Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Ulysses S. Grant Home in Galena, Illinois


The Ulysses S. Grant Home in GalenaIllinois is the former home of Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general and later 18th President of the United States. The home was designed by William Dennison and constructed in 1859 - 1860. The home was given to Grant by residents of Galena in 1865 as thanks for his war service, and has been maintained as a memorial to Grant since 1904.


U. S. Grant Home
U. S. Grant Home
Located on Bouthillier Street, the U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site is owned by the state of Illinois and managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as a historic house museum with rooms furnished to represent a mid-1860s appearance. Many of the furnishings belonged to the Grant family. Tours are given by interpreters dressed in period costumes. Information is given about Grant's activities during the Civil War up through his presidency. An adjacent building houses exhibits about Grant and the history of the home.
The Grant Home was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966, upon that program's inception. The Grant House also lies within the Galena Historic District, designated in 1969. The district has more than 1,000 contributing properties.

Julia Grant Statue
Julia Grant Statue
Julia Grant Statue



Julia Grant Timeline
A statue of First Lady Julia Grant was placed on the grounds of the Grant Home and dedicated in 2006.

The docents gave a very nice tour of the house.


Grant, Lincoln
Parlor

U. S. Grant

Grant's Cigars







Dinning Room
Julia Grant

Table Setting in Dinning Room

Frederick Grant's Room
Frederick Grant Timeline


Frederick Grant as a West Point Cadet

Nellie Grant's Room
Nellie Grant's Room


Nellie Grant Timeline

Nellie Grant's Room
Jesse Grant's Room


Jesse Grant Timeline



Grant House Kitchen
Grant House Kitchen

Friday, May 12, 2017

Grim Reunion at the Battle of Gettysburg


Sadly, the Civil War was the scene of many tragic reunions on the battlefield. This meeting took place shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. In this case, there was no last minute exchange between the father and son. The reunion occurred in a Confederate field hospital where a grieving father viewed his son's dead body.

Sam Wilkeson, Jr.
The story begins in Buffalo, New York. Samuel Wilkeson Jr. was a member of one of the city's leading families and the son of a former mayor. Samuel was an attorney before he became a newspaperman. Sam's son, Bayard Wilkeson, was a Union soldier. Sam Wilkeson came from an abolitionist family and hated slavery and he understood the carnage of war. However, Bayard was had a passion for serving the Union. Sam said that his son had "the war devil in him."
While working for the New York Tribune in 1862, Sam reported on the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia. After the battle, Wilkeson searched the battlefield for the body of his nephew, John Wilkes Wilkeson. Wilkeson was one of eighteen enlisted men and three officers of the 100th Infantry Regiment from Buffalo, New York killed in the fighting on May 31 and June 1, 1862. The discovery of John's body added to the trauma Sam had already experienced reporting on the war. His exposure to the horrors of war reached new heights in 1863.
In 1863, The New York Times assigned Sam to cover the developing battle around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Wilkeson reached the battlefield on July 2 and covered the events over the next two days. Sam knew his son's unit was engaged somewhere on the battlefield, but he did not know where. Not only was Bayard Wilkeson on the battlefield; he was in to the most dangerous spot on the field in day one.
The first day of the battle proceeded in three phases as Union and Confederate troops arrived at the battlefield. In the morning, two brigades of Confederate Major General Henry Heth's division of Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill's Third Corps were delayed by dismounted Union cavalrymen under Brig. Gen. John Buford. As infantry reinforcements arrived under Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds of the Union I Corps, the Confederate assaults down the Chambersburg Pike were repulsed. However, General Reynolds was killed in the action.
By early afternoon, the Union XI Corps, commanded by Major General Oliver Otis Howard, had arrived, and the Union position was in a semicircle from west to north of the town. The Confederate Second Corps under Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell began a massive assault from the north, with Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes's division attacking from Oak Hill and Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early's division attacking across the open fields north of town. The Union lines generally held under extremely heavy pressure, although the salient at Barlow's Knoll was overrun.
The third phase of the battle came as Rodes renewed his assault from the north and Heth returned with his entire division from the west, accompanied by the division of Maj. Gen. W. Dorsey Pender. Heavy fighting in Herbst's Woods near the Lutheran Theological Seminary and on Oak Ridge finally caused the Union line to collapse. Some of the Federals conducted a fighting withdrawal through the town, suffering heavy casualties and losing many prisoners; others simply retreated. They took up good defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and waited for additional attacks.


Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson
Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson commanded Battery G of the Fourth United States Artillery Battery in Major General Oliver Howard's XI Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg. According to Brigadier General Henry Hunt, the Union Army's Chief of Artillery, "About 11 a.m. Wilkeson's battery (G, Fourth United States, four 12-pounders) came up, and reported to General Barlow, who posted it close to the enemy's line of infantry, with which it immediately became engaged, sustaining at the same time the fire of two of his batteries."
The G battery's Second Lieutenant, C. F. Merkle, described the action. "I was assigned to a position by First Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson with my section about 1 mile or three-quarters northwest of the poor-house. I engaged one battery of the enemy for a few moments with solid shot, and then directed my attention to the rebel infantry as they were advancing in mass upon us. I used shell and spherical case shot at first, and, as the line of the enemy came closer, and I ran out of shot, shell, and case shot, I used canister; the enemy was then within canister range."
 
 Around 2:00 p.m. that the afternoon, Confederate Brigadier General John B. Gordon's men surged over Barlow Knoll and forced the Union's XI Corps to retreat back through the town.

"When the Confederates routed the Union infantry, the cannoneers were forced to withdraw." General Hunt said, "In the commencement of this unequal contest, Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson (Fourth U. S. Artillery), commanding the battery, a young officer of great gallantry, fell, mortally wounded, and was carried from the field."

Wilkeson was mortally wounded defending the Knoll when a cannonball nearly severed his leg. He was carried to a nearby almshouse, where, according to battlefield lore, he amputated the leg with a pocket knife [sic]. In his final act, he gave his last canteen of water to a dying comrade.

Sam Wilkeson soon learned about the death of his young son. His account for the Times included the following passages: 
The ground about me is covered thick with rebel dead, mingled with our own. Thousands of prisoners have been sent to the rear, and yet the conflict still continues.... It is near sunset.... The final results of the action I hope to be able to give you at a later hour.
Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly [sic] absorbing interest -- the dead body of an oldest born, crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not to stay?...
My pen is heavy. Oh, you dead, who at Gettysburgh [sic] have baptised [sic] with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied! I rise from a grave whose wet clay I have passionately kissed, and I look up and see Christ spanning this battle-field with his feet and reaching fraternal and lovingly up to heaven. His right hand opens the gates of Paradise -- with his left he beckons to these mutilated, bloody, swollen forms.  - July 3 & 4, 1863, The New York Times
Father and son are reunited in death in graves in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.

Bayard Wilkeson Grave

Bayard Wilkeson Grave

Sam Wilkeson, Jr. Grave

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Read more about it



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jackson Could Not Have Prevented the Civil War

