What was the position of the Catholic Church at that time, or the Catholic clergy living the British North American colonies? For or against the revolution, or neutral?
When the English colonies declared independence in 1776 — the 13 English-speaking colonies on the eastern seaboard — only a small fraction of the population was Catholic (largely in Maryland) Legislated anti-Catholicism was eventually voided by the First Amendment when the Bill of Rights was held to apply to the states as well as the federal government, in 1890. In the meantime virulent anti-Catholic sentiment continued.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_C ... .931800.29
At the time of the American Revolution, Catholics formed 1.6% of the population of the thirteen colonies.
Irish Catholics (unlike Lord Baltimore and the Earl of Ulster/Duke of York, their English Catholic landlords) were initially barred from settling in some of the colonies (before 1688, for example, Catholics had not arrived in New England), though "New York had an Irish Catholic governor, Thomas Dongan, and other Catholic officials." Middleton also notes: at one time or another, five colonies "specifically excluded Catholics from the franchise: Virginia, New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, and South Carolina." Throughout the Revolution American Catholic priests remained under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of the London District. But even during the colonial period the successive bishops had accepted the charge reluctantly, and were too far away to exercise much control. During the war, however, when the jurisdiction was in the hands of Bishop James Talbot, the brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury and coadjutor to Bishop Richard Challoner, he refused to have any communication with those who were his American ecclesiastical subjects. This was because neither he nor Challoner had any sympathy with the American rebel Catholics. They did not realize that American Catholics (though rebels) were rendering, as John Carroll said later, a service to their English Catholic brethren. This lack of communication, technically at least, proved a blessing in disguise, and removed all possibility of the accusation that American Catholics were receiving orders from an English Catholic bishop. At the close of the war, however, Bishop Talbot went so far as to refuse to give faculties to two Maryland priests who asked to return home. This eventually enabled Rome to make entirely new arrangements for the creation of an American diocese under American bishops.
The question often arises as to what proportion of Catholics served in the American armies. John Carroll's says this about Catholic participation: "Their blood flowed as freely, in proportion to their numbers, to cement the fabric of independence as that of their fellow citizens. They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men in recommending and promoting from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good orders, and civil and religious liberty." Some Catholics were more prominent than others. Thomas Fitzsimmons was Washington's secretary and aide-de-camp. General Moylan was quartermaster general and afterwards in command of a cavalry regiment. John Barry is regarded as the father of the American navy. Another notable was Thomas Lloyd.
The French alliance had a considerable effect upon the fortunes of the American Catholic Church. Washington, for example, issued strict orders in 1775 that "Pope's Day," the colonial equivalent of Guy Fawkes Night, was not to be celebrated, lest the sensibilities of the French should be offended. Massachusetts sent a chaplain to the French fleet when it arrived. And when the French fleet appeared at Newport, Rhode Island, that colony repealed its act of 1664 that refused citizenship to Catholics. Foreign officers who served, either as soldiers of fortune in the American army or with the French allies, put the Revolution in debt to Catholics, especially owing to Count Marquis de Lafayette, Casimir Pulaski, De Grasse, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, and Charles Hector, comte d'Estaing. Likewise, Bernardo de Galvez, the Governor of Louisiana, who prevented Louisiana's seizure by the British. His efforts prevented the British from gaining a position on the west bank of the Mississippi, crucial for keeping the British out of that area at the end of the war. Galveston, Texas is named after him.
In 1787 two Catholics, Daniel Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimmons, were members of the Continental Congress that met in Philadelphia to help frame the new United States Constitution. Four years later, in 1791, the First Amendment to the American Constitution was ratified. This amendment included the wording, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." This amendment officially granted freedom of religion to all American citizens, and began the eventual repeal of all anti-Catholic laws from the statute books of all of the new American states.
Following the Revolutionary War the Jesuit Fathers under the leadership of John Carroll, S.J. called several meetings of the clergy for the purpose of organizing the Catholic Church in America. The meetings, called the General Chapters, took place in 1783 and were held at White Marsh Plantation (now Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, MD). Deliberations of the General Chapters led to the appointment of John Carroll by the Vatican as Prefect Apostolic, making him superior of the missionary church in the thirteen states, and to the first plans for Georgetown University. Also at White Marsh, the priests of the new nation elected John Carroll as the first American bishop on May 18, 1789