Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England

By Noll, Mark A. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England


Noll, Mark A., The Catholic Historical Review


Necessary Virtue: The Pragmatic Origins of Religious Liberty in New England. By Charles P Hanson. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 1998. Pp. x, 277. $35.00.)

Vecessary Virtue offers a very well researched reinterpretation of religious toleration in New England. The heart of Charles Hanson's argument is that two situations of forced contact with Roman Catholics during the Revolutionary 'ar were much more important than historians have realized. First was the patriots' invasion of Quebec in late 1775 and early 1776, during which many French-Canadian habitants welcomed the invaders and when divisions between Quebec's elites and peasants posed greater problems for the Americans than traditional Protestant-Catholic antagonism. Hanson has uncovered a surprisingly large body of evidence in both French and English sources to support this claim. Particularh fascinating is his account of the speed with which New England's abhorrence of Catholicism occasioned by the Quebec Act of 1774 was transformed into pragmatic co-operation with those Catholics willing to support the invasion. This transformation was never total, and it led to some indecisiveness among New England's Calvinist clergy, but Hanson demonstrates convincingly that the prospect of incorporating Quebec into the new United States defused much of New England's historic anti-Catholicism. The second situation was the patriots` alliance with France, which was established in Febr ary, 1778, and which led eventually to the conclusive American victory at Yorktown in 1781. Hanson draws on an even wider range of sources here to argue that New England's ability to let political necessity moderate its antiCatholic and anti-French heritage led demonstrably to the "limited principle of tolerating the presence of Catholics and permitting their public worship" (p. 219).

The broader success of the book is to show how these events of the Revolutionarv War disturbed the lock-step ideological affinities inherited from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, especially from the Seven Years' or French and Indian War. …

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