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BY PROFESSOR W. JOS. WALTERS,
The Roman Catholic Church, as it exists on this side of the Atlantic, may date its origin from the discovery of the western world. From the memorable day, October the eleventh, 1492, on which Columbus landed upon the island of Guanahani, or San Salvador, and at the foot of the cross poured forth his fervent thanks to God for the success of his glorious enterprise: this church has, amid many reverses, continued gradually to advance. If in some quarters she has met with reverses, her losses have been compensated by what she has gained in other directions; so that the number of her adherents, according to recent and respectable authorities, may, at the present time, be estimated at about twenty-five and a half millions, spread over the whole American continent. This ancient church, therefore, outnumbers by nearly ten millions, even in the new world, all the various Protestant denominations put together. Of this large body, however, only about 1,300,000 at the highest calculation, are found in the United States.
A Catholic navigator, whose name will be forgotten only in the wreck of the world, having thus discovered this vast continent, and another son of the church having given it its name: it was likewise by the illustrious Catholics John and Sebastian Cabot, and Verragani, in the service of the Catholic kings Henry VII. of England, and Francis I. of France, that the shores of the United States were first discovered and explored. This took place between the years 1497 and 1524. Farther north, the noble-hearted James Cartier discovered, in the course of three successive voyages, the gulf and river of St. Lawrence, and laid the foundations of the present flourishing cities, Quebec and Montreal.
It is, however, to that portion of the new world which the American fondly hails as his native land—the United States, and to the origin and progress of the Catholic religion within its borders, that we now confine our attention.
And here with unfeigned pleasure, with honest and heartfelt satisfaction, does the American Catholic challenge the attention of his countrymen to the first settlement of the Maryland colony; for the early history of that colony, is the early history of Catholicity in these United States.
The following is an outline of this memorable epoch in our annals. Lord Baltimore having obtained from Charles I. the Charter of Maryland, hastened to carry into effect, the plan of colonizing the new province, of which he appointed his brother, Leonard Calvert, to be Governor. This first body of emigrants, consisting of about two hundred gentlemen of considerable rank and fortune, chiefly of the Roman Catholic persuasion, with a number of inferior adherents, sailed from England under the command of Calvert, in November 1632, and after a prosperous voyage, landed in Maryland, near the mouth of the river Potomac, in the beginning of the following year. The Governor as soon as he landed, erected a cross on the shore, and took possession of the country for our Saviour, and for our Sovereign Lord the King of England. Aware that the first settlers of Virginia had given umbrage to the Indians by occupying their territory, without demanding their permission, he determined to imitate the wiser and juster policy that had been pursued by the colonists of New England, and to unite the new with the ancient race of inhabitants by the reciprocal ties of equity and good-will. The Indian chief to whom he submitted his proposition of occupying a portion of the country, received it at first with sullen indifference, the result most probably of aversion to the measure, and of conscious inability to resist it. His only answer was, that he would neither bid the English go, nor would he bid them stay; but that he left them to their own discretion. The liberality and courtesy of the Governor's demeanour succeeded at length in conciliating his regard, and so effectively, that he not only promised a friendly league between the colonists and his own people, but persuaded the neighbouring tribes to accede to the treaty. Nay more, he said with warmth, “ I love the English so well, that even if they should go about to kill me, while I had breath to speak, I would command the people not to revenge my death: for I know they would not do such a thing, except it were my own fault.” Having purchased the rights from the aborigines at a price which gave them perfect satisfaction, the colonists obtained possession of a considerable district, including an Indian town, which they proceeded immediately to occupy, and to which they gave the name of St. Mary's.
The tidings of this safe and comfortable establishment in the province, concurring with the uneasiness experienced by the Roman Catholics in England, induced considerable numbers of the professors of this faith to follow the original emigrants to Maryland, and no efforts of wisdom or generosity were spared by Lord Baltimore to facilitate the population, and promote the happiness of the colony. The transportation of people and of necessary stores and provisions during the first two years, cost him upwards of forty thousand pounds. To every emigrant he assigned fifty acres of land in absolute fee: and with a liberality unparalleled in that age, and altogether surprising in a Catholic, he united a general establishment of Christianity as the common law of the land, with an absolute exclusion of the political predominance or superiority of any one particular sect or denomination of Christians.
