Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
(?-1899)
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Editor/Trans.
First Pub. Date
1881
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
1899
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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AMERICAN PARTY

I.51.1

AMERICAN PARTY, The (IN U. S. HISTORY). Opposition to aliens has at intervals been a feature in American polities from the foundation of the government. During the period 1790-1812 the question whether war should be declared against Great Britain or against France was almost always a critical one, the democrats (see DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY) preferring, of the two, war against Great Britain, and the federalists (see FEDERAL PARTY) war against France, though both were professedly anxious for neutrality. During this period most of the immigrants were really banished men, driven from England, Scotland or Ireland for too free use of the printing press, for hostility to the British government, or for affection to that of France. Naturally these immigrants took the democratic view of the great debatable question, in all its ramifications; as naturally the federalists became an anti-alien party; and as naturally the aliens sought refuge in a permanent alliance with the democrats which has been kept up by their successors.

I.51.2

—The first naturalization act (March 26, 1790,) made two years residence necessary, and this was prolonged by act of Jan. 29, 1795, to five years, as at present; but the federalists, in 1798, having taken advantage of the war fever against France and their own almost absolute power, raised the period to fourteen years (see ALIEN AND SEDITION LAWS). Jefferson's election and the democratic triumph in 1800 brought the period back to five years in 1802, and insured fresh reinforcements of aliens to the dominant party. The British minister, Foster, soon after his return, in 1812, from America, where he had honestly and vainly striven to avert war, stated in the house of commons that, among those who voted in congress for the declaration of war, were at least six late members of the society of united Irishmen. The increasing feeling of the federalists produced an anti-alien clause in the amendments proposed by the Hartford convention. (see CONVENTION, HARTFORD), but with returning peace the nativist feeling died away. When the congressional caucus, in 1824, nominated Crawford and Albert Gallatin, (a Swiss by birth), the latter withdrew because of the strong objection made to his nomination, which, indeed, was improper (see CONSTITUTION, AMENDMENT XII. ¶3).

I.51.3

—The first revival of nativism was naturally in New York city, where a foreign population early began to form. In 1835-7 an attempt at a native organization was made, but it had ended in failure before the election for mayor in April, 1837. The close vote of the whigs and democrats, and their alternate successes, had given bitterness to their contests in the city, and when the democrats at the election for mayor in April, 1843, carried the city, (Morris, democrat, 25,398; Smith, whig, 19,517), they proceeded to parcel out the local offices, giving the lion's share to foreign born citizens. The result was seen at the election for state senator in November, 1843: Jones, democrat, 14,325; Franklin, whig, 14,291; Quackenboss, American republican, 8,549; the latter's vote being evidently mainly democratic. In April, 1844, the vote stood: Harper, native American, 24,510; Coddington, democrat, 20,538; Franklin, whig, 5,297; and the city passed under native control. By this time the native movement had spread to New Jersey and Philadelphia, and in the latter place several lives were lost and much property (including two Catholic churches) destroyed in riots between natives and Irish citizens. The whigs had generally voted with the democratic natives in order to secure their vote for Henry Clay, but when, in November, 1844, New York city and Philadelphia gave native majorities, and at the same time majorities for the democratic presidential electors, the whigs drew off. In April, 1845, the vote in New York city stood: Havemeyer, democrat, 24,307; Harper, native American, 17,485; Selden, whig, 7,032; and, in 1847, the new party had disappeared in New York city. As a result of the election of 1844, the 29th congress, in December, 1845, had 6 native representatives, 4 from New York (2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th districts), and 2 from Pennsylvania (1st and 3rd districts). In the 30th congress there was but one, (Pennsylvania, 1st dist.). Thereafter for some years, with the exception of very small votes occasionally cast in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, nativism disappeared.

