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Monday, February 16, 2015

Catholic Hordes and Catholic Action.

The Irish Potato Famine of starting in 1845-1855 started a massive wave of Irish immigration to the United States. The Nativist backlash, sometimes refereed to as the Know Nothing movement because of it's secrecy called the newly arrive "Catholic Hordes. ".  The 1.5 million Irish who came during that period were matched by 1.4 million Catholic, Protestant and Jewish Germans. French Canadians, like some of my own ancestors, also added to the largely Catholic "hordes" Later, in the first two decades of the 20th Century, largely Catholic Italians, Eastern  and Basques from Spain arrived.  By 1910 there were over 16 million Catholics in the U.S. and immigration continued to swell our numbers.   It is largely because of this immigration that Catholics today are the largest religious body in then U.S.

This immigration changed the character of American and build it up, industrially, culturally and spiritually.  That was possible largely because of generally tolerant immigration laws, except for anti-Asian laws.  The Constitution gave to Congress the power to establish a uniform naturalization law.   Later, the 14th Amendment protected the rights of all children born in the U.S. In 1875 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may not pass there own immigration laws, that under the Constitution, including the 14th Amendment, immigration is the province of the federal government.  Some of the few limits to immigration were laws excluding lunatics, the illiterate,infection disease carriers and anarchists. Immigration through points of entry, like Ellis island, was usually easy, but becoming a naturalized citizen was a much longer process. The border with Mexico was fluid, with many families having lived, worked and owned land for generations both in Mexico and in the Southwest to the point that it may have been unclear to many of them which country they were citizens of. It was only in the 1920's, after World War I, that the U.S. initiated strict immigration quotas, the Emergency Quota Act.   Similar, more complex plans followed.  It was largely after this that anything like "illegal" or "undocumented" immigration emerged, largely from the countries with the lowest quotas or in the Southwest from those who continued to go back and forth across the border. during the 1930's depression millions were "repatriated" across the border to Mexico, regardless of their documentation status.

The Know  Nothings, none as the American Party, emerged in the 1850's as the first of many anti-immigration and anti-Catholic organizations.   Another secret Society, the American Protective Association was founded in 1887 by Protestants to oppose Catholics and immigration.   Various sub-groups, fraternal organizations and splinter groups came out of it.   The Klu Klux Klan revived in the 1920's  as a nativist and pro-Jim Crow organization.  Anti-Chinese  racism  during this period also created Chinese exclusion laws.

Angel Island immigrants

What Was the Catholic Response? 

First from the 19th Century on priests and religious orders were brought from  the "home countries" to minister to the new immigrants. Parishes, schools, charitable organizations, mutual aid groups, hospitals and other organizations were created to meet the need.  Saint Mother Cabrini founded an order of religious sisters to aid the immigrants. Parochial schools were largely about giving this  population an opportunity for advancement. In the 1920's a National Catholic Welfare Conference concerned itself with legislation, education, and social action for Catholics, and started a Social Action Department to aid immigrants this organization eventually became the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference. 


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