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Ellie Bagley

Anglo-Irish Roots of the American School Bible Controversy

Ellie Bagley, Middlebury College


After several decades of tense relations with the British and Foreign Bible Society, Irish Catholic immigrants to the United States brought with them a cultural suspicion of Bible society agents, as well as a distinctive animosity toward the King James Bible in particular.  From the 1820s onward, they began to influence American-born Catholics, who had previously showed no particular qualms about reading or even publishing, in their own printing houses, copies of the KJB.  Literature of the English Catholic Counter-Reformation was revived to help articulate the Catholic position against the KJB, most notably Thomas Ward’s Errata to the Protestant Bible, first printed in London in 1688 and reprinted in Dublin in 1807, followed by a series of new editions in Philadelphia and New York.  Protests against the KJB, particularly in the context of public school debates, featured widely in Catholic newspapers, and the majority of Protestants understood the opposition as being against the Bible—even America—itself.  Yet a few were willing to admit that the KJB might not be a perfect version, and that Catholic students ought to be permitted to read the Douai-Rheims Bible in schools supported by taxpayers.

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