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

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Virulent anti-Catholicism was a hallmark of New England society from the first Puritan settlements to the eve of the American Revolution and beyond. Thus America's tactical decision during the Revolution to form alliances with Catholics in Canada and France ignited an awkward debate. The paradox arising out of this partnership has been left virtually unexamined by previous historians of the Revolution.

In Necessary Virtue Charles P. Hanson explores the disruptive effects of the ...

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Overview

Virulent anti-Catholicism was a hallmark of New England society from the first Puritan settlements to the eve of the American Revolution and beyond. Thus America's tactical decision during the Revolution to form alliances with Catholics in Canada and France ignited an awkward debate. The paradox arising out of this partnership has been left virtually unexamined by previous historians of the Revolution.

In Necessary Virtue Charles P. Hanson explores the disruptive effects of the American Revolution on the religious culture of New England Protestantism. He examines the efforts of New Englanders to make sense of their own shifting ideas of Catholicism and anti-Catholicism and traces the "necessary virtue" of religious toleration to its origins in pragmatic cultural politics. To some patriots, abandoning traditional anti-Catholicism meant shedding an obsolete relic of the intolerant colonial past; others saw it as a temporary concession to be reversed as soon as possible. Their Tory opponents meanwhile assailed them all as hypocrites for making common cause with the "papists" they had so recently despised. What began as a Protestant crusade succeeded only with Catholic help and later culminated in the First Amendment's formal separation of church and state. The Catholic contribution to American independence was thus controversial from the start.

In this felicitously written and informative book, Hanson raises questions about difference, tolerance, and the role of religious belief in politics and government that help us see the American Revolution in a new light. Necessary Virtue is timely in pointing to the historical contingency and, perhaps, the fragility of the church-state separation that is very much a poltical and legal issue today.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

Stephen A. Marini

Necessary Virtue has implications for many areas of research in Revolutionary politics and religion. Hanson has found some remarkable sources, ranging from Revolutionary soldiers' diaries to Quebecois episcopal visitation records to reconstruct a wonderfully polyvalent acount of how such historic enemies came to humanize one another through common cause and common experience.

Booknews
Tracing the Constitution's separation of church and state to the need for French assistance in the fight against the British during the Revolutionary War, the author examines the significant break with the traditional, virulent anti- Catholicism of colonial New England Protestants. While some saw the break as a necessary result of shedding the colonial past, the author argues that many saw it as a temporary expedient to be dispensed with as soon as possible. The alliances with France and French Canadians, he says, had the effect of redrawing religious boundaries and disabusing some Americans of their habitual intolerance. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813917948
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1998
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles P. Hanson is Assistant Professor of History at Collegio dell'Adriatico in Trieste, Italy.

University of Virginia Press

Charles P. Hanson is Assistant Professor of History at Collegio dell'Adriatico in Trieste, Italy.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 The Catholic Question 6
2 The Encounter in Quebec 23
3 Conquered into Liberty 60
4 Astride the Tiger 85
5 The Greatest Prince on Earth 119
6 Romanists in Disguise 154
7 Coming to Terms 188
Notes 223
Bibliography 253
Index 271
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