Know Nothing

Know Nothing

Overview
The Know Nothing was a movement by the nativist American political faction of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 and Irish Catholic
Irish Catholic
Irish Catholic is a term used to describe people who are both Roman Catholic and Irish .Note: the term is not used to describe a variant of Catholicism. More particularly, it is not a separate creed or sect in the sense that "Anglo-Catholic", "Old Catholic", "Eastern Orthodox Catholic" might be...

 immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is an informal term, often derogatory or disparaging, for a closed group of high-status Americans mostly of British Protestant ancestry. The group supposedly wields disproportionate financial and social power. When it appears in writing, it is usually used to...

 Protestant values and controlled by the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration
Immigration
Immigration is the act of foreigners passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence...

 and naturalization
Naturalization
Naturalization is the acquisition of citizenship and nationality by somebody who was not a citizen of that country at the time of birth....

, though its efforts met with little success.
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Encyclopedia
The Know Nothing was a movement by the nativist American political faction of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 and Irish Catholic
Irish Catholic
Irish Catholic is a term used to describe people who are both Roman Catholic and Irish .Note: the term is not used to describe a variant of Catholicism. More particularly, it is not a separate creed or sect in the sense that "Anglo-Catholic", "Old Catholic", "Eastern Orthodox Catholic" might be...

 immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is an informal term, often derogatory or disparaging, for a closed group of high-status Americans mostly of British Protestant ancestry. The group supposedly wields disproportionate financial and social power. When it appears in writing, it is usually used to...

 Protestant values and controlled by the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration
Immigration
Immigration is the act of foreigners passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence...

 and naturalization
Naturalization
Naturalization is the acquisition of citizenship and nationality by somebody who was not a citizen of that country at the time of birth....

, though its efforts met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males of British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 lineage over the age of 21. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and entirely Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

.

The movement originated in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party
American Republican Party
The American Republican Party was a minor nativist political organization that was launched in New York in June 1843, largely as a protest against immigrant voters and officeholders. In 1844, it carried municipal elections in New York City and Philadelphia and expanded so rapidly that by July,...

. It spread to other states as the Native American Party and became a national party in 1845. In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party. The origin of the "Know Nothing" term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, "I know nothing."

Underlying issues


The immigration of large numbers of Irish
Irish Catholic
Irish Catholic is a term used to describe people who are both Roman Catholic and Irish .Note: the term is not used to describe a variant of Catholicism. More particularly, it is not a separate creed or sect in the sense that "Anglo-Catholic", "Old Catholic", "Eastern Orthodox Catholic" might be...

 and German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 Catholics to the United States in the period between 1830 and 1860 made religious differences between Catholics and Protestants a political issue, tensions which echoed European conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. Violence occasionally erupted over elections.

Although Catholics asserted that they were politically independent of priests, Protestants alleged that Pope Pius IX had put down the failed liberal Revolutions of 1848
Revolutions of 1848
The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It was the first Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, but within a year reactionary...

 and that he was an opponent of liberty, democracy and Republicanism
Republicanism in the United States
Republicanism is the political value system that has been a major part of American civic thought since the American Revolution. It stresses liberty and inalienable rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, supports activist government to promote the common good, rejects...

. One Boston minister described Catholicism as "the ally of tyranny, the opponent of material prosperity, the foe of thrift, the enemy of the railroad, the caucus, and the school." These fears encouraged conspiracy theories regarding the Pope's purported plans to subjugate the United States through a continuing influx of Catholics controlled by Irish bishops obedient to and personally selected by the Pope. In 1849, an oath-bound secret society
Secret society
A secret society is a club or organization whose activities and inner functioning are concealed from non-members. The society may or may not attempt to conceal its existence. The term usually excludes covert groups, such as intelligence agencies or guerrilla insurgencies, which hide their...

, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner
Order of the Star Spangled Banner
The Order of the Star Spangled Banner was an oath-bound secret society in New York City. It was created in 1849 by Charles Allen to protest the rise of Irish, Roman Catholic, and German immigration into the United States....

, was created by Charles B. Allen in New York City. It became the nucleus of some units of the American Party.