President Andrew Jackson
I could not help but be amused at President Trump's comments on the Civil War. It seems that if Andrew Jackson were alive he would have prevented America's bloodiest war. President Trump also said that Jackson was angry about the war. I am not sure how Jackson could be angry about a war that began about 16 years after he died.
According to Wikipedia, "As president, Jackson sought to advance the rights of the 'common man' against a 'corrupt aristocracy' and to preserve the Union." I wonder how he would have gotten along with the elitists in today's Republican Party.
Jackson was a friend of the common man. He wanted "to purge the government of corruption of previous administrations." Jackson initiated presidential investigations into "all executive Cabinet offices and departments." During Jackson's tenure in office, large amounts of public money were put in the hands of public officials. He believed federal appointees should be hired on merit and withdrew many candidates he believed were lax in handling government funds. Jackson asked Congress to reform embezzlement laws, reduce fraudulent applications for federal pensions, revenue laws to prevent evasion of custom duties, and enact laws to improve government accounting. These measures are in stark contrast with the actions of the current administration to remove government oversight.
Jackson also advocated term limits.
Upon assuming the presidency in 1829 Jackson enforced the Tenure of Office Act, passed earlier into law by President James Monroe in 1820, that limited appointed office tenure and authorized the president to remove and appoint political party associates. Jackson believed that a rotation in office was actually a democratic reform preventing father-to-son succession of office and made civil service responsible to the popular will. Jackson declared that rotation of appointments in political office was "a leading principle in the republican creed."
Jackson noted, "In a country where offices are created solely for the benefit of the people no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another."[106] Jackson believed that rotating political appointments would prevent the development of a corrupt bureaucracy." Think how this would go over in Washington.
Some of his activities provide an indication of how he might have responded to the events leading up to the Civil War.
Nullification Crisis
In 1828, Congress approved the "Tariff of Abominations," which set import tariffs at a historically high rate. Southern planters, who sold their cotton on the world market, strongly opposed this tariff, which they believed favored northern industrial interests. The issue came to a head in the Nullification Crisis when South Carolina threatened to secede from the union. Jackson's response seems very similar to Abraham Lincoln's actions. As a Southern planter, Jackson sympathized with the South in the tariff debate, however he also supported a strong union with "effective powers for the central government." Jackson's attitudes were revealed in an incident was at the April 13, 1830, Jefferson Day dinner. During the after-dinner toasts, Robert Hayne began by toasting to "The Union of the States, and the Sovereignty of the States." Jackson then rose, and in a booming voice added "Our federal Union: It must be preserved!" This was clearly Lincoln's goal in calling for troops to put down the "rebellion" of Southern states.
In stark contrast to President Trump's Electoral College victory, Jackson repeatedly called for the abolition of the Electoral College by constitutional amendment in his annual messages to Congress. In his third annual message to Congress, he expressed the view "I have heretofore recommended amendments of the Federal Constitution giving the election of President and Vice-President to the people and limiting the service of the former to a single term. So important do I consider these changes in our fundamental law that I can not [sic], in accordance with my sense of duty, omit to press them upon the consideration of a new Congress."
Some of Jackson's actions as President clearly supported the South.
The Trail of Tears
Jackson might have been a champion of the "common man," but the man he spoke for was a "white common man." He was a slave-owner who defended the institution. Jackson's relocation of Cherokee Indian tribes from Georgia to the Oklahoma Territory resulted in the "Trail of Tears," in which 4,000 Native Americans died. On May 26, 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which Jackson signed into law. The Act authorized the President to negotiate treaties to buy tribal lands in the east in exchange for lands farther west, outside of existing US state borders. The passage of the act was especially popular in the South where population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land had increased pressure on tribal lands.
When Andrew Jackson bought The Hermitage in 1804, he owned nine enslaved African Americans. Just 25 years later that number had swelled to over 100 through purchase and reproduction. At the time of his death in 1845, Jackson owned approximately 150 people who lived and worked on the property.
During the summer of 1835, Northern abolitionists began sending anti-slavery tracts through the US Postal system into the South. Pro-slavery Southerners demanded that the postal service ban distribution of the materials, which were deemed "incendiary." Jackson wanted sectional peace, and desired to placate Southerners while resisting demands from abolitionists. He supported the solution of Postmaster General Amos Kendall, which gave Southern postmasters discretionary powers to either send or detain the anti-slavery tracts."
One trait Trump seems to share with Jackson is his temperament. Jackson's quick temper was notorious. Some historians believe that Jackson was often in control of his rage, and used it and his fearsome reputation as the means to get what he wanted in his public and private affairs. His opponents were terrified of his temper: They compared him to "a volcano, and only the most intrepid or recklessly curious cared to see it erupt. ...His close associates all had stories of his blood-curling oaths, his summoning of the Almighty to loose His wrath upon some miscreant, typically followed by his own vow to hang the villain or blow him to perdition. Given his record—in duels, brawls, mutiny trials, and summary hearings—listeners had to take his vows seriously."

I hope that President Trump will learn more about our history before he makes statements that tarnish his image.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Colonel William McRee and the West Point Library


As I was doing research on my book, Preparing for Disunion, I learned about Lieutenant Colonel William McRee.

