Autobiography of Seventy Years - Vol. 1

By George F. Hoar | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE KNOW NOTHING PARTY AND ITS OVERTHROW

THE political history of Massachusetts from 1846 to 1865 is, in general, the history of the share of the Commonwealth in the great National contest with Slavery; the beginning and growth of the Free Soil or Republican Party and the putting down of the Rebellion. The rise and dominion for three years, and final overthrow of the Know Nothing Party is an episode which should not be wholly omitted, although it is an episode which might be omitted without injury to the sense.

There have been, ever since the Irish immigration which begun somewhere about 1840 down to to-day, a great many worthy people who have been afraid of the Pope and the influence of Catholicism in this country, and have been exceedingly jealous of the influence of foreigners, especially of those of the Roman Catholic Church. Self-seeking political adventurers and demagogues have not been slow to take advantage of this feeling for their own purposes. They have, for some reason, always preferred to make their political movement in secret societies. The Catholic vote had generally been cast for the Democrats, and was supposed to be largely influenced by the Catholic clergy. It was thought that this influence had a good deal to do with defeating Mr. Clay in 1844. A movement of this kind swept over the country after the Presidential election of 1852. It had nearly spent its force by 1856. It made little headway at the South, except in two or three States. There was a struggle with it in Virginia, where it was defeated by the superhuman energy of Henry A. Wise. The party organized for the purpose of excluding men of foreign birth from any share in the Government, sometimes called the American Party, was generally called the Know

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