Culture

Petitions Against the Pope

During the 1850s, anti-Catholic feeling flourished in the United States, briefly culminating in the formation of the Know-Nothing political party. There were even public protests when the Vatican sent a memorial stone to be placed with the other memorial gift stones along the inside stairway of the Washington Monument.

The stone was donated by Pope Pius IX, and came from the Temple of Concord, in Rome. It was predominantly pink, with white streaks, and read “Rome to America.”

Among the peaceful forms of protest were angry letters to the newspapers, and indignation meetings. One such meeting proposed to add a “protest stone,” to be placed on top of the Pope stone, if it made it into the Monument.

But the most organized protests involved the use of mass-produced petitions for people to sign. The following text comes from one such petition, printed in New Jersey. The National Archives has over a hundred sheets of this particular form on file—-indeed, the file box was jammed and overflowing with these things:

We, the undersigned, Citizens of Newark in the state of New Jersey, believing the proffer of a block of Marble recently made by the Pope of Rome to this country for the WASHINGTON MONUMENT, to be totally inconsistent with the known principles of that despotic form of government, of which he is the head; that the inscription, “ROME TO AMERICA” engraved upon it, bears a significance beyond its natural meaning; that the contribution is an artful stratagem, calculated to divert the attention of the American people for the present from his animosity to republican institutions by an outward profession of regard; that this gift of a despot, if placed within those walls, can never be looked upon by true Americans, but with feelings of mortification and disgust, and believing that, as the original design of the structure was to perpetuate the memory of WASHINGTON as the champion of American Liberty, its national character should be preserved; do therefore, most earnestly protest against placing of said stone within the Monument, or any stone from any other than a Republican Government.

Not all such actions were peaceful. On March 6, 1854, the stone was stolen from the Monument grounds before it could be installed. The Know-Nothings were suspected of the theft, and later claimed to have done it, tossing the stone into the Potomac River. Another Pope stone was finally added to the Monument in 1982, of a pure white color. This time, it was in Latin, though the meaning was the same: A Roma Americae.


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About the author

John Lockwood

JOHN LOCKWOOD is a park ranger from Washington, D.C. Having spent his past six decades in the nation's capital, he writes with generous assistance from the National Archives and Library of Congress.

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