The 1830s and 1840s were arguably the lowest moment for Irish Catholics in American history. Michael Feldberg will recall those difficult years by recounting the attacks by xenophobic Protestants (including some Orangemen) on two Irish Catholic churches in Philadelphia, one of which was burned to the ground. The immigrant Irish Catholics fought back, and several individuals were killed on both sides. Each time, it took the Pennsylvania militia several days to quell the disturbances.
Among the consequences of the riots were the creation of the Philadelphia Police Department, the second such department in the United States, and the establishment of the Philadelphia Catholic parochial school system. On the Protestant side, many of those anti-immigrant “nativists” went on to join the American Republican party, a forerunner of the Republican Party that would nominate Abraham Lincoln for president.
In short, this is a complicated story that has largely been forgotten.
MICHAEL FELDBERG, PhD is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, the organization that established and operates the Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. Visitors Center at the Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport, RI. Previously, he served as executive director and director of research at the American Jewish Historical Society. He has taught American history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and at UMass Boston and directed the Criminal Justice Program at Boston University. The author of several books, Feldberg is most recently a co-editor of the forthcoming A Rebuke to Bigotry: Reflections on George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI.