But, my dear son, if thou hast no more room in the valley of the St.
Lawrence, and if, by the want of protection from the Government, thou canst not go to the forest without running the danger of losing thy life in a
pond, or by being crushed under the feet of an English or Scotch tyrant ...
Go to Illinois. Charles P.T. Chiniquy, 1851
Charles Chiniquy is an Illinois figure from the 19th Century. He used the Roman Catholic Church as priest to become one of the most original Identity Politics* activists, who combined economic interests, ethnic rivalries, abstinence from alcohol, and a chameleon-like speaking style to lead his followers out of the Catholic Faith and emerge as a powerful anti-Catholic preacher. With the French language Chiniquy defended the Church, yet easily turned to the English tongue to escoriate its Doctrines. Chiniquy had it both ways and flourished with either.
1851 was an an epiphany year for Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy, the French Canadian Temperance activist, hell-fire preacher, Ultramontane** mouthpiece and emigration huckster. Five years after a debate with a French speaking Swiss Canadian anti-Catholic merchant, Chiniquy was excommunicated from the Church. In that time, Chiniquy managed to escape charges of sexual assault on women in Canada, lead an exodus of thousands of French Catholics to Illinois, foment tensions between French Catholics and the Irish Bishop of Chicago, sue many of his parishioners in Bourbonnais, latch onto Abraham Lincoln, and begin preaching in English against the Church.
I wrote about Chiniquy as the first American Apostate - a priest who led some of his flock out of the Roman Catholic Church. Today I'd like to touch on how a Conservative (Ultramontane) Catholic French Speaking Temperance Activist Priest, became a Republican English Speaking Protestant Preacher.
First off let's get some context. Canada was French until the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War (1756–1763)known on our continent as The French & Indian War. Britain controlled the heavily French provinces of Canada, which included our later-day Great Lakes States.
The French were mostly Roman Catholic and the British Protestant (Anglican); however there were a few French Protestants ( Swiss mostly) and some French Huegonots ( French Calvinists). Many of the Swiss and French Canadian Protestants were peddlers and book printers who wanted to convert their French speaking cousins to Protestantism. These merchant/missionaries preached and printed anti-Catholic polemics under the protection of the British Crown and with the legislative complicity of the Anglo-Canadians now active in populating their heavily Catholic domain with immigrants from Calvinist Scotland and especially Northern Ireland - the Scots-Irish who were flooding the American colonies.
Through the early eighteenth century, Catholicism found itself beset politically, geographically and socially by Protestant Nationalism in Holland,Great Britain and Prussia and from within by Republican French firebrand Liberals. Chartism in England and Liberalism on the continent shook the temporal and theological authority of the Pope. To combat this the Church called the 1st Vatican Council and Ultramontane thought defended the authority of Roman Catholic Church in all matters political or spiritual.
Political alliances that still are all too evident today emerged in the mid-18th Century. Thus, French Protestants allied with Anglo- Protestants in opposition to French Catholics in Canada. Not only that Liberal Catholics formed alliances with Protestants as well.
Paul Laverdure, of University of Toronto wrote a scholarly thesis on Chiniquy, in 1987. Charles Chiniquy:The Making of an Anti-Catholic Crusader examined three rubrics underwhich one might understand the power and historical significance of the transformation of Charles Chiniquy. Laverdure argues that Chiniquy used the authority of Rome in his preaching against Swiss and French Protestant tract writers and debate professionals.
Bishop Bourget of Montreal commissioned Father Charles Chiniquy, by
1851 a famous Quebec orator and temperance preacher, to meet and debate
with French-speaking Protestants who had begun to proselytize the
French-Canadian Catholics. The religious line dividing the French Protestant
from the French Catholic was very sharply drawn, but there existed another
difference between the two – the French Protestant was more than likely to
have come from French Switzerland.
“Les petits suisses,” or the “little chipmunks,” as French Canadians still
pun, popped up here and there, travelling, as did Vessot, from one small
town to another as “colporteurs” or peddlers of religious books and pamphlets.
The religious authorities of these predominantly Catholic towns were
disturbed at the steady attacks made on the Roman Catholic faith and at the
small raids made on their flocks’ numbers. Debates were common forms of
Public debate was a hugely popular form of entertainment in the mid-19th Century. Here in America, we can look to the famous Lincoln Douglas Debates, or the stump speeches of Congressman Davy Crockett and President Andy Jackson.
