Nativism from the new republic to the cold war

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


America's religious history rests on an unsettling pattern of contradiction. While the United States has served as a refuge for generations of newcomers fleeing religious persecution abroad, the nation has simultaneously been the site of intense interreligious conflict and persecution. This essay sketches an outline of America's religiously inspired prejudice from the late eighteenth century through 1945, arguing that such intolerance informed a broad range of American cultural biases. In popular literature, social movements, legal decisions, and military or political campaigns, America's aspiration to serve as the world's religious safe haven clashed uncomfortably with the harsh reality of domestic turmoil. Ironies abound in the study of America's religiously inspired xenophobia. The task of identifying examples of religious persecution can be problematic, since victims can also be perpetrators. For instance, while Catholics endured generations of discrimination on the grounds of their alleged “foreign” demeanor, they also lashed out at “heathen” Asian immigrants on the West Coast, and the outspoken Catholic priest Father Charles Coughlin broadcast vehemently anti-Semitic messages to millions of radio listeners in the 1930s. More often, however, religious conflict signaled an attempt to define the United States in largely or exclusively Protestant terms and to rally the nation against a perceived enemy lurking within American borders. DEFINING NATIVISM In a famous letter addressed to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, George Washington proclaimed that the new American republic “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Religions in America
Subtitle of host publicationVolume II 1790 to 1945
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139195423
ISBN (Print)9780521871099
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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