Title Reviewed:
An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association

Author Reviewed:
Donald L. Kinzer

Jack J. Detzler


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 365-366

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association. By Donald L. Kinzer. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964. Pp. ix, 342. Notes, bibliography, index. $6.50.)

Professor Kinser has closely documented this presentation of facts and figures relating to the origins, growth, and decline of the American Protective Association. In so doing he has provided a substantial reference work on this largely anti-Catholic, sometimes nativist, society. Moreover, he has clarified the role played by the APA in American politics during the last decade of the nineteenth century.

When riding its crest, 1894-1895, the APA was a federated group of independent "patriotic," "nativist" societies which obscured their separate identities. The APA, existing concurrently as an independent anti-Catholic society spanning the years 1887-1908, was organized and controlled by Henry F. Bowers. It gave its name for a time to the nationally prominent association of anti-Catholic societies. It expired, abandoned by its opportunistic supporters, as it had begun—the personal property of Bowers.

The APA was organized by Bowers and a group of friends who perceived a Catholic menace in the politics of Clinton, Iowa. As the new organization branched into community after community its cardinal program became the protection of public schools from the Catholic threat. This objective was usually promoted through political activity, even though the group regularly claimed a nonpartisan status. While the dangers of entangling political alliances were recognized, the APA's nativistic tone was antagonistic to Democratic party programs, and it became the inevitable (unwilling and unwanted) captive of the Republican party. The latter used the APA when useful, disassociated itself when expedient, and disregarded the APA's imperious demands for legislation. The Republican party took this posture even as the APA spread like wildfire through the Midwest, the West, and the Northeast: at its zenith in 1894, it claimed over two and a half million members.

While the APA could point to occasional local political and program success, the national record was one of failure. Its only significant national achievement was to participate in the denial of federal support to the denominational Indian reservation schools. Defeats met attempts to keep Catholics out of public jobs, to remove tax-free status from religious property, to secure broadly restrictive immigration laws, and to require public inspection of private detentional institutions.

The APA's political influence was regularly exaggerated by the press; newspaper publicity, rather than its record of accomplishment, accounts for the widespread attention the APA received from politicians and public alike. It declined rapidly after the 1896 presidential campaign when its failure to influence was brightly evident. During this campaign, tearing splits developed within the movement's leadership, and the confederation dissolved. The APA existed again only as a small band of anti-Catholic agitators.

The author chose to treat the APA development on a yearly basis with subdivisions of his material falling into geographical areas. Scattered throughout, too, are found occasional judgments by Professor Kinzer, useful to the reader's understanding. Perhaps the source material is too fragmentary and too unrelated to the broad national objectives of the movement to have made a topical analysis meaningful or even possible.

Indiana University

Jack J. Detzler

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.