A. D. (Amory Dwight) Mayo.

Religion in the common schools. Three lectures delivered in the city of Cincinnati, in October, 1869 online

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Online LibraryA. D. (Amory Dwight) MayoReligion in the common schools. Three lectures delivered in the city of Cincinnati, in October, 1869 → online text (page 4 of 6)
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the war, have been so pressed to keep up with the demands of our
increasing population, that little has been known or noticed of Cath-
olic educational operations. But all these years this priesthood has
been busy in sowing seeds of dissension and disaffection in every
region of the city. It has toiled unceasingly among our wealthy

Common Schools. 29

people, persuading them to educate their daughters in the Catholic
schools of Europe or their convents at home. It has destroyed the
faith of many families in our high schools, and in every way sought
to alienate the w^ealth and fashion of the city from this great popu-
lar institution. It has seized upon a large class of cultivated indif-
ferentists and imbued them at once with skepticism for American
institutions and contempt for the people's education. It has
worked with great success, and to-day one of our obstacles is
a considerable body of elegant and wealthy people, who are either
wholly ignorant of or bitterly prejudiced against our common
schools. It has perpetually fomented political jealousy of this
institution among our people of southern descent and Democratic
proclivities, hoping to use this body of our fellow-citizens for the
final dismemberment of the schools. It is on the watch perpetually
to blow up an ignorant prejudice among the people against the
administration of the system. Now the town is convulsed by
charges of bribery and corruption in the Board, and it turns out the
School Board has purchased an admirable lot for a school-house,
adjoining a Catholic school, which spoils a nice little arrangement
of its own to buy the land adjacent to our Hughes high school
building. Again, the air is black with charges of the brutality of
our teachers, and one would think a new slaughter of the innocents
was inaugurated in these seminaries of godless learning. Again,
the journals teem with general charges of sectarian bigotry, and we
are charged with converting the school-room to a Protestant Chris-
tian church. In the same breath the Archbishop and the Telegraph
denounce the schools as atheistic and under the influence of such
infidel parsons as the humble author of the present remarks. It is
true these charges generally come from quarters outside the priest-
hood ; it is well they should appear to express a growing dissatis-
faction and disgust of the people with their schools. The old salts
down on- Cape Ann say they can tell before they leave their bed on
a Spring morning whether the wind is in the East ; for the East
wind comes straight from the Newfoundland icebergs, and no man
who has once felt its knife in his marrow can mistake that peculiar
chill. Any observing man in Cincinnati knows when the educa-
tional wind blows from the cathedral and the Jesuit's college, and
pays little heed to the protestations of the parties who are invoked
to pufF their cheeks in public and swell the dismal gale.

And now the time has apparently come for a new public demon-
stration to distract and demoralize the friends of public education in
the city. It is well known that a considerable body of the Irish
Catholic people are growing restless and dissatisfied with their
church education, and desire to send their children to the public insti-
tutions. Of themselves they would probably not object to the
schools as they are ; but they dread a quarrel with the priesthood

• Reli^ioTi in the.

of their church. This constituency is represented in the School
Board by perhaps a fourth of its members, who are at once Catho-
lics, friends of the public schools, and greatly desirous of bringing
these people in. On the other hand, there is a considerable body
of people, chiefly of foreign birth and education, of extreme radical
opinions on religious and social affairs. They are led, to a large
extent, by expatriated European democrats and revolutionists.
Some of them were reared in the Catholic church, and have sprung
from her arms into a complete negation of religion itself. Most of
them, in their rebound from European tyranny, have adopted opin-
ions radically inconsistent with the religious and social ideas that
underlie our American system of society. Hitherto they have acted
with the party of freedom in polij:ics, were intensely patriotic during
the war, and have been the firm friends and often the enlightened
j-eformers of our public schools. The people, out of gratitude for
their services, have given them an influence and position in the
School Board altogether disproportioned to the relative popularity
of their peculiar ideas, and up to this year they had taken no advan-
tage of that confidence to make any public demonstration against
the prevailing convictions of the community. The Hebrews, too,
are in the schools in force, among their most enlightened and hearty

