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Benjamin Franklin and the Holy See, 1783–1784

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The Myth of Non-Interference in Religious Affairs

image of Journal of Early American History

Benjamin Franklin played a significant role in the early encounter between Rome and the United States. By highlighting Franklin’s role one is likely to question the two main tenets of traditional Catholic historiography in this regard. First of all, that the Holy See did not unwillingly submit itself to any imposition of newly-devised American democratic procedures in selecting how best to deal with the new republic. Secondly, that Franklin did constantly intervene in religious matters, at least as far as these concerned the establishment of the Catholic Church in the United States. In fact, the adoption of a democratic form of selection of the higher hierarchy was easily accepted and indeed exploited by the Holy See. Furthermore, much was going on underneath the official doctrine of the separation between church and state. This resembled old-regime diplomatic wrangling and had Franklin as its main protagonist.

Affiliations: 1: University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s University,


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