American Party Platform (1856)

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The 1840s and 1850s saw an enormous increase in the numbers of European immigrants, Irish and Germans especially, arriving on American shores and settling in heavily populated urban areas. Many of these immigrants subsequently became active in local politics, much to the vexation of old-stock, "real" Americans. The result was a renaissance in the formation of "nativistic" societies—small, shadowy, anti-foreign, anti-Catholic organizations, a number of which banded together in the early 1850s to form the American Party. Popularly known as "Know-Nothings" (after the response members gave when interrogated about their pro-protestant, pro-native associations), the American Party rode a wave of xenophobia and racism (not to mention political turmoil among the Whigs and Democrats, the major parties of the day) into the mid-1850s. Among the Know-Nothing's dubious political ideas was a call to extend the five-year naturalization period to twenty-one years, as well as a proscription against the holding of elected offices by Catholics and foreigners. Like much of the country, however, the Know-Nothings soon divided over the explosive slavery issue, and the power of the party quickly waned. Their nominee for president in 1856, former President Millard Fillmore, received just twenty-one percent of the popular vote and won only the state of Maryland. Still disdaining urban foreigners, most of who were Democrats, many of the nowerstwhile Know-Nothings allied with the newly formed Republican Party.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also American Party ; Know-Nothing Party .

  • 2. The perpetuation of the Federal Union and Constitution, as the palladium of our civil and religious liberties, and the only sure bulwarks of American Independence.
  • 3. Americans must rule America; and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal and municipal offices of government employment, in preference to all others. Nevertheless,
  • 4. Persons born of American parents residing temporarily abroad, should be entitled to all the rights of native-born citizens.
  • 5. No person should be selected for political station (whether of native or foreign birth), who recognizes any allegiance or obligation of any description 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 laws, as rules of political action.
  • 6. The unqualified recognition and maintenance of the reserved rights of the several States, and the cultivation of harmony and fraternal good will between the citizens of the several States, and to this end, non-interference by Congress with questions appertaining solely to the individual States, and non-intervention by each State with the affairs of any other State.
  • 7. The recognition of the right of native-born and naturalized citizens of the United States, permanently residing in any territory thereof, to frame their constitution and laws, and to regulate their domestic and social affairs in their own mode, subject only to the provisions of the Federal Constitution, with the privilege of admission into the Union whenever they have the requisite population for one Representative in Congress: Provided, always, that none but those who are citizens of the United States, under the Constitution and laws thereof, and who have a fixed residence in any such Territory, ought to participate in the formation of the Constitution, or in the enactment of laws for said Territory or State.
  • 8. An enforcement of the principles that no State or Territory ought to admit others than citizens to the right of suffrage, or of holding political offices of the United States.
  • 9. A change in the laws of naturalization, making a continued residence of twenty-one years, of all not heretofore provided for, an indispensable requisite for citizenship hereafter, and excluding all paupers, and persons convicted of crime, from landing upon our shores; but no interference with the vested rights of foreigners.
  • 10. Opposition to any union between Church and State; no interference with religious faith or worship, and no test oaths for office.…
  • 13. Opposition to the reckless and unwise policy of the present Administration in the general management of our national affairs, and more especially as shown in removing "Americans" (by designation) and Conservatives in principle, from office, and placing foreigners and Ultraists in their places; as shown in a truckling subserviency to the stronger, and an insolent and cowardly bravado toward the weaker powers; as shown in reopening sectional agitation, by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; as shown in granting to unnaturalized foreigners the right of suffrage in Kansas and Nebraska; as shown in its vacillating course on the Kansas and Nebraska question; as shown in the corruptions which pervade some of the Departments of the Government; as shown in disgracing meritorious naval officers through prejudice or caprice: and as shown in the blundering mismanagement of our foreign relations.
  • 14. Therefore, to remedy existing evils, and prevent the disastrous consequences otherwise resulting therefrom, we would build up the "American Party" upon the principles herein before stated.…

SOURCE: Greeley, Horace and John F. Cleveland. A Political Text-book for 1860. New York: Tribune Association, 1860.

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American Party Platform (1856)

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American Party Platform (1856)