Nativism- Native American Party/ Know Nothing Party​

Background Info
An 1854 soap advertisement capitalizes on the brief popularity of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party.
An 1854 soap advertisement capitalizes on the brief popularity of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party.
/ Nativism

  • Some native-born Americans viewed the new immigrants from Germany and Ireland as a source of cheap labor. They also saw them as potential settlers for the West. They believed they would expand western populations, and thus expand political influence.
  • Many western states even permitted foreign-born residents to become voters almost instantly. Eastern cities also used the increased immigrant workers to enhance their political strength.
  • However, some Americans were alarmed by the growing immigration rate, leading to "Nativism".
  • Some nativism was based off of racism: People believed the immigrants were inferior to Americans and viewed some of them with the same contempt and prejudice as African Americans and Indians
  • Others believed the immigrants were socially unfit and considered them uncivilized because they lived in urban and rural slums.
  • Some were angered because the immigrants were willing to work for low wages, and they believed this stole jobs from the Native labor force.
  • Religous conflicts were also a factor as many Protestants were native born and many immigrants were catholic. The Protestants believed the immigrants had a Catholic agenda to gain power for the pope. Whigs were angered because they voted mostly democratic. Most believed they would bring radical ideas into national life.

Native American Party
  • Secret societies emerged because of tensions and prejudices against the "alien menace", a name for the wave of immigrants entering the country
  • One of these secret societies, the Native American Association, was formed to agitate against immigration in 1837
  • In 1845, Nativists held a convention and formed the Native American Party (Not Native American Indians, but native born Americans)
  • In 1850- many nativist groups combined to form the Supreme Order of the Star-Spangled Banner
  • The group endorsed a list of demands that included banning Catholics or foreign-born citizens from holding office, more restrictive naturalization laws, and literacy tests for voting
  • They adopted a code of secrecy, which included the password "I know nothing."


Know-Nothing Party political campaign poster
Know-Nothing Party political campaign poster

  • As a result of their secret code, the Native American party became known as the Know Nothing Party
  • Gradually, the party turned their focus to party politics
  • After the 1852 election, they created a new political organization called the American Party.
  • The new organization immediately won support in the East: In the election of 1854, they gained a large vote in Pennsylvania and New York. They won control of the Massachusetts government as well.
  • The American Party didn't have as much success in the West, mostly due to the presence of German voters who found it expedient not to oppose naturalized Protestants.
  • The party began to decline after 1854.
  • The Election of 1856 was a major factor in this decline. The American Party candidate, Millard Fillmore, was divided with Democratic candidate James Buchanan over issues of slavery. Buchanan's victory ultimately led to the demise of the party