Now here is just the field in which the priesthood loves to ope-
rate. An accidental result of the elections has thrown into the
Board perhaps twenty-five members who are not Protestant Chris-
tians, though friends of the public schools. The thing to be done
was to combine this accidental majoritv for some assault upon the
harmony of public education which should arouse Protestant bigotry
and Atheistic intolerance and Hebrew prejudice, and set the friends
of the public schools in Cincinnati generally by the ears. Such a
happy state of affairs could not fail to disgust the community, dam-
age the schools and pave the way for a division of the school money
among the different religious sects. A plan was conceived with
such admirable skill and so adroitly set in motion that in a less intel-
ligent community than Cincinnati it might have succeeded. Mys-
terious hints went forth from the Bishop's palace that some amicable
adjustment of the old difference in these rival educational systems
might now be hoped, and the representatives of the reforming
Catholics in the Board were urged to bring their brethren to a
private interview with certain ecclesiastical parties. The meet-
ing was held and the outlines of a plan of union proposed. The
heart of the matter was in two propositions : First, the School
Board should hire the Catholic school-houses and bring the Catho-
lic schools within the control of the public system. So far the
thing looked well. We need, alreadv, several new school-houses.
We can not afford to build, and certainlv the Catholic school-houses

Coimnon Schools. 31

must be had to accommodate the Catholic children. Second., There
shall be no religious teaching in any of the public schools, Catholic
or public. All shall be swept clean of an)' "taint," not only of "the-
ology," but of religion itself. This of course was grateful to the
radical members and their constituents, and would not offend the
great mass of careless and indifferent people who don't care whether
the Bible or anv religion is found in the school-room. Even relig-
ious people might question whether it were not well to waive the
matter of Biblical reading or religious instruction, provided so great
an object as the union of all the schools could be accomplished.
But now comes in a little proposition which, like a lady's postcript,
contains the soul of the plan : that our old friends and admirers., the
Catholic priesthood., should have the exclusive use of these Catholic school-
houses for two days in the week for religious purposes. That, of course,
meant that on those days the same scholars and the same teachers
would have been gathered in the same school-houses for Catholic
religious instruction ; in short, instead of teaching Catholicism every
day in the week, secular knowledge was' to be imparted on five
days, and all the power of the church summoned for the two remain-
ing days to the work of saving the children's souls according to the
method of the priesthood. Observe that on those two days the public
school-houses are closed hy rule of the Board, and their use for any outside
purpose strictly forbidden. The radical members, with a strange lack
of their usual penetration, fell into this plan and agreed to advocate a
proposition to banish all religion except the Catholic from the pub-
lic schools, placing in the hands of the priesthood the only right to
enter a public school-house as religious teachers. It was a magyiifi-
cently contrived scheme for planting a Catholic mission in the very heart
of the public schools of Cincinnati, and the School Board almost laid
down its arms and surrendered at discretion.

But the plan got out and the people saw its practical meaning.
In one day after publication this wretched compromise was blasted
by popular indignation. The next step of the priesthood was to
retreat in good order. The Archbishop proposed a conference with
a committee of the Board, to discuss the whole matter, and it was
granted. Here no longer appeared the smiling, compromising face
of the Jesuit, but a stern and insolent prelate, denouncing the whole
common school system, and holding up the Papal syllabus as the
ultimatum. Under cover of the utter astonishment of the two
parties so cleverly drawn into this position, the Bishop and his clergy
retreated in excellent order and no longer appear on the horizon,
doubtless having retired to the cloister for meditation and prayer.
But one party was left among the wounded to the tender mercies
of the victorious people, and that party was the Catholic reformers
in the School Board. Having used these gentlemen to the utmost,

Religion in the

the ecclesiastical batteries are now opened upon them and they are
threatened with the shadov/ of things to come.

