Friday, June 13, 2008

The Know-Nothings

And before you get all excited, no, this isn't a post where I call Candy names. While I think the discussion has moved on, I had one last topic to write about on the subject of religiously affiliated violence.

Here in America, with our recent history, we really do not have much of a history of wide-spread violence against a particular religious group. The early days of Mormonism are one instance. However, I believe the most widespread and longest lasting persecution was of Catholicism.

Most American Catholics are aware that the spirit of New England's North American settlements was hostile to Catholicism. But few are aware of the vigor and persistence with which that spirit was cultivated throughout the entire colonial period. Few Catholics realize that in all but three of the 13 original colonies, Catholics were the subject of penal measures of one kind or another during the colonial period. In most cases, the Catholic Church had been proscribed at an early date, as in Virginia where the act of 1642 proscribing Catholics and their priests set the tone for the remainder of the colonial period.

Even in the supposedly tolerant Maryland, the tables had turned against Catholics by the 1700s. By this time the penal code against Catholics included test oaths administered to keep Catholics out of office, legislation that barred Catholics from entering certain professions (such as Law), and measures had been enacted to make them incapable of inheriting or purchasing land. By 1718 the ballot had been denied to Catholics in Maryland, following the example of the other colonies, and parents could even be fined for sending children abroad to be educated as Catholics.

In the decade before the American Revolution, most inhabitants of the English colonies would have agreed with Samuel Adams when he said (in 1768): "I did verily believe, as I do still, that much more is to be dreaded from the growth of popery in America, than from the Stamp Act, or any other acts destructive of civil rights."

These early sentiments continued, and only worsened as large amount of Catholic emigrated from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. This grew into what is known as the Nativist Movement.

Immigration grew sharply in the 1830s-40s with the arrival of many Irish and Germans, who were largely Roman Catholic. Simultaneously, a Protestant revival flourished in a climate of economic change and insecurity. Evangelists demonized Catholics as immoral "Papists" who followed authoritarian leaders, imported crime and disease, and stole native jobs. Protestant workingmen burned the Ursuline Convent near Boston and rioted in several cities. Thirty people were killed and hundreds injured in Philadelphia in 1844. By the mid-1850s, the nativist American Party won six governorships and controlled legislatures in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. They enacted numerous laws that penalized immigrants (as well as newly annexed Mexicans), including the first literacy tests for voting, which disfranchised the Irish in particular. Attacking the "un-American" foreigner served as a diversion for those unwilling to acknowledge America's irreconcilable difference of slavery versus abolition, an issue that split nativists. As sectional conflict sharpened, the American Party virtually collapsed by 1860.

The largest group which grew out of Nativism was called the Know-Nothings.

The Know-Nothings wanted to use government power to preserve their vision of a particular kind of Anglo-Saxon Protestant society. Their state and national platforms demanded that immigration be limited, that politics be "purified" by limiting officeholding to native-born Americans, and that a 21-year wait be imposed before an immigrant could become a citizen and vote. They also sought to limit the sale of liquor, to restrict public-school teaching to Protestants, and to have the Protestant version of the Bible read daily in classrooms.
Among the acts of violence which were stirred up by anti-Catholic sentiments was the burning of an Ursuline convent. The catalyst for this event, was the circulation of stories which were very similar to the Sister Charlotte story which Candy has posted previously, and which was on her sidebar for several months.

From the actual article in the Boston newspaper:

The subject of universal interest in the city today has been the work of destruction accomplished by a mob, last night and this morning, at and about the Ursuline Convent, on Mount Benedict, in Charlestown—resulting in the complete sacking of the principal building itself—a four-story handsome brick edifice, with wings, and front about eighty feet—together with the farm house, cottage, and every other building upon the premises, and also with the demolition or consumption by fire of all the furniture and chattels of every description, appurtant to the whole.

In 1844, there were a series of riots in Philadelphia which originated over the issue of religion in public schools. Catholics had asked to be able to read their own Bibles during the morning devotional reading, but this was not permitted.

In May, two Catholic churches were burned down, a convent was attacked, and a riot broke out which ended in 14 killed (between both sides) and many more injured.

In July, a riot broke out again. When a church was again attacked, the militia got involved and another 15-20 people were killed, with many more injured.

The incidents in Philadelphia are credited with ultimately creating the Catholic school system in America.

In 1853, Cincinnati saw a similar riot, but one with less tragic results. A mob of 600 men set out to burn the Cathedral to the ground, but after the police fired upon the mob and injured several, the mob disbursed. No one was killed.

In 1854, numerous churches were burned down, blown up, or simply vandalized.

The last year of violence was 1855, which saw the "Bloody Monday Massacre" in Louisville, Ky. You can read several articles from the Louisville paper here:
A remembrance on the 150th anniversary of one of the deadliest anti-immigrant riots in American history, the Bloody Monday Massacre of August 6, 1855 was held in Louisville Kentucky on Saturday, August 6th, 2005. The instigators of the massacre were the Know Nothings, a Nativist political party who were fearful of losing control of the Louisville City Council. They were driven by an anti-immigrant vitriolic press to attack and slaughter as many as 150 German and Irish immigrants who lived in the poorest sections of Louisville.

In the aftermath, more than 10,000 Catholics left Louisville for other cities, having a huge impact on the population of the city. The actual number of dead remains disputed. Most accounts leave it at "at least 22" but a letter written by the Bishop of Louisville says that 100 were killed. The Louisville paper also weighs in on the conflicting accounts:

Bloody Monday has also left a burden for Louisville historians, who continue to wrestle with the sketchy, partisan accounts of it that appeared in the city's newspapers and official records.

