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American Protective Association


A secret anti-Catholic organization, the American Protective Association (A.P.A.) was active especially in the Midwest between 1893 and 1896. Like the earlier Know-Nothing movement, the A.P.A. relied primarily on political activities to combat the alleged menace of Catholicism in America (see know-nothingism).

The A.P.A. was founded in 1887 in Clinton, Iowa, by Henry F. Bowers. About 70,000 members had been recruited in the upper Mississippi Valley by 1892. The following year a number of factors inspired a great surge in A.P.A. activity and strength. These included the appointment of Abp. Francis Satolli as first permanent papal delegate to the U.S.; the replacement of Bowers by William J. Traynor, a more practical and politically astute leader; and, most important, the Panic of 1893, which A.P.A. propagandists ascribed to papal plots.

These developments occurred at a time when Irish political power was increasing in such cities as Boston and New York and when the prolonged school controversy was aggravating anti-Catholic sentiment. The rapid expansion of parochial schools after the Third Plenary Council in 1884 had induced several states to attempt public regulation of private schools. Compromise solutions, such as the poughkeepsie plan and the faribault plan, only provoked further controversy.

Encouraged by these circumstances the A.P.A. launched a membership drive and by 1896 claimed a total of 2.5 million members. To aid its campaign the society established the A.P.A. Magazine and about 70 weekly newspapers, including Traynor's Patriotic American, which published a bogus encyclical in which the date was set for American Catholics to slay their fellow citizens in a holy massacre. Propaganda efforts were reinforced by economic pressure against Catholic businessmen and workers.

Political action, however, was the principal A.P.A. concern. Usually endorsing Republican candidates, the A.P.A. influenced elections in 1894 in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, and Colorado. In Michigan the society elected a congressman, William S. Linton. Yet, in a year of Republican victories, the strength of the A.P.A. was deceptive. Many of the candidates endorsed by its state and municipal advisory boards ignored the organization after the election. Most of its triumphs were confined to purely municipal offices. Nationally the A.P.A. was denounced by numerous responsible leaders, notably Washington Gladden, a Congregational clergyman. Its appeal was further limited by a legislative program that included little more than opposition to federal grants secured by the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and by its objection to Congressional acceptance of the Marquette statue presented by Wisconsin.

The A.P.A. was weakened also by internal strife. A growing nativist faction clashed with the Scotch-Irish and Scandinavian membership. The A.P.A. was then hopelessly wrecked by disagreement over the election of 1896. Traynor refused to endorse William McKinley and attempted, unsuccessfully, to create a third party. McKinley's victory virtually ended the career of the A.P.A., although, again under Bowers's leadership, it remained in existence until 1911.

Bibliography: j. higham, Strangers in the Land (New Brunswick 1955) 6263, 8087. c. wittke, We Who Built America (New York 1940) 498505. h. j. desmond, The A.P.A. Movement (Washington 1912). d. l. kinzer, The American Protective Association: A Study of Anti-Catholicism (University Microfilms 8097; Ann Arbor 1954; Seattle 1964).

[j. l. morrison]

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