If spoken by a contemporary politician, many of John Adams’ comments about Catholics would render him or her unelectable. In 1765, he wrote that the “whore of Babylon” had falsely grabbed the “keys to heaven”; blasphemously claimed to convert wine into the blood of the Lord; and survived by keeping subjects in “sordid ignorance and staring timidity.”
Its hard to recognize freedom’s champion in this letter to Abigail in which he describes a visit to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Philadelphiaa. His pen dripping with contempt and pity, Adams catalogues the repellant customs: “The poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood, Their holy Water—their Crossing themselves perpetually—their Bowing to the Name of Jesus, whererever they hyertit – their Bowings, and Kneelings, and Genuflections before the Altar.” He marveled at the power of the gaudy ritual to hypnotize. “But how shall I describe the Picture of our Saviour in a Frame of Marble over the Altar at full Length upon the Cross, in the Agonies, and the Blood dropping and streaming from his Wounds… Here is everything which can lay hold of the Eye, Ear, and Imagination. Every Thing which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant.”
On August 12, 1765, the Boston Gazette published an essay again linking both churches to each other, and to tyranny. The essay argued that religious canon law – “extensive and astonishing” — was created by the “the Romish clergy for the aggrandizement of their own order.” Church law enslaved people by “reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity” and warned that only an educated populace could thwart the “direct and formal design on foot, to enslave America.” Though it was not known at the time, Adams was the author.