1850 Know-Nothings Rise Again

©Library of Congress

©Library of Congress

Before the founding of the Republican Party in 1854, the two political parties were the Democrats and the Whigs. Anti-slavery Whigs met in February of 1854 – an election year – to establish a new party and oppose the spread of slavery into new, western territories. This caused an irreparable split in the party, causing the Whigs imploded previous to the election. The two-party system collapsed and secret societies abounded.

Where did the former Whigs who favored slavery go? Into these secret societies. Two such societies were The Order of United Americans and The Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Roaring out of these secret societies came nativism, xenophobia and the American Party.

When politicians from the American Party were asked about their membership in the secret societies, they would respond, “I know nothing.” They responded so frequently with this refrain, newspapers across the country coined the American Party the Know Nothing Party, and it stuck.

What did the platform of the American Party look like?

In the East it looked like finding and calling for the deportation of all Irish and Italian Roman Catholics, Jewish, and free Black immigrants who were blamed for all the problems of the country.

In the Midwest it looked like finding and calling for the deportation of all German immigrants who were blamed for all the problems of the country.

In the West it looked like finding and calling for the deportation of all Asian immigrants who were blamed for all the problems of the country.

In Donald Trump’s long-awaited immigration speech Wednesday night, these were some of the phrases he used about this country’s immigrants: “Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous criminals allowed to freely roam our streets…violent offenders…we have to release them into your communities…the results will be horrific…some of the most heinous crimes imaginable…accused of murder, rape and child molestation…local police know each and every one of them – they know where they live, they know them by name, when I am in office, the first hour, those people will be gone.”

Excellent speech by Donald Trump tonight. Deport criminal aliens, end catch and release, enforce immigration laws & American First. Tweeted by David Duke, longtime Ku Klux Klan member

So here we are with history repeating itself. It’s not as if we don’t know better. Yet we continue to turn our backs on lessons learned, ignoring the obvious, letting fear once again weaken our resolve to live our lives from integrity. And those of us who contend we follow a greater God have either remained silent and stepped away from the process entirely, or have instead mistakenly been worshiping an emperor who has no clothes.

I have been one of the silent ones for far too long. I can no longer remain on the sidelines and listen to racist rhetoric without calling it out for what it is. I must reiterate this is a country founded on religious freedom, whose foundation is build upon the sweat and backs of immigrants, country whose invitation to immigrants and their families (“Give me your tired, your poor; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free) has been calling out from New York’s Liberty Island since 1886.

I have been one of the silent ones for far too long. I can no longer remain on the sidelines and listen to racist rhetoric without calling it out for what it is.

We must hunker down and pray: for our country, for each other and for our souls. Let us pray and repent of our hate and our fear; let us once again revere Your name and exhibit compassion for each other. Let us embrace Your love – the kind of love that casts out fear. Let us embrace not our own agendas, but Your Agenda, Your Good News. Let us cherish what this country was meant to be.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” (sic) Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Joshua F. Speed, August 24, 1855

6 comments

  1. How can any of us who have interacted with or have members of our family who are any of these vilified peoples turn our backs? I have spent my entire life, as my mother has, fighting for disenfranchised people. I have relative married to Hispanics, Jewish people, Filipinos and African-Americans. How can anyone in the Republican party be OK with this? Trump is acting horrible, mean, cruel, shouting like Hitler (I have to say, that is exactly who he resembled in that so-called immigration speech, I could barely tolerate listening it was such rasping, hateful haranguing). It makes me not want to spend one more minute with anyone who says Trump is better than Clinton.

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    1. He is indeed fomenting anger, hate, separation and division among us. And it is interesting that the morning after his speech, he went on a morning show and said his policy would be EXACTLY what President Obama’s policy has been for the last eight years. He says whatever his audience wants to hear, just like any good used car salesman. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and his supporters will soon discover they have bought a lemon.

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  2. Lincoln declared slave free(Eman Proc) only in the 11 states the seceded leaving 4 slave states not affected to keep them from joining south. Politically and militarily astute perhaps but not very admirable human rights advocacy. He canned Gen John C Fremont (rep cand for president 1856) for declaring slaves free in Missouri when Fremont had neutralized the state militarily.

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    1. Carl, after all that, you fix on Lincoln? I’m aware of his political weaknesses. I simply chose a quote in alignment with his private heart – and with what I see is happening today; the way history is repeating itself.

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  3. Excellent Susan.

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