How Catholics Became American
(Harvard University Press, under contract)

In colonial America, Catholics were presumed dangerous until proven loyal. Theirs was a persecution of priests hunted, rights robbed, and a faith underground. Yet in the American founding era, Catholics signed the Declaration of Independence and finalized the First Amendment. What explains this remarkable transformation? How did Catholics become American founders and framers, and what does this say about liberties and loyalties in America?

How Catholics Became American revises our understanding of the origins and meaning of the American principle of religious liberty. It describes how English and American Catholics—from the founder of Maryland to the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first Catholic bishop of the United States—answered challenges to their civil loyalty by denying papal infallibility and the pope’s authority to intervene in other countries. These reform-minded Catholics drew from an intellectual tradition that was rooted in Catholic thought yet compatible with a republican view of temporal independence, church-state separation, and religious liberty. American Catholics of this sort fit their beliefs within early American ideologies and became important framers and founders in early America. As the pope’s authority is again severely challenged in America, this history will be critical for understanding the dynamics of dual loyalties, religious liberty, and religion in the public square today.

© Michael D. Breidenbach 2017-2019