Skip to main content

Full text of "The Know-Nothing party : a sketch"

See other formats


Know- Nothingr 



A Sketch 
By Humphrey J. Desmond. 

Washington : 
The New Century Press. 





A GENERAL view of the Nativist 
Movement in American politics has 
many points of interest for the student 
of history, and not a few instructive 
lessons probably applicable to future 
conditions. Movements of this nature 
are quite likely to recur; if, perhaps, 
in a somewhat varied and feebler form, 
nevertheless in their salient character- 
istics, closely modeled after the I^ow- 
Nothing party of 1854. 

In the pages of Von Hoist and 
Rhodes, in the special pleadings of Lee 
and Whitney, in more careful local 
studies such as those of Scisco, in the 
annals of Congress, in the biographies 
or memoirs of men prominent in Amer- 
ican public life fifty years ago, in the 
political text books of the time, and in 
a variety of other publications, thei*e 
is a vast amount of information bear- 
ing upon the Nativist and Know- 
Nothing movements ; but, so far as the 

writer of these pages is able to ascer- 
tain, no attempt has heretofore been 
made to gather, from all the best 
sources, a survey at once complete 
(at least within the limitations of brev- 
ity here proposed), connected and free 
from the spirit of advocacy. 



1. A Prelimiuary View, - - 7 

2. Nativism in Local Politics, - 22 

3. Ite High Tide (1844), - - 34 


1. Origin and Growth, - - - 48 

2. High Tide (1854), - - - - 59 

3. Disturbances and Acrimony, - TO 

4. Democratic and Republican 

Attitudes, ------ 82 

5. Know-Nothing Issues, - - 91 

6. Solvent Influences, - - - - 100 

7. The Campaign of 1856, - - 110 

8. Know-Xothings in Congress, 117 

9. Last Years, - 122 

10. Local Sketches, ----- 126 

11. Personnel, ------ 139 

12. Afterwards (1860-90), - - - 149 

Native Americanism. 


T OOKING back, from the threshold 
■*— ' of a new century, at the move- 
ments of Nativism and anti-Catholic- 
ism which transpired in the United 
States during the period 1835-60, we 
can feel little surprise in the premises. 
The mighty immigrations of the nine- 
teenth century jostled the" settled col- 
onists of the seventeenth and* eigh- 
teenth centuries, established here in a 
political and industrial ascendancy. A 
total of over five million immigrants 
landed on our shores up to 1850; a to- 
tal of nearly twenty million up to 
1900. At the close of the century ov- 


er ten million foreign bom persons are 
residents of the United States, and 
more than twenty-six million* of the 
sixty-six million white inhabitants are 
of foreign parentage; making it quite 
certain that a majority of the Ameri- 
cans of today are descendants of fore- 
fathers who came here since Jefferson 
was president — the old Americans of 
Revolutionary lineage being outnum- 
bered by the children of ancestors who 
were not here when Washington lived. 
So mighty an invasion, peaceable 
though it was, could not transpire 
without much collision and many read- 
justments. The arrival in our large 
cities of thousands of immigrants, 
differing in race and religion from the 
native inhabitants, created conditions 
for social and political compromise. 
The Irish, for instance, while exhibit- 
ing a capacity to assimilate their 
neighbors, and sometimes (as in the 
case of the Norman and English set- 
tlers in Ireland) to make them "more 

♦ By the census of 1900 more than half 
the people of foreign parentag-e in this 
countrj- are of non-English speaking races. 
More than half, too, are in race neither 
Teutonic 'nor Anglo-Saxon. 



Irish than the Irish themselves" — also 
have, for some reason or other, excited 
antagonisms more bitter than assailed 
any other race of immigrants.f 

In the sequel, Nativism met with ut- 
ter defeat in all its cherished conten- 
tions ; yet substantially the victory was 
on the side of the Americans of the 
older lineage. There was always a 
larger-viewed element among them dis- 
posed to welcome immigi*ation to 
this country as "the asyhim of the op- 
pressed;" to see in the imported 
brawn of the Irish and German, mater- 
ial for national enrichment — the in- 
dustrial army needed for the develop- 

t Scisco, in his "Histor>' of Political Na- 
tivism in New York," says (ch. I.): "An 
anonymous writer to the press touched on 
the truth when he complained of the Irish 
Catholics that 'they are men, who having 
professed to become Americans by accept- 
ing our terms of naturalization, do yet, in 
direct contradiction to their professions, 
clan together as a separate interest and 
retain their foreign appellation.' No bet- 
ter statement of Nativist complaint could 
have been made." Yet to a large extent 
this going apart of the Irish was but na- 
tural, in view of the contemptuous manner 
in which the "nativist" Americans treated 
them, ridiculing their appearance, their 
country and their religion. 


ment of the country. History, too, re- 
cords no more notable instance of spee- 
dy and complete assimilation of a vast 
influx of population. The social, polit- 
ical and educational institutions of 
the Americans Qf'feevol^tionai'y line- 
age survived and absorbed and won ov- 
er the mighty army of immigrants, 
and welded all. elements- into a unified 

There never was any deep-seated an- 
tipathy to foreigners, as such, in this 
country. Nativism in its restricted 
sense (dislike of European immigrants 
on account of their birth) was always 
more or less accidental and sporadic. 
It is usual in discussing the genesis 
of the Native-American movement to 
refer to the Alien acts of 1798 as one 
of the first manifestations of this feel- 
ing, or to the mythical order of Wash- 
ington at Valley Forge: "Put none 
but Americans on guard tonight." 

That which gave !N ative- American- 
ism its real strength and animus, how- 
ever, was anti-Catholicism;:}: and 

% Brownson in his Quarterly Re\'iew for 
January 1845, in a survey of Native Ameri- 
canism, says that the reaJ objection to the 



the roots of this feeling lie far back in 
colonial days. The colonists carried 
the "No Popery" sentiment from their 
English homes. Founded on sectarian 
lines, the colonies naturally were more 
deeply tinctm-ed with this feeling 
than was England herself; and cir- 
cumstances, such as warfare with the 
French Catholics on the north and 
west, and with the Spanish Catholics 
in Florida, deepened the sentiment. 
One reason that the French-Canadians 
did not join with the American colon- 
ies in revolt against England was their 
sense of being fairly treated, by the 
English, in their religious interests; 
and although the continental congress 
sent a Catholic priest§ among its 
emissaries to them, with proffers of an 
equal partnership and independent 
statehood, they distrusted colonial big- 
otry. France's providential assistance 
to the struggling colonies, the presence 
of her Catholic soldiers with their af- 

foreigner lay deeper than the accident of 
birth. "The party is truly an anti-Catho- 
lic party." 

§ This was Rev. John Carroll after- 
wards the first Catholic bishop of the 
United States. 



fable chaplains and courteous officers, 
remained a liberalizing memory with 
the Revolutionary generation. 

From 1780 to 1830— a period of fifty 
years — the No Popery sentiment slept 
with but little awakening. The brief 
crusade against aliens during the lat- 
ter part of Adams' administration was 
strictly incidental to the division be- 
tween the parties — the Jeffersonian 
party, as the friend of France, having 
the adhesion naturally of all the 
French, Irish and Scotch immigrants 
of that time. The Alien act which had 
extended the period of residence re- 
quired for naturalization to fourteen 
years, was repealed in 1802, and the 
five years' requirement of residence re- 
stored. The demand made by the 
Hartford Convention (1814-15), that 
aliens be debarred from civil office|i 
may have been suggested by the 
enthusiasm with which the Irish im- 
migrants hailed the war of 1812 — so 
unpopular with New England. British 
Minister Foster, who had labored to 
prevent this war, said that among the 

II This was one of the seven amend- 
ments to the constitution proposed by the 
Hartford Convention. 



congressmen who voted to declare war 
were six members of the Society of 
United Irishmen.** 

There was really little ground for 
alarm in the number of immigrants 
which reached our shores in the de- 
cades ending with 1840. Up to 1820 
foreigners came to America at the 
rate of 10,000 a year. From 1821 to 
1830, inclusive, 143,439 landed. From 
1831 to 1840, the immigration increas- 
ed to a total of nearly 600,000, or about 
three per cent, of the total population 
(seventeen millions) in 1840. From 
1840-50 (principally in the last half of 
the decade) 1,700,000 immigrants ar- 
rived, or seven per cent, of the popula- 
tion in 1850. The percentage of the 
foreign born population in the decades 
prior to 1850 was considerably less 
than it has been since the close of the 
Civil War. In 1850 the foreign born 
element was 9.7 per cent, of the whole 
population. During the period 1860- 
1900 it has varied between 13 and 14 
per cent. 

The really alarming symptom was 

** See Alexander Johnston's article on 
"The American Party," in the "American 
Cyclopaedia of Politics." 



tLe large proportion of Catholics 
among the iramigrants. More than a 
third of the immigrants for the de- 
cades ending 1830 and 1840 were from 
Ireland, and nearly one-half of the 
1,700,000 who landed from 1841-50 
were Irish. More than a half, and 
probably nearly three-fifths, of the im- 
migrants up to 1860 were Catholics. 

It is probable that the English "No- 
Popery" agitation (1815-29), which 
antagonized the movement for Catho- 
lic emancipation in Ireland and Eng- 
land, had some influence in alarming 
the more sectarian portion of the 
American public. The opposition to 
Catholic emancipation in England nec- 
essarily reverted to the position of 
Elizabeth's and Cromwell's time — that 
the Catholic religion was not entitled 
to toleration — that it was a political 
danger — that it inculcated a divided 
allegiance, etc. This argument was 
adopted in America. The pulpit 
alarmist could point to new object les- 
sons, up to this time unfamiliar to the 
American population: bishops (there 
were only ten American Catholic bish- 
ops in 1833), cathedrals (rather unpre- 


tentious affairs), sisterhoods in a pecu- 
liar garb and convents or nunneries. 

A consciousness of this change in 
public feeling is shown in some pas- 
sages Tvhich occur in the pastoral is- 
sued in 1833 by the Catholic bishops 
on the occasion of their second pro- 
vincial council. They refer to the cal- 
umnies current in the press. "We no- 
tice with regret," they say, "a spirit 
exhibited by some of the conductors 
of the press engaged in the interest of 
those brethren separated from our 
communion, which has, within a few 
years, been more unkind and unjust 
in our regard. Not only do they assail 
us and our institutions in a style of 
vituperation and offence. * * but 
they have even denounced you as en- 
emies of the republic, etc." 

The first outbreak of nativism oc- 
curred in 1834 — the burning of the 
TJrsuline convent at Charlestown, near 
Boston. In 1833, one Rebecca Reed 
had left this institution and told such 
tales of harsh treatment that when, in 
the following year. Miss Harrison 
(Sister Mary John), left the same con- 
vent in a dazed and hysterical condi- 
tion, the public became excited. She 


suifered from nervous prostration 
caused by overwork in preparing her 
pupils for an exhibition. Her brother 
induced her to return to the convent, 
where she was placed under a physi- 
cian's care. On August 9, 1834, u 
mob composed of the lower element 
of Boston's population, surrounded the 
the convent, and, although Miss Har- 
rison came forth and assured them 
that she was not detained against her 
will, they ransacked and burned the 
building. The better class of Boston 
citizens held an indignation meeting 
in Fanueil hall, at which the mayor 
presided, and the outrage was de- 
nounced. The perpetrators were put 
on trial, but weakly prosecuted and 
consequently acquitted. The sisters 
never obtained compensation for their 
loss of property, although a coramit- 
tee of the Legislature subsequently 
recommended this act of public jus- 

In 1836 a book was published which 
has been termed "The Uncle Tom's 
Cabin of Know-ISI^othingism. Maria 
Monlv, a girl of evil character, had 
been placed by her mother in a Magda- 
len asylum at Montreal, under the 


charge of a Catholic sisterhood. Aid- 
ed by a former paramour, she escaped 
and shortly fell into the company of 
one Rev. J. J. Slocum, who, with oth- 
ers, concocted a sensational and ob- 
scene narrative of her experience in 
the assumed capacity of a nun. This 
book was brought out with Howe & 
Bates as nominal publishers — these 
men being employees of Harper Broth- 
ers (which publishing firm, it is said, 
really stood behind the enterprise, but: 
was reluctant to assume direct respon- 
sibility). Maria Monk's "disclosures" 
had an immense sale, exceeding that 
of any American book up to that time 
published. Ministers recommended 
it and churches feted its author. She 
was taken into the bosom of Christian 
homes, where, after a time, her de- 
pravity was perceived. It is to be re- 
gretted that one so useful to evangel- 
icalism should have been allowed to 
sink in the social scale so that she af- 
terwards died in a public institution. 
The parties to this literary enterprise 
began litigation among themselves for 
the profits. A party of Protestant 
clergymen visited Montreal to verify- 
the "awful disclosures" and pro- 


nounced them a fabrication. Colonel 
W. L. Stone, editor of The New York 
Commercial Advertiser, also made a 
thorough investigation, visiting the 
Hotel Dieu at Montreal from cellar 
to garret. "The result," he wrote, "is 
the most thorough conviction that Ma- 
ria Monk is an arrant impostor, that 
she never was a nun, etc." 

These two early manifestations of 
anti-Catholicism are particularly dwelt 
upon because they are prototypes of its 
campaign tactics in the following 
years. Edward Wilson, in 1845, Ga- 
vazzi and the "Angel Gabriel" in 1853- 
5, and a score of others followed in the 
line of Maria Monk; and what Prof- 
essor John B. McMaster calls the 
"riotous career of Know-Nothings," 
was a repetition of the convent burn- 
ing of 1834. The ex-priest, the es- 
caped nun and the incendiary led the 
way, as the radical exponents of a 
cause, which nevertheless numbered 
among its followers some respectable 

In the year following 1830, a new ex- 
uberance overtook the electoral life of 
the American people. They talked pol- 
itics with vigor and gesticulation ; they 


interrupted each others political meet- 
ings; they jostled each other at the 
polls. It became part of the election 
day program for each party to be rep- 
resented at the voting precincts by 
partisans, loud of lungs and strong of 
arm. The native American had prac- 
ticed all the tricks and frauds of poli- 
tics, such as intimidating voters, stuf- 
fing ballot boxes, repeating and tam- 
pering with the returns, long before 
the foreigner was instructed in these 
processes. In the history of the Aboli- 
tion moveinent, we have an illustratioa 
of the riotous spirit of the American 
polities of that generation. In 183.5, 
Thompson, an Abolition advocate, was 
mobbed in Boston and forced to leave 
the city. Garrison, too, felt the wrath 
of "a broadcloth mob." November 7, 
1837, Lovejoy, an Abolitionist editor, 
was murdered at Alton, 111., because he 
refused to suspend liis publication. 
May 17, 1838, Pennsylvania hall, the 
Abolitionist headquarters at Philadel- 
phia, was burned to the ground by the 
intolerant opponents of the anti-slave- 
ry movement. And thus on to 1860, 
did Abolitionism meet with disorderly 
and riotcms opposition. The party fac- 


tions quarrelled ■with each other, Whigs 
assailed Whigs, and Democrats as- 
sailed Democrats. The expression ''Lo- 
co Focos" applied to one of the Demo- 
cratic factions in Xew York, originated 
over the incident of an interrupted meet- 
ing (October 29, 1835). Emissaries of 
one Democratic faction turned off tho 
lights at a meeting held by another fac- 
tion. Immediately the engloomed Dem- 
ocrats, who had prepared for the emer- 
gency beforehand, took from their 
pockets the new Loco Foco match which 
had just come into use, and relighted 
their meeting. 

Know-Xothingism ran its course 
at a time when this sort of 
exuberant politics had reached its cli- 
max. The Know-Xothings were not 
the inventors, but they carried the 
method, especially in Baltimore, to its 
worst excesses.* 

From a survey of disorder of this 
kind, we are led to wonder where the 

* Volunteer fire companies, which existed 
In the principal cities of the United States 
at this time, -were largely responsible for 
street disorders. There was an intense 
rivalry between the companies, and some- 
times fires were started on purpose to 
bring the rival firemen into collision. 



American notion of free speech de- 
veloped; yet it did evolve. If at first 
a mere glittering generality; if more 
honored in the breach than in the ob- 
servance; if more as a pretence than 
a practice, it was nevertheless finally 
fixed in the customs and principles of 
the people. 




T^ HE first political flurry of Nativism 
•*• in the local politics of New York 
seems to date from the year 1835. It is 
associated with the name of Samuel F. 
B. Morse, the inventor of the tele- 
graph. Early in 1834 he publisLed 
twelve letters in The New York Obser- 
ver (a weekly paper), over the signa- 
ture of "Brutus." These were after- 
wards republished under the title "Eor- 
eign Conspiracy Against the United 
States," a book much read up to 1860. 
It appears that while in Europe dur- 
ing 1829-32, Morse had heard of the 
Leopold Foundation, an Aid Society es- 
tablished in Austria to heli) with finan- 
c'cA assistance th^ missionary and poor 


Catholic churches of the New World. 
This was the most material fact in the 
clangers Morse discussed. The "Bru- 
tus Letters" had an important local 
influence. The Irish immigrants in 
the city were gathering antagonisms, 
chiefly on account of their religion, 
and the "Brutus Letters" gave form 
to the argument. A Protestant asso- 
ciation was founded to antagonize the 
Catholics, and it seems that on March 
13, 1835, one of its meetings on Broad- 
way was disturbed by Irish interrup- 
tion, perhaps after the fashion com- 
mon at that time of counter demon- 
strations at public meetings; but rath- 
er imprudent tactics for foreigners. 

In the fall election a Nativist com- 
mittee put lip Colonel Monroe (a neph- 
ew of ex-President Monroe), for Con- 
gress, and the Whigs endorsed him. 
But the Democrats, who cast tlu-ee- 
fifths of the vote, elected their ticket. 
In the spring election of 1836, the Na- 
tivists nominated Samuel F. B. Morse 
for mayor, and he received about 1-, 
500 votes out of a total of over 26,- 
000 cast. A Democratic mayor was 
elected. The Nativists tried a separ- 
ate ticket again in the fall elections, 


with no better success; but in the 
spring of 1837 they put up Aaron Clark 
for mayor, and at the same time drew 
up an address denouncing the Irish. 
The ^^Tiig party,f which had all along 
exhibited a kindly interest in the Xa- 
livist doings, endorsed Clark, and he 
was elected by 3,300 plurality. The af- 
fair was treated as a TVhig victory, and 
the Nativists disappeared as a separ- 
ate political activity. Nativist senti- 
ment continued, however, to exhibit 
itself in petitions to the state legisla- 
ture and to Congress, praying for a 
registry law and an extension of the 
period of residence required^ for nat- 
uralization to twenty-one years. 