Mission to Europe

According to Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh in his book West Pointers and the Civil War:

In the spring of 1815, Chief Engineer Joseph G. Swift ordered two West Point graduates, Capt. Sylvanus Thayer and Lt. Col. William McRee, to travel to Europe for the purpose of "an examination of the military establishments,' 'Fortifications,' 'Schools,' 'Work-shops,' and Libraries in France, Germany & England - particularly the first and last named nations, - to collect Books, Maps and Instruments."  
Sylvanus Thayer
Swift intended to add the acquired books and military material to the West Point Library. McRee demonstrated a clear understanding of literature when he reported, "among the military books there must inevitably be found a considerable amount of trash." He used the reputation of the book's author as the "rule by which we could regulate our choice."

McRee aimed to collect military writings "upon these subjects that had formerly excited great interest and continued to divide opinions" in order "to have all the evidence upon questions that concern us, and that we shall have to decide on in our turn."

McRee summed up his mission with Thayer when he remarked "upon the whole, we are too little pleased with our work to ask for it, entire approbation - But, we have one consolation in common with all that have no excuse ... We might have done worse."[1]



[1] Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, West Pointers and the Civil War (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina, 2009 ), 19-21.


West Point Library (1842-1861)

Military and Civilian History

McRee graduated from West Point in 1805 and the Army commissioned him as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He served as an assistant engineering in "surveying sites of fortifications on the Southern Coast"... "and in the construction of the defenses of Charleston   Harbor." 

He served as Chief of Artillery in the War of 1812 and fought in the capture of Fort Erie, Battle of Chippewa, Battle of Niagara, and the defense of Fort Erie.

Following the war, he was on the mission described above in Europe from 1815-1816. He was a member of the Board of Engineers for designing a system of Atlantic Coast Defenses from November 1816 to March 1819.

In bitter protest to the appointment of the foreign officer General Simon Bernard as the assistant to the chief of engineers, McRee resigned his officer's commission and was discharged from the military on March 31, 1819.
From February 1825 until July 1832, McRee served as Surveyor General of the United States for the territories of Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

McRee died on 15 May 1833 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Fort McRee

Fort McRee was one of three major installations constructed by the United States to strengthen defenses at Pensacola Bay following the War of 1812. Its construction lasted from 1834 and 1839; the facility was a three-tiered fort and a detached water battery close to sea level. It was located on the eastern tip of Perdido Key on a stretch of beach known as Foster's Bank. It had a highly unusual shape because of its position on a small, narrow barrier island.
Although the fort was completed in 1839, its 122 guns were not installed until sometime between 1843 and 1845. It is likely that many of these guns were not in place for some time due to several issues, the most important of which was a problem with rot beginning in the second tier wooden decking.
Fort McRee was named in April 1840 for Army engineer Colonel William McRee.
After the Mexican-American War, the Army built  barracks near Fort Barrancas on the mainland. Once these were completed, Fort McRee was manned only during drills, maneuvers and target practice. 
Map Showing Fort McRee
Troops Drilling Outside of Fort

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Cherished in the Heart of Hearts"


I recently discovered new information on the Major General C. F. Smith's death. The following editorial appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, May 2, 1862.
 
