John Kennedy, in his campaign for the Presidency, met with a group of Southern Protestants to answer questions about his loyalty to this country should the Pope order him to do something contrary to the general good of all the American People. Kennedy faced the issue squarely and stated he would regard his oath of office as his highest moral obligation. Al Smith had foundered on the same issue in the 1928 presidential campaign and really never had Kennedy’s opportunity to gain a hearing to explain his position, which was much the same as Kennedy's.

       Without doubt, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice still existed well into this century and shaped much of the thinking of the Irish immigrant in the last century. On the one hand his bishops were encouraging him to take up the American dream of liberty. Yet on the other hand, the prejudice of the native American often prevented him from moving freely into the mainstream of opportunity in American life.

Cleveland Prior to Irish Immigration

       There were few American cities where the story of the frustration and corresponding over-achievement of the Irish Catholic immigrant was enacted with greater drama than in Cleveland. Here the Irish Catholic immigrant's political heritage (together with his ability to acculturate in the light of this heritage), and the cause of his immigration, came together in a unique way. We shall begin with a look at the background of the city of Cleveland prior to his arrival.




       One is struck at once with the fact that Cleveland was part of a strange colonialism in its very origin. In July, 1796, a surveying party of about forty men from Connecticut, headed by General Moses Cleaveland, arrived by canoe at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River with the specific task of surveying the land in Northern Ohio. This land was commonly called the Western Reserve of the State of Connecticut. The surveying party was sent by the Connecticut Land Company, a speculating company of businessmen who had purchased land in what was the Northwest Territory in the State of Ohio. The land had been awarded by the Federal Government for one of two reasons: either to individual citizens of Connecticut to compensate for losses suffered in the Revolutionary War, or given to the State itself to replenish the financial losses suffered by the State in supporting its own army and militia in the war. The land in question included all of Northern Ohio from Pennsylvania's western boundary to the Cuyahoga River and from Lake Erie south to the forty-first parallel North Latitude. Later this land grant was extended west to the Sandusky River by a purchase of the so-called Firelands by the Land Company, a purchase in total violation of the treaty made by General Cleaveland with the Indians who occupied the area when he first encountered them at Conneaut, Ohio, in 1796.

       When the survey was completed by General Cleaveland and his surveyors in October, 1796, they returned to Connecticut, and many of them, General Cleaveland included, never saw Cleveland again. Some members of his company did return the following year, .....




lured by the promise of very inexpensive land offered by the Land Company, which in the winter of 1796-97 set about selling the lots the survey party had laid out.

       The hardships, the painfully slow growth and the desolation endured by the early settlers is a story in itself and in many ways has been told before by the wilderness historians, often in romantic terms. The fact was that Wasp people from Connecticut came to Cleveland because they had been enticed by lurid advertising (which bore little resemblance to the reality of the frontier) into purchasing the land, and then had no other choice but to occupy it. So they came west, generally in Conestoga wagons, fearing to trust their belongings to a ship or canoe voyage on treacherous Lake Erie, and grimly determined to make the city of Cleveland prosper. It did, but not until after the lifetimes of the original settlers, who lived short lives and never saw or envisioned what the city of Cleveland was to become.

       A study of Cleveland's history reveals that the city perhaps never would have grown at all had it not been for the theory of covenant the first settlers made with one another, an idea borrowed from The Congregational Church of New England. The early settlers could not go home except in disgrace for failing to keep the covenant. In the case of Cleveland's early settlers, the covenant was one of money and community as much as of Covenant in Spirit with God and neighbor.




       In any case, the settlers stayed, enduring cholera, fever, family tragedy through premature death, dreadful winters, homesickness and separation from the dynamics that were forming the Eastern Seaboard into the United States. However, they were free to organize themselves into a confederation which could apply to Congress for statehood, which they did in 1803. The statehood petition of Ohio was granted that year and ratified by the other states, and thus Ohio joined the Union; The effort in Cleveland was accomplished through great statesmanship by men like Alfred Kelley and Thomas Worthington, and the process of gaining statehood was based on a political device the settlers recalled from their youths on the East Coast, the town meeting.

       All of this caused a very tightly-knit Yankee community to become extremely proud of itself, homogeneous and confident in its future in the Connecticut Western Reserve. On the other hand, it all but guaranteed the failure of later non-Yankee arrivals in the Western Reserve to become a part of this community for perhaps the entire remainder of the Nineteenth Century. These facts are important since they provide significant background to understand the several ways in which the Irish immigrants in Cleveland, confronted by the original Yankee community, turned in upon themselves and how these Irish struggled to maintain their ethnicity, or how some failed to preserve any ethnic consciousness, between the years 1845 and 1899.