren of the Roman
obedience in stately and sumptuous buildings at great centers of
commerce and travel. But they have covered the face of the land with
country meeting-houses, twice as many as there was any worthy use for,
in which faithful service is rendered to subdivided congregations by
underpaid ministers, enough in number, if they were wisely distributed,
for the evangelization of the whole continent; and each country
meeting-house is a mission station, and its congregation, men, women,
and children, are missionaries. Thus it has come about, in the language
of the earnest Catholic from the once Catholic city of New Orleans, that
the nation, the government, the whole people, remain solidly
Protestant.[331:1] Great territories originally discovered by Catholic
explorers and planted in the name of the church by Catholic missionaries
and colonists, and more lately occupied by Catholic immigrants in what
seemed overwhelming numbers, are now the seat of free and powerful
commonwealths in which the Catholic Church is only one of the most
powerful and beneficent of the Christian sects, while the institutions
and influences which characterize their society are predominantly

In the westward propagation of Protestantism, as well as of Catholicism,
the distinctive attributes of the several sects or orders is strikingly

Foremost in the pioneer work of the church are easily to be recognized
the Methodists and the Baptists, one the most solidly organized of the
Protestant sects, the other the most uncompact and individualist; the
first by virtue of the supple military organization of its great corps
of itinerants, the other by the simplicity and popular apprehensibleness
of its distinctive tenets and arguments and the aggressive ardor with
which it inspires all its converts, and both by their facility in
recruiting their ministry from the rank and file of the church, without
excluding any by arbitrarily imposed conditions. The Presbyterians were
heavily cumbered for advance work by traditions and rules which they
were rigidly reluctant to yield or bend, even when the reason for the
rule was superseded by higher reasons. The argument for a learned
ministry is doubtless a weighty one; but it does not suffice to prove
that when college-bred men are not to be had it is better that the
people have no minister at all. There is virtue in the rule of
ministerial parity; but it should not be allowed to hinder the church
from employing in humbler spiritual functions men who fall below the
prescribed standard. This the church, in course of time, discovered, and
instituted a minor order of ministers, under the title of colporteurs.
But it was timidly and tardily done, and therefore ineffectively. The
Presbyterians lost their place in the skirmish-line; but that which had
been their hindrance in the advance work gave them great advantage in
settled communities, in which for many years they took precedence in
the building up of strong and intelligent congregations.

To the Congregationalists belongs an honor in the past which, in recent
generations, they have not been jealous to retain. Beyond any sect,
except the Moravians, they have cherished that charity which seeketh not
her own. The earliest leaders in the organization of schemes of national
beneficence in co÷peration with others, they have sustained them with
unselfish liberality, without regard to returns of sectarian advantage.
The results of their labor are largely to be traced in the upbuilding of
other sects. Their specialty in evangelization has been that of the
religious educators of the nation. They have been preŰminently the
builders of colleges and theological seminaries. To them, also, belongs
the leadership in religious journalism. Not only the journals of their
own sect and the undenominational journals, but also to a notable extent
the religious journals of other denominations, have depended for their
efficiency on men bred in the discipline of Congregationalism.

It is no just reproach to the Episcopalians that they were tardy in
entering the field of home missions. When we remember that it is only
since 1811 that they have emerged from numerical insignificance, we find
their contribution to the planting of the church in the new settlements
to be a highly honorable one. By a suicidal compact the guileless
Evangelical party agreed, in 1835, to take direction of the foreign
missions of the church, and leave the home field under the direction of
the aggressive High-church party. It surrendered its part in the future
of the church, and determined the type of Episcopalianism that was to be
planted in the West.[333:1] Entering thus late into the work, and that
with stinted resources, the Episcopal Church wholly missed the
apostolic glory of not building on other men's foundations. Coming with
the highest pretensions to exclusive authority, its work was very
largely a work of proselyting from other Christian sects. But this work
was prosperously carried on; and although not in itself a work of the
highest dignity, and although the methods of it often bore a painfully
schismatic character, there is little room for doubt that the results of
it have enriched and strengthened the common Christianity of America.
Its specialties in the planting work have been the setting of a worthy
example of dignity and simplicity in the conduct of divine worship, and
in general of efficiency in the administration of a parish, and, above
all, the successful handling of the immensely difficult duties imposed
upon Christian congregations in great cities, where the Episcopal Church
has its chief strength and its most effective work.

One must needs ascend to a certain altitude above the common level in
order to discern a substantial resultant unity of movement in the
strenuous rivalries and even antagonisms of the many sects of the one
church of Christ in America in that critical quarter-century from the
year 1835 to the outbreak of the Civil War, in which the work of the
church was suddenly expanded by the addition of a whole empire of
territory on the west, and the bringing in of a whole empire of alien
population from the east, and when no one of the Christian forces of the
nation could be spared from the field. The unity is very real, and is
visible enough, doubtless, from the circle of the heavens. The sharers
in the toil and conflict and the near spectators are not well placed to
observe it. It will be for historians in some later century to study it
in a truer perspective.

