AT one and the same time, England permitted Roman Catholic and Puritan, both fleeing from her persecution of them at home, to find refuge under her flag in America, the one in Maryland and the other in New England. Such a contradiction is often to be found in English history, and that is an answer to the question how a little island came to rule a fourth of the earth. John Bull has gone so far because his feet are not fettered by logic. Consistency is not a jewel in the British imperial crown.
Unlike Puritan Massachusetts, Catholic Maryland proclaimed freedom of worship and the separation of church and state. Often and perhaps too lightly it is said that the Catholic Marylanders were more tolerant only because they knew that England would not let them place Protestants under the ban. It is by no means certain that they would not have received as long a rope as the Puritans of Massachusetts, who violated their royal charter with impunity.
Surely Charles I and his Archbishop Laud were not more sympathetic with Puritanism than they were with the ancient church. Charles christened Maryland for his Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria. He and his father proved their friendship for the Catholic family of Calverts by lavishing on them a great estate in Ireland (where they took their title from the Irish village of Baltimore), a large section of Newfoundland, and finally, the gift of all Maryland.
Perhaps Maryland was more tolerant than Massachusetts because Lord Baltimore had a twofold motive. He not only wished to make an asylum for his fellow Catholics but he wished also to make the colony pay him a profit. To do that he had to attract Protestant colonists, as Catholics were few in England.
Probably there were more Protestants than Catholics among the "twenty gentlemen," two Jesuit fathers and two hundred or three hundred servants and followers who sailed up the Potomac one spring day in 1634, while the shad were running in the river and the golden feathered oriole was abroad. Landing at an Indian village, they renamed it St. Mary's, and the colonists who were going to heaven by different roads entered upon the then novel experiment of working side by side here below.
In those days of old, unhappy things and battles long ago when the Christians of all Europe were at one another's throats in the Thirty Years War, Catholics, Episcopalians and Puritans had crossed the sea together, cooped up in close quarters four months, without belying the names of their little ships, the Ark and the Dove. To the best of history's knowledge and belief, the voyagers kept Lord Baltimore's command that they "preserve unity and peace;" that they "suffer no scandal nor offense to be given to any of the Protestants," and that the Catholic services be conducted "as privately as may be."
Unlike Virginia and Plymouth and Massachusetts, Maryland was colonized by one man, Lord Baltimore. And it continued to be the property of each successor to that title. It was called a palatinate, and was, in effect, an American principality over which the lord proprietor ruled with almost kingly powers.
The plan was to make it a feudal colony, in which the lord proprietor was to divide the land between a small number of privileged lords of the manor, who were to pay him tribute in the form of what is called quit rents. They were in turn to receive tribute from a peasantry who were to do all the work. A monument of that system survived until our day at Doughoragan, the manor of the famous Carrolls, with its ten thousand acres.
Generally the scheme failed. There was too much land in America for a few to monopolize it. Tenants and indentured servants quickly succeeded in acquiring little farms of their own, and Maryland became a colony of small farmers.
Lord Baltimore did not mix religion and business; that is to say, the business of making his colony successful. The Maryland Indians received the Jesuits as missionaries and, in the freshness of their zeal, they began to deed to the fathers vast tracts of land. Baltimore ordered those gifts returned and forbade any church to be a landholder. The assembly also excluded the clergy from its membership. Nor has a priest or minister ever sat in the Maryland Legislature.
When England passed under Cromwell's Puritan rule, Lord Baltimore met the crisis by appointing a Protestant governor. The Maryland Assembly also adopted the first legislative guarantee of religious freedom to be enacted in America. It provided that no believer in Jesus Christ should be molested in the free exercise of his religion and prohibited the calling of provocative names, such as heretic, idolator, papist, popish and roundhead.
Unhappily that benign statute was repealed in a few years by the Puritans, or nonconformists, who overthrew the Colonial government. In another generation, the Episcopalians, supported by elements opposed to the big Catholic landlords, seized the reins. The Church of England was established as the state church, and it was made a crime for a priest to say mass in a colony founded by Catholics. The British government also took Maryland away from Lord Baltimore, and the proprietorship was not restored to that house until after the head of it had turned Protestant.
A state, like a man, has an innate character. The story of the settlement of this country would be only an antiquarian's tale were it not that the seventeenth century colonies were the fathers of the twentieth century states. If we would know why these differ from one another, we must go back to the beginning.
In this hurried glance at the founding of Maryland, we see why the Catholic church has a longer tradition in that state than in any other of the original union, with proud families cherishing the faith of their immigrant ancestors . . . why Maryland has Catholic institutions older than the nation, with Georgetown University founded in the same year that the Federal government itself was inaugurated . . . and why Baltimore was the first Catholic diocese in the United States. Also why prosperous Baltimoreans to-day have a conceit for setting up manor-like estates.
As the twig was bent in the planting of America, the tree was inclined.
James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930