Now comes the fifth act of the drama. The priesthood has
withdrawn with lofty scorn, leaving the Board distracted and embit-
tered by an angry discussion on the only question that can divide the
friends of the public schools, religious instruction and reading the
Bible in the school-room. Calvinist and Atheist, Reformed Hebrew
and Reformed Catholic, Ritualist and Liberalist, and Radical, are
set in motion outside, and the result is a new religious agitation
covering the whole ground of public instruction. This is the very
harvest of the priesthood. While the friends of the common
school are tearing each other in pieces, and a radical measure, pro-
posing to sweep religion out of the school, is held in terror over the
Board; this holy corporation, in its retirement, can watch the strife
and strike as judgment may direct, fondly hoping that some wild
and rash measure will be forced through the Board, which will per-
petuate the conflict until the people, wearied and disgusted, destroy
or cripple their darling institution, and support Catholic education
with public funds.

I do not believe this last plot of the priesthood will succeed. I
am not in the secrets of the Reformed Catholic or the radical mem-
bers of the Board, who are expected to combine and pull the Arch-
bishop's chestnuts out of the fire. But I am inclined to think my
Catholic colleagues will decline to be used for such a purpose, even
at the risk of the displeasure of their priesthood. They are Amer-
ican citizens and know that only in American institutions is their
hope for liberty and the true success of their people in American
life. Sooner or later they must fight this battle for the emancipa-
tion of education from priestly control, as our fathers fought it in
America a century ago. If they do not see this now, it will be
seen ere long. The only hope of the Catholic people in this
country is in clinging fast to American institutions. There stands
the Pope's syllabus, and tiiere stands the people's school, and finally
they must go altogether to one or the other. The syllabus means
the despotism they left Europe to escape j the common school
means the freedom they came to the new world to find.

The people are watching the radical members of the Board with
an anxiety not unmixed with humor. Will they, after all their suf-
ferings and protestations, and lifelong hostility against the Catholic
priesthood, now turn and do the very thing the priests ardentlv
desire.? Are they so wedded to their peculiar religious theories
that they will break forever with the mighty Protestant Christian
people of this republic, with whom they have so long and harmo-
niously labored ? Are they ready to alienate every Protestant Chris-
tian church in this city from the public school by spurning the Bible
from its threshhold, at the dictation of the deadliest enemy of pop-

Common Schools. 33

ular education ? There may be men so wedded to their theories,
so contemptuous of religion, so ignorant of the great American
heart, so reckless in policy, that only an earthquake under their
feet can bring them to their senses ; but I do not believe our old
friends and colleagues are disposed to commit suicide in this public
manner. The people perfectly understand another mischievous
class of men, who have gone into this agitation with no principle,
and would set the common school on fire for the new sensation of
watching the blaze.

The argument is nearly closed, and the people's mind is made up.
If this thing is done, there is a day after to-morrow, and a long day
after that. If the Board of Education is wise, it will throw this
firebrand out the window, defer all discussion on the proper method
of reading the Bible or giving religious instruction to a calmer
future ; forgive and forget its little rivalries and differences, and,
like a band of brothers, unite to build up the common school ; wish-
ing the good Archbishop meanwhile a safe and happy journey to his
beloved Rome.