Fear of Catholic immigration led to a dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, whose leadership in many cities included Irish American Catholics. Activists formed secret groups, coordinating their votes and throwing their weight behind candidates sympathetic to their cause. When asked about these secret organizations, members were to reply "I know nothing," which led to their popularly being called Know Nothings. This movement won elections in major cities from Chicago to Boston in 1855, and carried the Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 legislature and governorship.

Rise


In spring 1854, the Know Nothings carried Boston, Salem
Salem, Massachusetts
Salem is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 40,407 at the 2000 census. It and Lawrence are the county seats of Essex County...

, and other New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 cities. They swept the state of Massachusetts in the fall 1854 elections, their biggest victory. The Whig
Whig Party (United States)
The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy. Considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s, the party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic...

 candidate for mayor of Philadelphia was editor Robert T. Conrad
Robert T. Conrad
Robert Taylor Conrad was the first mayor of Philadelphia to take office following the Consolidation Act of 1854....

, soon revealed as a Know Nothing; he promised to crack down on crime, close saloons on Sundays, and to appoint only native-born Americans to office. He won by a landslide. In Washington, D.C., Know-Nothing candidate John T. Towers
John T. Towers
John Thomas Towers was Superintendent of printing at the U.S. Capitol and Mayor of Washington City, District of Columbia, from 1854 to 1856....

 defeated incumbent Mayor John Walker Maury
John Walker Maury
John Walker Maury Walker Maury was Mayor of Washington, D.C. for one two-year term, from 1852 to 1854.-Life:John Walker Maury was born in Caroline County, Virginia in 1809 to a prominent Virginia family...

, causing opposition of such proportion that the Democrats, Whigs, and Freesoilers
Free Soil Party
The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections, and in some state elections. It was a third party and a single-issue party that largely appealed to and drew its greatest strength from New York State. The party leadership...

 in the capital united as the "Anti-Know-Nothing Party." In New York, in a four-way race, the Know-Nothing candidate ran third with 26%. After the fall 1854 elections, they claimed to have exerted decisive influence in Maine
Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...

, Indiana
Indiana
Indiana is a US state, admitted to the United States as the 19th on December 11, 1816. It is located in the Midwestern United States and Great Lakes Region. With 6,483,802 residents, the state is ranked 15th in population and 16th in population density. Indiana is ranked 38th in land area and is...

, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, and California, but historians are unsure due to the secrecy, as all parties were in turmoil and the anti-slavery and prohibition issues overlapped with nativism in complex and confusing ways. They did elect the Mayor of San Francisco
Mayor of San Francisco
The Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco is the head of the executive branch of San Francisco's city and county government. The mayor has the duty to enforce city laws, and the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the legislative branch....

, Stephen Palfrey Webb
Stephen Palfrey Webb
Stephen Palfrey Webb was third and twelfth Mayor of Salem, Massachusetts serving and the sixth Mayor of San Francisco .-Early life and education:...

, and J. Neely Johnson
J. Neely Johnson
John Neely Johnson was an American lawyer and politician. He was elected as the fourth governor of California from 1856 to 1858, and later appointed justice to the Nevada Supreme Court from 1867 to 1871...

 as Governor of California
Governor of California
The Governor of California is the chief executive of the California state government, whose responsibilities include making annual State of the State addresses to the California State Legislature, submitting the budget, and ensuring that state laws are enforced...

. They were still an unofficial movement with no centralized organization. The results of the 1854 elections were so favorable to the Know Nothings that they formed officially as a political party called the American Party, and attracted many members of the now nearly-defunct Whig party, as well as a significant number of Democrats and prohibitionists. Membership in the American Party increased dramatically, from 50,000 to an estimated one million plus in a matter of months during that year.

The same person might also split tickets to vote for Americans, Democrats and Republicans, for party loyalty was in confusion. Simultaneously, the new Republican party emerged as a dominant power in many northern states. Very few prominent politicians joined the American Party, and very few party leaders had subsequent careers in politics. The major exceptions were Schuyler Colfax
Schuyler Colfax
Schuyler Colfax, Jr. was a United States Representative from Indiana , Speaker of the House of Representatives , and the 17th Vice President of the United States . To date, he is one of only two Americans to have served as both House speaker and vice president.President Ulysses S...

 in Indiana and Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson
Henry Wilson was the 18th Vice President of the United States and a Senator from Massachusetts...

 in Massachusetts, who became Republicans and both were elected Vice President.