Chiniquy debated a Swiss book peddler who had been very effective in converting French Catholics to Protestantism. Chiniquy face this gentleman in public debate.
A closer look at the 1851 Chiniquy-Roussy debate is useful since it
contains in miniature many of the elements prominent in Chiniquy’s life.
Records from both sides of the debate have been kept.9 Chiniquy’s side,
claiming victory, put forward “unanswerable” arguments supporting the
“one, holy, [and Roman, of course] Catholic, and apostolic Church” on the
grounds of Petrine authority and episcopal succession. The Bible had to be
interpreted in line with traditional Roman Catholic teachings, because the
Apostles were not commissioned to have a non-existent Bible read, but to
have the Gospel – no book at all, but the good news – preached. For Roman
Catholics, this meant a continuing, authoritative church community to which
the written form of the Gospel in the Bible belonged. These were ancient
arguments used against every individual or group who decided to interpret
the written word of the Bible independently of the community.Chiniquy’s opponent, the Swiss pedlar Louis Roussy, however, had his
own arguments. He denounced innovations introduced into the religious
beliefs and practices of the people (the rosary, devotion to the Sacred Heart,
and to Mary, etc.) by the ultramontanists, such as Bishop Bourget and the
Jesuits. The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy was not, he declared, faithful
to the early church’s beliefs and had, therefore, forfeited its claim to be the
Church Universal. Of course, with a centralizing Church under Pope Pius
IX, and the popular piety encouraged after the European revolutions (such
as that which surrounded the concept of the Immaculate Conception,
solemnly defined in 1854), Roussy believed himself entirely justified in his
opinions. Chiniquy championed Pius IX and the centralized papacy of the
ultramontanist theorists in clever invective, even abusive language, against
“the ignorance of all these creators of new religions.” Whether Chiniquy
actually won the debate is another question. Roussy also claimed victory.
Chiniquy was a famous Catholic preacher and his Bishop tasked him with confronting Protestant French proselytizers. Not only that, Chiniquy got on the ground floor of Temperance Movement founded by Irish priest Theobald Matthew, who demanded that Irish Catholic peasants fore swear all alcohol for life and save their pennies in order to have the right to vote. Chinquy was called the Canadian Father Matthew.
Previous writers have not bothered to trace the connections between
Chiniquy’s later Protestantism and his earlier involvement in the temperance
movement. This element in Chiniquy’s world was of great importance to
English and French religious leaders throughout the nineteenth and the early
part of the twentieth centuries in North America. Chiniquy’s temperance
crusades were immensely popular, pleasing everyone in Lower Canada
except the tavern keepers. The French conservative (Bleus) and the
social-reform-minded liberal (Rouges) political parties could unite with the
English-speaking Tory and the Reform (Grits) parties in one of the greatestmoral crusades of the English-speaking world; a medal and money was
presented to Chiniquy by the Parliament of the United Canadas to commemorate
his temperance work .25 In truth, English-Protestant Upper Canada
had about a hundred societies by 1831. Chiniquy had taken up moderate
temperance only in 1839 (after some Oblates had done so successfully) and
became a teetotaler in 1841.
In Chiniquy’s Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, the relations between
temperance and religion were very much in evidence. Drunkenness was on
a par “with immoralities of the most degrading kind.” Alcoholic beverages
“are cursed in hell, in heaven and on earth” and are “the most formidable
enemy of our dear country and our holy religion”: for “alcohol kills the body
and damns the soul of its blind victims.”27 His Manual of the Temperance
Society was filled with stories of deaths, murders and the damnation of
drinkers to convince its readers of the religious (if not superstitious)
significance of the virtue of temperance. Chiniquy pictured temperance
societies as “nothing else than drops of living water which comes from the
fountains of eternal life to reform and save the world.”28 The 1849 edition
had been approved by no less than four bishops and had included psalms,
prayers, and scripture passages. Chiniquy perceived all opposition to himself
and his activities as irreligious. Did not even Methodists and Presbyterians
abhore alcohol? Was not Theobald Mathew revered throughout the
English-speaking world? And was Chiniquy not called the ‘Father Mathew
There was opposition. Many of the temperance societies set up were
animated by Protestant laity and clergy. Some French Catholics could have
been scornful at the sometimes single-minded effort in the odd Protestant
denominations to make temperance almost the sole repository of salvation.
