Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John C. Pinheiro's "Missionaries of Republicanism"

John C. Pinheiro is Associate Professor of History at Aquinas College in Michigan and Consulting Editor for the Polk presidency at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. His publications include Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War and numerous articles in academic journals and books.

Pinheiro applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War, and reported the following:
Missionaries of Republicanism tells the story of how a fervently religious and anti-Catholic culture in the United States combined with nativist and expansionist sentiment to produce and shape the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. An anti-Catholic civil-religious discourse constituted an integral piece of nearly every major argument for or against the war. It was also the primary tool used by American soldiers to interpret Mexico's culture. Page 99 of Missionaries of Republicanism stands at the pivot point in my telling of the war's religious history.

The ninety-ninth page picks up half way through the conflict with New York City's Bishop Hughes (the man who built St. Patrick's Cathedral) criticizing the official newspaper of the Democratic James K. Polk Administration for suggesting that the U.S. Army ought to rob the coffers of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Because of rioting and arson against Catholics in Philadelphia in 1844 and the use of Mexican church wealth as a lure by army recruiters, Polk already had taken great pains to prevent the war from degenerating into a religious conflict. He had appointed Catholic chaplains to the army, ordered soldiers to respect the Mexicans' religion and holy places, and had worked to cultivate good will with American bishops. Now, as American troops stood poised for their final march to Mexico City, an op-ed in a Democratic Party newspaper threatened to upend Polk's well-crafted Catholic conciliation policy:
Whigs recognized the . . . controversy as a rare chance to tear away at Catholic allegiance to the Democratic Party. Bishop Hughes's public rebuke of Polk made this easier. Polk's detractors finally had a religious issue on which they could attack the president that was not anti-Catholic.
Political backlash aside, a real chance now existed of a devastating Mexican insurgency rooted in a fear that their religion was under attack. Indeed, some Mexican churches were pilfered and vandalized by American soldiers.

In the book I cover many events and controversies relating to religion and the war. The furor created by what you can read about on page 99, however, is one of only two (the famous San Patricios, an Irish-American brigade that fought for Mexico, being the other) that threatened to do as much damage inside the United States as it did in Mexico.
Read more about Missionaries of Republicanism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue