American Freedom and Catholic Power

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American Freedom and Catholic Power is an anti-Catholic[1] book by American writer Paul Blanshard, published in 1949 by Beacon Press, which asserted that America had a "Catholic problem" in that the Church was an "undemocratic system of alien control". The book has been described as bigoted and "vicious",[2] propaganda[3] and as "the most unusual bestseller of 1949-1950".[4] It was based on a series of articles that he had published in the magazine The Nation[citation needed].

Blanshard's autobiography indicates that his precipitating concern in 1946, which propelled him to commence research, was the influence of Catholic doctrine upon the practice of medicine generally, and obstetrics specifically. Some reviewers thought that the book incorporated nativist sentiments into its anti-Catholicism, including that the Church was a foreign power in America determined to dominate the world.[5][6]

Verbatim from the dust jacket, 1949[edit]

"In his personal prologue, the author of this scholarly and well-documented criticism actually comes close to writing his own review of his own book. He is not arguing, he tells us, against the Catholic religion, and he points out that the Catholic people of the United States fight and die for the same concept of freedom as do other true Americans. His contention is that the Catholic hierarchy is now threatening our fundamental ideals of democracy. 'In the name of religion, the hierarchy fights birth control and divorce laws in all states. It tells Catholic doctors, nurses, judges, teacher and legislators what they can and cannot do in the many controversial phases of their professional conduct.' --John P. Marquand, Pulitzer Prize author in Book-of-the-Month Club News.

" ... the gratitude of all freedom-loving Americans goes to Mr. Blanshard for his fearless and painstaking handling of this delicate and controversial theme, which most of his fellow-citizens dare not mention above a whisper. ... Mr. Blanshard's volume should be in the hands of every thoughtful American." --Henry Sloane Coffin, President Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary.

Nota bene. Beacon Press took an unusual action with this dust cover. They used the inside of the jacket to print some book reviews that appeared in "The Saturday Review of Literature" and "The Christian Century". These reviews came from: 1) The American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2) The Philosophical Review, Cornell University, and 3) International Affairs, by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London. These reviews are anathema to the reviews below by Catholic periodicals. This information is included because there is no call, above, for "neutrality".

Writings in The Nation[edit]

In the late 1940s Blanshard published a series of articles that questioned and criticized specific activities and goals of the Catholic Church in the United States. New York school libraries were pressured to cancel subscriptions to The Nation by Cardinal Francis Spellman, an action denounced by Eleanor Roosevelt.[7] The series of articles formed the basis for the book published by Beacon Press in their book series entitled Series in Freedom and Power. Every possible effort was made by the Catholic Church to prevent Beacon Press from publishing this book. That failing, reading of this book by Catholics, including clergy, was declared a sin. Copies in Catholic institutions of higher learning were kept under lock and key, see 2nd edition, 1958. [8]

Reception and criticism[edit]

When the book was released, The New York Times refused to accept advertising for the book and many bookstores refused to carry it.[9] However, the book sold 240,000 copies in its first edition.[10] It was praised by John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and Horace Kallen as well as scholarly reviewers.[11] A work of rebuttal, Catholicism and American Freedom was written by James M. O'Neill and published in 1952. Blanshard's rejoinder to O'Neill and others was the pamphlet My Catholic Critics.[12] Blanshard published a second edition that updated the book. Blanshard was later a vocal admirer of John F. Kennedy.[citation needed]

William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights calls it a "hate-filled" book that raised the "old canard of 'dual loyalties'" and included such "rubbish" as Blanshard's "Catholic Plan for America", which purportedly entailed "seizing the government, repealing the First Amendment, outlawing divorce, and making the pope the president's official superior".[13] Philip Jenkins, the Protestant author of The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, notes that the book contains echoes of the views of the American Protective Association and the Ku Klux Klan and, although Blanshard's plan of "resistance" to Catholicism did not prescribe the violence of those earlier anti-Catholic predecessors, that in the shadow of World War II readers would read the word resistance to have such an implication.[14]

Catholic author Robert Lockwood states the work essentially makes a secularist argument, despite having its foundation in English anti-Catholicism of a Protestant variety.[15]

Second Edition, March 1958[edit]

In the Preface to the Revised Edition, Blanshard wrote:

"It is almost ten years since American Freedom and Catholic Power was published as a book, and somewhat more than a decade since major portions of this work appeared in magazine form. I express my appreciation to those American and foreign readers (several millions) who made possible the miraculous passage of this book through the vicissitudes of twenty-six printings in this country and abroad.

- No book in recent years has drawn a heavier barrage from ecclesiastical batteries. The work is often called "controversial" - and I "the dean of American controversy". I do not care to repudiate the title, since I regard controversy in a good cause as entirely honorable. - It is my purpose here to bring all factual statements up to date, to cover the most dramatic and significant events in the battle of Catholic power during the past decade, and to add to the narrative more abundant documentation so that every controversial assertion may be supported by the latest items of evidence from Catholic sources.

On page 350 of the Second Edition, Blanshard included three issues that he said any Catholic candidate for the U.S. Presidency must address: "the Catholic boycott of public schools, the drive of Catholic bishops for public funds, and the appointment of a Vatican ambassador."[16]


  1. ^ The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders By Damon Linker. WW Norton p.70
  2. ^ Journal of church and state, Volume 1 Baylor University. J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State, p. 150
  3. ^ Manning, Martin J. and Herbert Romerstein, Historical dictionary of American propaganda, p. 49, Greenwood Publishing 2004
  4. ^ Catholicism and American freedom: a history By John T. McGreevy. WW Norton p. 166
  5. ^ Lockwood, Robert P., Anti-Catholicism in American Culture, p. 41-43, 2000, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing
  6. ^ The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice By Philip Jenkins
  7. ^ The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings By Thomas Maier. Basic Books. p 252.
  8. ^ American Freedom and Catholic Power
  9. ^ Jenkins, Philip, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, p. 37, Oxford University Press US, 2004
  10. ^ David T. Courtwright, No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010, p. 29
  11. ^ Catholicism and American freedom: a history By John T. McGreevy
  12. ^ Review at
  13. ^ Donohue, William A., Secular Sabotage: How Liberals Are Destroying Religion and Culture in America, p. 81-82, Hachette Digital, Inc., 2009
  14. ^ Jenkins, Philip, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, p. 37-38, Oxford University Press US, 2004
  15. ^ Lockwood, Robert P., Anti-Catholicism in American Culture, p. 42, 2000, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing
  16. ^ Carty, Thomas J. (2008). A Catholic in the White House?: Religion, Politics, and John F. Kennedy's Presidential Campaign. Macmillan. p. 71.