What does Swift's first argument in "A Modest Proposal" reveal about common attitudes toward Papists, or Catholics?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his "A Modest Proposal," Jonathan Swift wrily remarks upon the prolific births of Catholic babies after the Lenten season in which more fish is consumed that usual. As a result, the Catholic babies will outnumber the Protestant ones three to one.  So, the  proposal of consuming Catholic babies will not only solve the problem of feeding the masses and reducing the poverty of the Irish, but it will decimate the "papist" population, a positive effect to the governing class of English protestants. These Protestants distrusted the Catholic rural majority of Ireland because of their disloyalty to the Hanoverian state and because of their apparent lack of enthusiasm about improving farming so as to raise the value of land.  The Protestant leaders concerned themselves more with urban development, as well, and perceived the Catholics as not fostering the commercial economy.