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On Dueling, Divorce, and Red Indians

In February 1861, Joseph Sadoc Alemany, the first Roman Catholic bishop of the state of California, wrote an urgent pastoral letter to his flock.  This letter was published immediately in the New York Freeman’s Journal, and for this indiscretion its editor was imprisoned for a year in Fort Lafayette, and his presses were shut down.  Archbishop Alemany was a Dominican, born in Spain, who pursued his calling in Italy and in Kentucky (where his Dominican brethren had imparted the foundations of classical learning to the young Jeff Davis) before being named bishop of California by Pius IX.  He was an enthusiastic American citizen who, although (or because) he was a Spaniard, was hated by the Mexican government, against which originally and perennially corrupt regime he pursed a reparations case all the way to the Hague, and with the help of the U.S. government to boot.  The archbishop, a Democrat, was deeply concerned about the looming war and so promulgated a letter against the principal moral evils afflicting his diocese: divorce and dueling.  He used these to describe the evil of the war, which he likened to a divorce and a duel writ large.  This letter offers an example of a kind of rhetorical argumentation used in documents of the ecclesiastical magisterium with increasing frequency in modern times.  Traditional teaching is presented, but justified more by notions of social progress and civilization than by the austere...

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