In other portions of the country the 
same sentiment manifested itself. A 
native American movement is said to 
have organized at Germantown, near 
Philadelphia, in 1837, growing out of 

t In New York city the Irish vote was 
cast largely with the Democratic party. 
Admiration for AndreTT Jackson, the hero 
of Nev^.' Orleans a.nQ a man of Irish line- 
age, had drawn the vanguards of Irish 
immigration close in sympathy v»-ith the 
Democratic party. The politicians of that 
party did not fail to use every means to 
attach the adopted citizen to their organi- 



an election episode. 

At Boston on Sunday, June 11, 1837, 
an engine company returning from t-. 
fire came into collision vrith an Irisli 
funeral procession. The ensuing trou- 
ble, which is known in the annals of 
Boston as "the Broad street riot," 
was participated in by fifteen thousand, 
persons. The Irish quarter was sacked, 
and though there were no fatalities^ 
many persons were severely wounded. 
The intervention of the mayor at the 
head of a military company quelled 
the riot. As a result of this affair, the 
fire department was reorganized (Win- 
sor's Boston HI, 245). 

Boston had a Xativist mayor, Thom- 
as Aspinwall Davis, in 1845, as a re- 
sult of a triangular contest. In the 
following year the control of the city 
reverted to the 'WTiigs. 

During the presidential campaign of 
1840, the Whig central committee of 
Maryland was moved to formally re- 
pudiate all sympathy with the Xativist 
journalism of General Duff Green, ed- 
itor of The Baltimore Pilot. The com- 
mittee declared that "the native and 
natural citizens are equally entitled to 
the blessings of our government." Ma- 


ryland was, politically, a close state. 
The Whigs carried the state at the 
ensuing election. Similar action was 
taken by a large Whig public meeting 
at Louisville, Ky. (October 27, 1840). 
Its resolutions recited that "a newspa- 
per called The Louisville Tribune, re- 
flecting on the Catholic persuasion, 
of a most anti-republican character, re- 
cently established in this city, profess- 
ing to be a Whig paper, has published 
editorials and a communication, one 
of which is signed 'Native American,' 
etc. The Whigs as a party, therefore, 
utterly repudiate and denounce The 
Louisville Tribune." (McClusky Poli- 
tical Text Book, pp. 681-2.) 

New Orleans felt the impulse also. 
The "Address of the Louisiana Native 
American association," issued in 1839, 
contains this rather ornate passage: 

"So long as foreigners entered in 
moderate numbers into the states and 
territories of the United States and be- 
came imperceptibly merged and incor- 
porated into the great body of the 
American people, and were gradually 
imbued and indoctrinated into the 
principles of virtue and patriotism, 
which formerly animated the whole 


American community, so long their ad- 
vent was an advantage and a benefit to 
our coranmnity. But when we see 
hordes and hecatombs (sic) of beings 
in human forms, but destitute of any 
intellectual aspirations — the outcast 
and offal of society, the pauper, the va- 
grant and the convict — transported in 
myriads to our shores, reeking with the 
accumulated crimes of the whole civ- 
ilized and savage world, and inducted 
by our laws into equal rights, immuni- 
ties and privileges with the noble na- 
tive inhabitants of the United States, 
v/e can no longer contemplate it with 
supine indifference. We feel con- 
strained to warn our countrymen that 
unless some steps are taken to protect 
our institutions from these accumu- 
lated inroads on oiir national character, 
from the indiscriminate immigration 
and naturalization of foreigners, in 
vain have our predecessors, whether na- 
tive or naturalized, toiled and suffered 
and fought and bled and died to 
achieve our liberties and establish our 
hallowed institutions." 

In 1841, a state convention was called 
in Louisiana to form an American Re- 
publican party. The convention fa- 



vored the exclusion of foreigners from 
office. It exerted some influence in 
the succeeding municipal election in 
Xew Orleans.]] 

New York city, in 1840, had a pop- 
ulation of 312,700, of whom not over a 
third were foreign born. The Catho- 
lic population of the city possessed 
eight churches and numbered perhaps 
70,000. Philadelphia, in the same 
year, had a population of 258,000, of 
whom less than sixty thousand were 
Catholics. (Bishop Kenrick, in 1840, 
placed the entire Catholic population 
of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Wes- 
tern Xew Jersey at 120,000.) Boston, 
with a population in 1844 of about 
120,000, had less than 30,000 Catholic 
residents. It seemed strange, in view 
of what has come to pass in later years, 
that the presence in these larger cities 
of a foreign population not exceeding 
a fourth of the whole population, 
should have occasioned alarm in the 

II Congressman Eustis, of Louisiana, in 
the House of Representatives, January 7, 
1856. claimed that Louisiana was the first 
State whose Legislature called for an ex- 
tension of the term of residence required 
for naturalization. 



minds of Americans during the '40's. 
Since these days, the increased tide of 
immigration has foreignized, by actual 
majorities (counting all of foreign par- 
entage), most of our large cities and 
even some of our western states, with- 
out the slightest danger to our insti- 
tutions or any similar alarm to our 

Had the foreigners and Catholics re- 
mained quiescent, Nativism might have 
run its course as a milder protest. But 
this was not to be. The American at- 
mosphere v:ould not suffer any element 
long to demean itself as a subject 
class. The colonization of the nine- 
teenth century challenged, in the name 
of religious equality, the Protestant as- 
cendancy established by the colonists 
of the seventeenth century in the laws, 
and customs, and opinions of the sev- 
eral states. In Massachusetts, long af- 
ter the adoption of the Federal con- 
stitution, Congregationialism was vir- 
tually the religion of the state. In the 
Carolinas a Catholic could not hold of- 
fice. Other states, like New Hamp- 
shire, had similar sectarian provisions 
in their constitutions and statutes. 

Immigration endangered this ascen- 


dancy, and as soon as that fact was ap- 
parent, the Protestant pnlpit became 
alarmed. The particular issue in 
which this clash of forces came had 
reference to the schools. Under the 
New York school law of 1812, denom- 
inational schools received a pro rata 
share of the school fund raised by the 
state. But in New York city a pri- 
vate corporation called the Public 
School society, gradually absorbed all 
the public funds for that city. It 
claimed to be an unsectarian body, and 
declared that it excluded positive re- 
ligious instruction from its schools. 
The Protestant Scriptures, however, 
were read, and in some cases comment- 
ed upon. The Catholics presented a pe- 
tition to the Common council, and 
Bishop Hughes spoke in its behalf, 
praying that eight Catholic schools be 
granted a share of the school fimd 
(October, 1840). The Catholics do not 
appear to have asked the exclusion of 
the Bible, but prejudice was stirred 
upon the representation that such was 
their purpose. 

The Common council, which was 
Democratic, rejected the bishop's peti- 
tion after a full hearing, in which the 



Public School society fought strenu- 
ously for its monopoly. The Catholics 
thereupon carried their grievances to 
the state Legislature at Albany. Wil- 
liam H. Seward was then governor of 
New York. He had expressed himself 
in favor of the establishment of schools 
where the foreigners, now debarred 
from public education by religious pre- 
judices, might be instructed by teach- 
ers of their own race and faith. For 
twenty years (1840-60) this idea of Se- 
ward's made him the target of the poli- 
tical anti-Catholics in New York state, 
and he reciprocated that antagonism by 
holding the major element of the Whig 
party intact as a bulwark against the 
successive waves of Nativist and 
Know-Nothing assimilation.* 

The Catholic appeal to the Legisla- 

• Colonel A. K. McClure, in his "Political 
Recollections," a&serts that Sev.^ard's atti- 
tude on the school question lost him the 
nomination to the Presidency in 1860; that 
the leaders of the Republican party in 
Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana were fav- 
orable to Seward personally, but on ac- 
count of his stand in the New York school 
controversy they could not hope to attract 
to his candidacy the anti-slavery Know- 
Nothing vote in those states, which were 
regarded at the time as doubtful states. 



ture again stirred up a Xativist par- 
ty, Samuel F. B. Morse once more oc- 
cupying the leadership. All local par- 
ties having taken sides with the Pub- 
lic School society in the nomination 
of candidates for the Legislature in 
1841, Bishop Hughes decided to put up 
a Catholic ticket— the so-called ''Car- 
roll Hall" ticket. He did this against 
the vociferous objections- of the entire 
local press, Democratic as well as 
TThig. The result! of the election was 
as follows: 

Whig ticket 15,980 

Democratic ticket 15,690 

Catholic ticket 2,200 

Nativist ticket 470 

Anti-Slavery ticket 120 

It was said that Bishop Hughes 
(himself, if anything, a Whig), had 
sought to show to the Democrats that 
the Catholics held the balance of pow- 
er in New York city as between the 
V»"liig and the Democratic parties. He 
succeeded in the demonstration, at 
least to the extent of defeating the 
Democratic ticket, which would other- 
wise have won. But it seems that on- 
ly a half or a third of the Catholic 

t See New York Tribune, Nov. 12, 1841. 


voters supported the Carroll Hall tick- 
et. In a Catholic population of 70,- 
000, there were at that time probably 
from 5,000 to 7,000 Catholic voters in 
New York city.|| 

The following year the Legislature 
at Albany, doubtless through the in- 
fluence of Governor Seward, extended 
to New York city the provisions of the 
general act relating to common schools, 
thus obliterating the private Public 
School society corporation, and putting 
the state and the people in its place as 
a controlling power over the city 
schools. This was a victory, in prin- 
ciple, for Bishop Hughes, but it 
brought no funds to his parish schools. 
The JvTativist element of all parties 
combined for some years in electing a 
union school ticket. 

II This Is the only instance in American 
politics of a Catholic ticket at the polls. It 
seemed necessary at the time to clear the 
political atmosphere. Of course it did not 
lack provocation either, in the existence of 
a menacing' anti-Catholic movement. 




' I ^ HE year 1843 saw a new and better 
-^ organized spurt of Nativism in 
New York city. The episode that served 
to arouse it was the favor shown by the 
Democratic party to the Irish, in re- 
turn for Irish support in the April 
(1843) elections. Not only were pet- 
ty offices liberally bestowed, but market 
licenses were given to foreign-born 
tradesnien. Heretofore these had been 
(as in the case of school control), a 
species of Nativist monopoly. 

The American Republican party was 
formed,§ and it came into the fall elec- 

§ The follovN'ing appears among- the decla- 
rations of the Nativist meeting held in 
New, York, June 10, 1843: 

"Resolved, That we as Americans will 



tioiis with a statement of principles, 
among which was the following : 

"That through this school law [the 
legislative enactment of April, 1842] 
there has been a preconcerted determin- 
ation, followed up by an actual attempt 
in the Fourth ward, to put out of our 
schools the Protestant Bible, and to 
piit down the whole Protestant religion 

never consent to allow the government es- 
tablished by our Revolutionary forefathers 
to pass into the hands of foreigners, and 
that while we open the door to the op- 
pressed of every nation and offer a home 
and an asylum, we reserve to ourselves the 
right of administering the government in 
conformity with th© principles laid down 
by those who have committed it to our care." 
From this time on we hear much about 
the degeneracy of Am^erican local politics, 
due, so it is alleged, to the influence of the 
foreign-born voters. There has always 
been a strong suspicion that this opinion 
was merely th'e result of Nativist preju- 
dice. Bryce (Volume II. of his "American 
Commonwealth." page 241), says: "Never- 
theless the immigi-ants are not so largely 
responsible for the faults of American poli- 
tics as a stranger might be led, by the 
language of many Americans, to suppol*. 
There is a disposition in the United States 
to use them, and especially the Irish, much 
as the cat is used in the kitchen, to ac- 
count for broken plates and food which 
disappears. The cities have, no doubt, suf- 
fered from the immigrants— but New York 
was not an Eden before the Irish came." 


[therein] as being sectarian." (Journal 
of Commerce, November 4, 1843.) 

The platform further demanded that 
foreign-born persons should not be nat- 
uralized imtil they had resided here 
twenty-one years. The Nativist party 
polled 8,690 votes in the November 
election out of a total of 37,000. Its 
strength appears to have been drawn 
quite eqiTally from both parties. Ham- 
mond, in his "Political History of New 
York," avers that "the wealth, talent 
and respectability of the community" 
went into its ranks. In the ensuing 
election (April, 1844), the Nativist 
party selected James Harper, of the 
firm of Harper Brothers, publishers, as 
its candidate for mayor. Both Demo- 
crats and Whigs made their customary 
nominations; but tLere was a tacit un- 
derstanding among the Whigs that 
their support should be thrown largely 
to Harper (who had been a Whig) . 
Harper was electe I. The vote stood : 
Harper, 24,510; Coddington (Dem.), 
20,538; Franldin (Vv^hig), 5,297. The 
Journal of Commerce ^ April 12, 1884), 
estimated that the native American vote 
was made up of 14,100 Whigs, 9,700 
Democrats and 601 new voters. 


Harper's election was the occasion 
for a revival of the former alliance be- 
tween the Whigs and the Nativist. In 
the fall election of 1S44 (which was al- 
so a presidential election), the Whigs 
threw their strength solidly to the iSTa- 
tiyist local legislative ticket, but the 
Nativists did not fully reciprocate. 
The Nativist legislative ticket was 
elected, 27,440 to 26,230 (Dem.), but 
Polk, the Democratio candidate for 
president, carried New York city by 
several thousand plurality over Clay. 
Seward hcA openly disapproved of the 
Whig alliance with the Nativists, and 
this experience strengthened the posi- 
tion he had taken. The Whigs proceeded 
to drop the Nativists. At the city elec- 
tion in April, 1845, Harper wa 3 defeat- 
ed and a Democratic mayor elected, 
the poll showing 24,210 Democratic 
votes, 17,480 Nativist and 7,030 Whig. 
The Nativists were almost completely 
wiped off the official roste:-, electing 
but one of their candidates, a consta- 
ble. They continued to put up local 
tickets until April, 1847, but their 
vote diminished from 8,370 in Novem- 
ber, 1845, to 2,080 in April, 1847. 
They put up a state ticket in 1846, 


whicli received an aggregate of 6,170 

Bishop Hughes in an editorial pub- 
lished February 3, 1844, in a weekly 
paper. The Freeman's Journal, regard- 
ed as the organ of the diocese, had al- 
luded to the new party as a movement 
in 'local politics." "Many will prob- 
ably join this party, who are really 
friends of foreigners," he said, " but 
who, for the moment, will coalesce with 
their enemies to accomplish some local 
purpose, of which foreigners form no 
part. The true issue is for the loaves 
and fishes of office, and as but a small 
share of these, if any, falls to the lot 
of foreigners, so, notwithstanding the 
abuse of their name, they may consid- 
er themselves as scarcely interested in 
the quarrel. The true issue is between 
natives and natives; there let it re- 

The school question was also one of 
the mainsprings of the Nativist move- 
ment in Philadelphia. In this connec- 
tion it may be remarked that in the 
many subsequent clashes with Protes- 
tant ascendancy, of which the New 
York and Philadelphia instances were 


among the earliest, the Catholic con- 
tention was, ultimately, almost every- 
where successful, because it was 
grounded on the logic of religious 

If the Maine supreme court in 1854 
(Donohue vs. Richards) decided that 
Catholic pupils in the public schools 
might be compelled to read the King 
James Bible, the victory of sectarian- 
ism was only temporary; the decision 
of the Wisconsin supreme court in 
1890 (Edgerton Bible case) brought to 
a climax a series of educational rul- 
ings, both in law and practice, which 
have quite generally excluded the Bible 
from the public schools and more or less 
eliminated the offensive tone to Catho- 
lics of many of the text books, against 
which there were mild protests in 1840. 

In November, 1842, Bishop Kenrick 
of Philadelphia, while not asking that 
the Bible be excluded from the public 
schools of that city, petitioned the 
School Board that Catholic children be 
allowed the liberty of using the Catho- 
lic version where Bible reading was 

In January, 1843, the Philadelphia 
School Board voted that no children 


whose parents objected to Bible read- 
ing be obliged to be present at Bible 
exercises. Out of this matter a con- 
troversy ensued, and Bishop Kenrick, 
on March 12, 1844, issued a statement 
that "Catholics have not asked that the 
Bible be excluded from the public 

The Philadelphia riots of May, lS4r4, 
are connected with this episode, at 
least in the opinion of the grand jury 
called to investigate the affair. The 
grand jury attributed the riots to "the 
efforts of a portion of the community 
to exclude the Bible from the public 
school." The Catholics denied this 
and claimed the jury was packed. But 
the charge, even as it stands, would 
not in our day seem to justify or pro- 
voke rioting or incendiarism. The dis- 
order arose over some collision in the 
streets as a Xative-American meeting 
was dispersing before a rain storm. 
The riots which followed lasted for 
three days. Though the Mayor was 
knocked down in one of the encounters, 
it is probably true, as the Catholics al- 
leged, that there was half-heartedness, 
if not actual collusion, in the way the 
authorities met the disorder. The mob 


moved upon the Irish quarter in Ken- 
sington and burned twenty-nine 
houses. Next day two Catholic 
churches, St. Michael's and St. Au- 
gustine's, were destroyed and a convent 
set ablaze. A number of lives were 
lost. Bishop Kenrick issued a card 
suspending "the exercise of public wor- 
ship in the Catholic churches which 
still remained until it can be resumed 
with safety and we can enjoy our con- 
stitutional rights to v.-orship God ac- 
cording to the dictates of our consci- 

This was, at least, furnishing sub- 
ject of meditation for the thoughtful. 
The May riots were succeeded in July 
by another riotous outbreak. The Na- 
tivist sentiment profited by the public 
feeling against the foreigners, which 
had been aroused by the events of May. 
Their societies were nov.- established in 
every ward of the city. On July 4, 
1844, they organized an elaborate par- 
ade in which 4,500 men and boys par- 
ticipated. During the succeeding 
days a report became current that anus 
were hidden in St. Philip Neri's 
(Catholic) church. There was founda- 
tion for this report too. Catholics had 


feared that the church burning of May 
might be repeated. They intended to 
defend their property. The collision 
of July was principally between the 
militia and the nativist mobs. It re- 
sulted in seventeen deaths. 

