American Protective Association


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American Protective Association

Responding to a perceived Roman Catholic conspiracy to take control of the United States, the APA formed a secret society to keep all Catholics out of public office.

The American Protective Association (APA) was a secret proscriptive society in the United States organized to prevent Roman Catholics from gaining political offices. The organization became an unsettling element on the political scene in most of the northern states during the 1890s but had little influence in the South, aside from a few members in Georgia and Texas.

Henry F. Bowers, a sixty-year-old lawyer originally from Maryland, founded the APA in Clinton, Iowa, on March 13, 1887. Bowers, a Mason, drew liberally from the rituals of that fraternal society and developed elaborate regalia, initiation rites, and a secret oath that bound members to endeavor at all times “to place the political position of this government in the hands of Protestants, to the entire exclusion of the Roman Catholic Church, of the members thereof, and the mandate of the Pope.” The APA drew upon Protestant paranoia regarding Catholics for membership, and large numbers of Masons, who already excluded Catholics from their fraternal order, joined the movement to keep Catholics from gaining public office.

In 1893 the APA began the active distribution of anti-Catholic literature and arranged public lectures by men posing as ex-priests, who divulged the horrible secrets of the Catholic Church. Some of these imposters claimed to have seen a papal bull that called for the massacre of Protestants on or about the Feast of Saint Ignatius in 1893. By 1894 the APA had seventy weekly tabloids that printed defamatory stories about the Catholic Church. Chief among the reports was the claim that Terence V. Powderly, leader of the Knights of Columbus, was leading that Catholic organization in a massive conspiracy against all American institutions.

Bowers was reelected the national president of the APA in 1898, but the movement had failed to effect any new changes in the laws or policies of government, and it eventually dissipated, leaving only a legacy of distrust between Catholics and those Protestants susceptible to rumors of Catholic conspiracies.

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