A historian of the party concludes:
In 1854, members of the American Party allegedly stole and destroyed the block of granite
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

 contributed by Pius IX for the Washington Monument
Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is an obelisk near the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington...

. They also took over the monument's building society and controlled it for four years. What little progress occurred in their tenure had to be undone and remade. For the full story, see Washington Monument: History.

In California in 1854, Sam Roberts founded a Know-Nothing chapter in San Francisco. The group was formed in opposition to Chinese and Irish immigrants.

In spring 1855, Levi Boone
Levi Boone
Levi Day Boone served as mayor of Chicago, Illinois for the American Party .-Early Life:...

 was elected Mayor of Chicago
Mayor of Chicago
The Mayor of Chicago is the chief executive of Chicago, Illinois, the third largest city in the United States. He or she is charged with directing city departments and agencies, and with the advice and consent of the Chicago City Council, appoints department and agency leaders.-Appointment...

 for the Know Nothings. He barred all immigrants from city jobs. Statewide, however, Republican Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 blocked the party from any successes. Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

 was the only state where the party gained strength in 1855. Their Ohio success seems to have come from winning over immigrants, especially German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 Lutherans and Scotch Irish Presbyterians who opposed Catholicism. In Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

, the Know Nothings were a mix of former Whigs, malcontented Democrats, and other political outsiders who favored state aid to build more railroads. In the tempestuous 1855 campaign, the Democrats won by convincing state voters that Alabama Know Nothings would not protect slavery from Northern abolitionists
Abolitionism
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

.

Know-Nothings scored startling victories in northern state elections in 1854, winning control of the legislature in Massachusetts and polling 40 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania. Although most of the new immigrants lived in the North, resentment and anger against them was national, and the American Party initially polled well in the South, attracting the votes of many former southern Whigs.

Few Know-Nothings were wealthy, but their incomes, occupation and social status were about average, according to detailed historical studies of once-secret membership rosters. Fewer than 10% were unskilled workers who might come in direct competition with Irish laborers. They enlisted few farmers, but on the other hand they included many merchants and factory owners. The party's voters were by no means all native born Americans, for it won more than a fourth of the German and British Protestants in numerous state elections. It especially appealed to Lutherans, Dutch Reformed and Presbyterians.

The party name gained wide but brief popularity. Nativism became a new American rage: Know-Nothing candy, Know-nothing tea, and Know-Nothing toothpicks appeared. Stagecoaches were dubbed "The Know-Nothing." In Trescott
East Central Washington, Maine
East Central Washington is an unorganized territory in Washington County, Maine, United States. The population was 768 at the 2000 census.-Geography:...

, Maine
Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...

, a shipowner dubbed his new 700-ton freighter, "Know-Nothing."

The party was occasionally referred to contemporaneously in the slightly pejorative shortening, "Knism".

Violence


Certain Know Nothings were not content to attempt to bring about their agenda through peaceful means. Intimidation meant to keep Catholics away from the ballot box came to a head on 6 August 1855, in Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kentucky, and the county seat of Jefferson County. Since 2003, the city's borders have been coterminous with those of the county because of a city-county merger. The city's population at the 2010 census was 741,096...

. In a hotly contested race for the office of governor of that state, Know Nothings killed 22, injured many more, and destroyed property. The Louisville riot
Bloody Monday
Bloody Monday was the name given the election riots of August 6, 1855, in Louisville, Kentucky. These riots grew out of the bitter rivalry between the Democrats and supporters of the Know-Nothing Party. Rumors were started that foreigners and Catholics had interfered with the process of voting...

 was only the most spectacular of violent acts perpetrated by Know Nothing sympathizers in 1855.

In Baltimore
Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...

 the mayoral elections
Know-Nothing Riot of 1856
The Know-Nothing Riot of 1856, some of the worst rioting of the Know-Nothing era in the United States, occurred in Baltimore in the fall of 1856. Street tensions had escalated sharply over the preceding half-dozen years as neighborhood gangs, most of them operating out of local firehouses, became...

 of 1856, 1857 and 1858 were all marred by violence and well-founded accusations of ballot-rigging.

