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Roosevelt and Religion

August 24, 2011

Today, one of our historian interns will share with you how the TRDL has helped with his own research interests as he has helped review our materials for the launch.

As an aspiring historian with an interest in the Progressive Era, the opportunity to work on a project that is so intricately attached to one of the most famous progressives in history was a source of great interest to me. One of my other areas of interest is religious history. I did not know whether my work on the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library would provide any insight on this field prior to my beginning this internship. It most definitely did, however.

A recent paper that I wrote for a graduate seminar investigated the role of an anti-Catholic nativism in Progressive and World War I-era North Dakota. My work on the Theodore Roosevelt collection indicated that President Roosevelt, though not a Roman Catholic himself, treated adherents of this religious organization with respect. He even went so far as to appoint some of them to political offices.

J. F. Corrigan, the brother of Archbishop Michael Corrigan, wrote to Roosevelt on behalf of his family after the archbishop’s death, thanking the president for the respect that he had shown. Corrigan pointed out that his brother spoke fondly of a meeting that he had had with President Roosevelt. Archbishop P. J. Ryan of Philadelphia wrote to thank President Roosevelt for his appointment to the Board of Indian Commissioners.

Letter from J.F. Corrigan to Theodore Roosevelt, May 10, 1902.

Letter from J. F. Corrigan to Theodore Roosevelt, May 10, 1902. From Library of Congress Manuscripts division.

This seemingly accommodationist attitude toward Catholicism by the president was not without its detractors. A man by the name of Addison Thomas wrote to Roosevelt to complain that the government gave the work of the Episcopal Bishop Whipple to the Catholics. He complained that there was too much Catholic influence in Washington and the White House, viewing this influence as an attempt by Rome to gain undue influence over American policies. Thomas also voiced concern over Catholic delegations to Washington that did not take place under any previous president. He definitely viewed America as a Protestant nation and had great concern over this Catholic influence under Roosevelt, which he saw as undermining American Protestantism.

While these documents were not the only documents that I reviewed that were related to religion, they were of more interest to me because of their connection to one of my recent research projects. Had I not had the opportunity to work with the Theodore Roosevelt Center this summer, I would not have known about the existence of these documents. This has really been a great opportunity to increase my understanding of religious viewpoints in the early twentieth century.

Chris holds a BA in history & government from West Virginia Tech and an MA in history from Marshall University. He is currently a DA student at the University of North Dakota. Chris’s most recent research involved a local congregation during the Progressive/World War I era in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Transcript of Letter:

May 10, 1902
The President
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Roosevelt,

I beg leave to express, on behalf of my brother George, my family and myself, our earnest appreciation and gratitude for the respect you have shown to the memory of my brother, the late Archbishop, and for the kindly way in which you have made it known.

The Archbishop always entertained the greatest respect for you, in the years he had known you, and, joined to this, he had a strong personal affection for you.

He spoke to me of his meeting with you in Washington, and of the great pleasure it had given him, and recalled the kind consideration you had always shown him.

I am, dear Mr. President,
Yours most respectfully,
J. F. Corrigan

Posted by Chris Price on August 24, 2011 in History  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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