The Know-Nothing and American Crusader
The Know-Nothing and American Crusader
Date: July 15, 1854
Source: The Know-Nothing and American Crusader. The Nativist Press, 1854.
About the Author: The Know-Nothing and American Crusader was a pamphlet published by the America Party in the mid-1850s in the eastern United States. The America Party was closely associated with a political movement known as the "Know-Nothings." Both groups advocated the promotion of the interests of native-born Americans over those of foreigners.
Nativism is the term that defined the political philosophy of the Know-Nothings, a political movement that arose in the late 1840s and early 1850s in the United States. Nativism was defined as a general support for all aspects of American culture and society that were the product of native-born Americans as opposed to those attributable to foreign influences. George Washington was the oft-cited hero to many in the nativist movement.
The American Party was the formal political organization that was the product of the Know-Nothing movement. The American Party was formed in the wake of the collapse of the Whigs, the party that arose in opposition to Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party in 1832. The Whigs took their name from the British party that opposed a strong monarchy; the American Whigs championed the powers of Congress over those of the presidency. The Whig party attracted notables such as Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln to their banner. By 1850, the Whigs were divided over the most incendiary issue in American politics of that era, the extension of slavery into the new western states of the Union. The slave question foreshadowed the secession of the southern states and the subsequent Civil War that began in 1861.
The nativist element of the Whig party became the core of the Know-Nothings, an organization that took its name from its semisecret practices; if a member was approached by anyone and asked about their political affiliation, the member was expected to reply that they "know nothing."
The Know-Nothing and American Crusader was published by the American Party in the period leading up to the 1856 presidential election. The publication was ceaseless in its attacks upon any element perceived as undermining a pure, native-born American social, cultural, or political identity.
The Know-Nothings were a strident and forceful outlet for a mixture of xenophobic and racist sentiments during their period of national political prominence. In addition to promoting nativist American interests, the Know-Nothings demonized the pope as a highly dangerous and un-American force. The Catholic population of the United States, particularly in the northeastern cities of New York and Boston, had risen significantly due to Irish immigration precipitated by a series of famines in Ireland in the mid-1840s.
In the period between 1850 and 1854, the Know-Nothings won control of a number of state legislatures and city councils on the eastern seaboard of the nation. The mayor elected in San Francisco in 1854 was also a Know-Nothing member. Just as it seemed that the Know-Nothings were poised to become a national political force, the movement found itself divided over the slave issue. The 1856 presidential election, where the incumbent Millard Fillmore ran under the American Party banner, was the last significant exposure of the Know-Nothing policies on a national scale, as Fillmore was resoundingly defeated. The anti-slavery elements of the Know-Nothings migrated to the newly constituted Republican Party, leading to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
THE KNOW-NOTHING: AND AMERICAN CRUSADER
15 July 1854
- —Repeal of all Naturalization Laws.
- —None but NATIVE AMERICANS for Office.
- —A pure American Common School System.
- —War to the hilt, on Romanism.
- —Opposition, first and last, to the formation of Military Companies composed of foreigners.
- —The advocacy of a sound, healthy, and safe Nationality.
- —Hostility to all Papal Influences, in whatever form, and under whatever name.
- —American Institutions and American Sentiments.
- —More stringent and effective Emigration Laws.
- —The amplest Protection to Protestant Interests.
- —The doctrines of the revered WASHINGTON and his compatriots.
- —The sending back of all Foreign Paupers landed on our shores.
- —The formation of Societies to protect all American Interests.
- —Eternal enmity to all who attempts to carry out the principles of a foreign Church or State.
- —Our Country, our whole Country, and nothing but our country.
- —And finally,—American Laws and American Legislation, and Death to all Foreign Influences, whether in high places or low!
This is our point: ENTIRE AND UNCONDITIONAL REPEAL.
Nothing short of this must be advocated or listened to by Native Americans. Half and half doctrines are fatal. Milk-and-water compromises will never do. We must plant ourselves on solid, massive, immovable ground. 'REPEAL' must be written in gigantic letters on all our banners. It is what we owe to our country to do. There is no dodging the issue. The Naturalization Laws must be repealed.
Some one—some man who lacks patriotism, nationality, and all that is great and good as an American—asks, perhaps, why? We answer,
1st. Because we cannot preserve our nationality without it. When the hordes of other lands are permitted to come here, as is the case daily; when ignorance, poverty, crime is allowed to land upon our shores and be transformed, hardly without ceremony, and with no time to learn the nature of our institutions, into what is called the 'American' citizens—when these things are done, it is time that good men lifted their arms and sounded their voices against the abomination.
2nd. Because it is unjust to the Republic. No man has a right to perform an act of injustice to a nation. We care not whether the offense is defined in a written law, or not. There is a right and a wrong in this as in other matters. Every man of intelligence must understand it. Making citizens of such stuff as too often seeks our land is an injustice, the grossness of which can hardly be described. It should no longer be tolerated. The laws which permit the crime should at once be abolished.
3rd. Because it is every day weakening the strength, and destroying the character of the country. America can only be America by keeping it American. Its halls of legislation must reflect American sentiment, uttered by American tongues. There is no avoiding this position. Americans must fill our offices, great and small. To do this we must cut off all change of foreigners getting such. How? By repealing Naturalization Laws—by saying to foreigners, 'Gentlemen, you are welcome to live in our country if you conduct yourself in a worthy manner, but you must have no offices. This is our land. We own it. We mean to take care of it. If you don't like things as you find them, you can leave. We only demand in this country what we should expect in yours.'