Nativism remained for some years 
a political power in Philadelphia. 
The local leader of the party 
was Lewis C. Levin, by birth a 
South Carolinian, a man of stout 
build and florid eloquence. For 
three terms he sat as a representative 
of the first Pennsylvania district in 
Congress where he made many impas- 
sioned anti-Catholic speeches. Levin 
died in 1860. Throughout the country 
generally, however, the Philadelphia 
riots gave Nativism a set back. The 
popular verdict blamed the anti-Cath- 
olics. General Cadwalader, who had 
commanded the soldiers during the 
riots, some years afterwards stated in 
a public letter that the Nativists came 
to be generally known as the "the 
church burners," in the epithet parlance 
of the day.* 

*Scisco, "Political Nativism in New 
York," page 47, says: "The Philadelphia 
riotS', nevertheless, lost much sympathj' to 



In New York, Bishop Hughes, ad- 
monished by these events, took legal 
advice as to whether compensation 
could be obtained for property destroy- 
ed by rioters. Being advised in the 
negative, he said: "Then the law in- 
tends that citizens should defend their 
own property." He issued an fextra 
edition of The Freeman's Journal, 
calling on Catholics to defend their 
churches with their lives. The Native- 
Amei-icans, who had called a public 
meeting, revoked their call in view of 
thie action. Bishop O'Gorman ("His- 
tory Catholic Church," p. 375) tells us 
that a large Irish society in New York, 
with divisions in every district, re- 
solved that, in case a single Catholic 
church were destroyed, to fire buildings 
in all quarters and involve the city in 
a great conflagration. 

Though the field of its action was 
mostly confined to local politics, the 
Native-American movement had some 
results in the broader arena (1830-45). 

"\i\liile most of the foreign-born vote 
was Democratic, the Whigs were not 

the cause of Nativism, and their occur- 
rence was deeply regretted." 



without a share of it. Bishop Hughes, 
for instance, tells us that his first vote 
was cast for Henry Clay. In the cam- 
paign of 1840, the Democratic leaders 
of New York corralled almost the sol- 
id naturalized vote by representing thai 
Harrison was opposed to the "adopted 
citizen." This provoked Whig resent- 
ment. "Do we not hear of the organ- 
ization of a party against the Catho- 
lics ?" wrote Seward to a friend in 1840. 
Some of the "Whig leaders, like Clay, 
Scott and Fillmore, undoubtedly sym- 
pathized with the principles of the Xa- 
tive-American party. In 1844 Clay 
wrote to a friend: "There is a general 
tendency among the Whigs to unfurl 
the banner of the Xative-Americau 
party" (Von Hoist II., 524). Scott in 
The National Intelligencer (December, 
1844), advocated the practical exclu- 
sion of all foreign-bom persons from 
the suffrage.! Later he claimed that 
the iLexican war had removed the cata- 
ract from liis eyes. (Yon Hoist, lY., 

tBro-vSTison in his Quarterly Re\aew for 
January, 1845, refers disparagingly to a 
speech by Webster at Faneuil hall, in 
which he thinks that this man of "trans- 
cendant abilities" pandered to the Xati- 
vist feeling. 




New York was a pivotal state in the 
Presidential election held in Novem- 
ber, 1844. Polk polled just 5,106 more 
votes in New York than Clay, and this 
gave him New York's thirty-six elec- 
toral votes, and the Presidency. Mil- 
lard Fillmore, in a letter to Clay, at- 
tributed the loss of New York to 
Catholic defection from the "Whigs, oc- 
casioned by the affiliation of Native- 
Americanism with that party. Anti- 
Masonry had deprived Clay of the 
Presidential nomination in 1840, and 
between Native-Americanism and the 
Liberal party he lost the election in 
1844. But the resentment of the natu- 
ralized voters was not all due, proper- 
ly, to the "Whigs. The aid of a fair 
percentage of the Democratic party al- 
ways went to the proscriptive ticket. 
In the fall election of 1844 this Demo- 
cratic contingent, while voting general- 
ly for the Polk electors, in Philadelphia 
and New York enabled the Native- 
Americans to elect their local tickets. 

In April, 1845, the Nativist move- 
ment claimed 48,000 members in New 
York State (of whom 18,000 were in 
New York city), 42,000 in Pennsyl- 


vania, 14,000 in Massachusetts and 
6,000 scattered in other states. 
(Kochester American, April 26, 1845). 
A convention of the Native-Americans 
convened at Philadelphia July 4, 1845, 
with 141 delegates present, represent- 
ing fourteen states. It adopted a na- 
tional platform and an address to the 
people. A second national convention 
met May 4, 1847, at Pittsburg, with 
eleven states represented. At its sec- 
ond session at Philadelphia, Septem- 
ber 10, 1847, it recommended Zachary 
Taylor for President. 

Six Native-American Congi-es;s- 
men, (four from New York and two 
from Pennsylvania) were elected to the 
Twenty-ninth Congress (1845). But one 
Native- American Congi-essman appear- 
ed in the Thirtieth Congress and ucnie 
in the Thirty-first. 

The Mexican war had come and gone 
(1846-8). A great event had set new 
currents afloat. Native-Americnnism 
began to disappear. Both parties were 
again courting the naturalized citizen 
whom the Irish famine was sending to 
our shores in vaster numbers. Candi- 
dates were found purging themselves 
from the suspicion of affiliation with 



Nativism. Even Scott, the Whig can- 
didate for President in 1852, said 
peccavi. In the lull which followed 
the prostration of the Whigs a new 
form of the old movement was, how- 
ever, starting into vigorous growth. 
This was Know-Nothingism. 


The Know-Nothing Party. 


THE Know-Xothing order was the 
outgrowth, in form and member- 
ship, of a number of nativist secret so- 
cieties, which came into being during 
the years 1845-9. In Pennsylvania, 
the order of United American Mechan- 
ics, which restricted its membership to 
native-born Americans, had considera- 
ble strength. The order of Sons of 
America, organized aboiit the year 
1845, at Philadelphia, also acquired a 
large following, and even extended its 
branches to New York. Pennsylvania 
gave birth also to the American Prot- 


estant Association, a secret benevolent 
society composed of Protestant Irish. 
This association also extended to New 
York. In 1853 it had several thousand 

The Order of United Americans was 
established in New York about the 
year 1845, and it soon became the 
strongest of the nativistifl. societies. 
At the beginning of 1847, it had about 
2,000 members, and in 1848 it had ex- 
tended to Boston and organized itself at 
points in New Jersey and Pennsylva- 
nia. Though ostensibly a social and 
beneficial society, it now began to be 
active in promoting, in a secret way, 
certain political measures^ and New 
York politicians were not slow to de- 
tect its influence. 

Meanwhile, in the spring of 1850, 
Charles B. Allen had organzied 
the order of "the Star Span- 
gled Banner," sometimes known as the 
order of "the Sons of the Sires," its 
purpose not being specifically social and 
benevolent, like the other nativist secret 
societies, but more definitely designed 
to influence, by concerted action, local 

Early in 1852, this new secrtit society 


received a large increase of member- 
ship, drawn mostly from the Order of 
United Americans. It at once began 
to take a hand in politics. And this 
was the beginning of the Know-Noth- 
ing oi'der.'^ 

Bolh the Order of United Americans 
ai.'! •"''-' Knovz-Nothing order, otherwise 
kno^vTi as the order of the Star Span- 
gled Banner, then began a career of 
rapid expansion. In 1856, the Order of 

*So far as primary sources of history 
are concerned, we have very little to aid 
us in tracing the course of the Know-Noth- 
ing movement. If even the records of so 
late a movement as the American Protec- 
tive Association have been burned (as its 
founder, H. F. Bowers, informs me), what 
can we expect as to the records of a secret 
movement of fifty years ago? Scisco (Po- 
litcal Nativism in New York, p. 255), says: 
"The great Know-Nothing order has left 
hardly a trace of itself in the way of rec- 
ords." The records of the Know-Nothing 
grand council, after passing from one 
grand secretary- to another, have disap- 
peared. The private papers of James W. 
Barker, for many years the Know-Nothing 
leader, and of Erastus Brooks, a later 
leader, cannot be found, or are unavail- 
able. Some of the records of the order 
of the United Americans were burned. 

Contemporaneous manuals and defenses 
of the American party, like the volumes of 
Whitney, Carroll and Lee, seem to con- 
ceal more than they reveal. 



United Americans had extended to six- 
teen states, and it had on its rolls sev- 
eral hundred thousand members. The 
order of the Star Spangled Banner, or 
the Know-Nothing order proper, had, 
meanwhile, far out-stripped the Order 
of United Americans. The name of 
Thomas K. Whitney is associated with 
the growth of the Order of United 
Americans. He was its grand sachem 
for the state of New York in the year 
1846, and again in 1853. He was also 
the author of a book in defense of the 
Know-Nothing movement. 

The more active political element of 
the Order of United Americans began 
to flock into the order of the Star Span- 
gled Banner during the year 1853. 
The new order began to be active in 
seeking to control party caucusses 
and party conventions. Then, after 
the old parties made the nominations, 
the order of the Star Spangled Banner 
proceeded to elect its ticket from the 
Democratic and the Whig tickets. 

November 10, 1853, The New York 
Tribune referred to the new secret influ- 
ence in politics, which had been exert- 
ing itself for some months, as "the 
Know-Nothing order." The New York 


press explained, as the reason for the 
name, the fact that members of the 
order, when questioned, professed to 
"know nothing" about it.* 

By the fall of 1853, the Know-Noth- 
ing order had organized branches in 
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, 
Connecticut and Massachusetts, and 
had extended as far west as Ohio. 

While Charles B. Allen was the 
founder, James W. Barker was the 
man most conspicuous in the up-build- 
ing of the Know-Nothing order, es- 
pecially in New York; and up to 1856 
he was its official head in that state. 
Barker had been a dry goods merchant 
in New York in the years prior to 1851. 
He threw himself into the new nativist 
movement with all the zeal and energy 
that he possessed. We are told that 

♦Lee in his "History of the American Par- 
ty," page 200 says: "Whether the Ameri- 
can Associations are reallj- secret associa- 
tions or not Is a question concerning which 
the writer pretends to know nothing." The 
new movement itself accepted in a certain 
way the "Know-Nothing" appellation. 
Thus we find one of its publications en- 
titled "The Know-Nothing Calendar and 
True American Almanac for 1856," edited 
by W. S. Tisdale, Esq.; and also "The 
Wide-Awake Gift and Know-Xothing Tok- 
en for (1855)," by 'One of 'Em.' " 



in 1859 he left New York and again 
embarked in the dry goods business in 
the city of Pittsburg. 

The Know-Nothing order was not a 
mutual aid or beneficial society, but its 
primary aim was political. It had the 
usual pass-words, grips and ritual of a 
secret society. There were three de- 
grees with appropriate obligations and 

Those inducted into the first degree 
do not appear to have been informed as 
to the name of the order. They were 
brought into "the august presence of 
Sam." Their oath recited, among oth- 
er things, "that you will not vote or 
give your influence for any man for 
any ofiice in the gift of the people, un- 
less he be an American-born citizen, 
in favor of Americans ruling America, 
nor if he be a Koman Catholic." Mem- 
bers of the first degree were not eligi- 
ble for ofiice in the order, nor on its po- 
litical tickets. Members of the second 
degree took an oath, one of the obliga- 
tions of which recited "that if it may 
be done legally, you will, when elected 
or appointed to any official station con- 
ferring on you the power to do so, 


remove all foreigners, aliens or Ro- 
man Catholics from office or place, and 
that you will, in no case, appoint such 
to any office or place in your gift; you 
do also promise and swear that this 
and all other obligations which you 
have previously taken in this order, 
shall ever be kept, through life, sacred 
and inviolate." 

These extracts are from the ritual 
said to be revised by the national coun- 
cil held in Cincinnati on November 
15, 1854. There were earlier publica- 
tions of the oaths varying in their 
texts, but quite similar in their gen- 
eral antagonism to naturalized citizens 
and Catholics* 

The third degree, as revised by the 
national council November, 1854, was 
the so-called "Union degree," pledging 
members to support the ties which bind 
together the states of the union and 
to oppose all men and measures adverse 

*The constitution and ritual of the Amer- 
ican party are publiElied in full in N. W. 
Cluskey's "Political Text Book and En- 
cyclopedia" (1858) pp. 55-68. Also in Coop- 
er's "American Politics" (1882) p. 57. Scis- 
co's account of the Know-Nothing de- 
grees and ritual is drawn largely from 
the newspapers of the daj\ 



to the union, and to vote for third or 
union degree members of the order in 
preference to all other candidates for 
political office. 

The basis of the EJaow-jSTothing or- 
ganization was the ward or district 
council. In the large cities there was 
a superior council made up of delegates 
from the ward covmcils. The "grand 
council" was the state council made up 
of three delegates from each council 
of the order within the state. The na- 
tional council, which was the supreme 
authority in the order, was made up 
of delegates from various states in 
which the order existed on ' a basis 
proportionate to the state membership. 

The Know-Nothing order sought to 
keep from outsiders not only the iden- 
tity of its membership, but even the 
fact of its existence. Its notices of 
meeting, or calls for concert of action 
were bits of paper cut in different 
shapes or varying in color for different 

The leading circumstances and in- 
fluences which contributed to the 
growth of the Know-Nothing move- 
ment may be briefly indicated as fol- 



(1) Undoubtedly, the nativist sen- 
timent, about which the whole move- 
ment swung, not only gave the party 
its form, but in a large degree was the 
cohesive influence which held together 
the principal element of its member- 

(2) The movement was launched 
after the overwhelming Whig defeat of 
1852. That election seemed to many 
the end of all hope for the Whig par- 
ty; the time for it and its friends to 
quit the political field. There ensued 
also a lessening of the ties of allegiance 
to party among the northern Demo- 
crats, due to the subserv^iency of 
Pierce's administration to the slavocra- 
cy. The thousands of voters cast 
adrift, so to speak, from their party 
affiliations, were easily attracted by the 
standards of the new movement. Had 
the Republican party been launched as 
early as 1853 or 1854, its sails might 
have been filled with the new breeze, 
but as it was not there, the Know-Xoth- 
ing movement had the chance of the 
hour all to itself. 

(3) The attractiofi of the secret so- 
ciety and the mystery of the movement 



undoubtedly won to the Know-Nothing 
party thousands of Americans who had 
no special devotion to its more fanati- 
cal purpose. 

(4) Its growth in the south and its 
absorption there of the Whig party, 
were altogether matters of political cal- 
culation. The southern "WTiigs thought 
that the sweep which the new party 
had won (1854-5) in the middle and 
Xew England states, promised a vic- 
tory at the aprroaching presidential 
election in 1856. The southern Whigs 
thought they were getting on the load- 
ed wagon. Except in Baltimore, Louis- 
ville and Xew Orleans, there was, south 
of Mason and Dixon's line, little chance 
for collision with foreign-born citizens, 
as few of them had settled there. 
Southern politicians, however, might 
reason themselves opposed to foreign 
immigration, inasmuch as coniining 
itself almost entirely to the north, it 
swelled the congressional representa- 
tion of the northern states. 

(6) Another element drawn into 
the EJnow-jSTothing party, especially the 
latter years of its existence, consisted 
of those who preferred to evade the sla- 
very question, the "dough-faces," so- 


called, in the political parlance of tha 
times, — those who relied upon the con- 
stitution and who proclaimed their de- 
votion to the union, vainly supposing 
that by taking such a stand they could 
postpone the irrepressible conflict on 
the slavery issue. The American par- 
ty, virtually straddled the slavery ques- 
tion : and this attitude undoubtedly at- 
tracted to its ranks thousands of those 
who wished to take middle ground. In 
its last years, so far as it existed as a 
power in the politics of the country, it 
was not a middle state party, but a bor- 
der state party. 



HIGH TIDE (1854-5). 

IN his history of the Rise and 
Fall of the Slave Power (chap- 
ter 32), Henry Wilson, who had 
himself joined the Know-Nothing 
order, says: "In the year 1863, a se- 
cret order was organized by a few men 
in New York city. Its professed pur- 
pose was to check foreign influence, 
purify the ballot box and rebuke the ef- 
fort to exclude the Bible from the pub- 
lic schools." Scisco, a more careful 
historian, at least in the matter of 
dates, (Political Nativism, p 97), re- 
ports : 

"By May 1, 1853, there existed in 
New York state fifty-four scattered 
bodies, most of which were located in 
New York city or in the counties lying 
adjacent, where Nativistic sentiment 
had been fostered by the O. U. A. and 


other Nativistic societies. The spring 
elections of 1854 gave opportunities for 
the rural bodies to use their power, but 
nowhere does their presence seem to 
have attracted notice except in New 
York and Westchester counties."* 

But local elections in the early 
months of 1854, in several adjoining 
states showed that the order was not 

♦Whitney, in his "Defence of the Ameri- 
can Policy," (p. 284), says that state coun- 
cils of the order of the United Americans 
were organized in New York, New Jersey, 
Maryland, Connecticut, Massachmsetts, 
Pennsylvania and Ohio during the months 
April to December, 1853; in Washington. D. 
C, New Hampshire, Indiana, Rhode Island 
and Maine during the months January to 
April, 1854; in Illinois, Michigan. Iowa and 
Wisconsin from May to September, 1854. 
State councils were organized in the fol- 
lowing southern states chiefly during the 
latter part of 1854: Alabama. Georgia, 
North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky. 
Missouri, Tennessee, "Virginia, Delaware. 
Mississippi, Texas. Florida, Arkansas and 
Louisiana. In the fall of 1854 state councils 
were organized in California and Oregon. 
A state council was formed in Minnesota 
in May, 1855, and about the same time in 
New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska. Thus, 
(says Whitney) , in about three years from 
the organization cf the first counf'I th' or- 
der was organized in every state and terri- 
tory in the Union, "numbering In its mem- 
bership at least one and one half million 
legal voters." 



only widely diffused, but so numerical- 
ly strong, as to indicate that it had 
been organized for some time in these 
localities. There is some authority for 
the statement that was introduced in 
Baltimore in December, 1852. Salem 
(in January), Worcester and several 
other Massachusetts towns were car- 
ried by its silent influence in the spring 
election of 1854. At Philadelphia, it 
surprised the Democrats, (May, 1854), 
by electing the Whig candidate for May- 
or, Conrad, by eight thousand plurality. 
Mayor Conrad proceeded openly to affili- 
ate with the American party. About the 
same time Washing-ton went under the 
Know-Xothing yoke and Baltimore 

In 1853-4 the Know-Nothing par- 
ty acted largely upon the following 
formally adopted policy: 

"Rule Nine: Whenever it shall be 
deemed necessary for the order to aid 
in the choice of men for public office 
through the suffrages of the people, it 
chall be the duty of each executive com- 
mittee to call together the members of 
the Order in their district prior to the 
usual primary elections or nominations, 
and determine upon suitable candidates 


of each party or either, as they may de- 
termine. It will be the duty of the 
members to assemble at the times and 
places of holding the primary meetings 
of such party or parties, and there use 
their influence in obtaining the nom- 
ination of the candidates they have se- 
lected. If the nominations are secured 
and ratified our cause will triumph, 
whichever party may be successful. 
Should the members of the Order nom- 
inate or select candidates already in 
the field, nominated by on© party only, 
it will be the duty of every brother to 
sustain that selection independent of 
any party consideration." (Scisco Pol- 
itical Nativism, p 80.) 

