How early American Catholics justified secularism and overcame suspicions of disloyalty, transforming ideas of religious liberty in the process.
In colonial America, Catholics were presumed dangerous until proven loyal. Yet Catholics went on to sign the Declaration of Independence and helped to finalize the First Amendment to the Constitution. What explains this remarkable transformation? Michael Breidenbach shows how Catholic leaders emphasized their church’s own traditions—rather than Enlightenment liberalism—to secure the religious liberty that enabled their incorporation in American life.
Catholics responded to charges of disloyalty by denying papal infallibility and the pope’s authority to intervene in civil affairs. Rome staunchly rejected such dissent, but reform-minded Catholics justified their stance by looking to conciliarism, an intellectual tradition rooted in medieval Catholic thought yet compatible with a republican view of temporal independence and church–state separation. Drawing on new archival material, Breidenbach finds that early American Catholic leaders, including Maryland founder Cecil Calvert and members of the prominent Carroll family, relied on the conciliarist tradition to help institute religious toleration, including the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649.
The critical role of Catholics in establishing American church–state separation enjoins us to revise not only our sense of who the American founders were, but also our understanding of the sources of secularism. Church–state separation in America, generally understood as the product of a Protestant-driven Enlightenment, was in key respects derived from Catholic thinking. Our Dear-Bought Liberty therefore offers a dramatic departure from received wisdom, suggesting that religious liberty in America was not bestowed by liberal consensus but partly defined through the ingenuity of a persecuted minority.
An impressive work of historical scholarship that makes a persuasive case for the importance of American Catholics in the story of American religious liberty...Breidenbach has broken new ground. -- Lael Weinberger * National Review * An original, provocative contribution to the study of U.S. Catholic history. -- George Weigel * First Things * The definitive treatment of the Catholic quest for religious toleration in America...An excellent work that should be read by anyone interested in church-state relations in early America. -- Mark David Hall * Law & Liberty * [A] superb study of American attitudes toward Catholicism in the founding era. -- Gerard V. Bradley * Claremont Review of Books * Can Catholics be Americans?...Breidenbach offers a persuasive account of how Catholics have wrestled with this question since the earliest days of the Maryland Colony. In so doing, he exhumes treasures of great significance for our own time...Opens up new vistas on the history of religion in the American colonies. -- Bill McCormick * America * One of the most comprehensive and well-researched histories of American colonial Catholicism of our generation...A triumph of academic scholarship yet also a pleasure to read...Rich in its account of how Catholics contributed to the American tradition of religious liberty. -- James Patterson * Public Discourse * [An] important new book...Required reading for anyone who wants to delve deeply into the American founding and how it came to achieve the constitutional separation of church and state that has so shaped our culture and society. Breidenbach's achievement is large. -- Michael Sean Winters * National Catholic Reporter * What has medieval Catholic ecclesiology and political thought to do with the US Constitution? Much more than anyone thought, it turns out, as Breidenbach shows in this impressively researched, superbly argued, and beautifully written book. Our Dear-Bought Liberty will compel a rethinking of church-state relations, religious liberty and toleration, and the place of Catholicism in American history. A truly important, original work. -- Brad S. Gregory, author of The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society Breidenbach's provocative book makes the case for Catholics' intellectual contributions to the juridical separation of church and state. Ranging from medieval jurist John of Paris to James Madison, this vigorously argued, richly sourced work should permanently widen the lens through which American constitutional history is discussed and debated. -- Catherine O'Donnell, author of Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forums of Citizenship An extremely interesting and well-written book. It isn't easy to make a new contribution to the much-studied topic of religious liberty in colonial America, but Breidenbach does so by exploring the subject within the broad tradition of conciliarist or Gallican Catholic thinking about the nature of papal authority. Situating the American experience within an often overlooked dimension of European religious history, he offers a valuable perspective on historical questions that remain enormously important to the study of early America, early modern Britain, and the Atlantic world. -- Jeffrey Collins, author of In the Shadow of Leviathan: John Locke and the Politics of Conscience In this remarkably well researched book, Breidenbach shows that Anglo-American Catholics embraced a centuries-old intellectual tradition within Catholicism to contribute to the idea of church-state separation that ultimately took root in the United States. He deftly shows that American Catholics were not the grateful beneficiaries of church-state separation; rather, they were early-and natural-architects of it. -- Maura Jane Farrelly, author of Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity Our Dear-Bought Liberty sheds new light on the Catholic origins of religious liberty in the United States and its constitutional tradition. Although colonial Catholics are often forgotten and overlooked, Breidenbach asserts their wide-ranging impact in the Maryland colony and the nascent republic as they helped shape the American understanding of religious liberty. This extensively researched and eloquent work leads the reader to a greater appreciation of this central theme advanced by Catholics from the Constitutional Convention to the Second Vatican Council. -- Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York A valuable reconstruction of a hitherto poorly understood dimension of American religious liberty. -- Evan Haefeli * Journal of Church and State * Breidenbach has gifted us with a synthesis of years of research into early modern Anglo-American Catholicism...He revises, definitively, the picture of Catholic involvement in the forging of religious liberty in America, from ideals to rhetoric to actual laws. -- Shaun Blanchard * Newman Studies Journal * Breidenbach's history of Catholics in early America provides a much more nuanced and insightful treatment of the relationship between the American constitutional order and the Catholic faith as understood by prominent Catholics who took part in the Founding. -- Jerome C. Foss * Interpretation * Unequivocally excellent, one of the most important recent books in modern Catholic history. Clearly argued, brilliantly researched, important in its implications, Breidenbach's book convincingly lays out how the Reform Catholic, or conciliar Catholic, tradition-deeply Catholic but resolutely opposed to any papal interference in temporal politics-shaped the American idea of religious liberty. We needed Our Dear-Bought Liberty. -- John T. McGreevy, author of American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global This volume is a challenging and welcome exploration of the relationship between American and Catholic principles around the time of the American Founding, which itself is a contemporary example of a perennial question regarding faith and culture. As Breidenbach ably demonstrates, Catholics did participate in the creation of the American republic and its commitment to human freedom and human flourishing; they were not simply a convenient foil against which the new regime might define itself. -- Thomas W. Jodziewicz * Touchstone *