Major General Charles Ferguson Smith
[Editorial]
 Honor to the Memory of General C. F. Smith.
A telegraphic dispatch from Larz Anderson, Esq., of Cincinnati to William L. Mactier of the city announces the arrival in the former place of the remains of the lamented Major General Charles F. Smith, on their way to Philadelphia for internment. It is expected that the body will reach our city by Sunday next.
There can be no more fitting occasion for public action than this, for the memory of the real hero of Fort Donelson - gallant gentleman and model soldier as he was  - is cherished in the heart of hearts of every loyal resident of his native city. 
Arrival of the Body of General Smith. 
The body of General Charles F. Smith is expected to arrive in this city on Sunday next. It was yesterday at Cincinnati. The following dispatch was received by William L. Mactier, Esq.:
Cincinnati, April 30, 1862. -
To William L. Mactier, Esq., Philadelphia: General Smith's body has just arrived. Its detention here being unexpected, there could be no public reception. It rests at my house, subject to further directions.
Larz Anderson. 
The wife of General Smith, immediately upon the announcement of his serious illness at the seat of war in the West, started from New York for Tennessee. Before she reached Cincinnati, however, General Robert Anderson telegraphed to Mr. Larz Anderson to stop her at the last-named city, and suggest her return to the East, her husband having expired. She acted accordingly, and is now in Philadelphia in company with two sisters of the late General Smith, viz: Mrs. Swan, wife of the navy agent at Newport, R.I., and Mrs. Jeffers. The widow and relatives await the arrival of the corpse at the house of Mr. Mactier.
 The remains will probably lay in state in Independence Hall on Monday next should Councils so direct.
The officers of Laurel Hill Cemetery contemplate offering a lot of ground either to the city or to the family.[1]
 General Smith's funeral was held on May 7, 1862 with military honors.  
LOCAL INTELLIGENCE.

THE FUNERAL obsequies OF GEN. 

CHARLES F. SMITH.CHARLES F. SMITH.
The obsequies of General SMITH took place yesterday afternoon, and were of an imposing character. Early in the day there were signs of bad weather, and many an anxious eye was cast upward. About the time for the commencement of the ceremonies, the clouds broke and gave token of a "blue and golden" day. A slight rain occurred during the progress of the procession, but not of sufficient consequence to mar the proceedings. The number of people lining the sidewalks and streets throughout the route of the procession was immense.
At precisely half-past two o’clock, the military having previously formed on Broad street, arrived at the south gate of Independence Square on Walnut street, the head of the column halting at Fifth street. The artillery was drawn up on Walnut street, between Fourth and Fifth. Immediately after the arrival of the military, the coffin was conveyed from the Hall to the south gate of the Square, followed by officers and other invited guests in the following order: -
Captain CHAPMAN BIDDLE’S Company A of artillery, the body-guard, was drawn up in a line in the centre of the Square, facing west. The body then emerged from the Hall, borne on the shoulders of eight policemen, attended on either side by the pall-bearers, among whom and in addition to the published list, were Gen. ROBERT ANDERSON, Dr. FINLEY, Col RUFF and Gen. PATTERSON, who followed directly in the rear of the coffin.
After the Pall-bearers came the Clergy, officers of the First Division P. V., officers of the Blue Reserves, officers of the Grey Reserve, officers of Volunteer Regiments, and officers of the Army and Navy. During the passage of this cortege through the Square, the Brigade Band, stationed on Walnut street opposite the gate of the Square, and under direction of Band Master A. BIRGFELD), played an impressive death march. The Body Guard, drawn up in the Square, presented sabres while the coffin and followers were passing, and then took position, marching by sections at the head of the line. In this order the procession marched through the gate, turning down Walnut street and halting at the right of the military column, which was at present arms. The arrangements in Independence Hall, and until the body was placed in the hearse, were under the direction of Col. P. C. ELLMAKER, of the First Regiment Grey Reserves; after the coffin had been placed in the hearse, the military were formed in column , left in front, and the procession proceeded the route previously agreed upon, in the following order: -
Body of Police, mounted and on foot, under the direction of Chief RUGGLES. 

General PLEASANTON and Staff.
Band.
Company A of the Cadets or SAUNDERS' Institute,
West Philadelphia.
Battalion American and German Rifles, Major GRAEF
commanding.
Band, led by Band master A. BIRGFELD.
Drum Corps.
Second Regiment Philadelphia Guard, Col. DARE,
Band.
Detachment from First Regiment Phila. Home
Guard, Lieutenant-Colonel SNOWDEN.
Keystone Artillery, Captain M. HASTINGS, with six
pieces artillery (Parrott guns).
Washington artillery, two companies, Captains
HALL and BAVINGTON.
Body Guard.
Carriages containing the Reverend Clergy and Pall
Bearers.
Undertaker - Mr. JOHN GOOD - and Assistants.
Hearse containing body, drawn by six black horses, led by grooms, with white plumes; top of hears ornamented with black and white feathers; coffin covered with American flag, and containing chapeau, epaulettes and sword of deceased. A body of police guarded the hearse.
The General’s horse, with accoutrements, led by a groom.
Officers of the Army and Navy.
Blue Reserves, Grey Reserves, Home Guard, Volunteers in service, etc.
Carriages containing relatives of deceased, Mayor of the city, Heads of Departments, Judges of the different Courts, Members of the Bar, Members of the Press, and citizens generally.

