The long hours of this passage also supplied the two friends with an opportunity to chat with the Catholic priest whom they had found on board, and to whom they had instinctively gravitated. He seemed, Tocqueville noted, 'very ardent in his zeal.'
'Q. Do you think that the support of the civil power is useful to religion ?
'A. I am profoundly convinced that it is harmful. I know that the majority of Catholic priests in Europe have a contrary belief; I understand their point of view. They distrust the spirit of liberty whose first efforts have been directed against them. Having, besides, always lived under the sway of monarchical institutions which protected them, they are naturally led to regret that protection. They are therefore victims of an inevitable error. If they could live in this country, they would not be long in changing their opinions. All religious beliefs are on the same footing here. The government neither sustains nor persecutes any one; and doubtless there is not a country in the world where the Catholic religion counts adherents more fervent and proselytes more numerous. I repeat, the less religion and its ministers are mixed with civil government, the less part will they take in political dissensions, and the more power religious ideas will gain.
'Q. In the United States, which sects are the most inimical to Catholicism ?
'A. All sects join in the hatred of Catholicism; but only the Presbyterians are violent. They are also those who are the most zealous.
'Q. Do you sometimes encounter traces of the work of the Jesuits among the Indians?
'A. Yes. There are tribes which retain confused notions of the religion taught them by the Jesuits, and which return very quickly to Christianity. At Arbre Crochu [sic] there are families which received the first principles of Christianity I50 years ago; and they still conserve a few-traces of it. When one can reach them, the Indian tribes generally recall with veneration the memory of the Black Robes. From time to time one still encounters in the wilderness crosses once raised by the Jesuits.
'Q. Is it true that the Indians have a natural eloquence?
'A. Nothing is more true. I have often admired the profound sense and conciseness of their speeches. Their style has something Lacedemonian about it.
'Q. Do they still make war with the same ferocity?
'A. The same. They burn, and torment their prisoners in a thousand ways. They scalp the dead and the wounded. They are, however, mild and honest men when their passions are not irritated by war....
'Q. Are the Indians of Arbre Croche fervent?
'A. (Here the face of Mr. Mul[l]on lit up in an extraordinary way.) I do not know their equals as Christians. Their faith is entire, their obedience to the laws of religion is entire. A converted Indian would rather let himself be killed than to fail in the rules of abstinence. Their life becomes very moral. You could see with what eagerness the Indian population of Ste. Marie came to find me as soon as it was known there was a priest on board. I have baptized many children.
'Q. How does the American clergy recruit itself?
'A. Up to the present most of the priests have come from Europe. We are only beginning to have American-born (which is much better). We now have twelve or thirteen seminaries in the Union. In the last forty years Catholicism has made unbelievable progress among us.
'Q. How are the expenses of the cult paid?
'A. Voluntary gifts. The pews which each family has in the church form the principal revenue.
'Q. How are the bishops named?
'A. The Pope names them directly, but usually he consults the body of existing bishops. He has sometimes happened not to do it, and then his choices have rarely been happy.'
Thoughtfully, Tocqueville recorded this conversation in his notes. Then he made a remark. 'Mr. Mul[l]on,' he wrote, 'like all the Catholic priests I have met up to now, differed essentially from the Protestant ministers: I. In that he appeared profoundly convinced, and entirely devoted to his ministry. 2. In that he showed a strong leaning toward intolerance, and little belief in the good faith of his adversaries. 3. In that he appeared, not an enemy of civil liberty, but little fond of democratic government by the masses of the people. This, however, is an imperceptible distinction which I need to render more positive by further inquiries.'
....On answers to questions thus directed, the investigators felt they could place some reliance. Father Mullon's absolute approval of the separation of church and state, especially, had gone far to convince them that the principle was a sound one. Notwithstanding the opinion of most Frenchmen, therefore, Tocqueville and Beaumont were coming to believe that it could even be applied, with advantage, in France. Beaumont, in his letter home, admitted his almost complete conversion to Mr. Mullon's views. And for Tocqueville, his future book was to make a similar announcement.