The A.P.A.

[There were many anti-Catholic organizations in America during the late 1880s and 1890s, but the biggest was the A.P.A. -- the American Protective Association. It was founded in March 1887 in the manufacturing town of Clinton, Iowa, and first spread through the midwest. By 1891 it had branches in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin. By 1893, the A.P.A. had 70,000 members in a total of twenty states. The economic Panic of that year and fears about jobs produced boom times for the crusade against Catholicism: by 1896 the A.P.A. claimed 2,500,000 members in chapters in every state in the union. That was the peak: by 1900 the organization was effectively moribund.

[Unlike the decade's campaign against African Americans, the agitation did not lead to violence against Catholics, and indeed seems to have had few overt political results at all. But ideologically it clearly exacerbated the divisions and suspicions within the culture. One oft-cited measure of its psychological impact is the story Elbert H. Hubbard told in an article in The Arena (June 1894) about a visit to a friend on his farm in Illinois in 1893, who was afraid to leave home to visit the Chicago Columbian Exposition for even for a single day, because "the Catholics had been ordered by the Pope to burn the barns and houses" of all Protestants. Hubbard says he found such fears rampant in midwestern towns and villages.

[The A.P.A. was a "secret order," with initiates sworn in at the ceremony that included a series of preliminary oaths, administered while they were blindfolded -- including the oath not to employ a Catholic if a Protestant were available, and the oath not to go on strike with any Catholics. Then their blindfolds were removed (because they were out of "mental darkness") and with one hand on a Bible, the other on a cross, each member of the A.P.A. took the following final vows:]

I hereby denounce Roman Catholicism. I hereby denounce the Pope, sitting at Rome or elsewhere. I denounce his priests and emissaries, and the diabolical work of the Roman Catholic Church, and hereby pledge myself to the cause of Protestantism to the end that there may be no interference with the discharge of the duties of citizenship, and I solemnly bind myself to protect at all times, and with all the means in my power, the good name of the order and its members, so help me God. Amen.

SOURCE: An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association, by Donald L. Kinzer (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1964)