“Sacred Dominion” argues that anti-Catholicism fundamentally shaped the development of U.S. imperialism. While current scholarship on nineteenth-century U.S. geopolitics tends to examine imperialism in terms of race, class, and gender, “Sacred Dominion” is among the first literary studies to take seriously religion’s crucial impact on U.S. empire-building. It argues that U.S. romance writers played a pivotal role in forging the alliance between anti-Catholicism and U.S. empire. Their works position westward and overseas expansion as safeguards against Catholic tyranny and anarchy. From the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the regional writing of George Washington Cable, this project demonstrates how romance writing constructed a dynamic partnership between Protestantism and U.S. geopolitics that continues to drive American foreign policy today.
“Sacred Dominion” examines subgenres of romance to show how American writers relied on anti-Catholicism to imagine, justify, and contest U.S. imperialism. Beginning with those years long associated with the rise of Manifest Destiny and American Romanticism, this project illustrates how the alliance between anti-Catholicism and expansion underwrites antebellum works of romance such as George Lippard’s serials, Washington Irving’s histories, and even the novels of Hawthorne, an author whose obsession with Catholicism left an imprint on romances like The Scarlet Letter, not to mention his daughter Rose – a Catholic convert and nun. “Sacred Dominion” then charts the persistence of this romance tradition in the postbellum era. Turning to the work of a writer who made Mark Twain hate “all religions,” I examine George Washington Cable’s regional writing to demonstrate how anti-Catholicism mediated anxieties about the integration of religious and racial difference both at home and from abroad. The manuscript ends at the turn of the twentieth century with the work of Henry James and José Martí, illustrating how the early geopolitical foundations established through nineteenth-century romance set the tone for twentieth-century conceptions of U.S. internationalism. Tracing this romantic tradition across the eighty-year period when American literature emerged as a national canon and the U.S. emerged as an imperial nation, “Sacred Dominion” demonstrates how U.S. geopolitics and American romance were mutually invested in the nation’s Protestant origins and global future.