In Maine, Know-Nothings were associated with the tarring and feathering
Tarring and feathering
Tarring and feathering is a physical punishment, used to enforce unofficial justice or revenge. It was used in feudal Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance .-Description:In a typical tar-and-feathers attack, the...

 of a Catholic priest, John Bapst, in the coastal town of Ellsworth
Ellsworth, Maine
Ellsworth is a city in and the county seat of Hancock County, Maine, United States. The 2010 Census determined it had a population of 7,741. Ellsworth was Maine's fastest growing city from 2000-2010 with a growth rate of nearly 20 percent...

 in 1851 and the burning of a Catholic church
Bath, Maine anti-Catholic riot of 1854
The anti-Catholic riot that occurred in Bath on July, 8, 1854 was one of a number that took place in coastal Maine in the 1850s, including the tarring and feathering of a Catholic priest, Father John Bapst in 1851 in the town of Ellsworth. The first and most violent anti-Catholic riot in Maine...

 in Bath
Bath, Maine
Bath is a city in Sagadahoc County, Maine, in the United States. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 9,266. It is the county seat of Sagadahoc County. Located on the Kennebec River, Bath is a port of entry with a good harbor. The city is popular with tourists, many drawn by its...

 in 1854.

Decline


In spring 1855, Levi Boone
Levi Boone
Levi Day Boone served as mayor of Chicago, Illinois for the American Party .-Early Life:...

 was elected Mayor of Chicago
Mayor of Chicago
The Mayor of Chicago is the chief executive of Chicago, Illinois, the third largest city in the United States. He or she is charged with directing city departments and agencies, and with the advice and consent of the Chicago City Council, appoints department and agency leaders.-Appointment...

 for the Know Nothings. He barred all immigrants from city jobs. Statewide, however, Republican Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 blocked the party from any successes. Ohio
Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

 was the only state where the party gained strength in 1855. Their Ohio success seems to have come from winning over immigrants, especially German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 Lutherans and Scotch Irish Presbyterians who opposed Catholicism. In Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

, the Know Nothings were a mix of former Whigs, malcontented Democrats, and other political outsiders who favored state aid to build more railroads. In the tempestuous 1855 campaign, the Democrats won by convincing state voters that Alabama Know Nothings would not protect slavery from Northern abolitionists
Abolitionism
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

.

The party declined rapidly in the North in the following years. In the Election of 1856 it was bitterly divided over slavery. The main faction supported the ticket of presidential nominee Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...

 and vice-presidential nominee Andrew Jackson Donelson
Andrew Jackson Donelson
Andrew Jackson Donelson was an American diplomat and a candidate for Vice President of the United States.-Biography:...

. Fillmore, a former President, had been a Whig, and Donelson was the nephew of Democratic President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

, so the ticket was designed to appeal to loyalists from both major parties. It won 23% of the popular vote and carried one state, Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

, with eight electoral votes. Fillmore did not win enough votes to block Democrat James Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

 from the White House. After the Supreme Court's controversial Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

ruling in 1857, most of the anti-slavery members of the American Party joined the Republican Party. The pro-slavery wing of the American Party remained strong on the local and state levels in a few southern states, but by the 1860 election, they were no longer a serious national political movement. Most of their remaining members supported the Constitutional Union Party
Constitutional Union Party (United States)
The Constitutional Union Party was a political party in the United States created in 1860. It was made up of conservative former Whigs who wanted to avoid disunion over the slavery issue...

 in 1860.

Some historians argue that in the South the Know Nothings were fundamentally different from their northern counterparts, and were motivated less by nativism or anti-Catholicism
Anti-Catholicism
Anti-Catholicism is a generic term for discrimination, hostility or prejudice directed against Catholicism, and especially against the Catholic Church, its clergy or its adherents...

 than by conservative Unionism
Southern Unionist
In the United States, Southern Unionists were people living in the Confederate States of America, opposed to secession, and against the Civil War. These people are also referred to as Southern Loyalists, Union Loyalists, and Lincoln Loyalists...

; southern Know Nothings were mostly ex-Whigs who were worried about both the pro-slavery extremism of the Democrats and the emergence of the anti-slavery Republican party in the North. In Louisiana and Maryland, the Know-Nothings enlisted Catholics. Historian Michael F. Holt, however, argues, "Know Nothingism originally grew in the South for the same reasons it spread in the North – nativism, anti-Catholicism, and animosity toward unresponsive politicos – not because of conservative Unionism." He quotes William B. Campbell
William B. Campbell
William Bowen Campbell was governor of Tennessee from 1851 to 1853.-Biography:Campbell was born in Sumner County, Tennessee, later leaving to study law in Virginia. He returned to Tennessee in 1829 in order to establish a law practice at Carthage, in Smith County...

