Chapter 3 - Discussion Questions
Please answer these questions in your notes in preparation for our discussion.
1-What factors contributed to the secularization of American business (see Marsden, pages 116-117).
2-How did this contribute to what Marsden calls “the most pressing social problems of the day”? (See the last paragraph on page 117-119).
3-In what sense was hard work a social program in 19th century America? (See pp. 119-120)
4-Please take some time to either explore this web site on the Civil War or to read the article beneath this lesson on the Gilded Age or the article on Irish Americans.
Primary resources on the Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the Civil War web site:
Marsden – Chapter 4
1-What were the significant differences between Protestant and Catholic religious practices? (See Marsden, pp. 143-144).
2-Why did the U.S. continue to allow large numbers of immigrants to enter the country during this time even though it created tensions with the country?
Flowers – Chapter 6, pp. 69-74
3-What did we learn from our Flowers reading about the nature of public education prior to 1830 in the U.S.?
4-What two concerns prompted the idea of public schools?
5-In the early 1830s, the idea of public schools developed. Who would pay for them? What would be their relationship to religion?
6-Why did the Catholics start their own parochial schools? (See Marsden, page 145; Flowers, page 71).
7-What happened in Oregon in 1922 that prompted the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters? How did the court rule in this case?
8-What was the issue in the case Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education?
9-Why was the case of Everson v. Board of Education a landmark case?
This week we’ll cover portions of two chapters from Marsden concentrating on these themes:
- The Civil War
- The largely Protestant dominant culture (“insiders”) of America from 1860-1917
- The Gilded Age
- Outsider groups within the American culture from 1860-1917
- Catholic immigrants as a case study
- Aid to Church related schools (Flowers)
The Civil War
In spite of the existence of different denominations and ethnic groups, religion in America, prior to the Civil War, had helped to smooth regional conflicts in the nation. The Great Awakening had helped to bind the colonies together in religious fervor. It strengthened the belief that began with the Puritans that God had a special mission for America. This belief inspired the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution that followed. The young nation believed that God intended it to be a refuge for the oppressed of the world and to be an example to other nations. This belief has been ongoing throughout our history.
But as you’ll see when you read the last few pages of Chapter 2 in Marsden and the Prologue to the book, the issue of slavery divided families, churches, and the entire nation. Both North and South claimed the approval of God for their cause. Lincoln noted in his second inaugural address that: “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other.”
The existence of slavery, obviously, contradicted the ideals of a young nation that from its earliest day had professed its commitment to liberty and justice for all (males). But unlike other reform efforts that saw many issues resolved at the church and community level, slavery required legislation and a war to be resolved.
The Dominant Protestant Culture (Insiders) and the Gilded Age
After the Civil War, Northern evangelical clergy and their congregations and other reformers believed that with slavery abolished, that ongoing moral reform would be unlimited. Nothing could stand in the way of America’s renewal of its covenant with God to fulfill its special mission in a golden age when peace, justice, and Christian principles would permeate all aspects of American life.
But while churches were growing and the reform effort remained strong within middle class Protestant American society, the “golden age” might more accurately have been termed a “gilded” age. Marsden notes that this era was in fact characterized by corruption (see the bottom of page 109) and the rise of big business (pp. 116 – 119) which was largely a secular enterprise with its own rules. Marsden states on page 116:
“Business is a realm that tends to have a logic of its own, built upon the principle of maximizing profits. Individual and social demands may restrain business to a degree, but these demands weaken especially as businesses become larger and more depersonalized and in boom times when huge financial rewards come to those who can efficiently organize and mobilize. Such forces were strong after the Civil War, and for some people, those forces were irresistible, hence giving the Gilded Age its notorious reputation for political and economic corruption.”
America was going through profound societal changes that included rapid growth of urban areas, industry, and immigrants. The dominant Protestant culture that had maintained its influence so successfully in small New England towns was threatened by all of these changes.
Pluralistic America: 1860-1917
Marsden begins Chapter 4 with his assertion that America has been shaped by the interaction of the dominant Protestant culture and the diverse cultures with diverse religions that have immigrated to America. From 1865-1900 13.5 million foreigners immigrated to America. 9 million more arrived between 1900 and 1910. To put this in perspective, bear in mind that at the end of the Civil War, the total population of the United States was slightly over 30 million.
This great flood of immigrants into the U.S. caused considerable alarm. Americans viewed the newcomers as impoverished and illiterate often with customs that were alien. Because Roman Catholics were the largest group of immigrants during this time, we’ll use them as a case study to consider in more detail.
The Roman Catholic population of the United States was a small minority of mostly English Catholics until about 1845. The potato famine in Ireland and the displacement of thousands of peasants in Europe by new farming techniques compelled millions of Catholics to leave their homelands to make their livelihoods in America.
The immigrants' religion caused Protestants great concern. Protestants prided themselves on living in a country founded as a Protestant "light unto the world," as the Puritans put it. They felt threatened that America might soon become a "Catholic" country; they worried that the Catholic religion, with its hierarchies and traditions, had made the immigrants unsuitable for democratic and individualistic life in America.
So, why did America continue to allow them to immigrate to America?
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