The name given to certain doctrines reprobated by Leo XIII in his apostolic letter Testem benevolentiae of Jan. 22, 1899. The pope carefully excluded from condemnation the legitimate use of the word to signify "the characteristic qualities which reflect honor on the people of America." As indicated in the papal letter, the censured doctrines had been discussed in France as a result of the French translation and adaptation of The Life of Isaac Thomas Hecker by Walter elliott, CSP. The basic principle of the censurable Americanism was that the Church should modify her doctrines to suit modern civilization, to attract those not of the faith to the Church, passing over some less attractive doctrines and adapting the Church's teachings to popular theories and methods. Leo summarized five specific errors: the rejection of external spiritual direction as no longer necessary; the extolling of natural over supernatural virtues; the preference of active over passive virtues; the rejection of religious vows as not compatible with Christian liberty; and the adoption of a new method of apologetics and approach to non-Catholics.
U.S. Elements. While the immediate controversy that brought about the papal letter existed chiefly in France it also had roots in the U.S. Bishops and priests there were divided between those who advocated greater Catholic participation in American public life, particularly the public movements for social and economic reform, and the more conservative group who thought American life was Protestant and tainted with the liberalism condemned in the syllabus of errors of Pius IX. In November of 1886 certain German priests led by Father P. M. abbelen, of Milwaukee, Wis., presented a petition to the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, protesting the treatment of foreign language groups and members of national parishes in the U.S. Bishops (later Archbishops) John ireland, of St. Paul, Minn., and John J. keane, then of Richmond, Va., in Rome at the time to prepare for the foundation of The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., published a refutation of the Abbelen petition and sent a warning to Cardinal James gibbons, of Baltimore, Md. Gibbons called a meeting of the eastern archbishops in Philadelphia, Pa., on December 19, to protest the petition, which was rejected by the Congregation of Propaganda June 8, 1887.
In 1890 and 1891 certain European societies interested in immigrants to the U.S. met in Lucerne, Switzerland, under the chairmanship of Peter Paul cahensly, and petitioned Rome for better representation of foreign nationalities in the American hierarchy. Archbishop Ireland protested publicly. At a meeting of the National Educational Association in St. Paul in 1890, he praised the public schools and expressed regret that there had to be separate Catholic schools. When he inaugurated the faribault and Stillwater school plans to get state aid, he was accused of being opposed to Catholic parochial schools. After defending himself at the meeting of the archbishops in 1891 at St. Louis, Mo., he went to Rome to clarify his position on the school question.
In these controversies Ireland's chief associates were John J. Keane, since 1889 rector of Catholic University, and Denis O'Connell, rector of the North American College in Rome. The leaders of the conservatives were Abp. Michael A. corrigan, of New York, and Bps. Bernard mcquaid, of Rochester, Winand wigger of Newark, and the German bishops of Wisconsin, especially Abp. Frederick katzer and Bp. Sebastian messmer. Moreover, among the faculty of Catholic University, the chief conservatives were Msgr. Joseph schroeder, Joseph pohle, and Abbé Georges Périès. Professors supporting Keane were chiefly Thomas bouquillon, Charles P. Grannan, and Edward pace. Others who supported the conservatives were Thomas preston, vicar-general of New York, and René holaind, SJ. Gibbons, despite his friendship for Ireland, endeavored to keep peace between the two groups. The N.Y. Freeman's Journal, the Northwestern Chronicle of St. Paul, and the Western Watchman of St. Louis supported Ireland. The Review of Chicago and later of St. Louis, edited by Arthur preuss; Church Progress, edited by Condé pallen of St. Louis; and most of the German Catholic papers opposed Ireland's policies.
European Influence. In France, Ireland and Gibbons were admired by the more progressive Catholics, especially those who had accepted the urging of Leo XIII for a reconciliation between the Church and the French Republic, called the ralliement. When they invited him to speak in Paris in the spring of 1892, Ireland praised the democracy and civic activities of the American priests and gave them credit for the remarkable progress of the Church in the U.S. After he left France a young lecturer in the Institut Catholique, Abbé Félix klein, gathered a selection of Ireland's speeches and translated them into a small volume published in 1894.
