Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803-1876), Philosophers -- United States -- Biography, Catholic traditionalist movement



Physical Description

1 online resource (93 p.)


Orestes A. Brownson was an American journalist who converted to Catholicism in 1844, at the age of forty-one. He had been writing editorials and occasionally managing publications since 1828 in

connection with religious activities as minister to various sects, Brownson, from the 1830's on, read, reviewed, and kept abreast of European literature concerned with philosophy, social, political, and

economic theory. It was assumed that he continued that practice after his conversion in 1844 and that he would enlist the aid of European Catholic theorists to develop an acceptable Catholic system of thought—particularly since American Catholic literature in the mid-nineteenth century was mainly devoid of theoretical works.

A brief scanning of Brownson's works written after 1844 revealed the names of several French Catholic writers who were part of a group known as Traditionalists--De Maistre, Bonald, Lamennais, Veuillot, Donoso Cortes, Bonnetty, and others. The problem evolved from this discovery to determine whether Traditionalists had influenced Brownson's Catholic theorizing, and if so, to what extent.

The main source of reference for this research problem was the twenty-volume collection Henry Brownson had compiled of his father's Catholic journalistic efforts. Henry Brownson also published a three volume biography of his father, and I obtained the first volume, Early Life. Other biographies on Brownson have been written by Theodore Maynard, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Doran Whalen, which were useful for background material. A variety of articles have been written about Brownson, but none related him to Traditionalism; their usefulness, therefore, was limited.

I relied on secondary sources for interpretations of the French Traditionalists: Quinlan's thesis and Cohen's article on Bonald; works from Lively, Greffer, and Koyre on de Maistre; and a variety of French historical surveys. I also consulted materials which would provide background information on the Enlightenment--a necessity since Traditionalists and Brownson continually attacked Enlightenment ideas.

I compared the social, political, and economic aspects of Brownson's ideas to those of the Traditionalists. The conclusion arrived at was that Brownson had used Traditionalist theory almost exclusively as a foundation for his own work. Brownson not only displayed ideas similar to the Traditionalists, he featured their exact terminology: "germ of perfection theory", "divine origin of language", and "generative principle of constitution.” He referred to them as the "illustrious Bonald" and "illustrious de Maistre”l and occasionally stated that he was sympathetic to Traditionalist ideas. Brownson's deviation from Traditionalist theory was usually a result of translating French ideas to American society. He was careful to make the point that the ideas he altered remained valid for France, and Traditionalists were essentially correct in their entire assessment of society.


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