In the congressional elections of 1851 
— at which time the new power in poli- 
tics became the sensation of the hour — 
this rule was quite generally followed. 
The Know-Xothings — throughout the 
north — supported Whig, Eepublicans 
and anti-Xebraska Democratic candi- 
dates for congress, who were privately 
pledged to so-called "American ideas.'' 

When the congress thus elected met for 

its first session in December, 1855, there 

were over a hundred congressmen from 

the north classified as Eepublicans; 



they voted for the Republican candi- 
date for speaker, N. P. Banks, but Hor- 
ace Greeley, (writing at the time to 
Charles A. Dana,) said: 

''The majority of the Banks men 
are now members of Know-jSTothing 
councils, and some twenty or thirty of 
them actually believe in the swindle. 
Half the Massachusetts delegation, 
two-thirds that of Ohio, and nearly all 
that of Pennsylvania are Know-Noth- 
ings this day. We shall get them grad- 
ually detached." (Quoted in Rhodes 
History of the United States, Vol. II. 
p. 111.) 

The manner in which the new power 
in politics set the tongue of the nation 
wagging over its entry into the 
arena was not through the silent 
influence it exerted in selecting 
congressmen, but by the showing it 
made with candidates of its own 
for governor in New York and Massa- 
chusetts. Its candidate for governor 
in New York (in the fall of 1854), was 
a man little known, and no open cam- 
paign work was done in his behalf, nor 
did any influential paper support him. 
Its candidate for governor in Massa- 
chusetts was a broken down Whig poli- 


tician, whose appearance in the cam- 
paign was referred to by one of the 
leading Boston dailies as a joke. 

To the surprise of everybody, it poll- 
ed 122,000 votes for its candidate for 
governor of New York. Seymour, the 
Democratic candidate, had 156,495 
votes, and Clarke, the "Whig candidate, 
who was elected, had 156,804. In ilas- 
sachusetts, Henry J. Gardner, the 
Know-Nothing candidate was elected 
governor by 50,000 majority, and the 
Know-Nothings elected both houses of 
the Legislature almost to a man. Del- 
aware was also carried by the E[iiow- 

These victories greatly accelerated 
the numerical growth of the order in 
the north and caused it to spread like 
wild fire through the south. 

By March, 1855, J. W. Barker, the 
head of the order in New York, re- 
ported that there were nine hundred 
and sixty councils of the American par- 
ty in his state alone. Its prospects 
were such that its success in the com- 
ing presidential election was seriously 
canvassed. The Worcester Evening 
Journal claimed that it would sweep 
the north and carry there more than 


enough electoral votes to secure the 
presidency. The New York Herald 
about the same time, (cited by Hamble- 
ton, History of the Political Campaign 
of Virginia in 1855, page 251), editor- 
ially declared that the American party 
would triumph in the coming presi- 
dential election if it could divest it- 
self of its abolitionist handicap. 

The Herald estimated the Know- 
Nothing votes at 1,375,000. Henry Wil- 
son thinks they numbered not less than 

Viewing this episode in American 
politics, thirty years after, Bryce, the 
English historian (American Common- 
wealths II. p. 291), is moved to say: 

"They [The Americans] are a 
changeful people. The Native Ameri- 
can, or so-called Know-Nothing par- 
ty, had, in two years from its founda- 
tion, become a tremendous force rising, 
and seeming likely for a time to carry 
its own presidential candidate. In 
three years more it was dead without 
a hope of revival." 

But shrewd American political lead- 
ers, even while Know-Nothingism was 
at its high tide had forecasted its early ■ 
disruption. Greeley's famous dictum: 


"It [Know-Nothingism] would seem 
as devoid of the elements of persistence 
as an anti-cholera or anti-potato rot 
party" was written long prior to 1856. 

Though the mortal hurts that the 
Know-Nothing movement received had 
been dealt in May and June, 1855, it 
still appeared to be ascendant in the 
fall elections of that year. It carried 
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Khode 
Island and Connecticut, electing- the 
governors and legislatures in all these 
states and it elected the minor state of- 
ficers voted for in the New York state 
election. It also elected its candidates 
for governor in Kentucky and Califor- 
nia. It carried the legislature in Mary- 
land and elected some minor candidates 
on the ticket which it put up in Texas. 
In Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, 
Georgia, Mississippi and Texas it was 
beaten only by a close vote. The Dem- 
ocrats retained these states by majori- 
ties ranging from 2,000 to 10,000. 

Meanwhile there occurred the signal 
defeat of the Know-Nothing ticket iu 
the Virginia state election of May, 
1855 and the split over the slavery issue 
in the Philadelphia convention of the 


American party in June, 1855. These 
two events, together with the rise of the 
Republican party, presaged the rapid 
decline of the Know-Nothing move- 

Virginia was a debatable state — 
usually Democratic, but always so 
on a narrow margin. The state 
elections of 1855 were to deter- 
mine whether the American par- 
ty in absorbing the Whig party had 
strengthened or weakened the opposi- 
tion to the Democratic party in the 
south. It was a very bitter struggle. 
The Democratic candidate for Gover- 
nor, Henry A. Wise, made a vigorous 
denunciation of Know-Nothingism the 
feature of his campaign. He went from 
one end of the state to the other, deliv- 
ering fifty speeches during the canvass. 
It was one of the record campaigns of 
the time. The attention of the whole 
country was drawn to this election. 
Great sums of money were wagered up- 
on the result. Wise was elected by 10,- 
000 majority. 

Commenting on the Virginia elec- 
tion, the iSTew York Tribune of May 
29, 1855, said that it "had rung the 
knell" of Know-Nothingism in the 


South. It was reasoned that as a vote 
getter, the new party could not do much 
better in the slave states than the old 
Whig party had done. 

Following this reverse came the split 
in the National Council of the Know- 
Nothing party which met at Philadel- 
phia on June 5, 1855. The slavery is- 
sue had to be met in some way and a 
committee on resolutions had the sub- 
ject up for three days discussion. Fin- 
ally the majority of the committee rec- 
ommended that Congress ought not to 
prohibit slavery in any territory and 
that it had no power to exclude any 
state from coming into the Union, be- 
cause the state constitution recognized 
slavery. Delegates from thirteen free 
states brought in a minority report and 
another three days discussion followed, 
Henry Wilson leading the anti-slavery 
forces; but the Southern view triumph- 
ed by a vote of 80 to 59.* 

Thereupon the delegates from Maine, 
New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachu- 
setts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Ohio, 

*B. B. Bartlett, of Kentucky, superseded 
J. W. Barker of New York, a» President of 
the order, although Barker, who wa^' a 
candidate for re-election, trimmed to the 
southern view of the slavery issue. 



-lii^y.'fi. MidogBB, miBois, Iqwa and 
-r* ifce OBaDnaBiiaBL 

i3Bned. an 





,XE of the i:i:ema: troubles of the 
Catholic Ch-ireh in the U-itei 
States during the year 5ub=e3-ient to 
1520, was the "trustee'" system, where- 
by the lay trustees of many of the con- 
gregations assumed to a le^ or greater 
extent the authority to accept or re- 
ject the priests sent to minister over 
the congregation by the bishop, and to 
regulate the affairs of the parish in a 
manner that sometimes bron^t them 
into collision with the epia»pal au- 
thority. Out of this conflict grew two 
incidents which gave the Know-Xoth- 
ing moTement a decided impetus. 

The Pope sent Archbishop Bedini 
as papal nuncio to Brazil in 1853, and 
because of some troubles with church 
trustees in Buffalo and Philadelphia, 
Msgr. Bedini was requested by the 


Pope to visit the United States on his 
way and endeavor to adjust these dif- 
ficulties. He called on President 
Pierce at Washington bearing a let- 
ter, the intent of which was to give 
him standing as one of the diplomatic 
corps. At that time the United States 
had a minister accredited to the Pope, 
as temporal ruler of the Papal states, 
and there could be no objection, in in- 
ternational law, to the Pope accredit- 
ing a diplomatic representatives of his 
own to the United States. However, 
objection was interposed by the Amer- 
ican state department to the reception 
of Msgr. Bedini as a diplomatic agent 
on the ground that he was not a lay- 

There was then in the United States 
an ex-monk (a Barnabite) from Italy 
named Gavazzi, delivering about the 
country such lectures as a typical "ex- 
priest" is in the habit of presenting to 
the credulous American Protestant. 
Gavazzi had assailed Bedini, calling 
attention to his conduct as papal gov- 
ernor of Bologna during the troublous 
times of 1848, and his severity towards 
the revolutionists. The American press 
was inclined to assist the anti-Bedini 


feeling aroused by Gavazzi; and un- 
friendly crowds awaited the papal 
nuncio's coming in various cities. At 
Cincinnati, especially, there was a 
threatening demonstration, a howling 
mob of two thousand people moving 
upon the house of the archbishop. The 
militia were called out, and except for 
this and the prompt action of local au- 
thorities, incendiarism and murder 
would have resulted, for there were 
leaders desirous of making an exam- 
ple out of the incident b;- hanging 
Msgr. Bedini. In some places, as in 
Baltimore, where he was hanged in 
effigy, he was obliged to conceal his 
presence. He left the country with- 
out settling the disputes in question. 

The other incident was a discussion 
between Senator Brooks of the New 
York Legislature and Bishop Hughes 
(who signed himself "►J^John, bishop 
of the province of New York") . 
Brooks made some extravagant asser- 
tions as to the value of Catholic church 
property, incident to the discussion of 
a bill pending in the legislature, 
v.diich sought to regulate the tenure 
thereof. The measure advocated by 
Senator Brooks was passed. 


It provided that no title to real 
property could be conveyable or de- 
scendible by an ecclesiastic to his suc- 
cessor in office (Laws of 1855, Chapter 
230). The intent of the measure, 
doubtless, was to compel Catholic bish- 
ops to divest themselves of the title 
to church property, and to vest the 
same in civil corporations. Because of 
so many difficulties with lay trustees, 
this plan was obnoxious to them. Sub- 
sequently, in the history of the Cath- 
olic Church, a policy in favor of plac- 
ing all church property under protec- 
tion of legal incorporation was, how- 
ever, adopted. In the Third Plenary 
council of Baltimore this change was 
urged by the bishops. In 1863, a spe- 
cial act for the incorporation of Cath- 
olic church property was placed upon 
the Xew York statutes (ch. 45, Laws of 
1S63). At present, uncer the laws of 
several of the states. Catholic bishops 
are either authorized to act as corpor- 
ations sole, for the purpose of hold- 
ing real estate, or the Xew York sys- 
tem for the incorporation of the local 
churches with the bishop, the vicar- 
general, the pastor and two laymen as 
the board of directors, is followed. 


The riotous events which signalized 
the visit of Archbishop Bedini contin- 
ued during the ensuing year, largely 
excited by anti-Popery street preach- 
ers. The "Angel Gabriel," an ec- 
centric Scotch anti-Popery speaker, 
was at work in New England in 1851, 
and numerous anti-Catholic distur- 
bances resulted. A Know-Xothing mob 
made an attack upon the Irish quarter 
in Chelsea. In June, 1854, the Cath- 
olic chapel at Coburg was burned. In 
the early part of July, the Dorchester 
Catholic chapel was blown up by the 
Know-Nothings. A little Catholic 
church at Bath, in Maine, was burned 
to the ground. A mob paraded the 
streets of Manchester, N. H., tore the 
American flag from the priest's house 
and wrecked the interior of the Cath- 
olic church. At Ellsworth, Me., Fath- 
er Bapst, the Catholic priest, was tak- 
en from his dwelling and tarred and 

These events excited Catholic ap- 
prehension in all parts of the country, 
and the business of guarding the 
Catholic churches from incendiarism 
and mob violence became a serious pur- 
pose with them. At Providence, E. I., 


in the same year, a Know-Nothing mob, 
led by a notorious criminal, attacked 
the Convent of Mercy, but the damage 
was slight, as the Catholics rallied for 
the protection of the institution. Au- 
gust 7 and 8, St. Louis was the scene 
of a riot precipitated by the Know- 
Nothings, which resulted in ten 
deaths and the destruction of a number 
of houses of Catholics. The election 
riots at Baltimore, and "Bloody Mon- 
day" at Louisville will be elsewhere 
noted. At Washington a Know-Noth- 
ing mob forced its way into a shed 
near the Washington monument and 
captured a block of marble, taken 
from the temple of Concord at Rome, 
which had been sent by the Pope as 
a tribute to be used in the monument 
then being erected to Washington. 
This papal gift was thrown into the 

One of the earliest outcroppings of 
Know-Nothingism in New York trans- 
pired over the case of a street preach- 
er named Daniel Parsons, who had 
been indulging in bitter anti-Popery 
speeches on Sundays about the wharves 
and docks. The authorities placed him 
under arrest. Immediately there was 


a movement of protest from the Know- 
Nothings. A great meeting was called 
in the City Hall park. Thousands were 
present, and James W. Barker, the 
Know-Nothing leader, presided. Par- 
sons was released and went on with his 

On the first Sunday of June, 1854, 
an anti-Catholic preacher was escorted 
through Brooklyn by a Know-Nothing 
mob of 5,000. This no-Popery demon- 
stration collided with an Irish mob, 
and a free fight ensued. On the fol- 
lowing Sunday the disturbance was re- 

During the spring of 1854, a yotmg 
man named Patten, organized in New 
York a nativist secret society for 
younger men. They were known as the 
Order of the American Star, and some- 
times as The Wide-Awakes, from their 
rallying cry. This organization at- 
tended to all street disturbances on be- 
half of the order. Their white felt 
"wide-awake" hats were recognized as 
the insignia of their belligerant pur- 

In Massachusetts, one of the first 
acts of the Know-Nothing governor, 
Gardner, in 1855, was to disband all 


militia companies in which foreigners 
predominated. These included six 
Irish-American companies, the Colum- 
bus, Webster and Shields National 
guards of Boston, Jackson guards of 
Lowell, Union guards of Lawrence and 
Jackson guards of Worcester. 

All through the years 1853 and 1854 
the anti-Catholic propaganda was fed 
by a remarkable crop of sensational 
sermons, pamphlets and novels, and the 
republication of numerous works )f 
evangelical bigotry dating from the 
epoch of Catholic emancipation (1829 \ 

In many places throughout the north 
the children of Irish parentage attend- 
ing the common schools, were subjected 
during these years to various kinds of 
petty persecution. On the school 
grounds they were hooted as "Paddies," 
text-books were utilized to disparage 
their religion, but the most usual form 
of annoyance had reference to Bible 
reading. Numerovis cases of this kind 
went into the courts; that of Donohue 
vs. Richards, which transpired at Ells- 
worth, Me., in 1854, where a Catholic 
pupil was subjected to corporal punish- 
ment for declining to read the Protes- 
tant scriptures, being the most notable. 


It is to the credit of our courts that 
the narrow-minded position of the \ 
Maine Supreme bench in this case did 
not receive the approval, subsequently, 
of any court of final resort. Later in 
the fifties, a hundred Catholic children 
of the Elliot school in Boston were ex- 
pelled because they refused in a body 
to participate in Protestant prayers 
and Bible reading. In 1859, Principal 
Cooke of one of the Boston school?, 
severely punished Thomas J. Whall, a 
Catholic pupil, who had declined to re- 
cite the Ten Commandments according 
to the King James version. The case 
went into one of the local courts, but 
without redress to the plaintiff. 

In 1853 and 1854 the Know-Nothings 
used secret machinery to interfere with 
and disturb the political meetings of 
their opponents of other parties. 
George W. Julian tells us : "If a meet- 
ing was called to oppose and denounce 
its schemes, it was drowned in the 
Know-Nothing flood which, at the ap- 
pointed time, completely overwhelmed 
the helpless minority. This happened 
in my own county and town, where 
thousands of men, including many of 
my own Free Soil brethren, assembled 


as an organized mob to suppress the 
freedom of speech, and succeeded by 
brute force in taking possession of 
every building in which their oppo- 
nents could meet, and silencing them 
by savage yells." (Jvdian's "Political 
Eecollections," 142.) 

Charles Eeemlin, a prominent for- 
eign-born Republican of Ohio, in his 
"Eeview of American Politics" (page 
214), says that "in Know-Nothing 
times there was a tacit exception from 
anti-foreign objuration in favor of 
Scotch and English Protestants.* * 
The foreign-bom Presbyterians were in 
fact, a sort of back-stair members of 
Ejiow-Nothing lodges." 

After 1848, there came to the United 
States among the increasing German 
immigration, a large number of men 
imbued with the revolutionary spirit of 
the time. This German element was 
bitterly hostile to church influence ; and 
also inclined to believe that the Amer- 
ican system of government could be 
reformed. The German Social Demo- 
cratic association of Richmond out- 
lined a program of reforms, and the 
Free Germans of Louisville adopted a 
similar platform calling for the aboli- 


tion of the presidency and the Senate, 
the abrogation of Sunday laws, of 
oaths taken upon the Bible, etc. In 
Maryland, Kentucky and Tennessee 
these German programs were widely 
used to excite Know-Nothing hostility 
to inrmigration. The German element 
also v.-as more adverse to the institu- 
tion of slavery than were the other 
foreign elements. Most o- the Ger- 
man papers of the country sLowed a 
tendency to support the new Eepubli- 
can party. The keen politicians of the 
south perceived this. "While in the 
north the crusade was carried on main- 
ly against the Irish," says Von Hoist 
(VI. 188), "the south was chiefly con- 
cerned in insuring the harmlessness of 
the wicked Germans." Mobbing of 
German newspapers and Turner halls 
in some of the cities in the border 
states were incidents noted in the news- 
papers towards the eve of the civil war. 