Back in the U.S., Ireland welcomed Abp. Francesco Satolli as the papal legate to the World's Fair in Chicago, and heard Satolli support his program for Catholic schools at the archbishops' meeting in New York in November of 1892. Suddenly, on Jan. 14, 1893, Satolli announced the erection of the Apostolic Delegation to the U.S. in Washington, with himself as the delegate. In September of 1893 the delegate appeared in Ireland's company at the Catholic Columbian Congress in Chicago, but refused to take part in the World's Congress of Religions in which Ireland, Keane, Gibbons, and other Catholics participated against the wishes of the conservatives. Two years later, the delegate announced that Rome had forbidden Catholic participation in further congresses of religions. The occasion of this prohibition was the effort of certain French clergymen to promote such a congress at the Paris World's Fair in 1900. In 1895 O'Connell was forced to resign as rector of the North American College, followed in September of 1896 by Keane's enforced resignation from the rectorship of Catholic University. Keane's supporters in the university in turn brought about the resignation of Schroeder, whom they accused of being the chief factor in the rector's removal.
The Catholic Press. During the next two years, the Catholic press carried frequent exchanges between the two groups, with the conservatives making vague charges that their opponents were guilty of the condemned liberalism of the Syllabus, and the progressives insisting that the conservatives were refractaires, opposing the policies of Leo XIII. In 1890–91, Father Elliott published in the Catholic World, and later in book form, a biography of the founder of the Paulists, Father Isaac hecker, with an introduction by Archbishop Ireland. Elliott also arranged for a French translation. In 1897 the more progressive Catholics in Paris decided to publish the French translation and asked Klein to shorten it and make it more attractive. He complied, adding an enthusiastic preface in which he praised Hecker as the priest of the future and lauded the American Catholic way of life. The book went quickly into six printings and received wide notice in the religious press.
In addressing the International Scientific Congress in Fribourg, Switzerland, in August of 1897 O'Connell, now rector of Cardinal Gibbon's titular church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, took as his theme the Americanism in the life of Father Hecker, stressing Hecker's acceptance of American democracy and relations between Church and State. Bp. Charles Turinaz of Nancy, France, demanded permission to answer him. The next fall, beginning November 6, a series of sermons were given in Paris churches by Jesuits who attacked certain dangers to the Church from within, especially "Father Hecker's Americanism." In La Vérité, the conservative Catholic newspaper of Paris, under the pen name "Martel," an article appeared March 3, 1897, entitled "L'Americanism Mystique" and was followed by other articles on "Americanism." "Martel" was Abbé Charles Maignen, a priest of the Society of the Brothers of St. Vincent De Paul, a writer who opposed the ralliement. Abbé Georges Périès, the former professor of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, under the name "Saint Clement" occasionally contributed an article to the series, but for the most part the articles were composed by Maignen.
The articles ridiculed the claim of Ireland and Klein that Hecker exemplified the priest of the future, and quoted in derision passages from the biography on Hecker's illnesses and his dismissal from the Redemptorists. Maignen also attacked O'Connell's speech at Fribourg, an article by Keane in the Catholic World, some of the articles written to sell the Hecker biography, and the writings of clergymen who had left the Church, such as Abbé Victor Charbonnel. In April other articles in La Vérité described "Les Champaignes de L'Américanisme," and how the Americanists were undermining the defense of the Church. The campaigns included the Congress of Religions; the efforts of Charbonnel to hold a second Congress of Religions at the Paris Fair; the activities of Keane in Rome; an article of M. Brunetière praising American Catholicism in Revue des Deux Mondes; a newspaper story predicting that Cardinal Gibbons would be the next pope; and an article in the Contemporary Review by "Romanus," who Maignen implied was an Americanist.
Maignen found other evidence of the Americanists' doctrines in Keane's addresses at the Congress of Religions and his defense of that congress at the Brussels International Catholic Congress of 1894. Maignen collected these articles, to which he added a few other essays, for a book entitled Études sur l'Américanisme, Le Père Hecker, est-il un Saint? When Cardinal Richard of Paris refused his imprimatur to the book, Maignen took it to Rome, where he obtained the imprimatur of the Master of the Sacred Palace, Père Albert Lepidi, OP, which some interpreted as a papal approval of the book. The controversy over the biography and the movement vaguely described as Americanism raged through the French Catholic press and was mentioned in the secular press. The discussion reached into Belgium. Some discussions appeared also in Germany, and then the controversy moved into Italy, where it became confused with the local quarrel over the temporal power of the papacy.
Testem Benevolentiae. Leo XIII opposed the move to put the Hecker biography on the Index and appointed a committee of cardinals to study the question. The committee reported adversely on the doctrines called "Americanism." The pope changed the report in its opening and closing passages so that no one was accused of holding the condemned doctrines, and the ordinary political and social Americanism were exempted from the disapproval. Although Gibbons sent a cable to stop the condemnation and Ireland rushed to Rome, both arrived too late to head off the papal letter, Testem benevolentiae, which was dated Jan. 22, 1899. Ireland, Keane, and Klein immediately submitted but denied that they held the condemned doctrines. The Hecker biography was withdrawn from sale. The conservative bishops in the U.S. thanked the pope for saving the American Church from the dangerous doctrines. Gibbons, to whom the pope's letter was addressed, denied in his reply that any educated American Catholic held the condemned doctrines.
