The Know-Nothing Party, also known as the American Party, was a prominent United States political party during the late 1840s and the early 1850s.
The American Party originated in 1849. Its members strongly opposed immigrants and followers of the Catholic Church. The majority of white Americans followed Protestant faiths. Many of these people feared Catholics because members of this faith followed the teachings of the Pope. The Know-Nothings feared that the Catholics were more loyal to the Pope than to the United States. More radical members of the Know-Nothing Party believed that the Catholics intended to take over the United States of America. The Catholics would then place the nation under the Pope's rule. The Know-Nothing Party intended to prevent Catholics and immigrants from being elected to political offices. Its members also hoped to deny these people jobs in the private sector, arguing that the nation's business owners needed to employ true Americans.
The majority of Know-Nothings came from middle and working-class backgrounds. These people feared competition for jobs from immigrants coming to the United States. Critics of this party named it the Know-Nothing Party because it was a secret organization. Its members would not reveal the party's doctrines to non-members. Know-Nothings were to respond to questions about their beliefs with, "I know nothing." The Know-Nothing Party adopted the American Party as its official name in 1854. The Know-Nothing Party quickly grew in popularity in the North, where most recent immigrants to the United States resided. In 1854, Know-Nothing candidates even won control of the Massachusetts legislature.
Know-Nothings also wielded some power in Ohio. Several cities, including Youngstown and Cleveland, had newspapers that touted Know-Nothing beliefs. Many white Protestants in the state disliked the Catholic Church for opposing taxation to finance public schools. Catholic parents preferred enrolling their sons and daughters in Catholic schools and did not feel that they should financially support schools that their children did not attend. Ohio's Know-Nothings formed an alliance in the early 1850s with the Fusionist Party, a precursor of the Republican Party. The Know-Nothings campaigned for Fusionist Salmon Chase in the gubernatorial election of 1855. Their support helped Chase win the election.
Nationally, in 1856, the American Party ran Millard Fillmore as its candidate for President of the United States. While Fillmore finished last, he still received almost 900,000 votes out of the approximately four million votes cast in the election. Although many Americans, including some Ohioans, opposed the Catholic faith and lived in fear of immigrants, slavery and its expansion was a more important issue to them. The Know-Nothing Party refused to take a stand on slavery. As a result of the party's refusal to take a position on slavery, the Know-Nothing Party declined by the presidential election of 1860. The party did not run a candidate for president in this election, as many of its followers had joined the Republican Party.
- Anbinder, Tyler Gregory. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850's. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.
- Davis, Charles Lee. "Malicious Rhetoric, Religious Propoganda, and the Development of Nativism in Ohio, 1830-1856." M.A. thesis, Youngstown State University, 2006.
- Voss-Hubbard, Mark. Beyond Party: Cultures of Antipartisanship in Northern Politics Before the Civil War. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.