Later in his career, Chiniquy invariably labelled his opponents, especially the
Irish priest and bishop, as drunkards. He also claimed that bishops and
priests perceived temperance societies as Protestant schemes for spreading
Protestant heresy.30 The temperance crusade brought Chiniquy into sympathetic
contact with like-minded English Protestants who deplored, with
him, the weaker Christians. Here is a sign of Chiniquy’s beginning disenchantment with the Roman Catholic Church and his growing attraction for
a Reformed Christianity.
In order to escape the economic (real or imagined) and political hardships, Chiniquy sought to encourage emigration to Illinois.
Though the references to English or Scots tyrants were acceptable in
French (and Irish) circles, the encouragement of emigration to the English,
Protestant United States was not. Such a scheme, to build a FrancoAmerican
West, would draw away precious human resources from French-Canadian
plans to reconquer Canada from the British. Emigration to another country
did not receive as sympathetic a hearing as temperance from the
French-Canadian and Catholic leaders. Temperance was an attempt to build
a better French and Catholic world in Canada; therefore, it was acceptable
to the French-Canadian élite. To go to the United States would mean an
overwhelming of both French and Catholic elements. This was unacceptable
to the French-Canadian élite.36 An added ultramontane consideration was the
fact that Roman Catholics were leaving a Canada they could have influenced
through sheer weight of numbers; the United States, however,
constitutionally separated Church and State.
Chiniquy’s arguments for emigration were economically sound, but the
political and cultural arguments for keeping the French Canadians in the
Canadas prevailed among the élite. Although thousands continued to stream
south, the leaders of Lower Canada did not encourage the emigrants.
Chiniquy’s scheme was a contradiction of French-Catholic plans for the
Canadian North-West. Newspaper battles began.
Tied to emigration in Chiniquy’s conflicts with the Roman Catholic
hierarchy is the well-known controversy over American-Catholic land trusteeship.
Trudel himself analyzed the development of Chiniquy’s arguments
with Bishop O’Regan about the ownership and control of church property by
the parish as opposed to the diocese.37 In English-speaking colonies and the
United States, the Irish diaspora gave an added impetus to Propaganda Fide,
but with the lack of state patronage of Church rights and privileges in the
United States the conflicts over trusteeship exploded on the American
Now, Chiniquy was one sly activist. He understood the political and moral power he was handed as a French-speaking Roman Catholic priest, defending the Faith and French identity, while improving the moral tone of his countrymen by railing for Temperance and Total Abstinence. He was a powerful and popular public man.
This public man's private inclinations made trouble for him and his ministry - he was seducing great numbers of women in the confessional and his Bishop found his diocese scandalized by the very man most in the public eye as Defender of the Faith. Bishop Bourget blessed Chiniquy's Illinois Emigration schemes.
Paul Laverdure concludes -
In the frontier atmosphere of Illinois, Chiniquy and his French--
Canadian followers no longer recognized the authority of their Irish bishop.
Chiniquy was excommunicated in 1856 for the constant sexual scandals, the
complaints of female parishioners, the real misappropriation of parish funds,
the lack of any sign of repentence or obedience and, most importantly, his
challenge to the institutional Church’s authority. Chiniquy quickly founded
the Christian Catholic Church – Chiniquy’s Church, as it became known –
to hold on to a small group within the parish community who either did not
know of his failings or did not care. The fact that such a group formed
around Chiniquy attests to the importance of other elements in Chiniquy’s
history: temperance, emigrant lay trusteeship on the frontier, battles with
centralizing ultramontanists and the charisma of a powerful master of
In 1859, often in the company of the French Swiss he had once fought
under the Canadian Catholic hierarchy’s eyes, he toured Montreal and
Quebec. Greatly publicized riots followed in the wake of his remunerative
sermons. In 1860, Chiniquy attached his followers to the Old School
Presbyterian Synod of Chicago in exchange for a premium paid for each
convert. A slight misunderstanding over the number of converts was settledamicably with Chiniquy leaving Illinois for his first European tour, paid by
the Synod. On his return, he was suspended for having solicited funds for a
non-existent theological college and for slandering a fellow Presbyterian
minister who had criticized him. Chiniquy’s story continues beyond his
Alexander Ferrie Kemp, who had been sent from the Montreal Presbytery
to investigate Chiniquy’s desire to join that body, made the case that
Chiniquy’s language was at fault and could be excused. Chiniquy’s education
in the Roman Catholic Church was blamed! Also, the word collège had a
different meaning in French Canada, where it referred to a classical
preparatory school educating boys until they were ready for professional
training. The American Presbyterians’ accusations of fraud stemmed from
their expectations of a university-level institution. There were certainly some
young boys living and studying with Chiniquy and other teachers. Again,
the questions of language and the emigrant's experience on the frontier
played a role in Chiniquy’s life.