4th. Because these laws have already produced an immense amount of evil, political, social, moral and religious. Had we never had Naturalization laws—and no country should ever have them—our country would have possessed a hundred-fold the strength, efficiency, political pursuits and symmetrical stature it now does. It has been the deadliest, most sad and ruinous course that has ever afflicted the nation. It has opened the flood-gates of poison, and through its moral and political St. Lawrences, Aroostooks, Potomacs, Ohios, Mississippis and Rio Grandes is spreading disease and death in every direction. Never, never can this be stopped—never can the nation become healthy and strong—until the means which permits this greatest and most gigantic of misfortunes is done away with. The stream at the fountain must be made pure, or the branches will run pollution.
5th. Because it is an immense wrong to have such laws. Even allowing that the tide of emigration to this country was made up mostly of intelligent, decent, patriotic men and women, the case would not be changed. To grant such full citizenship—to clothe them with the full power of the American—would be a gross wrong, a violation of all common sense and common justice. How much more is the case when ignorance, crime, poverty, all manner of baseness—when traitors, ruffians, moral, political, civil murderers—are granted this same citizenship, which is done by the fifties and hundreds every day in this city of Boston, and in almost every part of the land. The first path that is trodden from the ship's deck is often to the office where this legalized crime, in the shape of Naturalization, is performed. Do any wonder why Americans desire these enormities to be abolished? Do any wonder why a just patriotism and a lofty principle execrates the monsters who are engaged in this crime?
6th. Because we are false to the Republic if we fail to effect this repeal. We must either go for it, and be on the side of the Republic, or go against it and oppose the Republic. The point is clear as sunlight. No man can sustain the present Naturalization laws and be a friend of the Republic. It is an impossible thing. It is only by still more Americanizing America—Americanizing its sentiment, institutions, genius, native masses—that our mission and destiny can be achieved. Depend upon it that the initial step to this is a THOROUGH, UNCONDITIONAL REPEAL OF ALL NATURALIZATION LAWS.
If the importance of the Know-Nothing movement is gauged simply by the number of years in which it occupied a prominent place on the American political stage, the Know-Nothings would be regarded as a mere blip on the long and intricate continuum that is the history of the United States. Instead, the Know-Nothings are an important component in the evolution of American attitudes towards both immigration and the development of American party politics.
The fears articulated by the Know-Nothings regarding the undermining of American society by immigration was founded upon the weight of numbers that is evidenced by census data. Between 1820 and 1845, immigration to the United States had ranged between 10,000 and 100,000 persons per year. In the period between 1845 and 1854, the time frame in which the Know-Nothings rose to national prominence, 2.9 million people immigrated to the United States, with 1.2 million Irish and over one million German settlers constituting the two largest immigrant populations. Most of these persons were Catholics. The introduction of such a large number of persons into the predominately Protestant and relatively settled American population was the primary impetus to the Know-Nothing movement. John F. Kennedy observed in his 1958 book Immigration in America that the Irish were the only immigrant group to precipitate the formation of an American political party to oppose them.
A corollary theme to the Know-Nothing attack on immigration was the stated belief that the Papacy, as the spiritual leadership of the worldwide Catholic Church, was the institution to which these new immigrants would pledge ultimate loyalty, and not the government of the United States. The Know-Nothings believed that allegiance to the United States was impossible for such immigrants, and that they should be barred from settling in America. Such was the stridency of the Know-Nothings in their nativist approach that Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying during the 1856 national election that if the Know-Nothings were to obtain control of the American government, the Declaration of Independence would be amended to read, "All men are created equal except for Negroes, foreigners and Catholics."
Nativism is a significant movement in American history because its rigid, uncompromising exclusionism is the polar opposite to the modern concept of multiculturalism, with its implicit encouragement of racial and ethnic tolerance. In many respects, multiculturalism is used to celebrate the differences between peoples.
The sentiments of the Know-Nothings as expressed in their publication of July 15, 1854, were repeated in various forms when Asian immigration to the west coast of the United States became more prolific after the California gold rush of 1849 and the demand for construction workers to build the transcontinental railway completed in 1869. The political battles that took place in the 1870s and 1880s over the exclusion of the Chinese and later the Japanese from immigration to the United States were as vitriolic and as determined as any waged by the Know-Nothings. It is significant that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred the immigration of the Chinese and later extended to other Asiatic races, was of the type that the Know-Nothings had emphatically endorsed in 1854.
The prominence of the parochial schools in American education is a direct result of the Anti-Catholic sentiments expressed by the Know-Nothings. Faced by repeated attacks, the American Catholic church established its own schools as a means of ensuring that Catholic education would be preserved. The parochial schools have endured throughout the United States to the present day.
The echoes of the Know-Nothing nativist campaigns resonated in American politics as late as the 1960 presidential campaign, when the Catholicism of Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy was a significant political issue.
PBS.org. "Freedom: A History of Us." 2002. 〈http://www.pbs.org/wnet/historyofus/web08/segment5.html〉 (accessed June 20, 2006).
United States Bureau of the Census. "Historical Statistics of the Foreign Born Population of the United States, 1850–1990." 〈http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0029/twps0029.html〉 (accessed June 20, 2006).