The cortege moved out Walnut to Twelfth, thence to Spring Garden, thence to Broad, thence to Girard avenue, thence to Ridge avenue, where the head of the procession halted. The Infantry were here drawn up on the south side of the street, and presented arms; the remainder of the procession proceeded out Ridge avenue to Laurel Hill Cemetery.

On arriving at the Cemetery the coffin was taken from the hearse, placed on a bier and conveyed within the gates, preceded by the body guard, with reversed arms, and the reverend clergy, aid fol. lowed by relatives, invited guests, &c. 
During the progress of the body to the grave, the band stationed in the Cemetery played a piece of music. The Rifle Battalion, which constituted, In connection with Capt. HASTINGS' company of Keystone Artillery, the firing party, were stationed near the grave, having arrived at the Cemetery before the rest of the procession. The Rifles were drawn up facing the east, and the Keystone Artillery, with four pieces planted in position, facing the north, and near the grave. The religious services were then pronounced by the Rev. Dr. DUCACHET. The ground was then cleared before the military, and the ceremonies were ended by the usual military salute being fired, consisting of three volleys of infantry and two rounds from four pieces of artillery, being the salute a Major-General is entitled to. During the march of the procession along Broad street, a salute of 100 guns was fired by the Mechanic Engine Company, In token of their respect for the deceased.
Minute guns were fired by the howitzer battery, Captain E. SPENCER MILLER, in number corresponding to the years of deceased from the lot adjoining the Academy of Music, Broad street.
The flags on all the public buildings and hotels, and on numerous private houses, were displayed at half-mast during the day.[2]
Grave Site in Laurel Hill Cemetery
General and Mrs. Smith are buried here
In June, the Special Committee asked for additional funds for the obsequies.
OBSEQUIES OF GENERAL SMITH.
The Special Committee upon the obsequies of Major-General CHARLES F. SMITH, reported that the actual expenses of the Committee amounted to $824.57. The expenses of the military, $445.16, it was thought, belonged to the Home Guards, and were passed to the Committee on Defence. As the Controller had refused to countersign one of the warrants, the Committee state [sic] that it became necessary to ask for a further appropriation of $269.73. An ordinance making such an appropriation was submitted and passed. [3]
General Smith's widow, Fanny Mactier Smith, died four years after her husband. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a notice on Monday, May 28, 1866.
Smith. - On Saturday, May 26, Fanny Mactier, widow of the late Major-General Charles F. Smith, United States Army.
The friends of the family are invited to attend her funeral, at St. Stephen's Church, this (Monday), at 5 o'clock P.M. [Baltimore and Washington papers will please copy.][4]
Rest in Peace "gallant gentleman and model soldier"


[1] "Honor to the Memory of General C. F. Smith," The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, May 2, 1862.
[2] "The Funeral Obsequies of Gen. Charles F. Smith," The Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, May 7, 1862.
[3] "Obsequies of General Smith," The Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, June 6, 1862.
[4] "Smith," The Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday, May 28, 1866.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Return of the Know Nothings


The Know-Nothings was the name of an American political party that came to prominence in the mid-1850s. Their formal title was The Native American Party, which they renamed the American Party in 1855. 

 A strident Anti-Catholic cartoon depicting members of the Know-Nothing
Party opposing the Pope as he arrives in America. (Library of  Congress)
The movement began in response to an influx of migrants and promised to "purify" American politics by limiting or ending the influence of Irish Catholics and other immigrants. The Know Nothing Party grew from fears that German and Irish Catholic immigrants were overwhelming the country. They considered the Catholics to be under the political control of the Pope and hostile to Republican values. 