■jV/rANY anti-Nebraska Democrats 
i.VX went into Know-Nothing lodges 
m 1854. The secret movement un- 
doubtedly promised to shape Demo- 
cratic nominations as well as Whig and 
Republican li^minations in that year. 
Congressman Carruthers (Dem.) of 
Missouri, admitted (Feb. 28, 1856), in 
a letter to his constituents that he had 
joined the order: 

"I went twice (and but twice), into 
their [the Know Nothing] councils. I 
'saw Sam.' It took two visits to see 
him all over. I made them. I saw enough 
and determined never to look on his 
face again." 

N. P. Banks stated in the House 
that he secured his first election (in 


1852) to Congress through a combina- 
tion of Democrats and Know-Nothings. 

Cutts says that Douglas told him: 
"The [Know Xothing] party struck ter- 
ror everywhere among the Democrats, 
and threatened to gain absolute pos- 
ession of the government. I tried to 
get the Democrats in caucus to de- 
nounce it, biit they refused, and were 
afraid. General Cass said to me that 
I had enough to contend with, and 
could not carry on my shoulders this 
new element. I was the first Democrat 
to make a speech against it. I did so at 
Independence hall, Philadelphia," 
[July 4, 1854]. (A Brief Treatise up- 
.on Constitutional and Party Questions 
. . " * * as I received it orally from 
* " * St. A. Douglas p. 121.) 

Douglas and Wise leading the way, 
other Democratic politicians joined in 
the denunciation of Know Nothingism, 
and purged the party of the taint. In 
April, 1855, at Murpheesboro, Tenn., 
Gov. Andrew Johnson, (Dem)., deliver- 
ed a strong speech against it, and in 
May, 1855, Alexander Stephens of 
Georgia published a letter denouncing 

The Democratic members of Con- 


gress, v.-liich convened December, 1855, 
unlike their predecessors in the pre- 
vious Congress, loiew where they ought 
to stand on the Know-Nothing issue. 
Fresh from the mandate of the people, 
they took occasion, in their first party 
caucus, to declare themselves against 

The Democratic platform upon 
which Buchanan was elected Presi- 
dent in 1858, v>'as unequivocal in this 
matter. It recited: 

"That the liberal principles sanction- 
ed in the Constitution which makes 
ours the land of liberty and the asylum 
of the oppressed of every nation have 
been cardinal principles of the Demo- 
cratic faith; and every attempt to 
abridge the privilege of becoming citi- 
zens and owning soil among us ought 
to be resented." And : 

"Hence a political crusade in the 
nineteenth century and in the United 
States of America against Catholics 
and foi-eign born, is neither justified 
by the past history nor future prospects 
of the country, nor in unison with thy 
spirit of toleration and enlightened 
freedom which peculiarly distinguishes 
the American system of popular gov- 



The formation of the "Repviblican" 
party was first suggested at a meeting 
of anti-slavery men convened March, 
1854, at Ripon, Wisconsin, and this 
was followed in July, 1854, by Republi- 
can movements in Michigan and Ver- 
mont. But the Republican movement 
did not at once take hold throughout 
the country. The old Whig party re- 
fused to disband in New York and 
Massachusetts, and the Know Nothings 
placed all obstacles possible in the way 
of the new party. The demand of the 
northern anti-slavery sentiment for a 
political organization gradually found 
expression, however, after the middle of 
1854, — in some states, as in Indiana 
where it chose the title "People's par- 
ty"^ — imder differing names and aus- 
pices, but with a general similarity of 
aims and purposes everywhere. 

The earnest anti-slavery men who 
founded the Republican party were 
generally outspoken antagonists of 
Know Nothingism; not entirely, of 
course, because they disliked its intol- 
erance, but because they revolted at its 
truce with the slavocracy. Wade, 
Giddings and Julian were among those 


vrho early denounced the Know Noth- 
ings. In a speech in the Senate on 
the Homestead bill, William H. Sew- 
ard took occasion (February, 1855) to 
remark : 

"It is sufficient for me to say that, in 
my judgment, everything is un- 
American which makes a distinction, 
of whatever kind, in this country, be- 
t'n'een the native born Araerican and 
him whose lot is directed to be cast 
here by an overruling Providence, and 
who renounces his allegiance to a for- 
eign land and swears fealty to the coun- 
try which adopts him." 

And Henry Ward Beecher wrote 
in The Independent (January, 18, 
1855: "By yearo of persistent la- 
bor, the conscience and honor of multi- 
tudes of the north had been aroused. 
They began to see and value the real 
principles fundamental to American in- 
stitutions. Under the shallow pretense 
that Know Nothing lodges would, by 
and by, become the champions of liber- 
ty, as now they are of the Protestant 
faith, thousands have been inveigled in- 
to these catacorabs of freedom. One 
might as well study optics in the 
pyramids of Egypt, or the subterranean 


tombs of Rome, as liberty in secret con- 
claves controlled by hoary knaves 
versed in political intrigue, who can 
hardly enough express their surprise 
and delight to see honest men going 
into a wide-spread system of secret 
caucuses. Honest men in such places 
have the peculiar advantage that flies 
have in a spider's web — the privilege 
of losing their legs, of buzzing without 
flying, and being eaten up at leisure by 
big-bellied spiders." 

Greeley in The New York Tribune, 
and Dr. Bailey in The National Era, 
were strongly anti-Know-Nothing. All 
the extreme atjol'itionists and their 
organ. The Liberator, were adverse on 
principle to the proscriptive movement. 

The first state convention of the Re- 
publican party in Illinois, (Blooming- 
ton, March, 1856), inserted in its plat- 
form a resolution denouncing the Know 
Nothings. Abraham Lincoln was pres- 
ent as a delegate. When the anti-slav- 
ery men of Nev/ York (in the latter 
part of 1855), finally came together to 
laimch the Republican party, the plat- 
form reported by Horace Greeley and 
adopted by the convention, strongly 
condemned the methods and the doc- 



trines of the Know Nothings. 

February 22, 1856, a national conven- 
tion of the Republicans met at Pitts- 
burg, and when Charles Reemlin and 
other speakers vigorously denounced 
Know Nothingism as a mischievous 
side issue, they were loudly applaiided. 
At the subsequent national convention 
of the Republican party in June at 
Philadelphia, the platform upon which 
Fremont was nominated declared * * 
"believing that the spirit of our insti- 
tions as well as the institutions of our 
country guarantees liberty of consci- 
ence and equality of rights among citi- 
zens we oppose all prescriptive legisla- 
tion affecting their security." 

This view was substantially reiter- 
ated in the platform of the Chicago na- 
tional convention of the Republican 
party in 1860, section 14, reciting that 
"the Republican party is opposed to 
any changes in our naturalization 
laws" and favors "protection to the 
rights of all classes of citizens, whether 
native or naturalized." 

Former Know Nothings sat in these 

conventions and heard the principles 

of their recent affiliation denounced, 

but they made no objection. Either 



their eyes had been opened, or the evil 
training of surreptitious politics de- 
prived them of the courage of their 

The Republican party absorbed 
thousands of those who left the 
Know Nothing lodges and its politi- 
cians tempered their methods in the 
years 1857-9, in such wise as to catch 
the fragments of the disrupting Ameri- 
can party. 

Chas. A. Dana, for instance, wrote 
Sept. 1, 1859: 

"The Americans hold the balance 
of power in both [N. J. and N. Y.] 
Their party is in the act of final dis- 
solution. Shall we let the fragments 
fall into with the arms of the Loco- 
focos." (Pike p. 444). 

There was an effective warning, how- 
ever, against truckling in this process 
to any Know-Nothing policy. Thus 
Lincoln, in 1859, wrote a public letter 
against "the waning fallacy of Know- 
Nothingism," (see Nicholay and Hay's 
Biographj^ II., 181), with special ref- 
erence to the Know-Nothing naturali- 
zation idea. 

Horace Greeley ("Recollections" p. 
290), expresses this opinion, which as 


a forecast, undoubtedly governed the 
mauagevs of the Republican party aft- 
er 1856: 

"The fact that almost every Know 
jSTothing was at heart a Whig or a 
Democrat, a champion or an opponent 
of slavery and felt a stronger, deeper 
interest in other issues than in those 
which affiliated him with the 'Order', 
rendered its disruption and abandon- 
ment not a question of years, but of 

It is not the less true or creditable, 
however, that the initial expressions of 
the Republican party and of its lead- 
ers were unequivocally against the 
Know-Nothing movement. 





THE national convention of the 
American party at Philadelphia, in 
June, 1855, made the following state- 
ment of the distinctive principles of 
Know-Nothingism : 

"A radical revision and modification 
of the laws regulating immigration, 
and tlie settlement of immigrants, of- 
fering the honest immigrant, who from 
love of liberty or hatred of oppression, 
seeks an asylum in the United States, 
a friendly reception and protection, 
but unqualifiedly condemning the 
transmission to our shores or felons and 

"The essential modfication of the 
naturalization laws. The repeal by the 
legislatures of the respective states of 



all state laws allowing foreigners not 
naturalized, to vote. The repeal, with- 
out retrospective operation, of all acts 
of Congress making grants of land to 
unnaturalized foreigners, and allowing 
them to vote in the territories. 

"Eesistance to the aggressive policy 
and corrupting tendencies of the Ro- 
man Catholic Church in our country; 
by the advancement to all political 
stations, executive, legislative, judicial 
or diplomatic — of those only who do 
not hold civil allegiance, directly or in- 
directly, to any foreign power, whether 
civil or ecclesiastical, and who are 
Americans by birth, education and 
training, thus fulfilling the maxim, 
'Americans only shall govern America.' 

"And inasmuch as Christianity, by 
the constitutions of nearly all the 
states; by the decisions of most emi- 
nent judicial authorities, and by the 
consent of the people of America, is 
considered an element of our political 
system, and the Holy Bible is at once 
the sovirce of Christianity and the de- 
pository and fountain of all civil and 
religious freedom, we oppose every at- 
tempt to exclude it from the schools 
thus established in the states." 


The platform of the American par- 
ty in 1856, upon which Fillmore was 
nominated, covered the ground of the 
preceding platform as follows : 

"Americans must rule America, and 
to this end native-born citizens should 
be selected for all state and municipal 
offices, or government employment, in 
preference to all others. 

"No person should be selected for 
political station (whether of native or 
foreign birth), who recognizes any al- 
legiance or obligation of any descrip- 
tion to any foreign prince, potentate or 
power, or who refuses to recognize the 
federal and state constitutions (each 
within its sphere), as paramount to all 
other laAVS as issues of political ac- 

"A change in the laws of naturaliza- 
tion, making a continued residence of 
twenty-one years, of all not hereinbe- 
fore provided for, an indispensable re- 
quisite for citizenship hereafter, and 
excluding all paupers and persons con- 
victed of crime, from landing upon our 
shores, but no interference with the 
vested rights of foreigners." 

On the slavery issue, the sincere men 
in the '50's — the men who knew what 


they wanted and who were earnest 
about it — were the Republicans of the 
north, who opposed the further exten- 
sion of slavery, no matter what the 
consequences; and on the other side, 
the Democrats of the south, who wanted 
the sectional equilibrium maintained, 
slavery extended equally with the 
spread of freedom, a new slave state 
for every new free state, and if this 
could not be, the south would secede. 

Between these parties stood many 
who temporized, or compromised, or 
trinnned ; and the EJnow-Nothings were 
conspicuously of this class. They took 
the position that their issues, — natural- 
ization, immigration and papal aggres- 
sion were the important and vital is- 
sues, — and that the slavery issue must, 
for the sake of the union and section- 
al harmony, be left where legislation 
up to the year 1855 found it. 

But as northern opinion continued 
to turn against the political dominance 
of the south, provoked by the demands 
which the slavocray made, and exacted 
from the Democratic party (embodied 
in such events as the Kansas-Xebraska 
bill, the Fugitive Slave law and the 
Dred Scott decision), a large element 


of the northern I\jiov7-Nothings, wheth- 
er from policy or conviction, found 
that they could no longer straddle the 
slavery issue. Numbers of these went 
into the Eepublican party ; numbers of 
them adhered to the American party 
under protest as to its position on the 
slavery issue. 

At the national convention of the 
Kjiow-Nothing order at Philadel- 
phia in June, 1855, there were two re- 
ports on the slavery question from the 
committee on resolutions. The major- 
ity.consistingof fourteen members from 
the southern states and the representa- 
tives from New York and Minnesota, 
declared that Congress ought not to 
prohibit slaveiy in the District of Co- 
lumbia or in any territory, that it had 
no power to exclude any state from ad- 
mission to the union because that 
state, by its constitution, allowed sla- 
very. The minority, consisting of th? 
representatives from thirteen free 
states, proposed that the Missouri com- 
promise should be re-enacted, and that 
no part of the Kansas-Nebraska terri- 
tory should come into the union as a 
slave state. After a protracted debate, 
the majority report, as has been noted, 


v\'as adopted (80 to 59). The minority 
protested, but the northern wing of the 
party nevertheless, continvied to act 
with the southern wing. Their anti- 
slavery sentiment was a matter of pol- 
icy rather than of conviction. This 
was illustrated at the subsequent na- 
tional gathering of the party at Phil- 
adelphia in February, 1856, v.hen 
the platform being under consid- 
eration, Mr. Sheets of Indiana, 
pleaded for a more ambiguovis 
statement on the slavery issue for the 
sake of the northern Know-Nothings ; 
"he was willing to accept the Washing- 
ton platform ; for if there was anything 
in it, it was so covered up Avith verbiage 
that a president would be elected before 
the people found out what it was all 
about (tumultuous laughter)."* 

Southern opinion, both Democratic 
and Whig, in so far as it was concerned 
about the slavery question, regarded the 
Know-Nothing movement complacent- 
ly, as a diversion in political tactics, 
and as such calculated to impede the 

*In the course oi debate. Parson Brown- 
low of Tennessee, declared he could "take 
five men of his delegation and lick the Ohio 
delegation out of the hall." 



growth of the anti-slavery sentiment in 
the north. Julian's view on the mat- 
ter is, of course, far-fetched, but it in- 
dicates correctly the practical advan- 
tage the southerner might look for: 

"Its [the American party's] birth, 
simultaneously with the repeal of the 
Missouri compromise, was not an ac- 
cident, as any one could see who had 
studied the tactics of the slave-holders. 
It was a well-timed scheme to divide 
the people of the free states upon trifles 
and side issues, while the south re- 
mained a unit in defense of its great 
interest. It was the cunning attempt 
to balk and divert the indignation 
aroused by the repeal of the Missouri 
restriction, which else would spend its 
force upon the aggression of slavery; 
for by thus kindling the Protestant 
jealousy of our people against the Pope, 
and enlisting them in a crusade 
against the foreigner, the south 
could all the more successfully push 
forward its schemes." (Political Recol- 
lections. 1840 to 1872, p. 141.) 

Southern opinion rather welcomed a 
northern movement to shvit out Euro- 
pean inunigration. Immigration had 
largely increased the preponderance of 


the north in the popular branch of 
Congress, and given that section its 
y army of western settlers now peopling 
the territories for freedom. Governor 
Smith of Virginia said in a speech, 
reported in The New York Tribune, 
March 14, 1855: "The origin of the 
Know-Nothings^ is a struggle for bread 
— a frightful and angry question at 
the north. At the south it is a politi- 
cal question of high importance. The 
north has fifty-five more representatives 
than the south already. The natural 
increase of the south is one-third great- 
er than that of the north, because there 
are greater checks on population there ; 
but the artificial element of foreignism 
brings 500,000 who settle annually in 
^/^ the free states, with instincts against 
slavery, making fifty representatives in 
ten years to swell the opposition to 
the south. To stop this enormous dis- 
proportion, what is our i)olicy? What 
is the frightful prospect before us'i 
The effect of Know-Nothingism is to 
turn back the tide of immigration, and 
our highest duty to the south is to dis- 
y/ courage immigration. I deprecate it 
as a great calamity." 

A slaveholder of the period put the 


matter in this way : "The mistake with 
us has been that it was not made fel- 
ony to bring in an Irishman when it 
was made piracy to bring in an Afri- 
can." (Draper's American Conflict, I,, 





AFTER 1854 the Know-Nothing 
■^^- movement was subjected to the sol- 
vent influences of public opinion. The 
press of the country sought to drag it 
into the open. Its extension in- 
to the south was accompanied by 
a loss of secrecy. The American party 
there adopted the open methods of the 
Whig party which it absorbed. "It does 
the south no small honor," says 
Von Hoist, (V. p. 191), "that there 
the party had to agree to give up 
its secrecy and its oaths as it had al- 
ready been forced there to make conces- 
sions in regard to the Catholics." 

Col J. W. Forney, in an address on 
"Eeligious Intolerance and Political 
Proscription" delivered at Lancaster, 


Pa., 24tli Sept. 1855, p. 22, tells us : 

"To such extent has public indigna- 
tion been excited against the profane 
and familiar resort to extra judicial 
oaths, and the invariable appeal to 
force and fraud at the ballot-boxes, 
that in portions of the Union it [the 
American party] has deliberately dis- 
carded alike its secrecy and its obliga- 
tions. This has been the case in Ala- 
bama, Georgia, Louisiana and South 

The secrecy of the order was practi- 
cally done for throughout the whole 
country after the American party 
launched itself in national politics. 
When in June, 1855, the Know-Noth- 
ing national convention assembled at 
Philadelphia, its sessions were fully re- 
ported in the New York papers whose 
representatives were present at the 
gathering. State councils of the Know- 
Nothing order there were empowered to 
dispense with the secret character of the 
m.ovement. The platform declared: 

'•'That each state council shall have 
authority to amend their several con- 
stitutions so as to abolish the several 
degrees, and institute a pledge of hon- 
or instead of other obligations for fel- 


lowship and admission into the party. 
A free and open discussion of all the 
political principles embraced in our 

This option was speedily availed of. 
The Massachusetts Know-Nothings, for 
instance, on August 7, 1855, abolished 
secrecy, including the oatlis. (Life of 
Bowles, 140). 

