Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Brian Luskey

Committee Co-Chair

Ken Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Aaron Sheehan-Dean


Catholic Archbishop Gaetano Bedini's 1853-1854 visit to the United States catalyzed a series of disturbances and debates over the limits of responsive government, free speech, and religious liberty. The Papal Nuncio's supporters and critics both drew on transatlantic tales and republican visions, casting the "Bedini Affair" as a subversive attack on ultramontane Catholic theology, embarrassing national spectacle, legitimate protest of an 1848 counterrevolutionary, or Protestant defense of exceptionalist ideals against papal "aggression" and conspiracy. The Know Nothing Party's emergence on the national political scene months after the Nuncio's visit obscured these competing narratives and ensured that nativist retellings became the authoritative accounts of the Bedini Affair. This thesis returns the Archbishop's tour to its original social, political, and religious contexts, revealing the importance of immigrant political activism, the impact of cultural narratives on American life and politics, and the uneasy relationship between constitutional theory and antebellum republican practice.;The career of Bedini's harshest critic, Italian apostate priest Alessandro Gavazzi, illustrated the international dimensions of anti-Catholic thought and rhetoric. A well-known revolutionary army chaplain and orator, the Bologna native renounced his vows after concluding that the Vatican would never support Italian democracy. After fleeing his homeland with the help of an American diplomat, Gavazzi launched a controversial lecture tour through Britain, Canada, and the United States. Mixing standard anti-Catholic stereotypes with allusions to recent Church "aggressions" and fierce denouncements of Pope Pius IX and later Bedini, the so-called "Butcher of Bologna," the former Barnabite friar portrayed his old faith as a spiritually superstitious and politically repressive medieval relic. European exiles and American nativists adapted these tales to suit their own political purposes, transforming Bedini from an unassuming visitor into the embodiment of Catholic autocracy and depravity.;These sensationalized stories sparked protests in urban immigrant centers across the United States, showcasing differing partisan, religious, and ethnic interpretations of law and order. Catholic and Democratic elites in cities such as Cincinnati condemned the Bedini "riots," while nativists, former Whigs, and exiles cast the "protests" as evidence of robust democracy. These disturbances showed that antebellum political debates could transcend sectarian and sectional agendas to contest the very meanings of civil liberty and constitutional government.