Bibliography: t. t. mcavoy, The Great Crisis in American Catholic History 1895–1900 (Chicago 1957) with annotated bibliography in "Essay on Sources."
[t. t. mcavoy]
Americanism is an ideology that holds that the cultural and political values of the United States are the most ideal and desirable of any in the world. It is closely linked with American exceptionalism, a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) in 1831. Tocqueville argued that, because of its historical evolution, national credo, historical origins, and distinctive political and religious institutions, the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Some have characterized Americanism and its beliefs as a “civic religion.”
Seymour Lipset identifies five key elements of Americanism: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire. He avers, “Being an American, however, is an ideological commitment. It is not a matter of birth. Those who reject American values are un-American” (Lipset 1997, p. 31). Americanism emphasizes equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcomes, and attaches greater importance to social and political individualism.
American veneration of these ideals grew out of the country’s historical development and the distinctive role of Protestantism. John Winthrop (1588-1649), governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, described the early Puritan community in New England as a “city on a hill” with which God had made a special covenant. According to Winthrop, the early colony should serve as a moral and political example for the rest of the world. The American Revolution (1775-1783), with its emphasis on democracy, liberty, and republicanism, is often cited as proof that the United States offers unlimited potential and opportunity to those who work hard. Americanism is often associated with manifest destiny, the idea that Americans had a mission from God to spread liberty and democracy across the American frontier and around the world. Later, supporters of Americanism have pointed to the durability of the U.S. Constitution, the failure of socialist parties to take root in the United States, and the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war as proof of the superiority of American values.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) greatly popularized Americanism. In an 1894 magazine article, he wrote that “no other land offers such glorious possibilities to the man able to take advantage of them as does ours” (1897, pp. 38-39). He argued that any person could become an American, provided they adopted the American beliefs in democracy, hard work, capitalism, and egalitarianism; learned English; and left behind their previous sectarian identities. Roosevelt encouraged immigration to the United States, but with the proviso that immigrants fully embrace the American way of life. He also adopted these same ideals in his foreign policies, leading American military involvement in Cuba and the Philippines under the guise of bringing liberation, democracy, and the American way of life to these countries.
During both world wars, German and Japanese communities in the United States came under suspicion for not fully believing in American values and identifying too closely with their homelands. This resulted in both relatively harmless colloquial changes (renaming sauerkraut “liberty cabbage”) and overtly discriminatory policies like the forced internment of twelve thousand ethnic Japanese (most of whom were U.S. citizens) in camps throughout the western United States during World War II (1939-1945). Later, during the cold war, mass media and government officials often juxtaposed Americanism with Communism as a battle between liberty and tyranny.
President George W. Bush has relied on Americanism arguments to justify American operations in Iraq, positing that the United States is freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny and delivering American-style democracy and liberty.
In recent years, Americanism has been at the heart of the debates about legal and illegal immigration. Samuel Huntington (2004) has argued that immigration, primarily from Latin America, threatens the very character of American society because recent immigrants remain too attached to their homelands, refusing to learn English or adopt American beliefs in hard work, individual responsibility, and capitalism.
Critics have long chastised Americanism for relying on a selective, uncritical reading of U.S. history. They point out that the United States itself often fails to uphold Americanist ideals for its own citizens through such means as denying voting rights, restricting citizenship, and promoting discriminatory policies. This hypocrisy not only undermines the argument that egalitarianism and liberty are at the heart of the American experience, but also calls into question whether the United States can (or should) promote these values to other countries. Others have called Americanism imperialism cloaked in a rhetoric of values and human rights. They also question the use of military force in places like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq to promote democracy and liberty.
Americanism shares some commonalities with both nationalism and patriotism, as all three attach positive values to one’s home country and its upholding of national beliefs and symbols. In a crucial distinction, though, Americanism specifies the nature of the United States’ distinctness from the rest of the world. Further, Americanism allows that persons born outside the United States can become Americans if they adopt American beliefs; nationalism often holds that one’s membership in a nation is determined by birth and remains constant throughout life.
SEE ALSO American Dream; Nationalism and Nationality; Patriotism
Huntington, Samuel P. 2004. Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lipset, Seymour Martin.  1997. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: Norton.
Roosevelt, Theodore. 1897. True Americanism (1894). In The Works of Theodore Roosevelt in Sixteen Volumes: American Ideals and Administration-Civil Service, vol. 1, 31-50. New York: Collier.