Date of Award

Spring 1992

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 1992 Tamara L. Steinert. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religion Department


During the British-American colonial era (1607–1776) anti-Catholic prejudice manifested itself in a political way, as Catholics were prevented from holding office and voting in the colonies. However, during the revolutionary period from 1763 to 1791, Catholics suddenly began receiving unprecedented political privilege despite the long history of religious and political conflict between Catholics and Protestants. This rapid change in the American political order can be partiality explained by comparing prerevolutionary era colonial documents with those that came afterwards' keeping in mind all the while the different political circumstances which motivated the documents.

Anti-Catholicism always held some political meaning for American protestants of this period. However, the focus of anti-Catholic political rhetoric changed over time. Until 1763 anti-Catholic prejudice was based on the tangible political threat posed by the French and Spanish colonies which surrounded the British colonies. with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the French and Spanish ceased to be an immediate threat, and anti- Catholic rhetoric took on a new focus. From 1763 to 1791 revolutionary propagandists used Catholicism to symbolize British tyranny, hoping to inspire popular support of the Revolution. In doing so, they appealed both to the Protestant religious heritage and to contemporary concerns about colonial autonomy.

Thus, anti-Catholic propaganda did not express fear of Catholic political power, but fear of domination by any one political body, including the British government. As such, Catholics per se were not a political threat, and could be admitted to the political process. Furthermore, the anti-tyranny message communicated in anti-Catholic propaganda helped revolutionary leaders formulate an understanding of religious liberty in which anything short of freedom for all groups meant risking tyranny by one.