One consequence of the loss of secre- 
cy and the turning on of the light of 
piiblic discussion was the attempted 
disavowal and abatement of the intoler- 
ant program of the order and the des- 
uetude of its obligations against the 
Catholics and foreigners. This happen- 
ed quite generally in the south and 
more particularly in the states of Lou- 
isiana and Missouri; but also in Cali- 

L. M. Kennett of Missouri, himself a 
Know-Nothing congressman said of the 
party in his state : "All secrecy is there 
discarded and religious tests ignored." 
(Cluskey, The Political Test book p, 
299). Congressman Barry of Missis- 
sippi, speaking December, 1854, in the 
House of Representatives said: "In 
Louisiana Catholics are allowed to join 
the order because that denomination is 



too numerous there to be assailed open- 
ly." Congressman Eustis of Louisiana, 
elected as a Know-Nothing, delivered a 
speech Jan. 6, 1856, in the House of 
Representatives in which he entirely 
repudiated the anti-Catholic policy of 
his party and passed to a eulogy of 
Catholic citizenship.* 

In Illinois the Know-jSTothing order 
split into two factions, "the Sams" in- 
sisting upon an anti-Catholic program 
and "the Jonathans" proposing not to 
antagonize Catholics who owed no civil 
allegiance as distinguished from spirit- 
ual allegiance to the Pope. The 
Jonathans triumphed. 

But even in the south, in the course 
of political discussion, when the Ameri- 
can party was forced to defend its in- 
tolerant program, its advocates borrow- 
ed the narrow and inflaraatory argu- 
ments of their northern brethren; 
though they preferred to avoid this line 
of discussion and many of them suc- 
ceeded in doing so. 

*Two sets of delegates appeared from 
Louisiana at the Philadelphia Know-Noth- 
ing convention in 1856. And among the 
members of one it was ascertained that 
there were Catholics. 



There were, too, numerous splits in 
the order, growing out of personal jeal- 
ousies and contests for power. 

When the Grand Council of New 
York, in October 1854, put up a candi- 
date for governor it was claimed that 
this was done without consulting the 
subordinate councils. The Grand Coun- 
cil then complained that its candidates 
v/ere defeated at the polls because a 
large number of Kno-A'-Nothings had 
not voted for them. An attempt was 
made to discipline the bolters and this 
widened the breach. The Brooklyn 
Council objected to such coercion by 
resolutions which described the action 
of the Grand Council as "equalled only 
by the Holy Inquisition of Spain," 

Allen, the father of the order, was 
impelled to organize a seceding move- 
ment; and the "Know-Somethings," the 
"North Americans," the "Mountain 
Sweets" and other designations, which 
are found in the newspapers after 1854, 
indicate the progress of such disin- 

While the Nativist and anti-Catholic 

movement was inevitable and would 

have occurred even if the Irish and 

Catholic element had been on their best 



behavior and had given no provocation 
whatever, it is interesting to note is- 
how far the Catholics held themselves 
blameable. Dr. Brownson, the emi- 
nent Catholic publicist of that day, in 
his Quarterly Keview (Works, vol. 10, 
page 317), said of the Irish element; 
"The great majority of them are quiet, 
modest and peaceful and loyal citizens 
adorning religion by their faith and 
piety and enriching the country by 
their successful trade or their produc- 
tive industry. But it cannot be denied 
that hanging loosely on to their skirts 
is a miserable rabble unlike anything 
which the country has ever known of 
native growth — a noisy, drinking and 
brawling rabble, who have after all a 
great deal of influence with their coun- 
trymen, who are usually taken to rep- 
resent the whole Irish Catholic body, 
and who actually do compromise it to 
an extent much greater than good Cath- 
olics, attentive to their own business, 
conxmonly suspect or can easily be 
made to believe." 

As for the proper policy for Catholics 

to pursue in the matter. Dr. Brownson 

wrote as follows. (Quoted in the Life 

of O. A. Brownson, Vol, 2, Page 539) : 



"We Catholics are in a small min- 
ority and tlie sentiment of the country- 
is strongly anti-Catholic. Every meas- 
ure that we oppose as hostile to us, the 
country will favor and adopt and every 
measure we support as favorable to our 
interests, it will reject. I am sorry 
that it is so, but so it is; and I think 
that in regard to matters which depend 
on popular votes, and in which we are 
interested as Catholics, the more quiet 
we keep the better it will be for us." 

This advice was not followed by Dr. 
Brownson's co-religionists. They ev- 
eryAvhere met their "dark lantern" an- 
tagonist openly and with vigor. They 
fought it through their press and they 
fought it through the political party 
to which most of them belonged; for 
undoubtedly it was due to the large 
Catholic and Irish element in the Dem- 
ocratic party that Douglas and other 
Democratic leaders purged their party 
of the Know-Nothing elem^ent and 
made it not neutral, but openly hostile 
to the Know-^Nothing policy. 

No matter how good the behavior of 
the Catholic and Irish element might 
have been, the old charge of the evan- 
gelical church party in England and 


America that the citizenship of the 
Catholic is a uiatter of divided allegi- 
ance would have formed the main 
charge of the Know-Xothing move- 
ment. The Catholics denied the charge. 
Brownson wrote: 

"In acknowledging the equal rights 
of all religions the American system 
acknowledges that the state has no au- 
thority in spirituals and therefore in 
religious matters has no claim to the 
obedience or allegiance of any of its 
subjects or citizens. Hence as the Pope 
has only authority over Catholics in 
the spiritual order, no obedience he 
can exact of them, or which they owe 
him, can ever conflict with any obedi- 
ence which the state with us even 
claims as its due." (Brownson's Works 
Vol. 18. page 345.) 

But he also trenched upon what, in 
this country at least, will always be a 
purely academic issue: whether in case 
of conflict between the temporal and 
spiritual order, which must yields 
"The temporal of course" answered 
Brownson. This branch of the discvis- 
sion was quite a needless one to enter 
on, especially too as it subjected Dr. 
Brownson and his co-religionists to a 



great deal of misrepresentation and 
Brownson personally, to the attack of 
most of the Catholic and Irish-Ameri- 
can papers of the country, which re- 
garded him as an extremist in his view 
of this matter. John Mitchell, then 
editing the Irish Citizen of New York, 
assailed Brownson as follows: 

"This I say has been your work Doc- 
tor Orestes; hence has come whatever 
of bitterness and ferocity that is to be 
found in the Native- American party; 
this outrageous caricature of Catholici- 
ty, held up to America by you (after 
you had tired of all the other religions) 
has been the principal spring, and is 
the only excuse for the furious anti- 
Irish spirit which is now raging." 

Not only Brownson's Quarterly Re- 
view, but other Catholic papers were 
widely misquoted in Know-Nothing 
publications; and in this discussion 
their language was garbled and not a 
few sheer fabrications were set afloat. 
It is to be noted that so respectable a 
historian as Von Hoist in the fifth 
volume of his Constitutional History, 
taking quotations from Brownson's 
Eeview, second hand as he finds them 
in Know-Nothing publications, is mis- 


led as to the Catholic attitude in the 
discussions referred to. An alleged quo- 
tation from a St. Louis publication 
called The Shepherd of the Valley, 
which has done service in anti-Catholic 
literature for nearly half a century 
and the garbled nature of which has 
been frequently exposed, is accepted by 
Yen Hoist in his array of evidence as to 
Catholic opinion. 

But these misquotations of Catholic 
authorities were merely incidents in 
the discussion. They were not neces- 
sary to bolster up the time honored 
Anglo-Saxon and Evangelical aspersion 
of the integrity Catholic citizenship, 
an aspersion as old as the age of Queen 
Elizabeth and responsible for the perse- 
cuting statutes of her time; an aspersion 
too, which though diminishing in force 
from generation to generation is, never- 
theless, liable to recur in years to come 
and during- future flurries of intoler- 




/"^jST Washin^on's birthday, Feb. 22, 
^^ 1856, the American party met 
at Philadelphia to nominate a presi- 
dential ticket. The selection of a can- 
didate for president was easily made. 
Fillmore led with 71 votes on the first 
ballot, a scattering opposition giving 
George Law 27 votes, Garret Davis 13, 
R. F. Stockton 8, Judge McLean 7, 
Sam Houston 6, John Bell 5, Kenneth 
Raynor 2, Erastus Brooks 2, John ^L 
Clayton of Delaware 1 and L. D. 
Campbell of Ohio 1. A. J. Donnelson 
of Tennessee was nominated for vice- 
president. The American ticket was 
endorsed- a few months later, by a na- 
tional convention of the old line Whigs 
at Baltimore. 

The Republican party assembled in 
Philadelphia in June, and nominated 


John C. Fremont for president. On 
the informal ballot, 359 votes were cast 
for Fremont and 196 for McLean. 

Around the candidacy of McLean, 
then a judge of the supreme court of 
the United States, there gathered some- 
thing of interest in the history of 
Know-Xothingism. He had been a 
cabinet officer under Monroe and John 
Quincy Adams, and he was appointed 
to the supreme bench by Andrew Jack- 
son. The secession of a number of 
northern delegates from the American 
convention atPhiladelphia in February, 
had entered into the calculation of the 
Republicans who sought to attach those 
delegates to their cause. It was gen- 
erally understood that the anti-slavery 
Americans favored McLean. The Ger- 
man element of the country, then large- 
ly affiliating with the Republican party, 
took alarm. A great majority of their 
papers, of which there were then a hun- 
dred in the country, clamored for Fre- 
mont, probably through fear of Mc- 
Lean's supposed nativist tendencies. 
Delegates from the doubtful states, and 
many conservative Republicans, 
were inclined to favor McLean as the 
more available candidate. They thought 


that he would make a better run 
against Buchanan in Pennsylvania, 
which was then a pivotal state. On 
that account Stevens, Lincoln, Wash- 
burn and many others, advised his nom- 
ination. Fremont's nomination, on 
the formal ballot was, however, al- 
most unanimous. 

The Know-Nothings, who seceded 
from the Philadelphia American con- 
vention, ultimately endorsed Fremont, 
though they first nominated Banks, 
who declined. Fremont's nomination, 
hov>'ever, was not acceptable to a cer- 
tain other element of the "North Amer- 
icans." They further seceded and nom- 
inated Stockton of New Jersey for 

In the ensuing campaign the noise 
and hurrah throughout the north were 
decidedly with the Republicans. They 
gave the country a livelier season of 
electioneering than any it had seen 
since 1840 ; indeed, old politicians seem 
to agree that '56 was even more rous- 
ing than the Tippecanoe and Tyler cam- 
paign. It was increasingly apparent 
that the American party had no chance 
of victory. In Pennsylvania, which 
was then an October pivotal state, the 


Kepublican and Know-Nothing mana- 
gers came together to patch up a plan 
to wrest that state from Buchanan by 
arranging a union state ticket. The 
plan failed. Pennsylvania was carried 
in October by the Democrats against 
the combined votes of the other parties ;. 
and again for the national ticket in 
November. Bvichanan received 174 
electoral votes, to 114 for Fremont and 
8 for Fillmore. This campaign ended 
the American party as a national or- 

The distribution of the popular vote 
received by Fillmore, the candidate of 
the American party, was as follows: 


Maine 3,335 Virginia 60.310 

New Hampshire .422 No. Carolina. ..36,886 

Vermont 545 So. Carolina 

Massachusetts. 19,626 Georgia 42,228 

Connecticut .. ..1,675 Alabama 28,552 

Rhode Island.... 2,615 Florida 4.833 

Mississippi 24,195 

28,218 ! Louisiana 20,709 

Nev/ York .. ..124,604 Texas 15,639 

*New Jersey... 24,115 Arkansas 10,787 

♦Pennsylvania. 82,175 ; Missouri 48,524 

Tennessee 66,178 

230,894 Kentucky 67,416 

Ohio 28,126 Delaware 6,175 

Michigan 1,660 Maryland 47,460 

'Indiana 22,386 

♦Illinois 37,444 I Total 479,882 

Wisconsin 579 

Iowa 9,180 

♦California 36,165 

Total 394,652 

The free states (5) marked with a 


star, and all the slave states except 
Maryland, were carried by Buchanan, 
giving him 174 electoral votes. Fre- 
mont carried 11 of the 16 free states, 
giving him 114 electoral votes, and Fill- 
more carried Maryland alone, giving 
him 8 electoral votes. The American 
party cut but little figure in this elec- 
tion in the I\ew England states and 
in the northwest. In Illinois it cast 
about sixteen per cent, of the total 
vote, and in Ohio and Indiana less than 
eight per cent. In California it cast 
one-third of the total vote, and in New 
York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 
less than one-fourth. The north cast 
less than one-seventh of its total vote 
for the KxLow-Nothing presidential 
ticket, and the south about three-sev- 
enths of its total vote : the north some- 
thing less than fifteen per cent, and the 
south something over forty per cent. 
More than haK, or 480,000 of the 874,- 
000 votes given Fillmore, came from 
that portion of the United States south 
of Mason and Dixon's line, and but 
394,652 from the free states. 

The popular vote of the free states 
was thus divided as between the candi- 
dates: Of a total of 2,961,009 north- 


orn voters, 1,340,070 voted for Fremont, 
the Republican candidate, 1,22(3,287 
voted for Buchanan, the Democratic 
candidate, and 394,652 voted for Fill- 
more, the American candidate. In the 
total southern vote of 1,092,995, 611,- 
879 voted for Buchanan, 479,882 for 
Fillmore and only 1,094 voted for Fre- 

The Know-Nothing vote in the south, 
however, is not so sigiiificant as bear- 
ing upon the question of religious and 
nativist intolerance as the vote in the 
north. It did not signify much be- 
yond the gathering of the Whig oppo- 
sition under a new banner, but held to- 
gether by the same Whig principles, 
associations and leaders. In the north, 
however, the Know-Nothing vote of 
1856, wherever it appeared, usually sig- 
nified a much larger degree of existing 
religiovis and racial prejudice. 

The vote of New England showed 
that this state of feeling had been swept 
away almost entirely by the deeper in- 
terest felt in the slavery issue, but the 
old nativist root feeling in New York, 
New Jersey and Pennsylvania still per- 
sisted, and possibly held a fifth of the 
voters of those states in willing bond- 


age; and to some extent the same intol- 
erant feeling was influential in Ohio, 
Indiana and Illinois, where, perhaps 
from five to ten per cent of the voters 
still thought the Pope a more vital is- 
sue than slavery. 

The "VMiig vote of the south in 1852 
had been 367,000. The American par- 
ty of 1856, with 480,000 votes in the 
south, virtually absorbed the strength 
and natural increase of the Whigs. 
It came closest to carrying the old-time 
Whig states of Kentucky, Tennessee 
and Louisiana, which, since 1836, had 
generally gone for the Whig presiden- 
tial candidate. Maryland, which Fill- 
more carried, was also naturally "a 
Whig state. It had given its electoral 
vote to the Whig candidate for presi- 
dent at every election since 1836, that 
of 1852 alone excepted. 




A LTHOFGH the thirty-third con- 
-^~*- gress, elected at the time of 
the presidential election in 1852, 
and convening for its first ses- 
sion in December, 1853, and for 
its second session in December, 1854, 
was overwhelmingly Democratic (Dem- 
ocrats, 159; Whigs, 71; Free Soilers, 
4), there was not wanting a suspicion 
that a number of its members, many 
of them Whigs, but some Democrats, 
had been inducted into the Know-Noth- 
ing order, or were under obligations to 
the new movement for support at the 
polls. In February, 1855, Congress- 
man Witte of Pennsylvania, introduced 
a resolution in the House condemn- 
ing secret political societies and their 


prescript h-e purposes; and he moved a 
suspension of the rules so that the reso- 
lution could be discussed; at the same 
time, declaring that the vote on the sus- 
pension of the rules would be regarded 
as a test vote. The House refused to 
suspend the rules, — ayes 103, noes 78 — 
the necessary two-thirds vote in the af- 
firmative not being obtained. Had all 
the Dv mocrats voted for the suspension 
of the rules, that motion might havti; 
easily carried. Those Democrats who 
voted in the negative explained their 
course by stating that a prolonged dis- 
cussion upon the resolution would in- 
terfere with the transaction of a mass 
of business which had been accumulat- 
ing in the committeees of the House. 

The thirty- fourth congress, elected at 
the fall elections of 1854, was divided, 
in so far as a classification was possi- 
ble, as follows : In the Senate, 42 Dem- 
ocrats, 15 Republicans and 5 Know- 
Xothings. In the House, 83 Demo- 
crats, 108 Republicans (TO of whom 
were members of Know-Nothing coun- 
cils), and 43 out-and-out Know-Noth- 
ings. The Know-Nothings held the 
balance of power. There then ensued 
a prolonged contest for the speakership, 


one of the most remarkable episodes of 
the kind in our congressional annals. 
Both Democrats and Republicans seem 
to have bid for the American vote. 
Men of Know-Nothing affiliation were 
prominent among the candidates. On 
the first ballot Humphrey Marshall of 
Louisville, Ky., one of the Know-Xoth- 
ing leaders of the border states, received 
30 out of the 225 votes cast. N. P. 
Banks of Massachusetts, first a Dem- 
ocrat, then a Know-Xothing, but now a 
Eepublican, received 21 votes. H. M. 
Fuller, leader of the conservative 
Know-Nothings, received IT votes. L. 
D. Campbell of Ohio, anti-slavery 
Know-Nothing, 53 votes. After two 
months of continuous balloting, N. P. 
Banks, the Republican candidate, was 
finally elected speaker by a plurality 

At the presidential election of 1856, 
the Know-iSTothings met with reverses. 
Tlie thirty-fifth congress, which wa.= 
then elected, began its session in Dec- 
ember, 1857, and was constituted as 
follows: In the Senate 39 Democrats, 
20 Republicans and 5 Know-Nothings; 
in the house 131 Democrats, 92 Repub- 
licans and 14 Ivnow-Nothings. Oit 


(Dem.) was elected speaker. He was 
unequivocably against the Know-Noth- 

The thirty-sixth congress, elected 
in the fall of 1858, met for its 
first session in December, 1859, 
and was constituted as fol- 
lows : In the Senate, 38 Democrats, 
26 Republicans and 2 Know-Nothings ; 
in the House, 101 Democrats, 113 Ee- 
publicans (four of whom were Know- 
Nothings), and 23 Know-Nothings 
(openly classed as such). By this 
time the Know-Nothing party, especial- 
ly so far as it appeared in Congress, 
was a border-state party. Its two sen- 
ators were from the states of Kentucky 
and Maryland. Of its twenty-three 
congressmen, five came from Kentucky, 
seven from Tennessee, three from Ma- 
ryland, four from North Carolina, two 
from Georgia and one each from Louis- 
iana and Virginia. Pennington (Rep.) 
was chosen speaker, receiving 117 votes 
to 85 for his Democratic opponent. 

As the American party was never 
anything but a mere minority or third 
party, in Congress, it naturally had lit- 
tle influence upon national legislation. 
"Huinphrej' Marshall, a Kentucky 


Know-Nothing-, said that he found no 
American party in Washington; that 
the engrossing subject was the negro." 
(Ehodes History of the United States 
-II., 117). 