SJi- Religion in the


When Charles McMicken made his splendid bequest of a million
dollars to the city of Cincinnati, to establish a free college for boys
and girls, he coupled it in his will with the stipulation that while no
denominational theology should be taught, the Holy Bible, in the
Protestant version, should be a text book in the McMicken univer-
sity. We may believe that a man so eminently practical had the best
reasons for such an act. Mr. McMicken came to Cincinnati a pen-
niless youth ; he spent his life in the South-west, his business transac-
tions ranging over the whole region between New Orleans and the
city of his adoption. He knew every variety of human life in the
valley of the Mississippi, and understood the strange and incoherent
materials out of which our new civilization is emerging. He had
seen the gambler plying his trade on the river steamer, the slave
auctioneer knocking off his human merchandise. He knew how
hard it is for men to be honest, and pure, and truthful, and patriotic
in such a country. He saw how soon the mass of mankind forget
the religion of their youth when thrown without restraint into
such a state of society. He saw, on one hand, the tremendous
power of the Romish priesthood, entrenched at the mouth of the
Mississippi, slowly pushing up the valley. He saw the blasphemous
irreligion and polished Atheism that were even then eating their way
into the souls of western young men. He doubtless supposed that
his magnificent bequest would establish here the great university
west of the mountains, and over that university he would raise the
old Bible banner, the symbol and assurance of victory in every
great conflict for civil and religious liberty in modern times. After
years of litigation, enough of that great donation has been preserved
to found in Cincinnati a free university, reverent of religion, cher-
ishing the Bible in its heart. If the enemies of the Book now
succeed in expelling it from the common school, the next assault
will be made on our high schools and free university and public
library, until within the entire inclosure of our great system of
public education, that Book which the modern world has always
proclaimed the best, will be the one which can not show its head.

The people who settled this western world, and planted the
republican institutions under which we live, brought with them
from the East that great university, the American common school,
divested of sectarian and ecclesiastical influence, but planted on the

Coimnon Schools. S5

religion of the modern civilized world as proclaimed in the Bible.
The Puritans from New England, the Presbyterians of New Jer-
sey, the men who left the South to escape the threatened tempest
of a slave rebellion, the German Lutherans of Pennsylvania, the
Churchmen and the liberal Calvinists of New York, were all
united in this: that the Bible should be a text book in the western
common school. Wherever that American principle has controlled
a western community, the Bible flag has waved over the common
school-house. Wherever the Catholic priesthood and the Atheists
and religious indifFerentists of any community have been strong
enough, they have united, as now in Cincinnati, to banish the Bible
from the schools. And, universally, the parties to this compact
have been chiefly of foreign birth and education ; members of a
priesthood that looks to Rome for its instructions, or adopted citi-
zens who, in their recoil from the despotism of a State church in
Europe, have repudiated religion, and adopted the astounding
watchword that Republicanism and Atheism are convertible terms.
For the number of people born and educated in the United States,
who have adopted these views, is so small as to attract no notice,
being confined chiefly to people who constitutionally take the
opposite side in any public controversy, and politicians anxious to
get ofiice and untroubled by religious principles. As in Cincinnati
now, so everywhere in those States which have established the
common school, the vast majority of the people who best under-
stand and are the reliable support of American institutions, are
determined that the Bible shall not be expelled from the public
school. And the great battle which is to wage through every
western state around this point, is a conflict between those who
believe religion is the foundation of the American republic, without
which it will go the way of all the republics of old, and those who
believe the American people can do without religion in the most
momentous relations of their life, the relation of citizens of their
country. The former party raise the Bible as their standard; the
latter is in the condition of the Southern confederacy before it had
made its flag.

This portion of the western people believes the great West is
not great enough to get on without the religion of love to God and
love to man. It is willing to grant everything that may be claimed
for the material and political destiny of these new commonwealths.
Let Chicago become the metropolis of the solar system if she will.
Let Cincinnati be not only "Queen of the West," but queen of
"all outdoors," if she can. Let the dreams of the Louisville
Convention be magnified ad infinitum. Let even Alaska outshine
the roseate visions of the great statesman-prophet of our Pacific
empire. Let Europe be inclined at an angle that will precipitate
fifty millions of her people qn the Atlantic coast, and John China-

