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AMERICANIZATION BY CATHOLIC MEANS: FRENCH CANADIAN NATIONALISM AND TRANSNATIONALISM, 1889–1901

  • Patrick Lacroix (a1)
Abstract

The age of nationalities and nationalism associated with nineteenth-century Europe also found expression in North America in the same period: French Canadians developed a national consciousness charged with a religious and providential mission. As these Canadians crossed into the United States in ever-rising numbers and established permanent “colonies” during the Gilded Age, they carried with them a cultural ideology that kept them apart from mainstream American society—and apart from their Irish American coreligionists and coworkers. Claiming the freedoms promised to them by the Constitution, these immigrants from the North battled for accommodation not only in political conventions or state legislatures, but also in the Roman Catholic Church, whose leaders seemed intent on doing away with foreign languages and customs. The religious battle came to a head as lay and clerical Catholics gathered in Baltimore, in 1889, to reassert the Church's unity as well as its patriotic credentials. By drawing attention to French Canadian immigration, often overlooked in immigration studies, this article refocuses the question of Americanization on the Catholic Church, which proved one of the most powerful agents of acculturation in late nineteenth-century America.

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email: pke26@wildcats.unh.edu
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NOTES

I thank the journal's anonymous referees for their constructive comments. Part of this article was first presented at a roundtable titled “The Fourteenth Amendment in Franco American Life,” organized by the Franco American Centre at the University of Maine. I am grateful to Professor Susan Pinette for providing this opportunity. Additional input came at the annual meeting of the Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique française in Saguenay, Quebec, in October 2016.

1 Unanimous approval was implied, for organizers did not open the resolutions to debate. See Official Report of the Proceedings of the Catholic Congress, Held in Baltimore, Md., November 11th and 12th, 1889 (Detroit: William H. Hughes, 1889), vi–vii, 4, 1825 .

2 This figure, notably offered by Yolande Lavoie, has become a convention in the field. Elliott Robert Barkan states that 1.2 million French Canadians migrated to the United States from 1851 to 1951, though a high proportion returned to Canada. See Lavoie, L’émigration des Québécois aux Etats-Unis de 1840 à 1930 (Quebec City: Editeur officiel du Québec, 1981), 53 ; Barkan, “French Canadians” in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, ed. Thernstrom, Stephen (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1980), 388401 . See, for further analysis, Paquet, Gilles, “L’émigration des Canadiens français vers la Nouvelle-Angleterre, 1870–1910: prises de vue quantitatives,” Recherches sociographiques 5 (1964): 319–70.

3 The most comprehensive synthesis remains Roby, Yves, The Franco Americans of New England: Dreams and Realities (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004). See, for contemporary assessments of the expatriated population, Henry Loomis Nelson, “French Canadians in New England,” Harper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1893, 182–83; and Smyth, Egbert C., “The French-Canadians in New England,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 7 (Oct. 1891): 317–18; on life in Manchester's Little Canada, P. G. Wiggin, “French Canadians in New England,” New York Times Magazine Supplement, Oct. 13, 1901, 17.

4 Weil, François, Les Franco-américains, 1860–1980 (Paris: Belin, 1989); Roby, Les Franco-Américains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre (Sillery, Quebec: Septentrion, 1990); Chartier, Armand, Histoire des Franco-américains de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, 1775–1930 (Sillery, Quebec: Septentrion, 1991). Revised English translations of Chartier and Roby appeared in 1999 and 2004 respectively.

5 See Bodnar, John, The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Dolan, Jay P., The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1987), 133–34, 153–57, 178–80, 278–81. See, for an emblematic Church history, Paradis, Wilfrid H., Upon This Granite: Catholicism in New Hampshire, 1647–1997 (Portsmouth, NH: Peter E. Randall, 1998).

6 This crisis, Higham explains, stemmed from “the momentous and troubling discovery that the United States confronted the social ills of the Old World.” Reformers drew on long-standing themes in American nationalism to target European radicals and religion. The American Protective Association, founded in 1887 to counter the growing power of “Romanism,” was this crisis's clearest expression. See Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008), 15–17, 35–67, 7787 .

