Conflicting Christianities: anti-Catholicism as a case study of diverging rhetoric in the Anglo-Atlantic world, 1754-1780

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University of New Brunswick


Manifestations of strident anti-Catholic sentiment during the Seven Years’ War (1754/56-1763)—a conflict seen in North America as being between “Protestant Britain” and “Catholic France”—reveal that discriminatory religious rhetoric was not based on religious sentiment alone. In the early modern era, the term “Catholic” often inferred other characteristics including ethnic, political, and imperial affiliations, as well as religious ones. In the post-Reformation era, it also evoked memories of violent clashes and wars between Protestants and Catholics. In British North America, elites used anti-Catholic tropes to hide political concerns behind religious language, implying that military conflicts were “divinely ordained” or motivated by religious imperatives. Focusing on the years between the Seven Years’ War and Franco-American alliance (1778), this study explores how people manipulated Protestant and Catholic religious identities to accommodate changing political agendas. During the years of imperial crisis after the Seven Years War, British subjects, both in Britain and the colonies, grappled with the implications of absorbing tens of thousands of people into British America who were neither ethnically British nor Protestant. Indeed, the religious identity of many of these new members of the Empire was Catholic. Protestant leaders, both religious and political, clashed over how best to accommodate these religious “others” and significant divergences emerged between people who became citizens of the new United States and people who remained within to the broader Anglo-Atlantic world. Culturally specific praxes coalesced and hardened, praxes that continue to influence the form and function of religious rhetoric in the Anglo-Atlantic world, and particularly in Canada and the United States.