The Know-Nothing Party in the South

The Know-Nothing Party in the South

The Know-Nothing Party in the South

The Know-Nothing Party in the South

Excerpt

Few periods of our history have been more momentous than that in which the American Party was born and denied. The questions of slavery, state rights, and sectionalism were moving down like a floodtide toward a final catastrophic settlement-- the Civil War and Reconstruction. Every leader, every issue that attempted to act as a breakwater was either picked up and carried with the stream or was inundated and left forgotten. There were many issues and many leaders striving to guide and lead. Whether the Americans might have been able to stem disunion had they had their way is, of course, problematical. It is not the purpose of this study to develop this field of thought. Rather, the intent is to attempt to place some of these "forgotten men" and subordinated issues in a little clearer perspective; to trace the basic foundations of the party's political being in the individual Southern states as nativism attempted to intermingle and override traditional political, economic, and social alignments; and to show how the Southern and Northern branches of the American Party found themselves dividing, realigning, contesting on sectional principles in spite of their real effort to prevent division, both in national affairs and in party management.

One of the long-neglected and unappreciated phases of the decade before 1860 is the story of Union sentiment in the South. If not always a majority, at least a strong and even militant minority, Unionists lost face because they failed. One explanation of the appeal of Know-Nothingism to Southerners was undoubtedly this desire to find a way out of the increasing sectional difficulties and animosities. It was in a sense an ideal solution to be able to berate, to let off steam and resentment on, non- Americans rather than fellow citizens. Many conservative South-

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