"Know-Nothingism," says Von Hoist 
(V., 129), "disappeared without having 
accomplished the least thing against 
immigrants, adopted citizens or Cath- 




\ FTER 1856, the disintegration of 
■^^*- the Know-Nothing order was rapid. 
It had carried Maryland and Rhode 
Island in the state election of 1856, and 
in these states and in Kentucky and 
Tennessee it continued to retain some 
political power; but the question in 
practical politics with respect to it was : 
"Where will the fragments fall?" 
In New York the Democrats were able 
to pick up some strength by absorbing 
a portion of the Know-Nothing ele- 
ment. Vv'e find, for instance, Erastus 
Brooks becoming, in the course of 
years, a Democrat in good standing, so 
that in 1868 he went as a delegate to 
the convention of the Democratic par- 
ty which put Seymour in nomination 
for the presidency. Millard Fillmore, 
in 1864, openly supported McClellan 


for the presidency. In Ohio, some 
years later, we find Campbell, one of 
the leaders of the Know-Nothing party 
in that state, enrolled with the Demo- 
cratic party. The larger element of the 
party in the northern states drifted in- 
to the anti-slavery movement repre- 
sented by the Republican party. 

In the speakership contest of 1859- 
60, the border-state Americans held 'the 
balance of power. The Democrats, at 
one period of the contest, sought to win 
the speakership by combining upon 
Smith, an American congressman from 
North Carolina. He received 112 votes 
January 27, 1860, — within three votes 
of an election. When Pennington, the 
Republican candidate, was finally elect- 
ed speaker, February 1, 1860, he re- 
ceived 117 votes, them the votes 
of two Americans, Briggs of New York 
and Henry Y/inter Davis of Maryland. 

Another episode of interest in the 
absorption of the Know-Nothing fol- 
lowing: occurred in the Chicago Repub- 
lican convention of 1860. Two-thirds 
of the delegates to that convention are 
said to have favored the nomination of 
William H. Seward. Several influ- 
ences com.bined in depriving Seward of 


what was almost within his grasp. The 
feeling that he might prove too radi- 
cal a candidate to be available, and the 
criticism to which he was exposed in 
his own state on various grounds had 
their bearing; but in the view of many 
historians the question of his availa- 
bility as presidential candidate in 
Pennsylvania and Indiana also figured. 
In these states the Republican party 
was depending for its success upon the 
complete absorption of the Know-ISToth- 
ing following, and Seward's outspoken 
denunciation of the Know-Nothing 
movement, and his entire career, since 
1840, as towards the nativist movement, 
were considered factors that would 
count against him. As a consequence, 
the Republican candidates for gover- 
nor in those states influenced their del- 
egations against Seward. 

The Constitutional Union party, which 
nominated Bell and Everett as candi- 
dates in 1860, was made up chiefly of 
the jetsam and flotsam of the American 
party not yet absorbed by the other 
parties. Bell was a member of the 
Ajnerican party, and Everett had sup- 
ported Filhnore in 1856. The Consti- 
tutional Union movement was organ- 



ized by such border and southern state 
Americans as Crittenden of Kentucky 
and Houston of Texas. Filhnore's to- 
tal vote in 1866 was 874,000; Bell's in 
1860, 646,000; but while Bell main- 
tained Fillmore's stren^h in the slave 
states, where he received 516,000 as 
compared with Fillmore's 480,000 in 
1856, in the free states Bell received 
only 130,000 as compared with Fill- 
more's 394,000 in 1856. 




T T remains to make special mention 
^ of Know-Nothing activity in cer- 
tain localities where it worked itself 
out more fully and typically as an in- 
fluence in city and state polities. 

The career of the Know-Nothing 
party in Maryland is noteworthy by 
reason of the fact that this was the 
only state carried by the American 
party in the presidential election of 
1858; that Know-Nothingism persisted 
here as a political force longer than 
in any other locality, the Know-Noth- 
ings holding the reins of government 
in Baltimore from the fall of 1854 to 
the fall of 1860 ; and also for the elec- 
tion riots and disorders which Know- 
Nothingism perpetrated in Baltimore. 

Twice, (in 1855 and in 1857), the 


Know-Nothiiigs carried the state Leg- 
islature. In the latter year they 
elected a candidate for governor by 
reason of a large fraudulent vote cast 
in Baltimore. 

The picturesque, and at the same time 
the repulsive, feature of the reign of 
Know-Nothingism in Baltimore was 
the roughing of elections. In October, 
1854, the Know-Nothing candidate was 
elected mayor of Baltimore by a ma- 
jority of two thousand. In 1856 Thom- 
as Swann, a former president of the 
Baltimore & Ohio railroad, was the 
Know-Nothing candidate for mayor of 
Baltimore, and he was elected by a 
majority of fifteen himdred. After 
this the Know-Nothings ruled Balti- 
more and Maryland with a high hand. 
They carried Baltimore for their can- 
didate for governor in 1857 by over 
nine thousand majority, and at the 
municipal election of 1858 they re- 
elected Swann mayor by a majority of 
19,154 out of a total vote of 24,003. 
They again carried the city in the fi4\ 
of 1859 by a majority of 12^000 for 
their state ticket. The Legislature 
chosen this year was Democratic, and' 
the growing, but heretofore impotent 


popular disapproval of the way the 
elections were run in Baltimore, now 
succeeded in enacting a practical rem- 
edy. The control of the Baltimore po- 
lice was taken out of the hands of the 
local officials and vested in a commis- 
sion designated by the Legislature. 
Under the improved police system, dis- 
order at the polls was prevented, and 
a fair election made possible, and so 
in the mvmicipal election of 1860, the 
Know-Nothings were overwhelmingly 
defeated. The reform party elected 
its candidate for mayor by over 8,- 
000 majority. Thus, after six years of 
riotous control, the Know-Nothings 
were driven forever from the citadel of 
their power.* 

Disorders at local elections were 
frequent in New York and Phil- 
adelphia, as well as in Balitmore, 
in the years 1840 to 1860. Baltimore 
and its Know-Nothings, however, car- 
ried such excesses to the limit. Among 
the Know-Nothing clubs of the city 

*For a full an interesting account of the 
Baltimore American party, see L. F. 
Schneckebleir's "History of the Know-Noth- 
ing Party in Maryland" (Johns Hopkins 
University Studies, series 17, No. 4-5.) 



which figured in these disorders, were 
the Tigers, the Black Snakes, the 
Eip Eaps, the Blood Tubs and more 
especially the Plug Uglies. There were 
clubs on the Democratic side such as 
the Bloody Eii?hts, the Bloats an 1 the 
Buttenders, no less euphonious in name 
and disorderly in conduct; but after 
1856 the Democrats virtually laid 
down, leaving the Know-Nothings the 
monopoly of disorder and ruffianism. 

In the municipal election of October, 
1856, the Plug Uglies flocked down to- 
wards the Eighth ward to attack the 
Democratic partisans, and in a riot, 
lasting several hours, four men were 
killed and over fifty wounded. In the 
following month, at the presidential 
election, this rioting was renewed, the 
Know-Nothing clubs wheeling a cannon 
through the streets; ten men were kill- 
ed and over 250 wounded. In the elec- 
tions of the succeeding years, the only 
ward in which the Democrats could 
vote without danger was the Eighth 
ward, where the Irish element was 
strong. In most other wards only 
Know-Nothings, who gave the proper 
signal, could get to the polls, all other 
citizens being pushed aside or intim- 


idated. In some instances, bodies of 
voters to the number of a hundred or 
more were cooped up in cellars until 
the election was over. The governor 
of Maryland sought, in 1857, to induce 
the Know-Nothing mayor of Baltimore 
to take effective steps against election 
disorder, but his efforts were in vain. 
In the following years the shoe maker's 
awl became a favorite Know-Nothing 
weapon of intimidation. Plug Ugly 
clubs paraded the streets carrying 
transparencies showing the figure of a 
man running, with another, in pursuit 
eticking an av/1 into him. 

An interesting episode in the his- 
tory of the state of Massachusetts was 
its famous Know- Nothing Legislature, 
which convened in the first week of the 
year 1855. The upper house was sol- 
idly Know- Nothing. The lower house 
was also Know-Nothing, with the ex- 
ception of one Democrat, one Whig and 
one Free Soiler. One of the opposi- 
tion papers suggested as a text for the 
customary election sermon to be preach- 
ed before this Legislature, "For we are 
but of yesterday and know nothing." 
(Job 8, 9). In this Legislature there 


were about half as many farmers as the 
average in previous state Legislatures, 
but there were four times as many cler- 
gymen. Twenty-four ministers sat in 
the upper and lower houses. 

The most notable event of the ses- 
sion was the appointment of a commit- 
tee to inspect the nunneries, the so- 
called "smelling conunittee." This 
committee, which was under the lead 
of one Hiss, a "Grand Worthy Instruc- 
tor" of a Know-Nothing council, be- 
came a junketing affair, and carried 
along with it a number of invited 
guests. Its members lived at the best 
hotels and drank expensive wines at 
the cost of the state. The hotel ex- 
penses of a notorious woman were in- 
cluded among its many vouchers. 

A writer in The Boston Advertiser 
of that period thus describes the com- 
mittees' visit to a convent: 

"The gentlemen — we presume we 
must call members of the Legislature 
by this name — roamed over the whole 
house from attic to cellar. No part of 
the house was enough protected by re- 
spect for the common coiirtesies of civ- 
ilized life to be spared the examination. 
The ladies' dresses hanging in their 


wardrobes were tossed over. The par- 
ty invaded the chapel and showed their 
respect — as Protestants, we presume — 
for the One God whom all Christians 
worship, by talking loudly with their 
hats on; while the ladies shrank in 
terror at the desecration of a spot 
which they hallowed." 

Under pressure of public clamor, the 
Legislature began to investigate its in- 
vestigating committee, and three suc- 
cessive committees were necessary for 
the task. Hiss was finally expelled 
from the House by the votes, so he 
claimed, of men who had enjoyed the 
hospitality of the committee. 

The following lines were written by 
some satirist of the time: 
"One after one the honored Bay-leaves 

And ancient glories wither in the shade; 
The Solon's of the state, at duty's call, 
Have hissed a loving member from the 

Take courage, Joseph, in thy great ado; 
The world has hissed the Legislature, too." 

Further investigations followed, 
bringing to light a series of petty steal- 
ings. George W. Haines, in his inter- 
esting sketch of this KJaow-Nothing 
Legislature (The American Historical 
Asscn. vol. 8, part 1, page 187) 


states that the notion was widespread 
among its members that cheating the 
government was only a venial offense. 
It was, says Congdon (Kecollections of 
a Journalist, 146), "the most illy- as- 
sorted legislative body that ever met in 
this country." 

The only distinctively nativist meas- 
ure passed by the Legislature was a 
proposed amendment to the constitu- 
tion restricting office-holding to native- 
born Americans, and requiring twenty- 
one years residence for naturalization. 
The proposed amendment, however, was 
never submitted to popular vote, nor 
did it receive the endorsement of the 
succeeding Legislature. Another meas- 
ure, in which we have the prototype of 
such legislation as the Bennett law of 
Wisconsin and the Edward's law of 
Illinois (A. D. 1890), was introduced 
by one Johnson, who claimed that he 
sought a seat in the Legislature for that 
express purpose. This measure pro- 
posed to extend public supervision over 
all private schools, to the end that the 
state should see that its requirements 
in the matter of education were met by 
the course of study and text-books, and, 
presumably, the teachers employed in 


sueli private and church schools. John- 
son's measure, however, was not press- 
ed by his colleagues. 

Nevv' York city, though the cradle of 
nativisra, and the headquarters of the 
controlling Know-lSTothing clique, was 
not captured, politically, by the Amer- 
ican party, although strenuous efforts 
were put forth in that direction. In 
the local election of 1854, James W. 
Barker appeared as the Ivnow-JSTothing 
candidate for mayor. The factions of 
the Democratic party imited on Fer- 
nando Wood as their candidate, and 
the Whigs nominated John J. Her- 
riek. Both Wood and Herrick were at 
that time members of the Know-Noth- 
ing party. Wood was elected by a 
narrow plurality: the Know-Nothings 
claimed that Barker had been counted 
out. He received 18,547 votes. Wood 
was re-elected mayor at the city elec- 
tion in the fall of 1856 over the Know- 
Nothing candidate, Isaac O. Barker, a 
cousin of James W. Barker. Wood's 
plurality was about 9,000. In the local 
elections subsequent to 1856, the Know- 
Nothings did not depend on their own 
strength, but sought combinations. 


Their vote dwindled from 8,500 in 1857, 
to a little over 4,000 in 1859. After 
1856 the Republican party had become 
the real competitor against the Demo- 
cracy in Xew York city, and the Know- 
Nothing party sank to a position of 
a third party. By the beginning of 
1800 it had disappeared from Xew 
York city as a party organization. 

In the municipal election of May, 
1854, Conrad, the Whig candidate, was 
elected mayor of Philadelphia, receiv- 
ing about 29,506 votes to 21,100 cast for 
Vaux, Democrat. The election was 
won by the Know-Xothing councils 
quietly determining to support the can- 
didacy of Conrad. Subsequently, May- 
or-elect Conrad took the position that 
all policemen should be of American 
birth, thus indicating that he was in 
sympathy with the Know-Xothing 
movement, although not elected as the 
nominee of that party. In the election 
of the following year the Know-Xoth- 
ing party was successful in electing its 
caudidat^is to all minor city offices voted 
upon ; but in the municipal elections of 
May, 1856, the Democrats returned to 
power in Philadelphia, electing their 


candidate, Vaiix, for mayor, by sever- 
al thousand majority. In 1858, and 
again in 1860, the candidates of the 
opposing parties, adopting the name of 
"the People's party," triumphed over 
the Democrats in Philadelphia's muni- 
cipal elections. 

The nativist sentiment was always 
strong in the city of Boston. Thomas 
Aspinwall Davis, nominated by the na- 
tive American party, was mayor of Bos- 
ton in 1845, but the wave of Nativism 
soon subsided. The following year the 
Whigs regained political control of 
Boston. In 1854 the Native-American 
or Know-Nothing party elected Dr. 
Jerome Crownshield Smith mayor of 
Boston. He showed himself extremely 
fertile in making suggestions. In Win- 
sor's History of Boston, (III. page 259) 
we read the "he (Smith) was never tak- 
en quite seriously as a chief magis- 
trate." In the municipal election of 
December, 1855, the nominee of the 
Citizen's movement was elected over the 
Know-Nothing candidate by 2,000 ma- 
jority. Boston was satisfied with one 
year of Know-Nothing rule. 

In Louisville, Ky., the Know-Noth- 


ing movement was signalized in August 
1855, by an election riot, the occasion 
being referred to as "Bloody Monday" 
in the annals of that city. Shaler in 
his History of Kentucky, (page 219), 
tells us that the disorder was occasioned 
by "roughs of the Native-American 
party attacking the Catholic people." 
Twenty-two persons were killed, two- 
thirds of whom were residents of the 
Irish qiiarter, and sixteen houses burn- 
ed. In this election, which was for 
state officers, Moorhead, Know-Nothing 
candidate for Governor of Kentucky 
was elected, receiving 68,816 votes to 
65,413 for Clarke the Democratic can- 

"In Alabama, the new party made 
some effort before 1855, and in the lo- 
cal conflict at Mobile, the Catholic 
property near that city was burned by 
American partisans" (Du Bose. Life of 
Yancey, p. 291) . The Democratic mayor 
of Mobile, Jones M, Withers, affiliated 
in 1854 with the American party; but 
subsequently threw it over and ran 
again as a Democrat for mayor of Mo- 
bile and was re-elected. 

The Know-Nothing movement ap- 
peared in a less pronounced form in 


many other cities besides New York, 
Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and 
Louisville. It was manifest in the local 
politics of Cincinnati. In Detroit in 
the municipal elections of 1855 a 
Know-Xothing candidate for mayor re- 
ceived 2,000 votes to 2,700 for the Dem- 
ocratic candidate and in San Francisco 
the Kaow-Xothings in the fall elections 
of 1855 polled 1,500 votes out of a total 
of 12,000. 



HENRY WILSON tells us (ch. 32, 
Rise and Fall of the Slave Power), 
that hundreds of those who joined the 
Know-Nothing movement eared little 
fur its avowed principles, but were ea- 
ger to possess and use its machinery. 
"I did not dream," says George W. 
Julian (Political Recollections p. 143), 
"that in less than two years the men 
composing this mob would be found 
denying their membership in this se- 
cret order, or confessing it with 

Edward Everett Hale says, "it was 
distinctly a Philistine movement, so 
far as its leaders went." As for the 
rank and file, they were not anywhere 
the better element of the native-born 
population. A writer in The NeAV 
England Magazine (n. s. Vol. 15, p. 


82), made a careful study of the roster 
of niembership at Worcester, Mass., in 
3854. He finds that a large percen- 
tage, in signing the rolls, misspelled 
the names of the streets iipon which 
they lived; that there were few profes- 
sional men among them, and that 
where they were tax-payers, they aver- 
aged far below the per <;apita of the 
community at large. 

Thousands went into the new move- 
ment unthinkingly, but for the novel- 
ty of the thing, and without under- 
standing its character. The case of 
Ulysses S. Grant is an illustration. He 
tells us in his "Memoirs" (Vol. 1, p. 
169) : "Most of my neighbors had 
kno^vn me as an officer in the army 
with Whig proclivities. They had 
been on the same side, and on the 
death of their party many had become 
Know-Nothings or members of the 
American party. There was a lodg-. 
near me [he then resided on a farm 
in the vicinity of St. Louis], and I was 
invited. to join it. I accepted the in- 
vitation; was initiated and attended a 
meeting just one week later; and never 
went to another afterwards. * * 
But all secret oath-bound societies are 


dangerous to any nation. ^- * No 
political society can, or ought, to ex- 
ist where one of its corner stones is 
opposition to freedom of thought, or 
the right of worshiping God 'accord- 
ing to the dictates of one's own con- 
science.' " Subsequently, Grant voted 
(1856) for James Buchanan, the Dem- 
ocratic candidate for president. 