Eager for such a notable French Canadian, the Montreal Presbyterians
made Illinois a mission field in 1863. In 1864, Chiniquy “gave what his new
friends doubtless regarded as a signal proof of the soundness of his
Protestantism.... he married his housekeeper.” One moral weakness,
perhaps, was solved. Protestant evangelicals compared him to Luther, to
Calvin, Zwingli, and to Knox. At the age of seventy, he went travelling
again, to Hobart, Tasmania, Ballarat and Horsham, Australia, to the
Washington territories, and to California. Everywhere, there were riots
among the Irish immigrant populations still struggling with the problems of
a new land and a new identity.57 In 1878 the legal battles with the Bishop of
Chicago ended with the French-Canadian parishioners winning possession
of the land, school and church. Were his complaints about the Irish
bishop’s oppression of the French indeed justified? His followers chose to
believe so.Chiniquy’s derivative language, his experiences in emigrating to the
United States, in the temperance movement, and in the liberal-ultramontane
debates within the Catholic Church as well as between the Protestant and
Roman Catholic churches made him a stock figure, too, a legend, and a new
element in anti-clerical language. Importantly, his works are still being
printed and surface occasionally during anti-Catholic movements.59 He died
in 1899, still writing, still publishing, and proclaiming his anti-Catholicism.
One newspaper obituary acknowledged Chiniquy’s importance to the
Protestant-Catholic debates of the time by exclaiming that: “The thought that
he never was even once killed in a religious riot must have embittered his
Charles Chiniquy was an activist priest who chose to be a prophet to his followers and apostle of persecution. Chinuquy not only employed the rubrics of Ultramontane authority, temperance and emigration, so well presented in Paul Laverdure's article, but he cleverly employed victim-hood and identity politics in a manner that would excite envy in any current preacher-activist.
Charles Chiniquy was master manipulator of public media. Illinois owns Chiniquy, but ignores his impact.
*Identity politics refers to political arguments that focus upon the self interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups and ways in which people's politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through race, class, religion, sexual orientation or traditional dominance. Not all members of any given group are necessarily involved in identity politics.
Groups who participate in identity politics may or may not be a marginalised class of people. However, group advocates will often have a self-belief, a self schema or explanatory narrative, that they are in fact a marginalized group. Typically, these group identities are defined in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or neurological wiring.
Minority influence is a central component of identity politics. Minority influence is a form of social influence which takes place when a majority is being influenced to accept the beliefs or behavior of a minority. Unlike other forms of influence this usually involves a personal shift in private opinion. This personal shift in opinion is called conversion. This type of influence is most likely to take place if the minority is consistent, flexible and appealing to the majority.
** UltramontaneA term used to denote integral and active Catholicism, because it recognizes as its spiritual head the pope, who, for the greater part of Europe, is a dweller beyond the mountains (ultra montes), that is, beyond the Alps. The term "ultramontane", indeed, is relative: from the Roman, or Italian, point of view, the French, the Germans, and all the other peoples north of the Alps are ultramontanes, and technical ecclesiastical language actually applies the word in precisely this sense. In the Middle Ages, when a non-Italian pope was elected he was said to be a papa ultramontano. In this sense the word occurs very frequently in documents of the thirteenth century; after the migration to Avignon, however, it dropped out of the language of the Curia