Quotation by Henry David Thoreau

Hereabouts our Indian told us at length the story of their contention with the priest respecting schools. He thought a great deal of education and had recommended it to his tribe. His argument in its favor was, that if you had been to college and learnt to calculate, you could "keep 'um property,—no other way." He said that his boy was the best scholar in the school at Oldtown, to which he went with whites. He himself is a Protestant, and goes to church regularly at Oldtown. According to his account, a good many of his tribe are Protestants, and many of the Catholics also are in favor of schools. Some years ago they had a schoolmaster, a Protestant, whom they liked very well. The priest came and said that they must send him away, and finally he had such influence, telling them that they would go to the bad place at last if they retained him, that they sent him away. The school party, though numerous, were about giving up. Bishop Fenwick came from Boston and used his influence against them. But our Indian told his side that they must not give up, must hold on, they were the strongest. If they gave up, then they would have no party. But they answered that it was "no use, priest too strong, we'd better give up." At length he persuaded them to make a stand.
The priest was going for a sign to cut down the liberty-pole. So Polis and his party had a secret meeting about it; he got ready fifteen or twenty stout young men, "stript 'um naked, and painted 'um like old times," and told them that when the priest and his party went to cut down the liberty-pole, they were to rush up, take hold of it, and prevent them, and he assured them that there would be no war, only noise,—"no war where priest is." He kept his men concealed in a house near by, and when the priest's party were about to cut down the liberty-pole, the fall of which would have been a death-blow to the school party, he gave a signal, and his young men rushed out and seized the pole. There was a great uproar, and they were about coming to blows, but the priest interfered, saying, "No war, no war," and so the pole stands, and the school goes on still.
We thought that it showed a good deal of tact in him, to seize the occasion and take his stand on it; proving how well he understood those with whom he had to deal.
Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist. "The Allegash and East Branch" (1864) in The Maine Woods (1864), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 3, pp. 323-324, Houghton Mifflin (1906).

Clerical opposition to the school here stems from the fact that (though non-denominational) the public schools of this period were Protestant in curriculum—a source of complaint by Catholic and Jewish leaders alike. The priest (almost certainly a French Canadian) associated the liberty pole with its origins in the radicalism of the FrenchRevolution, rather than as an American patriotic symbol.
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