The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917

By Jon Gjerde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
So Great Is Now the Spirit of Foreign Nationality

Late-Nineteenth-Century Political Conflict

In an essay written in 1887, Father Edward McGlynn argued that the Know Nothingism of the previous generation had been a tragedy. It had been "prompted by an insensate and vulgar theological hatred," he contended, "precisely of the kind that still makes Orangemen and Catholics beat and kill each other." More troubling, it had attacked a perceived problem that had in fact not threatened the nation. Immigrants, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, had not been disloyal, a premise on which Know Nothingism had been based. Rather, McGlynn stressed, they had convincingly demonstrated "their love of American institutions, and their pride in American citizenship." They had been, he assured his readers, "eager to assimilate themselves to the common American type." 1

McGlynn sensed that, regrettably, the immigrants of modern America differed in outlook from those who had been subjected to the loathing of the Know Nothing Party at mid-century. Thus McGlynn's fears that Know Nothingism might recur in his contemporary society were not based on the behavior of American nativists. Rather, "what, most of all, might seem well adapted to revive and intensify the old hateful and bigoted spirited of Know-Nothingism, and justify its fears and predictions," he charged, was the prevailing behavior of the foreign-born. Instead of assimilating, immigrants and their leadership hoped to take control of the schools and perpetuate their native tongue. German American leaders wished to "pour hundreds of thousands of her people on our shores," an "insane hope . . . cherished chiefly in Wisconsin and in the Valley of the

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