Origins 

Anti-immigrant cartoon showing two men labeled "Irish Whiskey"
and "Lager Bier," carrying a ballot box. 
(Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo)
The immigration of Irish and German Catholics in the 1840s instigated an increase in anti-Catholicism in American society and politics. Although anti-Catholic sentiments were present in colonial America, the wave of immigrants re-energized public sentiment. The Irish and German emigrants competed with native-born citizens for jobs and housing. This competition fostered the nativism movement. This political philosophy advocated favoring the native majority of a nation while targeting and threatening newcomers or immigrants. Political rhetoric fueled the fears of laborers, skilled workers, and small businessmen. 

The religious differences between Catholics and Protestants also became a political issue. Protestants accused the Pope of being opposed to liberty, democracy, and Republicanism. A Boston minister claimed that Catholicism was "the ally of tyranny, the opponent of material prosperity, the foe of thrift, the enemy of the railroad, the caucus, and the school." These charges led to the fear that the Pope wanted to subjugate the United States through a continuing influx of Catholics controlled by Irish bishops under the command of the Pope. 

The movement appeared in New York State as the American Republican Party in June 1843. It was a response to the increasing political power of immigrant voters and officeholders. In 1844, the party won municipal elections in New York City and Philadelphia. These victories helped the party grow and the leaders organized a national convention in July 1845. Attendees changed the name to the Native American Party and proposed tougher immigration laws including a legislative program requiring a twenty-one-year period before immigrants could become citizens. However, the party was unable to force the United States Congress to pass more stringent immigration standards. Congress focused on the annexation of Texas, a potential war with Mexico, and the expansion of slavery. The inability to pass legislation caused the party to lose popularity. 

Secret Organizations 

As the national party declined, a number of "secret organizations" formed in the early 1850s. The "Order of United Americans" and the "Order of the Star Spangled Banner" were the most important. The two groups merged and the party rapidly spread across the North. Their message found an audience among lower middle class, non-Catholics. 

The name Know-Nothing came from the organization's secret response to questions about the group. When someone asked a member about the group's activities, he replied, "I know nothing." Outsiders called them "Know-Nothings," and the response became the unofficial party name.
In 1849, Charles B. Allen established the Order of the Star Spangled Banner in New York City. The society drew members from non-Catholic Democrats dissatisfied because of the increase of Irish Catholic members and leaders in the party. The disenchanted Democrats formed secret groups, coordinated their votes, and supported candidates sympathetic to their cause. 

Other issues contributed to the growth of anti-immigrant attitudes. According to James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom:

Immigration during the first five years of the 1850s reached a level five times greater than a decade earlier. Most of the new arrivals were poor Catholic peasants or laborers from Ireland and Germany who crowded into the tenements of large cities. Crime and welfare costs soared. Cincinnati's crime rate, for example, tripled between 1846 and 1853 and its murder rate increased sevenfold. Boston's expenditures for poor relief rose threefold during the same period. 

The Rise to National Prominence 

Platform of the American Party (Seth Kaller, Inc.)
In the 1854 elections, the Know-Nothing candidates were victorious in Boston, Salem, and other New England cities. The Whig candidate for mayor of Philadelphia won by promising to reduce crime, close saloons on Sundays, and to appoint only native-born Americans to office. The Know Nothing candidate defeated the incumbent mayor in Washington, DC. In Massachusetts, the new party controlled all but three of the 400 seats, and only 35 had any previous legislative experience. The Know-Nothings founded a chapter in San Francisco in 1854 to oppose Chinese immigration. A judge on the state Supreme Court, who was a member, ruled that no Chinese person could testify as a witness against a white man in court. 

The results of the 1854 elections energized the individual Know-Nothing organization, and they formed an official political party called the American Party. The party attracted many members from the Whig and Democratic parties and prohibitionists. Membership in the American Party increased from 50,000 to over one million in a matter of months during 1854.

