United States Political Parties: The American/Know Nothing Party (1852-56)

Figure 1.--The 1840s was a tumultous decade in Europe The Potato Famine (1845-48)in Irland devatated the British controlled island killing 1.5 million peole and driving more than a million into exile. Most came to America. The Revolutions of 1848 were a Continent-wide eruption. The rerevolutionaries succeeded in France, but failed elsewhere. The impact was increased emigration to America, especially from German. the resulkt was a rise of anti-immigrant. And the fact that many f the new immigrants, especially the Irish intensified anti-Catholic feeling which can be seen in this 1855 N. Currier cartoon, “The Propagation Society. More Free than Welcome." Pope Pius IX is depicted with a and a boatload of his bishops trying to ruin the United States, getting a foothold through Irish immigration. Notice the sprig of shamrock being used to anchor the Catholic boat. Probably drawn by Louis Maurer. Notice the evolving image of Uncle Sam, at the time also called Brother Johnathan. Click on the image for more information and the text of the bubble comments.

America is known as a country of immigrants. For many Americans this is an element of pride. Others are not as sure. There have been periods of intense feeling against immigrants. One of these periods was the mid-19th century. Following the Irish Potato Famine and the failed liberal Revolutions of 1848, especially in Germany, wave of immigrants reached America and they were not only foreign, but many were Catholic as well. As a result, a strong “Anti-foreigner” movement developed. A political party calling themselves the 'Know Nothing Party' came into prominence which terrorized the minorities and incited riots. The Party was most active during 1852-56. Many of these new immigrants had been co-opted by the Democratic political machines that were dominant in many of the big cities where the immigrants settled. Beginning in the early 1850s, a variety of secret, anti-immigrant organizations actually formed a political party. The official name of the part was the American party. It became commonly known, however, as the Know Nothing Party. Apparently some members when asked about the Party would respond "I know nothing", as a result of the secret and the exclusive, native-Protestant organization. The Party wanted to exclude Catholics and foreigners from public office and to extend naturalization period from 5 to 21 years. The sucess of the Know Nothings was in part the result of the rifts in the established Whig and Democratic Parties over slavery. The Party had some successes in local and state elections during 1854-55, but it was also splitting over slavery issue. Former Whig President Millard Fillmore refused to become a Republican. He ran on the Know Nothing ticket and won 21 percent of the popular vote. It was, however, the last notable showing as the country moved toward Civil War. Northern members joined former Whigs, expanding the newly formed Republican party.


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Created: 11:55 PM 3/14/2019
Last updated: 11:55 PM 3/14/2019