Profiles in Bigotry

The Making of a Catholic President
Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960
Shaun Casey
Oxford University Press, $27.95, 272 pp.

As Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy geared up for the post-convention campaign in August 1960, twenty-five clerics quietly assembled in the Alps to draw up a plan of action for the presidential race. Anti-Catholic zealots had long planted images of such clerical cabals in the public mind, suggesting Catholic politicians’ susceptibility to religious directives transmitted from abroad. Yet this particular cabal was hosted by none other than “America’s pastor,” Rev. Billy Graham, and was attended by some of the most influential U.S. Protestant leaders. Fears of America’s “papalization” and a desire to solidify the Protestant vote for Nixon united these men, who took the extra precaution of gathering at a remote Swiss resort to limit the chance of their being accused of trafficking in the ugly business of religious bigotry.

Though hidden behind the campaign’s public events, this meeting, along with scores of similar gatherings of anti-Catholic religious leaders within the United States, became crucial to the making of the nation’s first Catholic president. In fact, Shaun Casey argues, without the anti-Catholicism that these meetings both exemplified and provoked, Americans might never have elected a Catholic to the highest office in the land. In the end, overt bigotry, joined with the Nixon campaign’s two-pronged approach of eschewing religious bias while secretly collaborating with some of its most unsavory promoters,...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

James P. McCartin teaches at Seton Hall University. He is the author of Prayers of the Faithful: The Shifting Spiritual Life of American Catholics (Harvard University Press).