One Nation, Under God

America was deeply torn after the Civil War. The fighting may have ended, but divisions had not been healed. Reconstruction, if anything, made matters worse. Policies did not quite appease the southerners, while northerners felt betrayed. And blacks in the south were not in a tremendously improved situation.

Maryland was a border state during the War and would be the perfect place to begin healing the nation. It would be done not through the United States government, but through the Catholic Church. Bishop William Spalding of Baltimore realized the rallying point for people of all areas, north or south, was Catholicism. So he convened the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in October of 1866. Bishops from all over the country sat together in Baltimore's cathedral, some who had been fierce Union supporters, some who had been fierce Confederates. They gathered in America's primatial see, where Archbishop John Carroll had once presided. Carroll, of course, was a friend of many of the Founding Fathers. Baltimore was truly a rallying point for the United States, and Catholicism an impartial means to unity.

The northern and southern bishops at the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore not only addressed doctrinal and liturgical questions, they discussed moral issues, particularly how to care for and educate the newly freed slaves. They also established means for providing for peoples and parishes devastated by the war. So significant and symbolic was the Council that President Andrew Johnson was present at the closing ceremony on October 21st.

It took time, but the United States experienced it's own Easter Sunday after Good Friday. The nation, under God, had a new birth of freedom. Catholicism, the great keeper of the Resurrection, played a role in that.

back to top