Undoubtedly, thousands of the south- 
ern Wliigs went into the new American 
party as unconsciously, so to speak, as 
did Ulysses S. Grant in 1854. It 
would probably be incorrect to impute 
bigotry to many of those public men 
from the south, once rei^resenting the 
Wiiig- party, but subsequently absorbed, 
and going with the mass of their consti- 
tuents, into the Know-Xothing ranks. 
John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, John 
Bell of Tennessee, both members of the 
United States Senate, were classed 
with the American party. Crittenden 
had been for forty years in public life, 
a member of the cabinet and rich in 
the honors of the Whig party. Bell, 
spoken of as "the generous Bell," had 
also served in the cabinet of a Whig 
president. These two union-loving 
men found themselves stranded as po- 


litical orphans in the last years of tho 
American party, with whose more pro- 
scriptive principles it is fair, as well 
as charitable, to assume they had no 
real sympathy. Senator Adams of Mis- 
sissippi was another Know-Nothing 
United States senator. 

Anthony Kennedy of Maryland, was 
elected United States senator by the 
Know-Nothing Legislature of that 
state. Sam Houston, hero of the no- 
table struggle of the Texas republic 
against Mexico, and who was United 
States senator from Texas from 1853- 
59, was affiliated with the American 
party, and undoubtedly leaned towards 
some of its principles. In 1854 he 
was questioned by Senator Mallory, on 
the floor of the Senate, as to whether 
he approved of the Know-Nothing doc- 
trine that Roman Catholics should be 
ineligible for office. He replied that 
he would not vote for such a law, and 
could not approve of it. Houston re- 
ceived a few votes for president in tho 
Democratic national convention of 
1852, in the Know-Nothing convention 
of 1856 and in the Union Constitu- 
tional convention of 1860. He sup- 
ported Fillmore in 1856. Fillmore'3 


associate on the presidential ticket in 
1856 was Donnelson of Tennessee, a 
nephew of Andrew Jackson, Donnel- 
son had joined the Know-Nothing or- 
der with other Whig politicians of his 
state in 1853. Henry Winter Davis of 
Baltimore was member of Congress, first 
as a WTiig in 1854 and subsequently 
as a Know-Xothing in 1856-58. Here 
he was the orator of the new party in 
all controversies ("the Rupert of de- 
bate")- He was undoubtedly smirched 
with some of the bigotry, and expressed 
not a few of the rabid sentiments of 
the movement. This may have been due 
to his habit of epigram as well as to 
his desire to please the Know-Nothing 
clubs of Baltimore. His Know-Noth- 
ing constituents censured him for 
helping to elect Pennington speaker 
of the House in 1860. He was agaiii 
in Congress diiring the civil war as a 

Among other "southern Americans," 
as they came to be called, were Kenneth 
Kaynor of North Carolina, a strong 
unionist advocate; he, it was, who for- 
nuilated the third, or union degree, of 
the order; Garrett Davis of Kentucky, 
Humphrey Marshall of Louisville, the 


]-itter the acknowledged leader of the 
border-state Know-Nothings, ex-Con- 
gi'essman Botts of Richmond, who was 
mentioned for the presidential nomina- 
tion in 1856, Call of Florida, Zollicoffer 
of Tennessee, and Bartlett of Kentuc- 
ky, who sought the vice-presidential 
nomination in 1856. 

In the presidential campaign of 1856, 
the I^ow-Nothings taunted the Re- 
publicans with the charge that Fre- 
mont was a Catholic, and the Republi- 
cans retorted that Fillmore, the Know- 
Nothing candidate, was not a Know- 
Xothing; but although he had begun 
political life as an anti-Mason, Fill- 
more, in his lust for the presidency, 
had consented to be made a third de- 
gTee Know-Nothing at Buffalo in 1855. 
His public expressions were, however, 
free from religious intolerance. Eras- 
tus Brooks, whom the Knovi-Nothings 
nominated as governor of New York 
in 1856, but who failed of election, 
was prominent in the public eye on ac- 
count of his discussion with Bishop 
Hu.ghes over Catholic Church prop- 
erty and its tenure. 

Henry Gardner, elected governor of 
Massachusetts by the American party 


in 1854, and again in 1855, H. M. 
Fuller, leader of the conservative 
Know-Nothings of Pennsylvania, L. D. 
Campbell of Ohio, leader of the anti- 
slavery Know-Nothings, Governor 
Johnson of Pennsylvania, were other 
public men identified with the Know- 
Nothing movement. N. P, Banks, who 
succeeded Gardner as governor of 
Massachusetts, was elected to Congress 
in 1852, as he afterwards admitted, by 
a union of the Democrats and Know- 
Nothings. "In the spring or summer 
of 1854, Gen. Banks asked me whether 
I intended to join the Know-Nothings. 
I said no ; that I had left politics, and 
that I intended to practice law. He 
said in reply: 'I am in politics and I 
must go on.'" (Boutwell's Sixty 
Years in Public Affairs, I., 238.) 
Banks was chosen speaker of the 
House after a prolonged contest, in 
February, 1856, Thereafter he affili- 
ated with the Republicans. He be- 
came a general in the civil war, and 
returned to Congress after its close, 
serving in the lower house from 1865- 
74, and again in 1888. 

Henry Wilson, afterwards vice-pres- 
ident of the United States from 1872- 


76, after being black-balled by one 
Know-Nothing lodge, succeeded in ob- 
taining admission to another. The 
Know-Nothing Legislature of Massa- 
chusetts elected him United States sen- 
ator in 1855. He led the bolt of the 
free state delegates from the Know- 
Nothing convention at Philadelphia 
in the same year. After that he cast 
his lot with the Republican party. He 
is said to have regretted his early con- 
nection with the Know-Nothing move- 
ment. Congdon (Recollections of a 
Journalist, 146), says: "Wlien he was 
running for the vice-presidency, and 
Catholic votes were desirable, if he did 
not himself deny the fact [that he had 
joined the Know-Nothings], he suffer- 
ed others to deny it." 

Another picturesque figure in this 
movement was George Law of New 
York city. Law was the son of a north 
of Ireland immigrant. He began 
life as a hod carrier, just as Wilson be- 
gan life as a day laborer. By the year 
1850, however, Law was a wealthy con- 
tractor, and a liberal patron of the 
nativist movement. His ambition was 
to be the presidential candidate of the 
American party in 1856, and he had 


the support of a number of journals 
and a large personal following, per- 
haps held together by his financial 
largesses. In the presidential conven- 
tion of 1856, however, Law received but 
twenty-seven votes out of a total of 
over two hundred; after which we hear 
little more of him. He died in 1881. 

Richard W. Thompson of Indiana, 
who was afterwards secretary of the 
navy in the cabinet of President Hayes, 
was a Know-Nothing in 1856. Greorge 
W. Julian, in his Political Recollec- 
tions (p. 155), referring to the cam- 
paign of 1856, says: "Eichard W. 
Tnompson, then the professed cham- 
pion of Fillmore, but in reality the 
stipendiary of the Democrats, de- 
nounced the Republicans as abolition- 
ists." Thompson was evidently a 
Know-Nothing from conviction, judg- 
ing by his "Footprints of the Jesuits," 
and other publications which came 
from his pen during the period 1872- 

Four Know-Nothing governors were 
prominent in the Philadelphia conven- 
tion of the party, Jime, 1855 : Gov- 
ernors Gardner of Massachusetts, 
Fletcher of Vermont, Johnson of Penn- 


sylvania and Brown of Tennessee. 

Wliitney (Defence of the American 
Party, p. 303), says: 

"The question has often been asked: 
'Why cannot an American paper be 
sustained?' The answer is plain. 
Every attempt to establish one, until 
recently, has been made odious through 
the Romish and partisan presses of the 
country." Americans feared to sub- 
scribe for such a paper, "lest they 
should share in the general obloquy, or 
suffer in their business and private re- 
lations." "An advertisement in them 
was- regarded as a dangerous experi- 

But the Know-Nothing movement 
was not without a number of weekly 
esponents and at Worcester, Mass., it 
established a daily organ. At Louis- 
ville, the brilliant George D. Prentiss 
lent his pen to the proscriptive move- 
ment; and his paper was held largely 
responsible for the murders and incen- 
diarism of Bloody Monday in that 




OST of those who continued to 
adhere to the American party 
during- the latter years of its activity, 
voted, in 1860, for Bell and Everett, 
candidates of the Union party for pres- 
ident and vice-president. Bell had 
been a senator from Tennessee (1853-9) 
outspoken in favoring the nativist 
restrictions upon naturalization. The 
personal following of Erastus Brooks 
in the state of New York, made up 
largely of the more consistent Know- 
Nothings, were especially pronounced 
for the Bell and Everett ticket. 

This was the end of the American 
party, however, as an organized influ- 
ence. The Order of United Americans, 
which had grown and declined with 
the growth and decline of the Know- 
Nothing movement, maintained a fee- 


ble existence up to 1866, although ac- 
cording to its last grand sachem, 
Charles E. Gildersleeve, the active 
membership in New York city in Jan- 
uary, 1863, was " so small, it could 
have met in one room." There were 
attempts to reorganize the movement 
after the close of the war. The old 
head of the Know-Nothing movement, 
James W. Barker, launched a new or- 
ganization, called the Order of Amer- 
ican Shield, which afterwards took the 
name of the Order of the American 
Union. It aimed to become a politi- 
cal influence, and established branches 
in sixteen states. But its life was fee- 
ble, and by the year 1880 it had every- 
where died oiit. Some of the veteran 
members of the Know-Nothing society 
organized a social club in New York 
city in 187Y, reviving for their club 
name the old title of "Washington 
Chapter, O. U. A." 

The various hereditary patriotic so- 
cieties, the organization of which was 
suggested by the recurrence of the cen- 
tennial anniversary of Revolutionary 
events, appear to be entirely free from 
the nativist and anti-Catholic bias. 


Among these orders are the Sons of 
the American Revolution, organized 
in 1875, the Daughters of the Ameri- 
can Revolution, organized in 1892, the 
Sons of the War of 1812, the Sons of 
the Colonial Wars, the Colonial Dames, 

The "United Order of American 
Mechanics," organized in 1845, and 
having today a membership, variously 
reported as from 40,C0 to 60,000; the 
"Junior Order of American Mechan- 
ics," organized in 1853, and establish- 
ed in over thirty states, at present 
with a membership of about 100,000, 
and the "Patriotic Order of Sons of 
America," established in 1847, with a 
membership of about 50,000, are sur- 
vivals of the nativist movement. Their 
membership is restricted to native-born 
Americans, and they adopt several of 
the old Know-Nothing planks in their 
platforms. They are probably every- 
where anti-Catholic in their political 
activity. The bulk of the membership 
of these organizations is found in the 
middle states. The Knights of Malta, 
established in 1889, with a membership 
which has varied up to 25,000, is a ben- 
eficial organization, with general pur- 


poses similar to those of tlie Junior 
Order of United American Mechanics, 
but more distinctly Protestant in its 

Another organization, pronouncedly 
anti-Catholic in its activity, is the 
"National League for the Protection 
of American Institutions," organized 
in New York in 1889, with John Jay 
as president, and Rev. James M. King 
as secretary. Its objects were to es- 
tablish "constitutional and legislative 
safeguards for the American public 
school system," and to prevent the ap- 
propriation of public funds to secta- 
rian or denominational institutions. 
It outlined a proposed "sixteerlh 
amendment" to the constitution of the 
United States along these lines; and 
it secured the endorsement of a num- 
ber of the leading American denomi- 
nations for its proposition, but the idea 
failed to receive the required approval 
of Congress. The National League 
made itself conspicuously active in se- 
curing the confirmation by the Senate 
of Governor Morgan and Rev. Dr. 
Dorchester, whom President Harrison 
had nominated at the head of the In- 
dian bureau. This was done with the 


express understanding that these ap- 
pointees would discourage further ap- 
propriations to the Catholic Indian 
schools. In New York it opposed the 
freedom of worship bill, and although 
the measure was finally enacted, the 
League succeeded in blocking its pas- 
sage for a number of years. This meas- 
ure extended the benefits of the con- 
stitution, respecting freedom of con- 
science, to the inmates of the state re- 
formatory and penal institutions. The 
league also opposed the building of 
the Catholic chapel at West Point. 
The chapel was subsequently built by 
an enabling act of Congress. In its 
efforts to amend several of the state 
constitutions in the direction of pro- 
hibiting the appropriation of public 
funds to sectarian institutions, Rev. 
James M. King, in his work, "Facing 
the Twentieth Century," (page 530) 
tells us that the National League 
met defeat in the state of Maine 
through the efforts of the Protestant 
institutions, which feared that a judi- 
cial interpretation of the word "sec- 
tarian," would cut off certain appro- 
priations of public funds, which they 
were accustomed to receive. 


There were many episodes, between 
the close of the civil war and the rise 
of the "new Know-Nothingism," sym- 
bolized in the A. P. A., which bore a re- 
lation to the Know-Nothing movement 
of the past, and which evidenced the 
persistence of the sentiment upon 
which that movement was builded." 

The Culturkampf, in Germany, after 
the close of the Franco-Prussian war 
(1872-6), had its echoes in the recru- 
descence of anti-papal sentiment in 
the United States. There were not 
wanting many pulpit divines, even 
some public men, like Richard W. 
Thompson, afterwards secretary of the 
navy under President Hayes, who be- 
lieved that the Culturkampf should be 
adapted to conditions here, and vig- 
orously pushed. 

*A riot involving' sectarian antipathies oc- 
curred at New York, July 12, 1871. It grew 
out of an attack made upon the Orangemen, 
who on July 12, 1S70, celebrated the anniver- 
sary of the battle of the Boyne. They ad- 
vertised their intention of organizing a no- 
table parade July 12, 1871 On the other hand 
the Hibernian element threatened to pre- 
vent this parade. The protection of the 
'State and city authorities was sought 
against this Irish menace. When the day 
came, 100 Orangemen paraded the streets 
guarded by five militia regiments. Near the 



In the '70's, the Catholic parochial 
school movement of the United States 
received a definite and more systematic 
organization. The latent Kaow-iSroth- 
ing spirit caught eagerly, as a signal 
for aggressive discussion, at some par- 
agraphs in a Des Moines speech of 
President Grant, wherein he urged the 
necessity of keeping church and state 
absolutely separate, and preventing the 
division of the school fund. The pen- 
cil of the cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 
these years, was devoted in Harper's 
Weekly to embittering public sentiment 
against the Catholic Church on the 
school question. 

In the presidential election of 1876, 
we find the following notice taken at 
this issue in the platforms of the Re- 
publican and Democratic parties : Sec- 
tion 7 of the Eepublican platform rec- 
ognizes "the public school system of the 
several states as the bulwark of the 

comer of Eighth avenue and Twenty-fourth 
street, an Irish tenement district, the pa- 
rade was assailed with stones and some 
shots were fired. The militia met this at- 
tack by a volley which killed fifty-one of 
the assailants and bystanders; three of the 
militia men were killed. Public opinion in 
New York sustained the authorities in their 



American republic." The platform 
further recommends an amendment to 
the constitution prohibiting the appro- 
priation of [ublic funds to sectarian 
schools or institutions. The Democrat- 
ic platform refers to "the false issue 
with which they [the Republican party] 
would enkindle sectarian strife with 
respect to the public schools," which 
should be maintained "without preju- 
dice to any class, sect or creed." The 
Republican platform of 1880 substan- 
tially reiterates the plank of 1876. 
The Democratic platform of 1880 re- 
cites that common schools have been 
fostered and protected by that party. 

In the presidential election of 1880, 
most of the New York papers. Demo- 
cratic as well as Republican, condemn- 
ed the nomination by the Democrats 
of William R. Grace as mayor of New 
York. It was the first time that a 
Catholic had been nominated for that 
office, and the school question, and pa- 
pal allegiance, and the impolicy of 
weighing down the Democratic Na- 
tional ticket with such a handicap, were 
vigorously dilated upon. Grace was 
elected, but he ran many thousands be- 
hind the vote New York city gave 


General Hancock, the Democratic can- 
didate for president. In the last days 
of the campaign of 1884, James G. 
Blaine, the Eepublican candidate for 
president, was given a reception by 
nearly a thousand Protestant ministers, 
at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York. 
Their spokesman. Rev. Dr. Burchard, 
in a fervent address, alluded to the Dem- 
ocratic party as one whose antecedents 
were "Bum, Romanism and Rebellion." 
Blaine saw the impolicy of the remark 
at the time, and his managers sought 
to have all note of it suppressed in tha 
newspapers. Democratic politicians 
got hold of it, and worked it with such 
good effect, in recalling the drift of 
"the Irish vote" to the Republican 
standard, that in the close state of 
Xew York it made a difference of a 
few thousand votes against Blaine. 
These votes, nevertheless, deprived him 
of the electoral vote of New York, and, 
as a consequence, lost him the presi- 

A Boston school issue in 18S6, fur- 
nishes a striking evidence of the eas- 
ily inflammable anti-Catholic senti- 
ment of that community. It arose 
over a very small matter — a foot-note 



in Swinton's General Ilistory, then in 
use in the Boston public schools. This 
foot-note referred to "the sale of in- 
dulgences" by the Catholic Church, as 
a cause of the Protestant reformation. 
Members of the Boston school board 
who were Catholics, succeeded in con- 
vincing the publishers that their book 
should be gotten out without this foot- 
note. Immediately, there was a bitter 
public controversy on the subject of 
indulgences, and the question came up 
in the election of the retiring school 
board with such effect that a board 
satisfactory to the ultra-Protestant 
view of this historical matter was 
elected. Afterwards Professor George 
Adams, of the department of history 
of Yale university, in a text-book of 
European History (p. 302), took a 
view of the question (undoubtedly 
clariiied by this discussion), which in- 
dicated a conviction that the Catho- 
lics of Boston were rather justified 
in their contention. 

An "American party" showed itself, 
briefly, in the state politics of Cali- 
fornia in 1886. Frank Pixley, pub- 
lisher of The Argonaut, a weekly liter- 
ary journal, anti-Catholic in its views, 


but of much literary merit, seems to 
have led tliis movement. It endorsed 
Swift, the Republican candidate for 
governor, but he repudiated its en- 
dorsement with an open and manly as- 
sertion of the doctrines of the consti- 
tution. The Democratic candidate, 
Bartlett, was elected governor by a 
few hundred plurality. The Ameri- 
can party mouthpiece asserted that, if 
Swift had kept silent, he would have 
won. The American party disappeared 
from the politics of California in the 
ensuing year. 



TO— ^^ 202 Main Library 


2 3 


5 6 


Renewals and Recharges may be made 4 days prior to the due date. 

Books may be Renewed by calling 642-3405 


>-^0 4'.3D