October 29, 2006

WEB OF FOOLS:

Know-Nothing Party flexes its muscles (Chuck Mobley | Saturday, October 28, 2006, Savannah Morning News)

In early November 1856, as election day drew near, a night-time political rally took place in downtown Savannah.

Participants marched through the streets and squares, carrying torches and banners, including one that neatly encapsulated a major issue then dividing Americans: "Freedom for Foreigners, but Supremacy for Ourselves; Foreigners may Ride, But Sam must Drive."

The local Know-Nothings were making their bid for control of city hall.

This Savannah movement was part of a national drive that had fused the demise of the Whig Party with the demonization of immigrants into a loosely grouped political force.

Its meetings and membership were secret. If asked about the organization, members were instructed to reply "I know nothing," hence the party's somewhat irreverent moniker.

The party's goals were simple - limit immigration, particularly Catholic immigration, and limit immigrant participation in the political process, principally by imposing a 21-year wait before becoming eligible to vote.

It was an astute political stance. The massive influx of Catholics from Ireland had alarmed and angered many Americans.

The timing was also propitious as the old Whig Party, riven by sectionalism and wracked by the deaths of long-time leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, had ceased to exist as a national force by 1854.

The Know-Nothing Party got off to a promising start that year, electing governors in eight states, putting more than 100 congressional candidates into offices and winning thousands of local elections, including a handful in Savannah.

Many old-line Whigs, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois among them, simply sat on the political sidelines, not willing to publicly embrace the tenets of Know-Nothingism, but temporarily without a party they could openly support.

Privately, Lincoln was dismissive of the Know-Nothings.

Writing a friend in 1855, he denied accusations he was part of that movement: "How could I be?" If Know-Nothings gained control, he said, the Declaration of Independence would be amended to read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics."

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 29, 2006 4:07 PM
Comments

"The massive influx of Catholics from Ireland had alarmed and angered many Americans."

Was one of the alarmed and angry guys named John Derbyshire?

Posted by: Casey Abell at October 30, 2006 2:14 PM
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