S6 Religion in the

man darken the ocean by his- illimitable oncoming. Let every
merchant be a millionaire, and every politician a senator, and every
young lady a governor's vi^ife. Come what will in that line, this
portion of our people says: The almighty West can never outgrow
the Almighty God, and never become so powerful that it can safely
despise the least precept of God's almighty law. They intend to
teach that fact to their children and their children's children to the
remotest generation. They see that the children of the West live
their most vital life in the common school. There is the univer-
sity that trains them for American affairs ; fixes their language,
their modes of thought, their ideals of life. Multitudes of western
parents have no time for any instruction of their children. Other
multitudes are utterly unfitted by character to teach them what is
true and good. The sectarian cliurches, by their denominational
bigotry and bitter contentions, repel myriads of the old and young
from the Sunday worship of God, and too often furnish the strong-
est argument to the atheist and the scoffer. This portion of our
people does not believe in the specious doctrine of the Catholic
Telegraphy that a parent has the sole right to decree whether his
child shall come up fit or unfit to be an American citizen. They
have not that abounding faith their opponents seem to have in the
power of sectarian Sunday schools to insure public morality. They
want every possible assurance that the youth of the West shall be
brought under the influence of that "religion, morality, and educa-
tion," which the constitution of Ohio declares "essential to good
government." So the Western people of American birth and
habits of thought believe that unsectarian religion should be recog-
nized where childhood lives its most vital life — in the very heart of
the children's republic, in the Western common school.

Now, why do the Western people select the Bible as the one
book to represent religion in their common school ?

First. Because the Bible contains the simplest, strongest, and a
universally acknowledged statement of this absolute religion of love
to God and man, which has been the ideal of every modern state
and the creative principle of modern civilization. The Bible is the
summit of human literature. It contains the noblest philosophy
ever yet proclaimed to man. It inculcates the loftiest piety and
the most rational and practical morality of all religious books. It
exhibits the most exalted types of character that have appeared in
earthly affairs. It gives the best account yet given of the highest
relations and duties of man in time and eternity. The whole
Christian Church, which practically means the modern world, in a
thousand ways, has adopted it as its final rule of life. Every
modern government has declared that it contains the divine law
from which all authority on earth is derived. What book so fit,
then, to be placed in the common school of this new land as that

Common Schools. S7

which has come down to us indorsed by the reverence of all the
generations of modern times ? In this new land where almost
everything is adrift, around what banner shall we rally our youth if
not around the Holy Bible, which represents to us that one thing
in man^ which can never change, that immutable center of his
eternal life, the religion of love to God and love to man ?

If we put out the Bible as the standard of public religion, what
shall we put in ? What other book, what collection of religious
and moral precepts culled from all the literatures of antiquity, can
rival the Hebrew Scriptures in that loftiness and grandeur which
are the majestic simplicity of everlasting truth ? Gather into one
volume all that has been said by all the philosophers and founders
of religion of the ancient world, and any one of a dozen of those
old Hebrew psalms is worth them all. Is there any better code of
morals than the Ten Commandments ; any sweeter religious stories
than a score of those old Hebrew tales ; any practical wisdom sur-
passing the Proverbs of Solomon ; any prophetic enthusiasm for
man beyond the visions of Isaiah ? Ransack all modern literature
which has grown up under the inspiration of the New Testament,
is there a better guide for Western American life than the Sermon
on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer? Shall we banish all relig-
ious books, and leave instruction in religion and morality entirely
to our teachers ? How long before that system would bring in
the creed and ceremonies of every church to wage their destruc-
tive war in the community of the children ? We place the Bible
in the school without note, comment, or explanation, because
no book or teacher so well enforces the universal religion of love.
When a child looks at the sun, it is not needful to say, there is
the light. When a child reads the Ten Commandments and the
Sermon on the Mount, repeats the Lord's Prayer and beholds the
character of Jesus, he does not laeed to be told ; there is religion
and morality at their fountain head.

It is false to assert that the Bible is read in the common school
on account of any theological opinion or theory concerning its in-
spiration. The Catholic and the Hebrew, the Protestant Evangel-
ical, and the Protestant Liberal, the Deist and the Skeptic, all have
their own theories concerning the different degrees of inspiration of
different portions of the Bible ; indeed, differ essentially as to the
meaning of inspiration itself; but they all agree with the greatest

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Online LibraryA. D. (Amory Dwight) MayoReligion in the common schools. Three lectures delivered in the city of Cincinnati, in October, 1869 → online text (page 4 of 6)