"A New Reading Of An Old Parable"

March 1, 1873

artist unknown

"A New Reading Of An Old Parable"

New York City, Government/Politics; Religion, Roman Catholic; Tammany Hall, Tweed Ring;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

New York City;

A certain (City) fell among Thieves--And the Priest passed by on the other side.

This unsigned Harper’s Weekly cartoon criticizes the alleged relationship between the Roman Catholic Church in New York City and the corrupt Tweed Ring. Archbishop (and later Cardinal) John McCloskey carries a model of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a deed to the land upon which it is being constructed. In gratitude for the deed which he has secured from the city government, the archbishop deliberately ignores the robbery of the public treasury being perpetrated by Tweed Ring members (clockwise from left) William "Boss" Tweed, Richard Connolly, Peter Sweeny, and Abraham Oakey Hall. The scene parodies the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan in which a priest passes by an injured robbery victim rather than get involved and subject himself to danger.

The third quarter of the nineteenth century was a time of great expansion for the Roman Catholic Church in New York City. Thousands of Irish-Catholic immigrants made the city their home in the late 1840s and after, though many were only nominally Catholic (despite the fervent anti-Catholic bigotry that their presence provoked). There were only eight Catholic churches in the city, and a dire shortage of priests. Archbishop John Hughes, McCloskey’s predecessor, made it his goal to build a Catholic community within the city by providing a sufficient number of churches and priests, by establishing a system of parochial schools, and by encouraging participation in the services and sacraments of the Church.

By the 1860s, there were 31 Roman Catholic churches in the city, and construction was underway on a new St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, designed in the Gothic style by architect James Renwick. By the 1870s, there were about 200 Catholic churches and chapels in the city. On May 25, 1879, the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral was formally dedicated, and Cardinal McCloskey appointed William Quinn as the cathedral’s first vicar. In 1882, the cathedral opened its own school, and a rectory was added.

Shortly before this cartoon appeared, the Tweed Ring had been driven from power and Hall’s term as mayor had ended. Harper’s Weekly had been one of the leading newspapers which exposed the corruption of Tammany Hall’s Tweed Ring. The journal was also conspicuously anti-Catholic, opposing the Roman Catholic Church on political and religious grounds. Immigrant Catholics, especially the Irish, were a core constituency of the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, which the Republican paper opposed. The Vatican was viewed by the journal as a foreign power which was seeking to undermine democracy and liberalism in Europe and America. An issue of particular contention was government funding of parochial schools, which the newspaper opposed.

Robert C. Kennedy

"A New Reading Of An Old Parable"
April 19, 2024

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