The American Party (1849-1860), formerly known as the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, better known as the Know-Nothing Party, saw Irish Catholic immigrants as a grave threat to the US – like how Donald Trump sees Mexicans and Muslims. They were nativists.
Catholics were a threat to American values. They:
- Did not practise or value democracy in their home countries.
- Were loyal to the pope.
- Drank liquor.
- Partied on the Sabbath.
- Had sex all the time, especially in churches and convents.
- Held nuns in convents against their will.
These views were informed in part by Maria Monk, who wrote the best-selling book of 1835: “Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk: The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed”. All made up.
Also in 1835 Samuel F. B. Morse, he of the Morse code, warned that Catholic kings and Jesuits were sending:
“shiploads of Roman Catholic emigrants, and for the sole purpose of converting us to the religion of Popery.”
Lyman Beecher, whose daughter would later write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, gave anti-Catholic sermons which led to a wave of church burnings in New England and the Midwest.
In 1844 an anti-Catholic riot in Philadelphia went on for three days, burning down churches and houses, killing 13.
Then in 1845 the Irish Potato Famine hit.
Over a million Irish immigrants fled to the US. Most had no money, no education. Nearly all were Catholic.
The Irish were seen as bringing crime, taking jobs and lowering wages. They were stereotyped as poor, lazy, drunk and violent. Ralph Waldo Emerson did not even think they were Caucasian, seeing them as little better than American Indians, Africans or the Chinese.
Out of all this came the Know-Nothings. In Washington and Baltimore they beat up voters who opposed them. In Cincinnati they tried to lynch a papal envoy. In Louisville a priest reported that election violence led to:
“a reign of terror surpassed only by the Philadelphia riots. Nearly one hundred poor Irish have been butchered or burned and some twenty houses have been consumed in the flames.”
Elections: In the early to middle 1850s Know-Nothings became governors of New York, Massachusetts and several other states. They became mayors of Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. They won dozens of seats in Congress. They gained control of the House of Representatives by joining forces with another new party: the Republicans. In 1856 their man for president, Millard Fillmore, won a fifth of the vote.
“As a nation we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it: ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.‘ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.'”
Policies: liquor laws, convent inspections, anti-corruption measures, barring the foreign-born from voting or taking office, a wait period of 21 years to become a naturalized citizen, etc. But once in power they were quickly torn apart by disagreements over slavery.
A generation later the Irish were seeking to ban the Chinese.
– Abagond, 2016.
Source: mainly “The History of White People” (2010) by Nell Irvin Painter.
- Irish Americans
- English Americans
- Anglo-Protestant culture
- The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882