* * * * *

It is not only as falling within this period of immigration, but as
being largely dependent on its accessions from foreign lands, that the
growth of Mormonism is entitled to mention in this chapter. In its
origin Mormonism is distinctly American--a system of gross, palpable
imposture contrived by a disreputable adventurer, Joe Smith, with the
aid of three confederates, who afterward confessed the fraud and perjury
of which they had been guilty. It is a shame to human nature that the
silly lies put forth by this precious gang should have found believers.
But the solemn pretensions to divine revelation, mixed with elements
borrowed from the prevalent revivalism, and from the immediate adventism
which so easily captivates excitable imaginations, drew a number of
honest dupes into the train of the knavish leaders, and made possible
the pitiable history which followed. The chief recruiting-grounds for
the new religion were not in America, but in the manufacturing and
mining regions of Great Britain, and in some of the countries,
especially the Scandinavian countries, of continental Europe. The able
handling of an emigration fund, and the dexterous combination of appeals
to many passions and interests at once, have availed to draw together in
the State of Utah and neighboring regions a body of fanatics formidable
to the Republic, not by their number, for they count only about one
hundred and fifty thousand, but by the solidity with which they are
compacted into a political, economical, religious, and, at need,
military community, handled at will by unscrupulous chiefs. It is only
incidentally that the strange story of the Mormons, a story singularly
dramatic and sometimes tragic, is connected with the history of American

To this same period belongs the beginning of the immigration of the
Chinese, which, like that of the Mormons, becomes by and by important to
our subject as furnishing occasion for active and fruitful missionary

In the year 1843 culminated the panic agitation of Millerism. From the
year 1831 an honest Vermont farmer named William Miller had been urging
upon the public, in pamphlets and lectures, his views of the approaching
advent of Christ to judgment and the destruction of the world. He had
figured it out on the basis of prophecies in Daniel and the Revelation,
and the great event was set down for April 23, 1843. As the date drew
near the excitement of many became intense. Great meetings were held, in
the open air or in tents, of those who wished to be found waiting for
the Lord. Some nobly proved their sincerity by the surrender of their
property for the support of their poorer brethren until the end should
come. The awful day was awaited with glowing rapture of hope, or by some
with terror. When it dawned there was eager gazing upon the clouds of
heaven to descry the sign of the Son of man. And when the day had passed
without event there were various revulsions of feeling. The prophets set
themselves to going over their figures and fixing new dates; earnest
believers, sobered by the failure of their pious expectations, held
firmly to the substance of their faith and hope, while no longer
attempting to know times and seasons, which the Father hath put within
his own power; weak minds made shipwreck of faith; and scoffers cried
in derision, Where is the promise of his coming? A monument of this
honest delusion still exists in the not very considerable sect of
Adventists, with its subdivisions; but sympathizers with their general
scheme of prophetical interpretation are to be found among the most
earnest and faithful members of other churches.

Such has been the progress of Scriptural knowledge since the days when
Farmer Miller went to work with his arithmetic and slate upon the
strange symbols and enigmatic figures of the Old and New Testament
Apocalypses, that plain Christians everywhere have now the means of
knowing that the lines of calculation along which good people were led
into delusion a half-century ago started from utterly fallacious
premises. It is to the fidelity of critical scholars that we owe it that
hereafter, except among the ignorant and unintelligent, these two books,
now clearly understood, will not again be used to minister to the panic
of a Millerite craze, nor to furnish vituperative epithets for
antipopery agitators.

To this period also must be referred the rise of that system of
necromancy which, originating in America, has had great vogue in other
countries, and here in its native land has taken such form as really to
constitute a new cult. Making no mention of sporadic instances of what
in earlier generations would have been called (and properly enough) by
the name of witchcraft, we find the beginning of so-called
spiritualism in the Rochester rappings, produced, to the wonder of
many witnesses, by the Fox girls in 1849. How the rappings and other
sensible phenomena were produced was a curious question, but not
important; the main question was, Did they convey communications from
the spirits of the dead, as the young women alleged, and as many persons
believed (so they thought) from demonstrative evidence? The mere
suggestion of the possibility of this of course awakened an inquisitive
and eager interest everywhere. It became the subject of universal
discussion and experiment in society. There was demand for other
mediums to satisfy curiosity or aid investigation; and the demand at
once produced a copious supply. The business of medium became a regular
profession, opening a career especially to enterprising women. They
began to draw together believers and doubters into circles and
sÚances, and to organize permanent associations. At the end of ten
years the Spiritual Register for 1859, boasting great things,
estimated the actual spiritualists in America at 1,500,000, besides
4,000,000 more partly converted. The latest census gives the total
membership of their associations as 45,030. But this moderate figure
should not be taken as the measure of the influence of their leading
tenet. There are not a few honest Christians who are convinced that
communications do sometimes take place between the dead and the living;
there are a great multitude who are disposed, in a vague way, to think
there must be something in it. But there are few even of the earnest
devotees of the spiritualist cult who will deny that the whole business
is infested with fraud, whether of dishonest mediums or of lying
spirits. Of late years the general public has come into possession of
material for independent judgment on this point. An earnest
spiritualist, a man of wealth, named Seybert, dying, left to the
University of Pennsylvania a legacy of sixty thousand dollars, on
condition that the university should appoint a commission to investigate
the claims of spiritualism. A commission was appointed which left
nothing to be desired in point of ability, integrity, and impartiality.
Under the presidency of the renowned Professor Joseph Leidy, and with
the aid and advice of leading believers in spiritualism, they made a
long, patient, faithful investigation, the processes and results of
which are published in a most amusing little volume.[338:1] The gist of
their report may be briefly summed up. Every case of alleged
communication from the world of departed spirits that was investigated
by the commission (and they were guided in their selection of cases by
the advice of eminent and respectable believers in spiritualism) was
discovered and demonstrated to be a case of gross, willful attempted
fraud. The evidence is strong that the organized system of spiritualism
in America, with its associations and lyceums and annual camp-meetings,
and its itinerancy of mediums and trance speakers, is a system of mere
imposture. In the honest simplicity of many of its followers, and in the
wicked mendacity of its leaders, it seems to be on a par with the other
American contribution to the religions of the world, Mormonism.

Next: The Civil War--antecedents And C

Previous: A Decade Of Controversies And Sc

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network