Paul Blanshard
Paul Beecher Blanshard (August 27, 1892 – January 27, 1980) was a controversial American author, assistant editor of The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

 magazine, lawyer, socialist, secular humanist, and from 1949 an outspoken critic of Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....


Paul and his twin brother Brand Blanshard
Brand Blanshard
Percy Brand Blanshard was an American philosopher known primarily for his defense of reason. A powerful polemicist, by all accounts he comported himself with courtesy and grace in philosophical controversies and exemplified the "rational temper" he advocated.-Life:Brand Blanshard was born August...

 were born in Fredericksburg, Ohio
Fredericksburg, Ohio
Fredericksburg is a village in Salt Creek Township, Wayne County, Ohio, United States. The population was 487 at the 2000 census.Fredericksburg was founded in 1824 by Jacob Frederick, and incorporated as a village in 1867.-Geography:...

 where their father, Francis, was a Congregational minister. Rev. Blanshard and his wife, Emily Coulter Blanshard were Canadian. They met in high school while living in Weston, Ontario, immediately north of Toronto. When the twins were 12 months, their mother fell down stairs holding a lighted oil lamp. Her clothing caught fire, and she died a day later of severe burns.

The Rev. Blanshard brought his sons to Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. The city is located on the Grand River about 40 miles east of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 188,040. In 2010, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area had a population of 774,160 and a combined statistical area, Grand...

 for maternal care by his mother, Orminda Adams Blanshard, widow of Methodist clergyman Shem Blanshard. Francis left them in her care, briefly to pastor a church in Helena, Montana
Helena, Montana
Helena is the capital city of the U.S. state of Montana and the county seat of Lewis and Clark County. The 2010 census put the population at 28,180. The local daily newspaper is the Independent Record. The Helena Brewers minor league baseball and Helena Bighorns minor league hockey team call the...

. In 1899 the four moved south to Edinburg, Ohio. Upon being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Francis was advised to seek the drier climate of the American West. In 1902, Rev. Blanshard bade his mother and sons goodbye. They moved northwest to Bay View, Michigan
Bay View, Michigan
Bay View is an unincorporated resort community in the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in Bear Creek Township, Emmet County on Little Traverse Bay and abuts the east side of the city of Petoskey along U.S. Highway 31. The ZIP code is 49770 and the FIPS place code is 06260...

 and he moved alone to Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque is the largest city in the state of New Mexico, United States. It is the county seat of Bernalillo County and is situated in the central part of the state, straddling the Rio Grande. The city population was 545,852 as of the 2010 Census and ranks as the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. As...

 where, in 1904, he died, alone in a tent.

Mrs. Orminda Blanshard raised her grandsons on an annual pension of $250 from the Methodist church while the boys washed dishes at a restaurant. Realizing their need for good education, the family located to Detroit in 1908 so the boys could graduate from the well-known Central High School
Central High School (Detroit, Michigan)
Central High School is the oldest secondary school in Detroit, Michigan; it is staffed and operated by the Detroit Public Schools.-History:In 1858, Detroit's first high school opened on Miami Avenue. By 1863, due to increased enrollment, the school was moved to a building that had formerly housed...

. Soon both were at the top of their class, joined the debating team, and Brand was made class Poet. Many years later, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 was to express surprise at the quality of Brand's poetry. In 1910 the Blanshard brothers entered the University of Michigan, whose annual tuition was only $30 for state residents.

"It was natural that Brand and I should go in for debating and oratory, and each of us won the university's oratorical contest in successive years. Further, we each won in successive years the National Peace Oratorical Contest in which almost one hundred colleges participated. - We almost lived in the college library and reveled in its riches, counting ourselves among the blessed of the earth and coming out somewhere near the top of our class as a result. When we were juniors in 1913, Brand won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford and soon left for England. Perhaps that was good for me because I was now compelled to stand on my own, becoming much more sociable, outgoing and aggressive. During those college years I arrived at two decisions about myself. I would be a socialist and I would enter the Christian ministry. In retrospect, the first decision seems entirely natural, but the second decision was the worst blunder of my life."