, former governor of Tennessee
Tennessee
Tennessee is a U.S. state located in the Southeastern United States. It has a population of 6,346,105, making it the nation's 17th-largest state by population, and covers , making it the 36th-largest by total land area...

, who wrote in January 1855, "I have been astonished at the widespread feeling in favor of their principles – to wit, Native Americanism and anti-Catholicism – it takes everywhere."

Platform


The platform of the American Party called for, among other things:
  • Severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries.
  • Restricting political office to native-born Americans of English and/or Scottish lineage and Protestant persuasion.
  • Mandating a wait of 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship.
  • Restricting public school teacher positions to Protestants.
  • Mandating daily Bible readings in public schools.
  • Restricting the sale of liquor.
  • Restricting the use of languages other than English.


Presidential candidates




Legacy


The nativist spirit of the Know Nothing movement was revived in later political movements, such as the Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan, often abbreviated KKK and informally known as the Klan, is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically...

 and the American Protective Association
American Protective Association
The American Protective Association, or APA was an American anti-Catholic society similar to the Know Nothings.-History:The APA was founded 13 March 1887 by Attorney Henry F. Bowers in Clinton, Iowa...

, according to William Safire
William Safire
William Lewis Safire was an American author, columnist, journalist and presidential speechwriter....

. George Wallace
George Wallace
George Corley Wallace, Jr. was the 45th Governor of Alabama, serving four terms: 1963–1967, 1971–1979 and 1983–1987. "The most influential loser" in 20th-century U.S. politics, according to biographers Dan T. Carter and Stephan Lesher, he ran for U.S...

's 1968 presidential campaign was said by Time to be under the "neo-Know Nothing banner". Editor Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Zakaria
Fareed Rafiq Zakaria is an Indian-American journalist and author. From 2000 to 2010, he was a columnist for Newsweek and editor of Newsweek International. In 2010 he became Editor-At-Large of Time magazine...

 has said that politicians who "encouraged Americans to fear foreigners" were becoming "modern incarnations of the Know-Nothings".
President Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...

 became a member of the American Party or "Know Nothing" shortly after his term.

Fictional portrayals


The American Party was represented in the 2002 film Gangs of New York
Gangs of New York
Gangs of New York is a 2002 historical film set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of New York City. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. The film was inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1928 nonfiction book, The Gangs of New...

, led by William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is an English actor with both British and Irish citizenship. His portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, and Screen Actors Guild as well as Golden Globe Awards for the latter...

), the fictionalized version of real-life Know Nothing leader William Poole
William Poole
William Poole , also known as Bill the Butcher, was a member of the New York City gang the Bowery Boys, a bare-knuckle boxer, and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement.-Early life:...

. The Know Nothings also play a prominent role in the historical novel Shaman by Noah Gordon.

Usage of the term


The term "Know Nothing" is better remembered than the party itself. In the late 19th century, Democrats would call the Republicans "Know Nothings" in order to secure the votes of Germans, as in the Bennett Law
Bennett Law
The Bennett Law was a very controversial state law passed in Wisconsin in 1889, that required the use of English to teach major subjects in all public and private elementary and high schools. It affected the state's many German-language private schools , and was bitterly resented by German-American...

 campaign in Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

 in 1890. A similar culture war
Culture war
The culture war in American usage is a metaphor used to claim that political conflict is based on sets of conflicting cultural values. The term frequently implies a conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal...

 took place in Illinois in 1892, where Democrat John Peter Altgeld
John Peter Altgeld
John Peter Altgeld was the 20th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1893 until 1897. He was the first Democratic governor of that state since the 1850s...

 denounced the Republicans:
The term has become a provocative slur, suggesting that the opponent is both nativist and ignorant. For example, in 2006, an editorial in The Weekly Standard
The Weekly Standard
The Weekly Standard is an American neoconservative opinion magazine published 48 times per year. Its founding publisher, News Corporation, debuted the title September 18, 1995. Currently edited by founder William Kristol and Fred Barnes, the Standard has been described as a "redoubt of...

by conservative William Kristol
William Kristol
William Kristol is an American neoconservative political analyst and commentator. He is the founder and editor of the political magazine The Weekly Standard and a regular commentator on the Fox News Channel....

 accused populist Republicans of "turning the GOP into an anti-immigration, Know-Nothing party." The lead editorial of The New York Times for 20 May 2007, on a proposed immigration bill, referred to "this generation's Know-Nothings". An editorial written by Timothy Egan in The New York Times on 27 August 2010, entitled "Building a Nation of Know-Nothings", discussed the Birther movement, which believes that President Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 is not a legal citizen of the United States and is Muslim.