7 Laniel, Jean-François, “L'Eglise-nation canadienne-française au siècle des nationalités: regard croisé sur l'ultramontanisme et le nationalisme,” Etudes d'histoire religieuse 81 (2015): 1537 . Ultramontanism emerged in reaction to the “errors” of the French Revolution. Refusing to hold the pope as a foreign prince, it valued the spiritual principle over the temporal: the Catholic Church should yield nothing to the state, but avail itself of political means to produce a truly Christian society untainted by liberal ideas. The Church was to maintain a strict separation from institutions and groups of a different intellectual lineage. The effect of ultramontanism was to strengthen the Church hierarchy and offer a sense of empowerment to Catholics who were in the minority or under Protestant rule, as seen in French Canada after 1837–1838. See, on the ultramontane setting that molded the migrants' religious and national outlook, Fay, Terence J., A History of Canadian Catholics: Gallicanism, Romanism, and Canadianism (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002), 7381 .

8 Accommodation here refers to bishops' willingness to recognize certain minority claims, for instance, by granting national parishes that would provide space for immigrants customs and ancestral language.

9 Barrett, James R. and Roediger, David R., “The Irish and the ‘Americanization’ of the ‘New Immigrants' in the Streets and in the Churches of the Urban United States, 1900–1930,” Journal of American Ethnic History 24 (Summer 2005): 333 ; Barrett, The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City (New York: Penguin Books, 2012).

10 See, “on French-Canadian imperialism,” LeBlanc, Robert G., “The Francophone ‘Conquest’ of New England: Geopolitical Conceptions and Imperial Ambition of French-Canadian Nationalists in the Nineteenth Century,” American Review of Canadian Studies 15 (Autumn 1985): 288310 . LeBlanc draws chiefly from Hamon, Edouard, Les Canadiens-français de la Nouvelle-Angleterre (Quebec: N. S. Hardy, 1891).

11 John T. McGreevy and Jay P. Dolan have both studied debates concerning the compatibility of American life and Catholic belief. Whereas the former devotes little attention to the problem of immigration, Dolan provides clear exposure of immigrant groups' struggle for cultural preservation within the Church, including the Cahensly controversy. The fullest accounts of the latter are the older study by John J. Meng and a biography of John Ireland by Marvin R. O'Connell. See McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2003), 110, 120–25; Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 71–74, 79, 83, 91105 ; Meng, “Cahenslyism: The First Stage, 1883–1891,” Catholic Historical Review 31 (Jan. 1946): 391–98; O'Connell, John Ireland and the American Catholic Church (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988), 309–19.

12 Meng, “Cahenslyism: The First Stage,” pp. 401–12; Meng, “Cahenslyism: The Second Chapter, 1891–1910,” Catholic Historical Review 32 (Oct. 1946): 309, 312, 335.

13 Proceedings of the Catholic Congress, 127–28.

14 Healy was a close friend of Williams and Bishop Matthew Harkins of Providence. The three proved kindred spirits on a personal level and in their approach to minority groups. They did not fit the stereotype of chauvinistic Irish bishops that the Franco American press advanced and that DeGoesbriand tried to dispel. Neither did they undo precedents in the accommodation of minority cultures in the aftermath of the Congress of 1889, which, after all, had no bearing on the authority of bishops in this area. See Meng, “Cahenslyism: The Second Chapter, 1891–1910,” 314; Foley, Albert S., Bishop Healy: Beloved Outcaste (Dublin: Clonmore and Reynolds, 1956), 161–62. O'Toole, James M. further discusses Healy's episcopacy in Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820–1920 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), 126–51. See, on the liberal and conservative positions, Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism, 99–105.

15 Louis DeGoesbriand, Les Canadiens des Etats-Unis; Léon XIII aux évêques d'Amérique relativement aux immigrés italiens (s.l., n.p., 1889), 6–9. All direct excerpts of French-language documents presented in this article were translated by the present author.

