The group's demise didn't mean the end of anti-Catholicism, which Schlesinger called the longest reigning prejudice in American history.
On the night of April 6, 1844, a mob of white Protestant males calling themselves “Native Americans” marched toward a Roman Catholic Church on Brooklyn’s Court Street, intent on burning it to the ground. As they proceeded, their numbers increased to several hundred with shouts of “The church must come down—the church must be gutted—damn the Irish!”
When they arrived, a sizable group of Irish immigrants were waiting to defend it with bludgeons, axes and rifles. But before they came to blows, Brooklyn’s Mayor called out the military and dispersed the crowds.
From the 1830’s through the 1850’s, such scenes were duplicated in nearly every major American city where immigrants gathered in large numbers. But not all ended so peacefully. In Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, convents and churches were burned to the ground. From Kentucky to Maine, riots left Catholic immigrants and Protestant “natives” dead in the street. In short, anti-Catholicism had reached a fever pitch in American life, unseen before and perhaps since.
The principal reason was immigration—mainly from Ireland and Germany—which reached unprecedented proportions during these years. Roman Catholicism, once a despised minority, was now America’s single largest religious denomination. (While all the Protestant denominations combined to outnumber Catholics, the latter outnumbered every individual Protestant church.)
Reaction was fierce. Would America become a mere papal outpost?