The New International Encyclopædia/Know-Nothings
KNOW-NOTHINGS. In American history, a secret political party or society, which after 1852 suddenly gained the ascendency in several States, and then as rapidly declined. Its work was closely allied with the movement of the ‘American’ and ‘Nativist’ parties, and it aimed, through very stringent naturalization laws, to make politically powerless the large number of immigrants then settling in the United States, and through other means to check the growth of foreign influences and ideas. A decade earlier the American Party had shown strength in New York City, and after the Democratic victory of 1843, which resulted in many local offices being given to the foreign-born, the native Americans carried the city election of April, 1844. In the fall of the same year both New York and Philadelphia gave Nativist majorities, but three years later the party had disappeared in the former city. The Twenty-ninth Congress had six Nativist members, while the Thirtieth had only one. The Irish famine and the revolutionaiy movements in Europe during 1848 and 1849, with the reaction thereafter, occasioned a greatly increased immigration, and caused a reappearance of the Nativist movement in the form of a secret society variously known as ‘The Sons of '76,’ or ‘The Supreme Order of the Star Spangled Banner,’ which was primarily opposed to immigration and the spread of Catholicism in America, and the members of which, upon being questioned about their order, uniformly replied ‘I don't know.’ The party which came to be organized, and which from the above circumstance was popularly called the ‘Know-Nothing Party,’ conducted its work in profound secrecy, holding secret conventions, and often so casting its vote as to make it an indeterminate quantity in many elections. In the State elections of 1854, the party carried Massachusetts and Delaware. In New York it polled more than 120,000 votes, and it also showed strength in the Middle States. In 1855 it was successful in four New England States, and in New York, Kentucky, and California. Its strength was due in no small measure to the dissolution of the Whig Party. Efforts were made, by means of the questions raised by this movement, to supersede the anti-slavery agitation, which was then rapidly increasing, but in 1850 the latter obscured the former, and many Know-Nothings joined with the Republicans in supporting Frémont for the Presidency. The party, however, held a ‘secret grand council’ on February 19, 1856, at which a platform was adopted including a proposition for a twenty-one years' residence qualification for naturalization. On February 22d an open convention was held. which some 227 delegates attended, and by this convention Millard Fillmore was nominated for the Presidency, and A. J. Donelson of Tennessee for the Vice-Presidency, these nominations being later adopted by the remnant of the Whigs. The delegates from the States of the North refused to be bound by the vote of this convention, and Frémont became the candidate for the Presidency of the so-called North Americans, as well as of the Republicans. In the early State elections, in the fall of 1856, the party succeeded in electing Governors of Rhode Island and New Hampshire, but in the Presidential election there was a very great decrease in the party's vote, many of its members apparently voting the Republican ticket. The party secured only eight electoral votes, those of Maryland. In 1857 it carried Rhode Island and Maryland, but by 1860 had entirely disappeared.