Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's

Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's

Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's

Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's

Synopsis

Politicians have used immigrants as scapegoats for the nation's problems throughout American history. No group achieved more success with this tactic than the Know Nothing Party, which directed its attacks primarily against Catholic immigrants. Within a year of its appearance in 1854, the party had elected eight governors, over one hundred members of Congress, and thousands of local officials. Prominent politicians of every persuasion joined the organization, which eventually became known as the American Party. Many observers predicted that the party would elect the next President. The Know Nothings experienced a precipitous decline, however, and in the 1856 election their presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, carried only one state. The Know Nothings have not attracted much interest from historians, because the events involved in the coming of the Civil War eclipsed interest in a movement that was apparently only peripherally involved with Civil War issues. In this important new book, however, Anbinder argues that the Know Nothings's phenomenal success was inextricably linked to the firm stance their northern members took against the extension of slavery. Nativism and Slavery presents the first comprehensive history of the Know Nothings as well as a major revision of the political crisis that led to the Civil War.

Excerpt

There are many people whose generosity in aiding my research and writing deserves recognition. The interlibrary loan staffs at Columbia University and the University of Wyoming helped me gain access to materials from far-flung repositories. I owe a special debt of gratitude to the reference librarians at Columbia University, whose tireless efforts helped me track down many research materials that would have otherwise eluded me. Beth Juhl, in particular, went beyond the call of duty in helping me answer countless mundane questions.

I would also like to extend thanks to the friends, colleagues, and teachers whose efforts contributed to the completion of this book. William Gienapp provided valuable suggestions concerning manuscript sources, and Jay Dolan answered questions concerning nineteenth-century American Catholicism. Thomas Jorge, Bud Moore, Karen Peterfreund, Ron Schultz, Christopher Shaw, James Shenton, David Stebenne, and Patrick Williams read the manuscript and offered valuable suggestions for its improvement. A number of teachers deserve special commendation. Clarence Walker, my undergraduate adviser at Wesleyan University, inspired me to enter the historical profession. Thomas Kessner provided two and a half years of employment as a research assistant, and the advice he gave me was of immense help when I began my own project. At Columbia, Rosalind Rosenberg and Eric McKitrick offered indispensable advice and assistance at every stage of my graduate career. Professor McKitrick, in addition, contributed his usual thorough and insightful comments on the manuscript. My dissertation adviser Eric Foner also deserves thanks. I developed an interest in the Know Nothings in his graduate seminar on slavery and the origins of the sectional conflict, in which I was given the unenviable assignment of critiquing his own work on nativism. Throughout the progress of my study, he provided invaluable guidance and advice, and his editorial skills improved every facet of this book.

During the final stages of manuscript preparation, Sharon Brown and Arlene Mascarenas helped compile my databases on Know Nothing members and officeholders. David Bovie provided able and enthusiastic research assistance, and his efforts were financed by the History Department of the University of Wyoming. A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend enabled me to undertake additional research when new Know Nothing minute books were discovered just months before the manuscript was ready to go to press. Karen Wolny at Oxford University Press and Stephanie Sakson-Ford . . .

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