150 Years of The Atlantic October 2006

Politics

This is the ninth in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine’s 150th anniversary. This installment is introduced by James Bennet, the editor of The Atlantic.
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Catholic and Patriot
May 1927
By Alfred E. Smith

In 1927, Alfred E. Smith, New York’s governor and the first Roman Catholic to run for president, argued against the charge that a Catholic could not, in good conscience, fulfill his duties to his country. Though he lost the election the following year to Herbert Hoover, his candidacy helped pave the way for John F. Kennedy thirty-two years later.

Charles C. Marshall, Esq.

Dear Sir:—

In your open letter to me in the April Atlantic Monthly you ‘impute’ to American Catholics views which, if held by them, would leave open to question the loyalty and devotion to this country and its Constitution of more than twenty million American Catholic citizens. I am grateful to you for defining this issue in the open and for your courteous expression of the satisfaction it will bring to my fellow citizens for me to give ‘a disclaimer of the convictions’ thus imputed. Without mental reservation I can and do make that disclaimer. These convictions are held neither by me nor by any other American Catholic, as far as I know …

I should be a poor American and a poor Catholic alike if I injected religious discussion into a political campaign. Therefore I would ask you to accept this answer from me not as a candidate for any public office but as an American citizen, honored with high elective office, meeting a challenge to his patriotism and his intellectual integrity …

I summarize my creed as an American Catholic. I believe in the worship of God according to the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. I recognize no power in the institutions of my Church to interfere with the operations of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land. I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor. I believe in the absolute separation of Church and State and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I believe that no tribunal of any church has any power to make any decree of any force in the law of the land, other than to establish the status of its own communicants … And I believe in the common brotherhood of man under the common fatherhood of God.

In this spirit I join with fellow Americans of all creeds in a fervent prayer that never again in this land will any public servant be challenged because of the faith in which he has tried to walk humbly with his God.

Very truly yours,

Alfred E. Smith

Volume 139, No. 5, pp. 721–728

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