This wise administration soon converted a dreary wilderness into a prosperous colony. The opposition of the Virginia planters to the new colony, but still more the intrigues of the vindictive Clayborne, cast for a while a gloom over the early history of Maryland. Notwithstanding the misfortunes which attended and followed the rebellion of 1645, the same Assembly that enacted measures for the future protection and safety of the colony, made a magnanimous attempt to preserve its peace by suppressing one of the fertile sources of human contention and animosity. It had been declared by the Proprietary, at a very early period, that religious toleration should constitute one of the fundamental principles of the social union over which he presided, and the Assembly of the province, composed chiefly of Roman Catholics, now proceeded, by a memorable “Act concerning Religion,” to interweave this noble principle into its legislative constitution. This statute commenced with a preamble declaring that the enforcement of the conscience had been of dangerous consequence in those countries where it had been practised, and therefore enacted that no persons professing to believe in Jesus Christ should be molested in respect to their religion, or in the free exercise thereof, or be compelled to the belief or exercise of any other religion, against their consent; so that they be not unfaithful to the Proprietary, or conspire against the civil government; that persons, molesting any other in respect to his religious tenets, should pay treble damages to the party aggrieved, and twenty shillings to the Proprietary; that those, who should reproach their neighbours with opprobrious names of religious distinction, should forfest ten shillings to the persons so insulted ; that any one, speaking reproachfully against the Blessed Virgin or the Apostles, should forfeit five pounds; but that blasphemy against God should be punished with death. By the enactment of this statute, the Catholic planters of Maryland won for their adopted country the distinguished praise of being the first of the American States in which toleration was established by law, and graced their peculiar faith with the signal and unwonted merit of protecting that religious freedom which all other Christian associations were conspiring to overthrow. It is a striking and instructive spectacle to behold, at this period, the Puritans persecuting their Protestant brethren in New England, the Episcopalians retorting the same severity on the Puritans in Virginia, and the Catholics, against whom all others were combined, forming in Maryland a sanctuary where all might worship and none might oppress, and where even Protestants sought refuge from Protestant intolerance.
If the dangers to which the Maryland Catholics must have felt themselves exposed, from the disfavour with which they were regarded by all other communities of their countrymen, and from the ascendancy which their most zealous adversaries, the Presbyterians, were acquiring in the councils of the parent state, may be supposed to account, in some degree, for their enforcement of a principle of which they manifestly needed the protection, the surmise will detract very little from the merits of the authors of this excellent law. The moderation of mankind has ever needed adventitious support; and it is no deprecation of Christian sentiment, that it is capable of deriving an accession to its purity from the experience of persecution. It is by divine grace alone that the fire of persecution thus sometimes tends to refine virtue, and consumes the dross that may have adhered to it; and the progress of this history is destined to show, that, without such overruling agency, the commission of injustice naturally tends to its own reproduction, and that the experience of it engenders a much stronger disposition to retaliate its severities, than to sympathize with its victims. It had been happy for the credit of the Protestants, whose hostility, perhaps, enforced the moderation of the Catholics of Maryland, if they had imitated the virtue which their own apprehended violence may have tended to elicit. But unfortunately, a great proportion even of those who were constrained to seek refuge among the Catholics from the persecutions of their own Protestant brethren, carried with them into exile the same intolerance of which they themselves had been the victims: and the Presbyterians and other dissenters, who now began to flock in considerable numbers from Virginia to Maryland, gradually formed a Protestant confederacy against the interests of the original settlers; and with ingratitude, still more odious than their injustice, projected the abrogation not only of the Catholic worship, but of every part of that system of toleration under whose shelter they were enabled to conspire its downfall. But though the Catholics were thus ill requited by their Protestant guests, it would be a mistake to suppose that the calamities that subsequently desolated the province, were produced by the toleration which her Assembly now established, or that the Catholics were really losers by this act of justice and liberality. From the disposition of the prevailing party in England, and the state of the other colonial settlements, the catastrophe that overtook the liberties of the Maryland Catholics could not possibly have been evaded : and if the virtue they now displayed was unable to avert their fate, it exempted them at least from the reproach of deserving it: it redoubled the guilt and scandal incurred by their adversaries, and achieved for them a reputation more lasting and honourable than political triumph or temporal elevation. What Christian (however sensible of the errors of Catholic doctrine) would not rather be the descendant of the Catholics who established toleration in Maryland, than of the Protestants who overthrew it?
From the establishment of religious freedom, the Assembly of Maryland proceeded to the improvement of political liberty; and, in the following year, the constitution of this province received that structure which, with some interruptions, it continued to retain for more than a century after. In conformity with a wish expressed by the burgesses (in 1642) “that they might be separated, and sit by themselves, and have a negative," a law was now passed (1650), enacting that members called to the Assembly by special writ, should form the upper house; and that those who were chosen by the hundreds should form the lower house; and that all bills which should be assented to by the two branches of the legislature, and ratified by the governor, should be deemed the laws of the province. Blending a due regard to the rights of the people, with a just gratitude to the Proprietary, the Assembly at the same time enacted a law prohibiting the imposition of taxes without the consent of the freemen, and declaring in its preamble, " that as the Proprietary's strength doth con. sist in the affections of the people, on them he doth rely for his supplies, not doubting of their duty and assistance on all just occasions.” (Laws, 1650, Cap. 1, 23, 25.) Perhaps (coneludes the impartial Grahame) it is only under such patriarchal administration, as Maryland yet retained an admixture of in her constitution, and under such