See also

  • Bowery Boys
    Bowery Boys
    The Bowery Boys were a nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-Irish gang based north of the Five Points district of New York City in the mid-19th century. They were primarily stationed in the Bowery section of New York, which was, at the time, extended north of the Five Points...

  • James Greene Hardy
    James Greene Hardy
    James Greene Hardy was a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky who belonged to the American or Know-Nothing Party. Prior to being elected Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, he was a prominent surveyor and teacher for many years.-Early life and family:Hardy was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia...

  • John J. Crittenden
    John J. Crittenden
    John Jordan Crittenden was a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky. He represented the state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and twice served as United States Attorney General in the administrations of William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore...

  • Know-Nothing Riot of 1856
    Know-Nothing Riot of 1856
    The Know-Nothing Riot of 1856, some of the worst rioting of the Know-Nothing era in the United States, occurred in Baltimore in the fall of 1856. Street tensions had escalated sharply over the preceding half-dozen years as neighborhood gangs, most of them operating out of local firehouses, became...

  • Nathaniel Prentice Banks
    Nathaniel Prentice Banks
    Nathaniel Prentice Banks was an American politician and soldier, served as the 24th Governor of Massachusetts, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Union general during the American Civil War....

  • Philadelphia Nativist Riots
    Philadelphia Nativist Riots
    The Philadelphia Nativist Riots were a series of riots that took place between May 6 and 8 and July 6 and 7, 1844, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, and the adjacent districts of Kensington and Southwark...

  • Second Party System
    Second Party System
    The Second Party System is a term of periodization used by historians and political scientists to name the political party system existing in the United States from about 1828 to 1854...

  • Third Party System
    Third Party System
    The Third Party System is a term of periodization used by historians and political scientists to describe a period in American political history from about 1854 to the mid-1890s that featured profound developments in issues of nationalism, modernization, and race...

  • Wide Awakes
    Wide Awakes
    The Wide Awakes was a paramilitary campaign organization affiliated with the Republican Party during the United States presidential election of 1860. Similar organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party were called the "Douglas Invincibles", "Young Hickories" or "Earthquakes"...

  • William Poole
    William Poole
    William Poole , also known as Bill the Butcher, was a member of the New York City gang the Bowery Boys, a bare-knuckle boxer, and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement.-Early life:...

  • 71st Infantry Regiment (New York)
    71st Infantry Regiment (New York)
    The 71st Infantry Regiment is an organization of the New York State Guard. Formerly, the 71st Infantry was a regiment of the New York State Militia and then the Army National Guard from 1850 to 1993.-Foundation:...

  • Bath, Maine anti-Catholic riot of 1854
    Bath, Maine anti-Catholic riot of 1854
    The anti-Catholic riot that occurred in Bath on July, 8, 1854 was one of a number that took place in coastal Maine in the 1850s, including the tarring and feathering of a Catholic priest, Father John Bapst in 1851 in the town of Ellsworth. The first and most violent anti-Catholic riot in Maine...

  • John Bapst

Primary sources

  • Frederick Rinehart Anspach. The Sons of the Sires: A History of the Rise, Progress, and Destiny of the American Party (1855) by K-N activist online edition
  • Samuel Clagett Busey. Immigration: Its Evils and Consequences (1856) online edition
  • Anna Ella Carroll
    Anna Ella Carroll
    Anna Ella Carroll was an American politician, pamphleteer and lobbyist...

    . The Great American Battle: Or, The Contest Between Christianity and Political Romanism (1856) online edition
  • Fillmore, Millard. Millard Fillmore Papers Ed. by Frank H. Severance (1907) online edition
  • The Wide-awake Gift: A Know-nothing Token for 1855 (1855) online edition

External links


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