Award Date

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

David Tanenhaus

Second Committee Member

Gregory Brown

Third Committee Member

Cian McMahon

Fourth Committee Member

Eugene Moehring

Fifth Committee Member

Ted Jelen

Number of Pages



Few subjects in American history have elicited as much scholarly attention as religious freedom. Yet, no study has looked at the long tradition of Catholic dissent in America. That story has been limited to narrow articles and monographs on Maryland or Catholic history even though American Catholics have participated in discourses about religious liberty since the Lords Baltimore founded Maryland in 1632. Andrew White, Thomas Copely, and Charles Carroll the Settler advocated for Catholic rights in the seventeenth century. Peter Attwood, Joseph Beadnall, and Charles Carroll of Annapolis followed in their footsteps in the beginning of the eighteenth. By the end of that century, a new cast of characters was pursuing Catholic religious freedom in the newly established United States. John Carroll, Mathew Carey, Francis Fleming, and John Thayer engaged in controversies in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston that posed sharp questions about what religious freedom meant in the United States, and how one’s religious beliefs related to notions of citizenship. During the nineteenth century, yet another generation of American Catholics pressed against conventional understandings and applications of religious liberty. John England, William Gaston, and John Hughes, among others, continued to redefine what religious freedom meant in the United States half a century after the First Amendment declared that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Even after many states disestablished their churches and rescinded laws prohibiting Catholics from holding political office, Catholics continued to speak out against cultural prejudices that lingered throughout the country.

This long tradition of Catholic dissent was not inconsequential to the shaping of American religious freedom. Catholics held their Protestant neighbors accountable for the liberal and congratulatory rhetoric they used to describe the church-state model in America, noting that certain religious minorities did not possess equal rights under the law and suffered from discrimination and prejudices in the culture. By viewing that story through a Catholic lens, this dissertation argues that the development of religious liberty has been a process of negotiation from early in the seventeenth century, and that even after the establishment of the United States, religious minorities were working to make American culture more tolerant. At the same time, the experiences of American Catholics suggest that even religious minorities often celebrated and appreciated the robust freedoms that the United States offered. As the first study to look at the Catholic dissenting tradition in early America, I conclude that historians can learn from those experiences and apply their findings to wider discussions of American religious freedom, the relationship between church and state in the United States, and citizenship.


Catholics; Church and State; Religious Freedom; Religious Liberty


History | Law | Religion

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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