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No Good Deed

In looking for newspaper reports ahead of the big secession referendum, I ran across this, from the Richmond Enquirer (May 10, 1861):

Catholicism and Slavery Both to be Destroyed.
Like Popery, Slavery is incompatible with the spirit of the age, or in other words, with liberty and civilization. Their progress is at an end, and fate or Providence seems to have doomed them to speedy destruction by the folly of their devotees.—[N. Y. Daily Times.
After civil freedom is destroyed by the monarchical, Puritanical, anti-Republican party, it will, doubtless, turn its attention tot he overthrow of religious freedom. It tried to get up a crusade against Catholicism a few years since, and in New England penetrated convents with Hiss Committees, &c; but its onward progress was gallantly met by old Virginia, and with the true Democratic instincts of equal rights, she conquered the destroyer. She fought and gained one of the most important battles for equal rights of this century, and she fought it for the North, which had been overrun by the pestilent heresy of Know-Nothingism. The returns she gets for it is the invasion of her soil by the very men whom she most served.—[N. Y. Day Book

One can chuckle at the irony (“the true Democratic instincts of equal rights,” etc.), and one does. But the sheer cognitive dissonance here is pretty amazing. It’s so deep, in fact, that I think it’s fair to say it’s still part of the debate 150 years later. And it makes me wonder what parts of the national conversation will strike historians a century and a half from now as similarly amazing.

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