In the spring of 1855, the Know Nothing candidate was elected mayor of Chicago. He barred all immigrants from city jobs. In Alabama, Know Nothings were a mix of former Whigs, malcontented Democrats, and other political outsiders who favored state aid to build more railroads. The Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia won the election by convincing voters that Know Nothings were allied with Northern abolitionists. After Democratic victory, the movement began to collapse in the South. 

Membership 

The new party's voters were concentrated in the rapidly growing industrial towns, where workers faced direct competition with new Irish immigrants. Know Nothing membership was highest in the poor districts. They opposed the upper-class closed political leadership class, especially the lawyers and merchants. In their place, they elected working class men, farmers, and a large number of teachers and ministers. Men who seldom owned $10,000 in property replaced the wealthy politicians. 

Other Issues 

The American Party was more than just a nativist movement. In Massachusetts, the 1855 Know Nothing controlled legislature passed a series of reforms that "burst the dam against change erected by party politics, and released a flood of reforms." The party also opposed slavery, supported an expansion of the rights of women, favored industry regulation, and championed measures to improve the status of working people. It passed legislation to regulate railroads, insurance companies, and public utilities. It funded free textbooks for the public schools, and raised the appropriations for local libraries and for the school for the blind. The legislature established the state's first reform school for juvenile delinquents. It gave wives more property rights and more rights in divorce courts. It passed harsh penalties on speakeasies, gambling houses, and bordellos. It passed tough prohibition legislation. However, many of the reforms were quite expensive. State spending rose 45% and taxes on cities and towns increased 50%. This spending angered the taxpayers, and few Know Nothings were re-elected. 

National Impact 

The Know-Nothing movement reached its zenith in the mid-1850s when the American Party won fifty-two seats in the US House of Representatives in 1854 and captured five seats in the US Senate in 1856. The party ran Millard Fillmore and Andrew J. Donelson in the presidential election in 1856. 

After the Supreme Court's ruling in the Dred Scott case, most of the anti-slavery members of the American Party joined the Republican Party. The pro-slavery wing of the American Party remained strong on the local and state levels in a few southern states, but by the 1860 election, they were no longer a serious national political movement. Most of their remaining members supported the Constitutional Union Party in 1860.

Political movements, such as the American Protective Association in the 1890s and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, revived the nativism philosophy. In the 1892 election in Illinois, a Democratic candidate denounced the Republicans:

The spirit which enacted the Alien and Sedition laws, the spirit which actuated the "Know-nothing" party, the spirit which is forever carping about the foreign-born citizen and trying to abridge his privileges, is too deeply seated in the party. The aristocratic and know-nothing principle has been circulating in its system so long that it will require more than one somersault to shake the poison out of its bones. 

Comparison with Current Republican Initiatives 

During the 2016 presidential election, the media compared the Republican candidate with the nativism of the Know Nothings. These criticisms posed the question of whether "the poison" was out of the Republican Party's "bones." 

Targets

Know-Nothings: Irish Catholics, German Catholics, and Chinese
Republicans: Hispanics and Muslims 

Reasons

Know-Nothings: Growing political power, rising crime and violence, increasing welfare costs, competition for jobs, threat to status of native Americans, fear of Pope's political influence 
Republicans: Growing political power, rising crime and violence, increasing welfare costs, competition for jobs, Threat to status of native Americans, fear of "Muslim terrorists" 

Responses

Know-Nothings: Tougher immigration laws, jury and testimony restrictions, prohibition from holding public office
Republicans: Tougher enforcement of immigration laws,deportation of illegal, especially criminal, immigrants,travel restrictions on selected countries, wall along Texas-Mexico border, taxes on Mexican imports 

Impact on Political Parties

Know-Nothings: Parties out of touch with public, demise of Whig Party, division of Democratic Party based on support for slavery, failure of Democrats to support workers
Republicans: Parties out of touch with public, public anger with Congressional ineffectiveness, loss of traditional labor support by Democrats, conservative battles within Republican Party

Social Impacts

Know-Nothings: Nativism, Violence against Catholics, Anti-immigrant 
Republicans: Nativism, rise of white supremacy movement, violence against Muslims, threats against religious groups, anti-immigrant attitudes, desecration of religious sites

Sources