Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 13
“THE POT OF BEANS AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW.”
Let us summarize. The English Puritans came to America with a lot of baggage:
Henry VIII opened the English Door to Calvin and Luther and their Puritan followers. Luther taught the Puritans, “Bible alone, Faith alone, Grace without works, predestination, or once saved always saved. Mass is not a sacrifice. It is a meal made for the instruction and consolation of the faithful.” Calvin taught them, “The individual inspired by the Holy Spirit needs no pope, nor priest nor bishop to interpret the Bible. The individual inspired by the Holy Spirit is sufficient for the interpretation of the Bible. Each individual congregation is the Church and can govern itself, hence Congregationalism. The congregation, being the Church, elects its own ministers. Man is totally corrupt, but the chosen are chosen, to hell, literally, with the rest of humanity.
With these high ideals 20,000 or 30,000 Puritans left old England for New England. If Catholic means universal, Puritanism was anti-Catholic to its core. Puritans fled England and its established Church which they considered too Catholic. And so they came to America to found, “the city on the hill”, in the words of their first governor, John Winthrop. That hill was Beacon Hill in Boston. The descendants of the Puritans established themselves as the aristocracy of New England, the Boston “Brahmins”, Yankee’s are upper class families with an exclusive life style, accent and alma mater: Harvard University (or as they call it Haaavuhd.) There are southern counterparts like the First Families of Virginia but remember they lost round four of the English Civil War, which they called the War of Northern Aggression (You may have heard it referred to as the Civil War.)
Harvard, established in 1636 at the height of the Great Puritan Migration to New England, was named for its first benefactor, the Puritan pastor, John Harvard. It is interesting to note that Harvard University is the first corporation chartered in this country. It is in fact more than a century older than this country. Harvard boasts a long list of this country’s leaders, Among them, George W. Bush and his cousin, Barak Obama, who attended the school founded by his Pilgrim ancestors, and of course John, Bobby and Teddy Kennedy attended. Although it was never formally affiliated with a church, at its beginning and for a long time there after, the college primarily trained Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy. As the 18th and 19th centuries rolled on, Harvard became increasingly secular and yet somehow remained Puritan. It produces a kind of Puritanism without God. In fact, it sometimes seems entirely purified of the divine presence.
Some interesting comparisons: Harvard has 691 acres in three campuses. The Vatican has 110 acres. So Harvard is 6 times larger than the Vatican. The Vatican employs about 3,500 people, Harvard has about 21,000 students and about 11,000 employees... And now here’s the kicker: the Vatican, at least in 2007, had a surplus of $10 million dollars. ($10,000,000) Harvard has an endowment of $27.4 Billion ($27,400,000,000) so in a certain sense, Harvard is 2,740 times richer than the pope. Next time someone says to me why doesn’t the pope do more to help the poor, just say, “Maybe Harvard could kick in a little..”
Where was I? Oh yes, the City on the Hill. This Puritan Paradise was threatened beginning in 1820 with an immigration of Irish that swelled to a flood during the potato famine of the 1840's. Signs proliferated “Irish need not apply.” The Puritans had fled the very taint of Catholicism in England and here was Catholicism flooding in to the stronghold of Puritan Protestantism. The Irish Catholics, needless to say, were about as welcome as lice. The young aristocrats of Beacon Hill and their poor Irish neighbors enjoyed frequent street fights well into the 20th century.
Not all Catholics wanted to battle the Puritans. Some wanted to join their country clubs. There arose in the last half of the 1800's a heresy called Americanism. Many Catholics bought into the myth of the “city on the hill” -- American exceptionalism, the belief that somehow America was a nation founded by the direct intervention of Heaven, different and better than other nations, and bound to bring its democratic revolution to all the world. The more ambitious of the Irish Catholics of Boston longed for nothing more than admittance into New England, none more so than the grandson of a poor immigrant, Joseph P. Kennedy, Catholic, banker, statesman, bootlegger, philanderer, and, of course, Harvard graduate. Kennedy broke into the American aristocracy by supporting the bluest of the blue bloods, Franklin D. Roosevelt in his run for President in 1932 . Kennedy raised quite a bit of money for Roosevelt’s campaign, and in turn received an appointment as the Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, though he had wanted a cabinet position for his troubles. When asked why he had hired such a crook, Roosevelt replied, “Takes one to catch one.”
In 1938, Roosevelt appointed Kennedy ambassador to England. In Boston he was still regarded an outsider, but in England he was the grand man. Imagine, the grandson of a potato farmer from county Wexford in southern Ireland being presented at court! Joe Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen, married the Duke of Devonshire, and joined the Kennedys of Wexford to one of England's most aristocratic families. It was nice, but it still wasn’t as good as being welcomed into the parlors of the mansions on Beacon Hill in Boston. If he could get one of his sons elected President of the United States, that would show them. His eldest son was killed in the war, but there was still Jack. In the 1952 senate race, John F. Kennedy successfully defeated Henry Cabot Lodge, heir to one of the most prestigious Puritan names in Boston. It is interesting to note that Henry Cabot Lodge’s grandfather had rebuked John F. Kennedy’s grandfather for a vote in the state senate that favored immigrants. Lodge said to Kennedy that “Jews and Italians had no right to this country,” and by implication, neither did the Irish Catholics. Well, when Joe got his son John elected president of the United States, the Kennedys had arrived, by hook or by crook, and there was a great deal of crook. Jack Kennedy said that his father had asked him the exact number of votes he would need to win because there “was no way I’m paying for a landslide.” Everyone mistakenly thought JFK was joking. Some joke. The family called in quite a few favors to win that election. Their Hollywood connections roped in Frank Sinatra who, in turn, roped in some of his friends in Chicago. “Hizzoner da Mare” as we say in Chicago (Mayor Richard J. Daley) was also very helpful in winning Illinois which along with Texas gave Kennedy the electoral college. Everything was done that had to be done to win the presidency for Jack and aristocracy for the family. And one thing that was done touches directly on the Hootenanny Mass.
Kennedy's Catholicism was a problem for the Puritans he wanted to govern and whose ranks his father so wanted to join politically and socially. JFK assured the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters, and the Church does not speak for me.” In other words, Kennedy could be one thing politically and another spiritually, and that compromise brought Catholicism into the mainstream of American life, or did it bring Puritan America into the heart of the Catholic Church?
By the way, about baked beans. It is theorized that Boston baked beans were a meal that could be made before the Sabbath and the Godly Puritan housewives of Boston could feed their families a hot, nourishing meal without violating their principles. There may not have been gold at the end of the immigration rainbow, but there were Puritan beans. Give me Italian Catholic food any day.
Next week: HE WHO MARRIES THE SPIRIT OF AN AGE SOON FINDS HIMSELF A WIDOWER or DOESN’T THE ANTIQUES ROAD SHOW MAKE YOU REGRET DUMPING ALL THAT OLD STUFF IN GRANDMA’S ATTIC?