The Meaning of Gallicanism
The difficulty faced by those Catholic activists of the late eighteenth century who were less than well disposed to being cast as challengers of the established order has received little attention. It was they, however, who constituted, at least in the 1780s and perhaps in the following decade, the bulk of Catholic opinion. They resented the restrictions that Irish confessionalism placed on them; but for them, as for most other Irishmen, anything other than a confessional state, despite the American experiment, was difficult to conceive. They were excluded from attaining higher rank in the existing social hierarchy; but that did not lead them to question the concept of hierarchy. It might be suspected that such an unwillingness to challenge fundamentals could only lead to a restricted and ineffective politics. This was not the case. The 1780s saw the emergence of a new approach to the difficulties of Catholics — one which combined an ability to advance their cause and respect for their conservative beliefs. This is generally adverted to as ‘Gallicanism’.
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