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Evangeline's Mission: Anti-Catholicism, Nativism, and Unitarianism in Longfellow's Evangeline

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Though Evangeline has long been considered simply a love story, this article reads the poem as one deeply involved in both the theological and cultural struggles between the Catholic and Protestant churches in the antebellum period. The essay argues that Longfellow's poem about the Acadian Expulsion of 1755 imagines those Catholic refugees as successful immigrants to America. Further, the article argues that Longfellow's vision of Philadelphia at the end of the poem is that of an ideal, ecumenical Christian community, in which Catholicism is able to coexist with various Protestant churches. Thus the poem counters anti-Catholic nativist rhetoric that portrayed Catholics as fundamentally foreign and a threat to the Republic. However, the ecumenical nature of this vision is limited by the fact that Longfellow cannot imagine a fully-realized Catholic Church in the United States; his Catholic community lacks ecclesiastical hierarchy. As such, it reflects Longfellow's connection to the Unitarian Moralists, as group of Harvard Unitarians who sought to transform other denominations rather than to convert individuals to Unitarianism.


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Affiliations: 1: SUNY New Paltz


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