Fathers on the Frontier: French Missionaries and the Roman Catholic Priesthood in the United States, 1789-1870

By Michael Pasquier | Go to book overview

5
Slavery, Civil War, and
Southern Catholicism

In August of 1861, Bishop Auguste Marie Martin of Natchitoches, Louisiana, issued a pastoral letter “on the occasion of the War of Southern Independence.” In it, Martin argued that slavery was “the manifest will of God.” It was the will of God for Catholics to continue “snatching from the barbarity of their ferocious customs thousands of children of the race of Canaan,” the cursed progeny of Noah. It was also the obligation of Catholics to repudiate abolitionists for “upset[ting] the will of Providence” and misusing “His merciful plans for unrighteous actions.”1 Napoleon Joseph Perché, coadjutor of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, submitted his approval of Martin’s pastoral statement by printing it in the Catholic newspaper Propagateur Catholique. Three years later, the Congregation of the Index—the institution responsible for censoring forbidden publications—issued a statement condemning the opinions espoused by Martin and approved by the French ecclesiastical leadership of New Orleans. The Index, under the pontifical authority of Pius IX, argued against Martin’s proposition that God sanctioned slavery as a means of redeeming Africans and “that there exists a natural difference between negroes and whites.” The Index continued:

It is an evil to deprive [people] of freedom and subject them
to slavery; it is a violation of a natural right; for this reason
people must not commit this evil to obtain good, from which
they may draw an advantage, since God’s purpose does not

-167-

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