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Back in the May 1992 edition of the newsletter, we presented an article on the life of Samuel Morse, pioneer of telegraphy. It is known that Morse was a gifted artist and painter, a Professor of Natural History, the one who introduced the daguerreotype photographic process to America, a well respected inventor and a one time pretender to the position of Mayor of New York city. But there was more:

This complex and gifted man, the son of a minister of the church, was embroiled in a peculiar fight against Catholicism.

His hatred of Catholicism was born from a bizarre event. While in Rome in 1830 he was watching a sombre religious procession when a soldier, noticing that Morse had not doffed his top hat, knocked it to the ground. As he stooped to retrieve it, Morse developed a bitter hatred for all things Catholic.

Initially, he confined his hatred to rabid articles claiming the Vatican planned to take over America by infiltrating it with Catholic immigrants. These immigrants, he ranted, must be refused entry. And amazingly, many Americans believed him.

Some claimed the Vatican planned to move to the lush Mississippi valley. Others said banning Protestant Bibles from Catholic schools was an attempt to destroy America’s education system. Matters became worse when a Canadian came to America claiming that, as a child, Catholic Nuns and Priests in Montreal had caused a pencil to enter his ear causing brain damage.

A book was published on the subject and, in 1844, Protestant meetings were held in Philadelphia followed by a number of riots which resulted in 13 deaths, hundreds of injuries, two Catholic churches being destroyed along with hundreds of houses. It was during this time that Morse tried unsuccessfully for the position of Mayor of New York city.

Gradually the public realised the shallowness of the anti-Catholic movement’s beliefs and by 1856, it had disintegrated. This religious fanaticism was an aberration in the life of a brilliant man who was known for his support of “lost causes”.

Morse married twice. On the second occasion, at the age of 57, he wed the cousin of his daughter-in-law. His youngest child was born when he was 67. Morse died, aged 80, in New York City on April 2nd, 1872.

Ref: Article by Margot Pitkin in the Sydney "Daily Telegraph", Wednesday, February 4, 1998.

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