16 See, on the Flint Affair, Philip T. Silvia, Jr., “The Spindle City: Labor, Politics, and Religion in Fall River, Massachusetts, 1870–1905” (PhD diss., Fordham University, 1973); Anthony Coelho, “A Row of Nationalities: Life in a Working Class Community: The Irish, English, and French Canadians of Fall River, Massachusetts, 1850–1890” (PhD diss., Brown University, 1980).

17 The Franco American press seldom named the bishops whom they blamed for Americanizing efforts. Bishop Ireland did become a clear target in 1889 and the press seized on local conflicts in Danielson, Connecticut; and North Brookfield, Massachusetts, discussed below, to depict Bishops Michael Tierney of Hartford and Thomas Beaven of Springfield as enemies. See Le clergé national: articles et extraits des journaux canadiens-français des Etats-Unis depuis Novembre 1888 à mars 1889 (Worcester, MA: Le Travailleur, 1889), esp. 11–13, 3036 ; Roby, Franco Americans of New England, 133–39.

18 DeGoesbriand, Les Canadiens des Etats-Unis, 6–8, 14–17.

19 It is questionable whether a majority of French Canadians in the United States recognized this; to many, the American Church remained an Irish one.

20 See, on the liberal-conservative debate and modernism in late nineteenth-century American Catholicism, Dolan, American Catholic Experience, 308–20.

21 “Les Sociétés nationales,” L'Indépendant, Dec. 6, 1889, 2.

22 Quoted in “Les Sociétés nationales,” L'Indépendant, Dec. 6, 1889, 2.

23 “Les Sociétés nationales” and “Un Vicaire apostolique,” L'Indépendant, Dec. 6, 1889, 2. See, similarly, L'Avenir Canadien, quoted in “Un Vicaire apostolique,” Le Travailleur, Dec. 10, 1889, 1.

24 Quoted in “Le Congrès de Baltimore,” L'Indépendant, Jan. 31, 1890, 1. See, for the protestations of other papers, “Nos sociétés nationales,” Le Travailleur, Dec. 17, 1889, 2. The following paragraphs on Canadian affairs ought not to diminish the active interest of Franco American papers in American politics. See, on this, Sénécal, J.-AndréLes élections présidentielles de 1892: L'entrée en jeu des Canadiens du Massachusetts ou les limites du vote ethnique” in Les parcours de l'histoire: Hommage à Yves Roby, eds. Frenette, Yves, Pâquet, Martin, and Lamarre, Jean (Quebec City: Presses de l'Université Laval, 2002), 281303 .

25 Quoted in “Halte Là!!!” L'Indépendant, Dec. 13, 1889, 3. See, for a brief study of the press, Perreault, Robert B., “Survol de la presse franco-américaine” in Quatrième Colloque de l'Institut français: Le journalisme de langue française aux Etats-Unis, ed. Quintal, Claire (Quebec: Conseil de la vie française en Amérique, 1984), 934 .

26 This role was, to some extent, foisted upon him by French communities outside of Quebec. Mercier, responsive to domestic interests, sought to halt expatriation among Quebeckers by appointing a prelate, Father Antoine Labelle, to promote internal colonization. Indeed, Canadian bishops, seeing congregations nearly disappear through emigration, had a vested interest in presenting the United States as a land of “perdition.” See Gatineau, Félix, Historique des Conventions générales des Canadiens-français aux Etats-Unis, 1865–1901 (Woonsocket, RI: Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d'Amérique, 1927), 154–81; Wade, Mason, The French Canadians 1760–1945 (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 405–23, 428–29. See, on the ongoing religious battles in Quebec and on Mercier, The French Canadians, 370–82, 426–35.

27 This address was printed Le Travailleur and L'Indépendant in November and December.

28 “Le Congrès de Baltimore,” Le Travailleur, Dec. 13, 1889, 2.

