european immigrants were the worst kind -- 01/06/17

Today's selection -- from Taming Lust by Doron S. Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown. In early America, churches were losing members. At Yale, some students were even skipping church. Church ministers felt that one reason was the influence of godless Europeans. It followed then that one way to combat the decline in church attendance was to restrict immigration since "Euro­pean immigrants ... were convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder and rape":

"[New England's] Congregationalists fretted over the growing number of rival churches as well as their own neighbors' declining commitment to Congregational piety. By the 1790s ministers preached to aging and increasingly female audiences. Towns­people -- tending toward 'Nothingarianism' -- skipped services, balked at paying their ministers' salaries fully, and turned to the church only when they needed to baptize children, to marry, and to bury the dead. ...

View of Litchfield by Rebecca Couch Dennison

"When politics and religion combined they nourished explosive rhetoric. Widespread Congregational fears of Christian decline blended with partisan Federalist warnings about the wave of international revolutionary radical­ism. In parlors and law offices in Northampton and Litchfield -- as well as Boston, Hartford, and New Haven -- the New England elite understood par­tisan struggles and the erosion of traditional hierarchy as the consequences of religious apathy and pro-French radicals' anti-Christian crusade. Their rejection of Christ was the core problem. Deist treatises, by Litchfield-born Ethan Allen and the Englishmen Joseph Priestley and Thomas Paine, circu­lated widely and young men, often gentlemen, embraced this dangerous Enlightenment rationalism. Federalists believed Thomas Jefferson, the Republican hero, was a confirmed Deist or even an atheist. At the shrine of orthodox Congregationalism, Yale College, during the presidency of Rever­end Ezra Stiles in the 1780s and early 1790s, students were avidly reading Rousseau and Voltaire more enthusiastically than sacred Christian texts. By 1795, when Yale's trustees appointed the evangelical Northampton native Reverend Timothy Dwight, some students were even skipping church. Establishment leaders saw calamity approaching. ...

"Religious anxiety fed xenophobia. Fears centered on transatlantic rad­icals who threatened to turn the United States into the New World's France -- where Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being reigned. In 1797 Congressman Harrison Gray Otis of Massachusetts warned that foreign­ers coming to America's shore, 'after unfurling the standard of rebellion in their own countries, come hither to revolutionize ours.' Most Euro­pean immigrants, a writer for the Gazette of the United States declared, were convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder, rape, and sodomy. In May 1798, Litchfield's John Allen warned Congress that the new restric­tions on foreigners should not merely apply to French citizens, because 'citizens of several other countries are as dangerous.' They possessed 'dispositions equally hostile to this country with the French.' At Litch­field, 1798 Fourth of July orator James Gould who was recently made Tapping Reeve's associate at the law school, told the gathering that the French Revolution has brought forth on the nations of Europe 'evils, which without experience, cannot be known.' Immigration must be checked because 'the fortune of every community must depend upon the character and conduct of its members.'

Thomas Paine -- Portrait by Auguste Millière (1880)

"And Senator Uriah Tracy concurred. In Pennsylvania, he claimed, where unworthy European mul­titudes had been allowed to settle, these people had embraced the Jeffer­sonians, so as to elect every 'scoundrel who can read and write into office.' Traveling through Pennsylvania, this Litchfield lawyer and politi­cian was disgusted by the 'very many Irishmen, and with a very few exceptions, they are United Irishmen, Free Masons, and the most God­-provoking Democrats on this side of Hell.' As for 'the Germans,' he found them 'stupid, ignorant, and ugly, and [they] are to the Irish what negroes at the south are to their drivers.' These immigrants must never flood into New England because they posed political, cultural, and sexual threats. As for the author of The Rights of Man, Federalists denounced Paine not only for religious blasphemy and transatlantic revolutionary troublemaking but for being 'a wretch without character ... devoted to the most bestial intoxication.' Picturing events in Europe and in Ameri­can cities, orthodox ministers of the New England interior believed, as a recent historian of sex put it, that 'sexual toleration grew out of religious toleration.' "


Taming Lust: Crimes Against Nature in the Early Republic (Early American Studies)


Doron S. Ben-Atar & Richard D. Brown


University of Pennsylvania Press


Copyright 2014 University of Pennsylvania Press


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