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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Catholic/Protestant Wars in the New World

The traditional view of early colonial historiography has divided the various wars between the England, and France (in both the Old and New Worlds) into separate conflicts that are seemingly unrelated to one another. Instead of seeing these various wars as links in a continuous chain of violence, many historians have chosen to classify these various Franco-English conflicts as unique and individual events. For example, from the latter part of the 17th century to the middle of the 18th, historians have traditionally taken note of four SEPARATE conflicts between the French and the English: King William's War, Queen Anne's War, King George's War and the French and Indian War -- as they were known in the colonies. However, what is often an overlooked fact of these conflicts is the reality that they all shared the same underlying root cause: religious intolerance.

Here is a list of the major Franco-English conflicts during the late 17th and 18th centuries:

Date: In Europe: In America:
1688-1697
In Europe: War of the League of Augsburg
In America: King William's War

1701-1713
In Europe: War of Spanish Succession
In America: Queen Anne's War

1740-1748
In Europe: War of Austrian Succession
In America: King George's War

1756-1763
In Europe: Seven Years' War
In America: The French and Indian War

***Chart taken from A Religious History of the American People by Sydney Ahlstrom, 58.***

From this chart, it is evident that a repeating cycle of violence and intolerance between England and France -- in both the New and Old Worlds -- was keeping these two rival nations in a constant state of war with one another. But what was main cause for such violence? What main factor continued to bring these two neighbors into conflict with one another?

Regardless of what the instigating factors behind each of these individual wars might have been, the common denominator they all shared was a steady stream of religious fervor, which proved to be a major catalyst for war in each occasion. As colonial historian Karen Kupperman points out:
We should not underestimate the emotional force of confrontation between Christians, which has been compared to the Cold War of the twentieth century. Each side believed the other was absolved by its religion of all normal moral and ethical behavior in dealing with the enemy, and capable of the most heinous plots.(From Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 4)
For the English, there was nothing worse than facing the possibility of a New World being ruled by the Pope. On the French side, religious passions were every bit as hot as their English foes. As Sydney Ahlstrom points out in his book A Religious History of the American People:
"During the century in which France's colonial aspirations awakened, there also occurred a remarkable resurgence of Catholic piety...In New France the faith and institutions of the Roman church gained a centrality and importance that was equaled in no other empire, not even New Spain." (59-61).
Faced with such religious enthusiasm on the part of the English and the French, it comes as no surprise that this "holy war" (or holy wars) would go unresolved for almost a century.

By choosing to look at these various conflicts through the lens of religious enthusiasm, we can clearly see that these wars were not separate quarrels but were, in fact, linked together through a chain of religious intolerance. English Protestants, still burning with the fires of the Reformation, saw the New World as an additional arena where Catholic supremacy threatened to destroy God's TRUE work. French Catholics, inspired by the resurgence of Catholic piety, sought to spread the Pope's dominion across the seas and choke out the rebellion of the Protestant heretics. As a result, the New World became another stage on which Old World hostilities played out.

No wonder why our Founding Fathers detested organized religion in government so much.

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