29 Mercier ultimately confirmed the expatriates' hopes by submitting a report in support of Cahensly's, in 1891. See Proceedings of the Catholic Congress, v, 39; Meng, “Cahenslyism: The First Stage” 401–2; Roberto Perin, “Ultramontanisme et modernité: l'exemple d'Alphonse Villeneuve, 1871–1891” in Les parcours de l'histoire, 305–25; Racine, Antoine, Mémoire sur la situation des Canadiens français aux Etats-Unis de l'Amérique du Nord (Paris: Librairie de l'Oeuvre de Saint-Paul, 1892).

30 “Le Congrès catholique,” Le Travailleur, Dec. 20, 1889, 2.

31 Quoted in “Congrès de Baltimore,” L'Indépendant (Dec. 27, 1889), 1. That outlet, La Vérité, was the creation of Jules-Paul Tardivel, an American-born proponent of ultramontanism who ran afoul of the Franco American press for arguing that “the Church is catholic, not national.” See Wade, The French Canadians, 374; Le clergé national, 25–26.

32 “French Canadians Leaving Quebec,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 1890, 5. A year and a half later, a similar report estimated that a thousand French Canadians were migrating weekly on the lines of the Grand Trunk. See “French Canadians Migrating,” New York Times, May 8, 1892, 9.

33 Dubuque, H. A., Le Guide canadien-français [ou Almanach des adresses] de Fall River, et notes historiques sur les Canadiens de Fall River (Fall River, MA: Edmond-F. Lamoureux, 1888), 137, 163, 165, 212, 237–39; “Une autre protestation,” L'Indépendant, Jan. 10, 1890, 2. An English-language Catholic newspaper from Troy, New York, denounced the dubious and seemingly un-American patriotism manifest in Fall River. “This is a well-placed, Christian patriotism: love of the mother country and of our new home, remembrance of Canada as well as attachment to this republic's institutions,” L'Indépendant replied. See “La ‘Catholic Review’ de Troy,” L'Indépendant, Jan. 24, 1890, 2.

34 Dubuque, Guide canadien-français, 137; Silvia, “The Spindle City,” 860.

35 As Timothy J. Meagher explains, political factors also contributed to local resentments in central Massachusetts. See Rumilly, Robert, Histoire des Franco-Américains (Montreal: Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d'Amérique, 1958), 146–58, 167–68; Meagher, Inventing Irish America: Generation, Class, and Ethnic Identity in a New England City, 1880–1928 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2001), 214–17.

36 See, on the reception and legacy of Rumilly's work, Roby, “Histoire des Franco-Américains,” Présentations de l'Académie des lettres et des sciences humaines (Royal Society of Canada) 47 (1994) : 119–29. See also Roby, Franco Americans of New England, 132–33.

37 “The French Canadians,” New York Times, July 5, 1889, 4.

38 Smyth had recently reviewed Father Edouard Hamon's Les Canadiens-français de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, which seemed to promise cultural and religious preeminence to the author's migrating countrymen. See “The French Canadians in New-England,” New York Times, June 6, 1892, 4; on Smyth, LeBlanc, “The Francophone ‘Conquest’ of New England,” 302.

39 In 1889, though poorly disposed toward the Catholic Church, author and editor Honoré Beaugrand publicly answered the disparaging remarks of Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont and British Canadian intellectual Goldwin Smith. Smith's recent support for American annexation of Canada threatened to create a larger Anglo-Saxon entity that would engulf French Canadian distinctiveness. Beaugrand defended his countrymen for answering the call “to be fruitful and multiply.” See Beaugrand, “The Attitude of the French Canadians,” The Forum, July 1889, 521–30.

40 “Le Congrès catholique,” Le Travailleur, Dec. 20, 1889, 2.

41 French Canadian prelates could nevertheless match the nationalistic rhetoric of lay leaders; here the case of the abbé Villeneuve is instructive. See Gatineau, Historique des Conventions générales, 179; Brigitte Violette, “Entre l’émigration de la misère et l'eldorado mythique: genèse d'une petite bourgeoisie franco-américaine (Fall River, 1870–1920)” and Perin, “Ultramontanisme et modernité” in Les parcours de l'histoire, 231–61, 305–25.