I.51.4

—About 1852, when the rapidly growing sectional contest as to the extension of slavery to the territories had begun to sap the old allegiance of members of both parties, and when the whigs might almost be described as maddened by the steady stream of reinforcement which their democratic opponents were receiving from immigration, nativism again appeared in the form, new to American politics, of a secret, oath-bound fraternity, whose name is said to have been The Sons of '76, or The Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Its real name and objects were not revealed even to its members until they had reached the higher degrees, and their constant answer when questioned on these subjects—"I don't know"—became almost a shibboleth of the order and gave it the popular name by which it is still known—know-nothings. Its ostensible moving causes were the increasing power and designs of the Roman Catholic church in America, the sudden influx of immigrants after the failure of the European revolutionary movements in 1848-50, and the greed and incapacity of naturalized citizens for public office; its cardinal principle was that "Americans must rule America"; and its favorite countersign was a mythical order of Washington on a critical occasion, "Put none but Americans on guard to-night." Its nominations were made by secret conventions of delegates from the various lodges, and were voted for by all members under penalty of expulsion. At first these nominations were merely selections of the best men from the rival whig and democratic tickets. No public notice of such endorsement was ever given, but its effects were visible in the counting of the votes and threw political calculations into chaos. So long as this plan was followed, though the order's name did not appear in politics, it was really the arbiter of elections.

I.51.5

—In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska bill was passed, and resulted in the permanent division of the northern whigs. Those who were not sufficiently opposed to slavery to enter the new republican party, and who despaired of further national success under their old party name, saw no refuge from the democratic party and its reinforcements from increasing immigration except in the know-nothing order, which now, tacitly accepting the name of the American party, struck out a separate existence in politics. The race between the republican and American parties was at first fairly even. In the state elections of 1854 the latter party carried Massachusetts and Delaware, and in New York polled the respectable vote of 122,282. But it was still a middle state party and had no opening in the west, where the republican party was steadily conquering a place as the only opponent of the democratic party. In the state elections of 1855 the American party, though it gained little in the west, made a great stride in advance southward, spreading its organization among the former whigs in that section. So late as 1881 the proportion of foreign born population in the south, except in Florida, Louisiana and Texas, was under two per cent., or practically nothing. In 1855 this absence of foreign born population was universal in the south, and the nativist feeling among the whigs of that section made it easy to transfer them to the American party, which thus secured in both sections, the governors and legislatures of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, California and Kentucky, the controller and legislature of Maryland, and the land commissioner of Texas, and in Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, was beaten only by majorities ranging from 2,000 to 11,000. It seemed for the moment that three parties would exist in future, a republican party in the west, and an American party in the southern and middle states, struggling for supremacy in the northeast, while the democratic organization remained intact in all the sections. Even in the hour of the American party's first successes, however, Greeley, of New York, shrewdly observed that it seemed to have "about as many of the elements of persistence as an anti-cholera or anti-potato-rot party would have."

I.51.6

—Encouraged by its brilliant initiation into state politics, the order began preparations for a campaign as a national party in 1856, hoping for support from all who were tired of agitation either for or against slavery. Instead of this it aimed to introduce opposition to aliens and Catholicism as a national question. Leading Catholics were brought to bay in public controversies, the persecutions in all countries by the Catholic church were recounted, special denunciations were leveled at Bedini, the "pope's nuncio," and Americans were warned that the inquisition would "kindle the fires of the holy auto da fé on the high places of our republic, and deluge our blooming plains with American blood." The hollowness of this effort to escape the inevitable conflict, ostrich-fashion, became evident in the party's first and only national convention, into which the dreaded slavery question at once forced its entrance. Feb. 19, 1856, a secret grand council of delegates met at Philadelphia and after a stormy session of three days adopted, Feb. 21, a platform in sixteen propositions, the principal being as follows: (3) "Americans must rule America and to this end native born citizens should be selected for all state, federal and municipal offices. (9) A change in the laws of naturalization, making a continued residence of twenty-one years necessary for future citizenship (12) The enforcement of 'all laws' until repealed or decided unconstitutional. (13) Opposition to Pierce's administration for its expulsion of 'Americans' from office, and its reopening sectional strife by repealing the Missouri compromise. (15) That state councils should abolish their degrees, and substitute a pledge of honor to applicants for admission."

