The "Know-Nothings" is a name applied to an anti-Catholic, nativist movement of the mid-nineteenth century United States. Early groups were often formed as secret societies; when asked about their activities, members would reply only "I know nothing," lending them the nickname. The movement's chief public face was the American Party, the result of the merging and reorganization of smaller regional parties. At its height the American Party assumed a number of state and local offices and worked in occasional coalition with the Whigs, notably Millard Fillmore. However, immigration ultimately proved less compelling an issue than slavery, the party disintegrated when Southern delegates submitted a resolution calling for the maintenance of slavery, and the American Party ceased as a national force after the election of 1856.
American Platform of Principles
Adopted by the American Party at its 1856 convention in Philadelphia.
Americanism Contrasted with Foreignism, Romanism, and Bogus Democracy
William Gannaway Brownlow's book tries to stir native voters to the cause of the American Party in the election year 1856. Searchable page images.
A Defence of the American Policy
1856 book by Thomas R. Whitney seeks to warn native-born Americans of the danger of Roman Catholic influence. Chronicles the rise of the Know-Nothings, particularly in New York. Page images.
Examiner's Questions for Admittance to the American (or Know-Nothing) Party
Image of handwritten ritual for swearing in a new member. Also some background information on the party.
Handbook of Texas: American Party
Article on the Know-Nothings in Texas.
I Know Nothing!
Article on the Know-Nothings, some of their prominent members, and their fear that the Vatican planned to take Cincinnati by military force.
Know-Nothing Party, 1850s
Image of handwritten four-point party platform.
An explanation for older kids of why some Americans in the nineteenth century started the Know-Nothing Party.
Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia on the 1850s anti-immigrant movement.
The Legacy of the Know-Nothings
For teens. Although this political party didn't last for even ten years, its story can show something about America today.
Startling Facts for Native Americans Called "Know-Nothings"
1855 book warns of a foreign Catholic conspiracy to eradicate American liberty. Searchable page images.
Tricks of the Enemy!
Broadside posted in 1854 in Washington, D.C., to combat the rumor that Archbishop Hughes (of New York) was in town to control foreign and Catholic votes.
A Voice to America
1855 book by Thomas Bangs Thorpe is an apologia for the American Party. Searchable page images.
Wide-Awake! Romanism: Its Aims and Tendencies
1854 booklet by Know-Nothing L.W. Granger urges Americans to preserve the Protestant character of the public schools and to safeguard the ballot box from control by foreigners. Searchable page images.
Encyclopedia-style article on this nativist movement. Includes the platform of the American Party.
A Know-Nothing Legislature
At a distance of four decades, George H. Haynes looks back on the Massachusetts state legislature of 1855, in which a secret political organization had won more than 90 percent of the seats. Searchable page images. [The New England Magazine] (March 01, 1897)
Lengthy critical article on the allure of the Know-Nothings. Searchable page images. [The United States Democratic Review] (June 01, 1856)
The Cloven Foot
Although the Know-Nothings may seem at first glance to be entirely novel, this article seeks out the political lineage of the dark-lantern organization. Searchable page images. [The United States Democratic Review] (February 01, 1856)
Last update:April 17, 2015 at 12:00:16 UTC