42 Lest this seemingly democratic approach appear as a hint of Americanization among French Canadians, the speakers at such conventions argued that the Church recognized the organizing principle of nationality among the faithful, not that the hierarchy ought to bend to the will of a majority. See Gatineau, Historique des Conventions générales, 473–85.

43 Gatineau, Historique des Conventions générales, 486.

44 Gatineau, Historique des Conventions générales, 486.

45 Gatineau, Historique des Conventions générales, pp. 384, 388. See, for a distinction between the narrative of struggle and institutional exigencies, partly in response to Rumilly, Roby, Franco Americans of New England, 142–51.

46 Bélanger, Damien-Claude, “L'abbé Lionel Groulx et les conséquences de l’émigration canadienne-française aux Etats-Unis,” Québec Studies 33 (Spring/Summer 2002): 5372 .

47 Though he served as Healy's confidant, welcomed Canadian religious communities, and established national parishes, Bradley's episcopacy was marred by lay agitation, the intercession of Quebec bishops in Manchester's affairs, and the resistance of certain priests. See Paradis, Upon This Granite, 105–23.

48 Meagher, Inventing Irish America, 3–4, 371.

49 Conflict nevertheless persisted. See, on perceived slights in Maine, Woodbury, Kenneth B. Jr., , “An Incident between the French Canadians and the Irish in the Diocese of Maine in 1906,” The New England Quarterly 40 (June 1967): 260–69; Guignard, Michael J., “Maine's Corporation Sole Controversy,” Maine Historical Society Newsletter 12 (Winter 1973): 111–30.

50 Guertin, born in Nashua, New Hampshire, was educated in Sherbrooke and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. See Manchester, Diocese of,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Supplement I, vol. 17 (New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1922), 483 ; LeBlanc, “The Franco American Response to the Conscription Crisis in Canada, 1916–1918,” American Review of Canadian Studies 23 (Autumn 1993): 343–72.

51 Robert Rumilly, Histoire des Franco-Américains, 310.

52 Bélanger, “L'abbé Lionel Groulx,” 54–60.

53 See, on the Americanization of Catholicism following the Second World War, Gleason, Philip, “The Crisis of Americanization,” Contemporary Catholicism in the United States, ed. Gleason (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969).

54 Wetzel, Benjamin, “A Church Divided: Roman Catholicism, Americanization, and the Spanish-American War,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 14 (July 2015): 361 .

55 Dolan, for instance, discusses the spirit of cultural survival and clashes with religious authority in the German and Polish communities. See Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism, 79, 91–98.

56 Even while Franco Americans became bilingual and voted, played baseball and listened to jazz, the press continued to agitate against Americanizing bishops. A battle over alleged attempts to assimilate minority groups through parochial education occurred during the interwar period. On this occasion far more than on prior ones, Franco Americans were divided. Moderate figures associated with the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste repudiated the militant mouthpiece La Sentinelle (“The Sentry”) in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The bishop of Providence broke the back of the latter movement by excommunicating its organizers. See, for a balanced account, Sorrell, Richard, “Sentinelle Affair (1924–1929)—Religion and Militant Survivance in Woonsocket, Rhode Island,” Rhode Island History 36 (Aug. 1977): 6779 .

57 See, on the conceptualization of transnationalism, Schiller, Nina Glick, Basch, Linda, and Blanc-Szanton, Cristina, eds., Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered (New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1992); Jacobson, Matthew Frye, “More ‘Trans-,’ Less ‘National,’Journal of American Ethnic History 25 (Summer 2006): 7484 ; on Mexican migrants, Sanchez, George J., Becoming Mexican-American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). Robert G. LeBlanc of the University of New Hampshire accomplished much of the pioneering work in Franco American transnationalism. See Pinette, Susan, “Franco American Studies in the Footsteps of Robert G. LeBlanc,” Quebec Studies 33 (2002): 10 .

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