Seminary, socialism, war, and apostasy

Following graduation from Michigan University in 1914, Blanshard enrolled in Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School is one of the constituent schools of Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. The School's mission is to train and educate its students either in the academic study of religion, or for the practice of a religious ministry or other public...

. Prior to entry, he joined the Socialist Party
Socialist Party
Socialist Party is the name of several different political parties around the world that are explicitly called Socialist. All of these parties claim to uphold socialism, though they might belong to different branches of the socialist movement and might therefore have different interpretations of...

, of which he remained a member for 19 years. Blanshard found his studies replete with "verbal evasion" and wryly observed that "This institution was what Mark Twain would have called a theological cemetery". He joined the Boston Socialist Party and sometimes was dispatched to local strikes as a clerical agitator. Under these casual arrangements he met both Nicola Sacco
Sacco is a town and comune in the province of Salerno in the Campania region of south-western Italy.-Overview:Sacco is known as La Città della Buona Fortuna , because many of its inhabitants have gone on to accomplish many great things...

 and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Blanshard described his early preaching experience as relying more upon Bernard Shaw than the Bible.

Seated alphabetically for inauguration into Phi Beta Kappa, to Paul's left was Julia Sweet Anderson. A romance and normal courtship was followed by an unusual "Marriage Ceremony for Revolutionists". The eschewing of a Christian ceremony while still at Harvard Divinity School was a portent. The couple humorously described this as "term insurance for our marriage in stead of a straight life policy". The young couple became close friends with both Helen Keller
Helen Keller
Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree....

 and Margaret Sanger
Margaret Sanger
Margaret Higgins Sanger was an American sex educator, nurse, and birth control activist. Sanger coined the term birth control, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established Planned Parenthood...

. In 1916, the Congregational church urgently dispatched Paul and Julia Blanshard by ship to Tampa, Florida where a breakaway congregation was conducting interracial worship services and angering the community. Paul Blanshard was ordained in a ceremony which first must conclude that the candidate is fit.

"There is no doubt that I was unfit, but when I was examined in an open hearing the ministers failed to ask those questions that would have exposed my unfitness. No one asked me if I believed in the Virgin birth - I did not - or in the bodily resurrection of Jesus - I did not - or in the complete uniqueness of Jesus - I did not. In stead, the ministers happened to ask me several questions on theology and church history, which I answered correctly and with an adequate display of ecclesiastical learning. As I knelt at the end of the proceedings to become, by the laying on of hands, the Reverend Paul Blanshard, I had such an inner sense of tension and conflict that I almost stood up and said: Look here, gentlemen, I agree with your moral aspirations and I love the concept of the church as a center for moral discussion, but I am much more of a heretic than you think, and I really don't belong with your bunch at all."

Those thoughts notwithstanding, Paul Blanshard later finalized a divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is a preeminent independent graduate school of theology, located in Manhattan between Claremont Avenue and Broadway, 120th to 122nd Streets. The seminary was founded in 1836 under the Presbyterian Church, and is affiliated with nearby Columbia...

. From his Tampa pulpit, 1916–1917, Blanshard preached against US entrance into the Great War. American entry in April 1917 did not stifle his opinion and soon a Tampa daily printed of him: "we do not condone treason". After a careful, slow, rereading of the New Testament Blanshard decided he was not a Christian believer, resigned his church, became an apostate, and moved to New York City.

By nature and personality he was a reformer and muckraker
The term muckraker is closely associated with reform-oriented journalists who wrote largely for popular magazines, continued a tradition of investigative journalism reporting, and emerged in the United States after 1900 and continued to be influential until World War I, when through a combination...

. Blanshard decided to pursue credentials in Law, completing much of his studies in night school, and graduating LLB in 1937 from Brooklyn Law School.

Public office

Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed Blanshard head of the New York City Department of Investigations and Accounts. Blanshard's exposures of graft and corruption attracted national attention. These efforts were not possible without learning the complex role in power politics played by the occupant of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan. This admixture of and contests of church and state provoked his curiosity. Fifty years old by the onset of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Blanshard served the State Department
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 as an official in Washington and the Caribbean. As an atheist, he observed the role of religion in these settings generally, but began to focus more upon the specifics and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...


