James Alphonsus McMaster
Editor, convert, b. at Duanesburg, New York, U.S.A., April 1, 1820; d. in Brooklyn, New York, December 29, 1886
McMaster, JAMES ALPHONSUS, editor, convert, b. at Duanesburg, New York, U.S.A., April 1, 1820; d. in Brooklyn, New York, December 29, 1886. His father, a prominent Presbyterian minister, sent his son to Union College, but he left before graduating and became a private tutor. It was the era of Tractarianism and Brook Farm, and McMaster became a Catholic in 1845. Believing he had a vocation for the priesthood, he was accepted as a novice in the Redemptorist Congregation and sent by his superiors to Belgium. Here he quickly found that the life of a religious was not suitable for him, and returning to the United States he adopted the profession of journalism. His vigorous and prolific pen secured him an opening in several papers and periodicals and his contributions were also printed in “The New York Freeman’s Journal”, then owned by Bishop John Hughes. In 1848 he thought of starting a semi-monthly magazine and then a semi-weekly independent Catholic paper, but abandoned both ideas, and, with money loaned him by George V. Hecker, bought “The Freeman’s Journal” in June, 1848, from Bishop Hughes. He at once assumed its editorial management, which he retained up to the time of his death. Letters he wrote then to Orestes A. Brownson clearly show that even at this early date he was dominated by the aversion to episcopal supervision and a determination to propound his own views which was such a characteristic feature of his later years.
Sound on fundamental issues and principles, fault-finding was one of his weaknesses. He spared no one, high or low, who differed from him, and his invective was as bitter as an unlimited vocabulary could make it. He quarreled almost immediately with Bishop Hughes on the Irish question and with Brownson on his philosophy. In politics he was a States Rights Democrat and Anti-Abolitionist and took a very active and influential part in the great national controversies that raged before the Civil War. After the conflict began, his editorial assaults on President Lincoln and his administration resulted in his being arrested, in 1861, and confined for eleven months in Fort Lafayette as a disloyal citizen. “The Freeman’s Journal” was suppressed by the Government and did not resume publication until April 19, 1862. In national politics he then adopted a milder tone, but for the rest the old style remained. In European politics Louis Veuillot and his “Univers” were the constant models of “The Freeman’s Journal”. There is record of his saying of the pope on the outlook in European politics in a letter to Brownson June 12, 1848: “He may yet in good earnest be imprisoned, but it will not take a whit from his moral power—it will add to it”; but after the events of 1870, in season and out there was no stronger or more valiant champion of the rights of the Holy See. In behalf of Catholic education he was equally strenuous and uncompromising, and waged a long warfare against the attendance of Catholic children at the public schools.
With the advent of modern newspaper methods and the decline of the old-fashioned “personal journalism”, a new generation with new ideals tired of McMaster’s literary violence, and his once wide-spread prestige and influence waned. The whims and idiosyncrasies of the old man, who grew more and more difficult to manage as the end of his curious and stormy career drew to a close, still cramped and hampered the paper, and when he died it had little influence and scant circulation. Of his three children one daughter became a Carmelite and another a Sister of the Holy Child.
THOMAS F. MEEHAN