Although The Know-Nothing movement started differently, as groups of secret anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant political organizations that called itself the American party, there certainly is a case for finding parallels to today’s firmly anti immigration Tea Party.
I will let you decide.
By the mid- late 1840s, as immigrants freely continued to flow into the United States, a number of American citizens grew increasingly alarmed. The newest wave of immigrants were no longer from Britain but were instead German, who mostly spoke German, and Irish, whose English was hidden in thick brogues difficult to understand. The huge influx of these two groups inspired great opposition. The “clannish” and Catholic Irish were particularly feared and despised.
(Today the non-English speaking, “clannish” immigrants are primarily from Spanish speaking Latin American nations…also Catholic).
Groups of already established American “Nativists” formed secret societies dedicated to stopping the flow of immigrants. Their hostility to Catholics and immigrants led to a corresponding opposition to the costs of “trying to support and educate indigent foreigners” found favor with groups attempting to organize on a national basis.
In 1849 a secret fraternal organization bearing the name of the Order of the Star Spangled Banner was launched in New York and in other major American cities.
(A catchy reference to a symbol from American History)
When asked about their nativist origins, members would respond that they “knew nothing”. Thus the name: “The Know Nothing Party”.
The organization found support for proposals that included stringent restrictions on immigration, exclusion of foreign-born persons from voting or holding political office and a residency requirement of more than 20 years for U.S. citizenship. They also supported daily Bible readings in schools and tried to ensure that only Protestants could teach in the public schools.
(Revisionist histories and Creationism?)
By 1852 supporters of the Know-Nothing movement had achieved significant results with many of their candidates winning seats in local and state elections. The Know-Nothings elected the governor and all but two members of the Massachusetts state legislature as well as 40 members of the New York state legislature. By 1855 the Know-Nothings had captured control of the legislatures in parts of New England and were the dominant opposition party to the Democrats in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
(Sound familiar? The states and faces may change, and to some extent, the issues, but the – – – – stays the same. Remember the “immigrant” problems were then primarily in the ports of the North East…Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore or in Midwestern Chicago. However their pro slavery stance also attracted southern followers in the 1850s. Texas isn’t included. At the time, some key leaders of the new state of Texas were Tejanos…also known as Texicans). They didn’t share the problem.
In the presidential election of 1856, the party supported Millard Fillmore and won more than 21 percent of the popular vote and 8 Electoral votes. In Congress, the party had 5 senators and 43 representatives.
Yet there is hope.
As the Know-Nothing party reached its peak, the movement was beginning to decline. Despite their numbers in elective office, the Know-Nothings were largely unsuccessful in passing significant legislation.
In 1856 the Know-Nothings held their first and only national convention in Philadelphia where, as the American party, they supported former President Millard Fillmore as their presidential candidate. Fillmore received 21 percent of the popular vote and eight electoral votes, finishing a poor third.
By 1859 the Know-Nothing movement was no longer of any significance on the national stage.
Let us hope.