Blanshard was an associate editor of The Nation and served during the 1950s as that magazine's special correspondent in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

. He is noted for writing American Freedom and Catholic Power
American Freedom and Catholic Power
American Freedom and Catholic Power is an anti-Catholic book by American writer Paul Blanshard, published in 1949 by Beacon Press, which asserted that America had a "Catholic problem" in that the Church was an "undemocratic system of alien control". The book has been recognized as bigoted and...


He was invited to attend the famous Houston Ministers Conference and spearhead the questioning of Catholic Presidential candidate Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

. Kennedy presumed that Blanshard would be there and studied the 1958 second edition of American Freedom and Catholic Power in preparation. Blanshard did not go to Houston. In his autobiography Blanshard explained his respect and admiration for John F. Kennedy.

One week after the inauguration of President Kennedy, Blanshard spoke to a crowd of three thousand at Constitution Hall in Washington on the subject of a Catholic President. Blanshard then represented Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State, now called Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a group that advocates separation of church and state, a legal doctrine interpreted by AU as being enshrined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.-Mission:The guiding principle of Americans...

. The text of that speech was published in pamphlet form, and a speech audiotape is retained by Wheaton College
Wheaton College (Illinois)
Wheaton College is a private, evangelical Protestant liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb west of Chicago in the United States...


Books by Paul Blanshard

  • 1923. An Outline of the British Labour Movement. G.H. Doran.
  • 1927. Labor in southern cotton mills. New Republic.
  • 1932. What's the Matter with New York. -with Norman Thomas, Macmillan Co.
  • 1947. Democracy and Empire in the Caribbean. Macmillan Co.
  • 1949. American Freedom and Catholic Power
    American Freedom and Catholic Power
    American Freedom and Catholic Power is an anti-Catholic book by American writer Paul Blanshard, published in 1949 by Beacon Press, which asserted that America had a "Catholic problem" in that the Church was an "undemocratic system of alien control". The book has been recognized as bigoted and...

    . Beacon Press.
  • 1951. Communism, Democracy, and Catholic Power. Beacon Press.
  • 1952. My Catholic Critics. Pamphlet, 52pp. Beacon Press.
  • 1954. The Irish and Catholic Power. Beacon Press
  • 1955. The Right to Read: The Battle Against Censorship. Beacon Press.
  • 1958. American Freedom and Catholic Power, Revised 2nd Ed., Beacon Press.
  • 1960. God and Man in Washington. Beacon Press.
  • 1961. The Future of Catholic Power Speech to DAR, Am. United Sep. C & S
  • 1962. Freedom and Catholic Power in Spain and Portugal. Beacon Press.
  • 1963. Religion and the Schools -the great controversy. Beacon Press.
  • 1966. Paul Blanshard on Vatican II. Beacon Press.
  • 1973. Personal and Controversial -an Autobiography. Beacon Press.
  • 1974. Some of my Best Friends are Christian. Open Court.
  • 1977. Classics of Free Thought. Paul Blanshard, Editor. Prometheus.

  • John Courtnay Murray, "Paul Blanshard and the New Nativism" (1951) short essay by leading Catholic theologian.
  • Brand Blanshard
    Brand Blanshard
    Percy Brand Blanshard was an American philosopher known primarily for his defense of reason. A powerful polemicist, by all accounts he comported himself with courtesy and grace in philosophical controversies and exemplified the "rational temper" he advocated.-Life:Brand Blanshard was born August...

    , "My Brother Paul." Church and State, vol. XXXIII, no. 3 (March, 1980): 12-14.
  • Barbara Welter, "From Maria Monk to Paul Blanshard: A Century of Protestant Anti-Catholicism." In Uncivil Religion: Interreligious Hostility in America, Robert N. Bellah
    Robert N. Bellah
    Robert Neelly Bellah is an American sociologist, now the Elliott Professor of Sociology, Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. Bellah is best known for his work related to "American civil religion"...

     and Frederick E. Greenspan, eds., 43-71. New York: Crossroad, 1987. Scholarly overview.
  • James M. O'Neill, Catholicism and American Freedom, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1952.
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