I.51.7

—The party, thus dropping a part of its secret machinery, hoped to gain votes in the north by denouncing the administration, and the Kansas-Nebraska bill, in the south by upholding the fugitive slave law, and in both sections by substituting nativism for slavery agitation. The open nominating convention met the following day, Feb. 22, with 227 delegates, Maine, Vermont, Georgia and South Carolina, being unrepresented. About 50 delegates were "north" Americans, of republican, or anti-Nebraska, sympathies, and these offered a resolution denying the power of the secret grand council to bind the convention by a platform. This was negatived, 141 to 59, and by 151 to 51, a ballot for candidates was ordered. Many of the "north" Americans then withdrew. After one informal ballot, Millard Fillmore was nominated, on the first formal ballot, as follows: M. Fillmore, 179; George Law, 24; Kenneth Rayner, 14; John McLean, 13; Garret Davis, 10; Sam. Houston, 3. Necessary to a choice, 122.

I.51.8

—By a vote of 181 to 24 for all others, Andrew Jackson Donclson, of Tennessee, was nominated for vice president, and the convention adjourned. Its nominations were adopted, "without adopting or referring to the peculiar doctrines of" the American party, by a whig national convention at Baltimore, Sept. 17.

I.51.9

—The preliminary state elections of 1856 were by no means discouraging for the American party. In New Hampshire and Rhode Island its governors were renominated and elected in the spring, so that eight of the thirty-two states now had American governors. The presidential election in November, however, showed that in national matters the party had indeed none of the "elements of persistence." In New Hampshire, in March, 1856, the vote had been 32,119 American, 32,031 democratic, 2,360 whig; in November of the same year it was 38,345 republican, 32,789 democratic, 422 American. The first wave of the republican tide from the west had washed nativism almost out of New England. The American (popular) vote was 874,534 in a total of 4,053,967; and its total electoral vote was 8 out of 296, the vote of Maryland.

I.51.10

—In the state elections of 1857 the American party carried Rhode Island and Maryland, and in the 35th congress, which met in December, 1857, it had from 15 to 20 representatives and 5 senators. When the 36th congress met in 1859 it had become almost entirely a border state or "south" American party, having 2 senators, one each from Kentucky and Maryland, and 23 representatives, as follows: Kentucky 5, Tennessee 7, Maryland 3, Virginia 1, North Carolina 4, Georgia 2, and Louisiana 1, (see BORDER STATES). In 1860 (see CONSTITUTIONAL UNION PARTY) it made another desperate effort to save the country by ignoring slavery agitation, and, having failed to carry the south, disappeared finally from politics.

I.51.11

—The existence of a secret and oath bound party was always an anachronism in an age and country where free political discussion is allowed. But the short lived organization introduced many young men to politics, who would have found no opportunity in the other parties, and served to delay in some degree the inevitable conflict until the adverse elements had fully come to a head. (See WHIG PARTY; ANTI-MASONIC PARTY, II.; UNITED STATES.)

I.51.12

—See Sons of the Sires (anon.); 2 Wilson's Slave Power, 419-434; Principles and Objects of the American Party (anon.); Wise's Seven Decades; O. A. Brownson's Essays and Reviews (art. Native Americanism); Godwin's Political Essays; 2 von Holst's United States, 523; 3 Seward's Works, 386-389; Bromwell's Immigration, 157; Knapp's Immigration, 228-30; Tribune Almanac, 1844-6, 1855-7; Clay's Private Correspondence, 497-520; Carroll's Great American Battle; Lee's Origin and Progress of the American Party; Whitney's Defense of the American Policy; Warner's Liberties of America; Denig's Know-Nothing Manual; and later authorities under WHIG PARTY. The acts of March 26, 1790, Jan. 29, 1795, and June 18, 1798, (see ALIEN AND SEDITION LAWS), are in 1 Stat. at Large, 103, 414, 566; the act of April 14, 1802, is in 2 Stat. at Large, 153. Slight amendments have been made to the last named act but without essentially changing it. By the act of March 3, 1813, (2 Stat. at Large, 811), five years' residence was required before admission; but this was repealed by act of June 26, 1848, (9 Stat. at Large, 240).

ALEXANDER JOHNSTON.

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