“Ever Intemperate”: James A. McMaster (1820-1886)

Today marks the death of James Alphonsus McMaster (1820-1886), a giant in the nineteenth century Catholic press. Born in upstate New York, he converted to Catholicism as a young man and studied for the priesthood before becoming a journalist. In 1848 he took charge of the Freeman’s Journal, an independent Catholic newspaper based in New York. His editorial policy has been described as “ever intemperate and always arch-conservative.” In 1854, when Irish-American leader Thomas Francis Meagher physically attacked him for an unwelcome editorial, McMaster pulled out a pistol and shot the future general in the face. During the Civil War, he supported states’ rights and opposed abolition. Even for the standards of the day, his racism was pretty blatant. The Catholic Church, he once wrote, “interferes not with any human arrangement not in itself a sin. Human slavery is not such a sin—least of all is it sinful where it exists in the person of a semi-savage race.” In August 1861 he was imprisoned for his criticisms of the Lincoln administration. He was released nine months later after signing a loyalty oath. As Catholic journals multiplied, McMasters’ influence declined, but he stayed at the paper until his death. Three of his daughters entered religious life; one started a Carmelite monastery in Brooklyn (the first in the state), not far from where the family lived.

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