Tuesday, February 4, 2014

US Grant on Catholic Schools

Last week we looked at what President John Adams thought of the Catholic Mass. This week we turn to another president to see what he thought of Catholic schools.

To set the stage. Catholic immigration to the United States began to increase greatly in the later half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, first with the Irish, later with the Italians and Polish. Many Protestant Americans at the time found this to be very alarming. Anti-Catholicism spread throughout the country. The Ku Klux Klan added Catholics to its list of targets and employers put out signs dissuading Catholics from even applying for jobs. As more and more Irish settled in the country, they began to open their own Catholic schools (remember the Catholic Church had been operating schools since the Middle Ages, well before any government). When these schools applied for federal funds, a huge uproar went up across the country, fueled by anti-Catholic prejudice.

Enter the Blaine Amendment.
To quell these newly founded Catholic schools, US Grant called for a complete ban on tax payer funds (including the taxes of Catholic Americans) to go to support Catholics schools. This is the beginning of ripping the power of Choice from the hands of American parents and forcing all kids (except the wealthy) into a government run monopoly of education. Grant saw this as a war with "patriotism and intelligence on one side and superstition, ambition and greed on the other." Clearly, Grant was no fan of the Church.

This ban was to be made the law of the land with the Blaine Amendment, which stated:

"No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations."
You'll note that private schools were not entirely barred from receiving federal funds, only religious schools were. At the time, the only religious schools being set up were, of course, Catholic schools. Thus, the Blaine Amendment was clearly an attack on the Church.

Luckily, the Amendment failed to pass federally (missing only 4 votes in the Senate), but all but eleven states passed their own laws to the same effect.

It is in this context that Grant made his famous claim that Americans should:
“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”
 How many Americans still agree with this sentiment?

U.S. Grant, President of the United States of America


  1. Grant was also the one who tore the priests from the Indian tribes. By the time he was done, of all the Catholic Indian settlements only 1/3 stayed in the hands of the priests. The rest were given to the Protestants. The Indians were restricted to their reservations having the Sacraments and comfort of the Catholic missionaries torn away from them. The Catholic priest missionaries were the ones who were bringing peace, stability, and decent living to the various warring tribes, preventing the scourge of alcoholism, and helping the Indians in many ways. When the Protestant missionaries showed up with their wives and children, the Indians did not receive them well. The blackrobes, they knew, had no divided heart and gave their all for the Indians. Had Grant left things alone, very possibly the Spirit Dance movement and Wounded Knee might never have happened.

  2. Very interesting, Barbara. Most Americans think of Grant solely as the "Victor of Appomattox" but he very much reflected the deep-seated anti-Catholicism that has existed in this country since the Puritans fled the Church of England for being "too Catholic!"