Know-Nothing Party


Know-Nothing Party
(also the Know-Nothings)
the popular name for the American Republican Party, later called the American Party, which was established in 1843 with the aim of restricting immigration and preventing Catholics from holding public office. They were called Know-Nothings because members of the party were told to say ‘I know nothing’ when asked about it. They were also called ‘nativists’ because they believed that foreign-born Americans should not be allowed to hold government posts. They had some success in the 1850s, but were divided over the issue of slaves, and the party soon came to an end. The word know-nothing is still sometimes applied in the US to a person with political views which are too fixed and not reasonable.

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or American Party

U.S. political party of the 1850s.

The party's precursor organization, the secret Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, was formed in New York City in 1849 from the anti-immigrant and anti-Roman Catholic movement, and lodges were soon established in other major cities. Members were instructed to reply to queries about their group with "I know nothing." As its membership and importance grew in the 1850s, the group slowly shed its clandestine character and took the official name American Party. The party called for restrictions on immigration and on naturalized citizenship. Many local and state candidates won offices in the 1852 election, and by 1855 there were 43 Know-Nothing members of Congress. At its 1856 convention the party split over the slavery issue; proslavery advocates left to join the Democrats and antislavery adherents joined the Republicans. By 1859 the party's influence was limited to the border states.

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byname of  American Party 

      U.S. political party that flourished in the 1850s. The Know-Nothing party was an outgrowth of the strong anti-immigrant and especially anti-Roman Catholic sentiment that started to manifest itself during the 1840s. A rising tide of immigrants, primarily Germans in the Midwest and Irish in the East, seemed to pose a threat to the economic and political security of native-born Protestant Americans. In 1849 the secret Order of the Star-Spangled Banner formed in New York City, and soon after lodges formed in nearly every other major American city.

      Members, when asked about their nativist organizations, were supposed to reply that they knew nothing, hence the name. As its membership and importance grew in the 1850s, the group slowly shed its clandestine character and took the official name American Party. As a national political entity, it called for restrictions on immigration, the exclusion of the foreign-born from voting or holding public office in the United States, and for a 21-year residency requirement for citizenship.

      By 1852 the Know-Nothing party was achieving phenomenal growth. It did very well that year in state and local elections, and with passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 it won additional adherents from the ranks of conservatives who could support neither the proslavery Democrats nor antislavery Republicans. When Congress assembled on Dec. 3, 1855, 43 representatives were avowed members of the Know-Nothing party.

      That, however, was the peak of Know-Nothing power. At the American Party convention in Philadelphia the following year, the party split along sectional lines over the proslavery platform pushed through by Southern delegates. Party presidential candidate Millard Fillmore carried just one state (Maryland) in the 1856 election, and congressional strength dropped to 12 representatives.

      Caught in the sectional strife disrupting all national institutions, the American Party fell apart after 1856. Antislavery Know-Nothings joined the Republican Party, while Southern members flocked to the proslavery banner still held aloft by the Democratic Party. By 1859 the American Party's strength was largely confined to the border states. In 1860 remnants of the Know-Nothings joined old-line Whigs to form the Constitutional Union Party and nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president. Bell finished fourth in popular votes in the four-man contest of that year, won by the Republican Abraham Lincoln.

      Two other groups that took the name American Party appeared in the 1870s and '80s. One of these, organized in California in 1886, proposed a briefly popular platform calling mainly for the exclusion of Chinese and other Asians from industrial employment.

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Universalium. 2010.

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