"We don't argue about what happened in the earthquakes of 1811-12," said historian and Metro Councilman Tom Owen. "We don't argue about what happened in the 1937 flood or the tornado of 1890. But professionals debate both the causation and the result of Bloody Monday."

Within ten years, the Know-Nothings and the Nativist movement had died down, and the violence had ceased. Clearly, the same sort of tales of murderous Catholics, and convents torturing young girls are still floating around out there, popular in some quarters.

Because this has been a persistent topic at Candy's blog, I created a "Those Killer Catholics" tag for such articles. If you click on it at the bottom of this article, you can find other entries I've written on similar lines, including the Inquisition(s) and the Sister Charlotte articles.

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Tracy said...

Excellent post Kelly!!

Suzanne said...

Hi Kelly and Elena,

Could one of you please remove me from the blogroll here? I am not sure how I got on but I noticed it was there. Thanks!

God Bless,


Heather said...

In the interest of being helpful to your readers who want to learn how to make home management binders, I offer this link to my "Inside the Guide" series of articles. In this series, I walk readers step-by-step through the process of making a reference binder for home managers:

Candy didn't invent the binder concept. It's been around for a long time---even before FlyLady. I've had one for 6 years, and I made mine after reading a book from the early 80s called "Bonnie's Household Organizer," which can be purchased very inexpensively on Amazon.

Blessings to you,

Tracy said...

thank you Heather!!

Angie said...

I want all of you to know how much I appreciate your blog. I first started reading Candy's blog about a year ago. My days and nights consisted of thinking about the things she had to say. I love my faith and wasn't about to leave it, but I also knew I needed to do more reading. I found you through Erika's blog (I'm currently in Okinawa, too!). I have learned so much from you ladies. Thank you, God bless and keep doing what you're doing!

Benjamin said...

I have no idea where to put this because it is off topic. First off, I am not Catholic. As you know, Tim Russert died today. He was my favorite politcal news person. I have watched all the news stations that have been on all day telling stories of all the wonderful things he did and what an all around great person he was. He is Roman Catholic. This is where I have the problem with other peoples blogs. You are going to tell me that this man who cherished his parents, worked hard, did numerous charitable activities and was an outstanding husband, parent, son, brother and colleague, went to hell because he is RC? I am sorry....I will NEVER agree with that.

Tracy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin said...

After watching a show about him, he was a devout Catholic and always made time for to go to Mass, went to Catholic school and met the Pope every chance he got. Does this make him a good, but everyone who knew him said, he was a true Christian not just for appearance sake. I feel confident in saying he is in heaven.

If anyone posts otherwise, I might just lose it! ;-)

Perplexity said...

I can't imagine anyone who believes in God being in, or going to, hell.
Whether you worship on your own, in a Catholic Church, a Protestant Church, Synagog, a field in the middle of nowhere or in your car on your way to...wherever - you are still worshipping, right?

If the way to being saved - thus going to heaven and not hell - is to believe in Jesus Christ and, for Christians, to accept him as your savior - because I can't accept the concept that Jews, who don't accept Christ as their savior, are not in heaven - then what does the church matter, in the end? It is important for the spirit, for the living soul and for the way one lives their life, but if all one is concerned with is heaven or hell, then Catholics, Lutherans, Baptist, Pentecost, Evangelical, Episcopalian, Jewish, Independent...whatever; none of that is what matters, right? Saved by grace - nothing else. HOW one worships isn't what is the most important; how one lives their life, keeping Christ in mind, matters little (this is outside the obvious...I don't want anyone to jump on me thinking I said that you can rape, kill, steal and murder or any other extreme example - I'm talking within logical reason; within the basic framework of human respect and dignity and Christ)'the fact that one DOES worship is what is relevant.

That is, in part, what made me end up here; I was given links to other sites in conversation and the more I read them the more off and wrong they felt to me. Eventually, I ended up here through other links by even more people. Although I am not Catholic - and as another commenter is very fond of pointing out I am, in fact, somewhat agnostic, although certainly not by conviction or declaration, I've stuck around for the sake of learning. Isn't that what spreading the word of God is about? Reaching people...anyway, got off topic there...

I wasn't a huge fan of Tim Russert, but I did respect him; he said what he had to say and wasn't concerned with others in that regard. I didn't always agree with him, but I sure as heck respected his conviction and spirit in saying it. He took his faith seriously, and he took freedom of the press seriously and he took the need for public knowledge seriously.

I see Russert in heaven right now, scrutinizing everything and everyone; that is what he is known for - it was part of his soul and I certainly believe it went with him, to heaven.

Tracy said...

Benjamin, I agree with you, and I am a Catholic:) I didn't even know Tim was Catholic, but that is beside the point really, if he was a good christian man who lived and practiced his faith then we can have every assurance he is with God right now. I was actually surprised to find out he was Catholic, I just thought he was a ultra intelligent man who really "got it" and I loved Meet the Press and that show will Never be the same now for me:(

Sue said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nancy Parode said...


I heard some great tributes to Tim Russert yesterday. Colin Powell said that when Russert interviewed you, you always had to be at the top of your game, because he always was, and that Russert was a very active participant in causes he suppported (such as Powell's America's Promise-the Alliance for Youth).

The Cardinal Emeritus of the Diocese of Washington said many nice things about Russert's integrity, honesty and love of his faith. He was indeed very devout and I think we have all lost a great example of someone who can be at the very top of a professional field but not ever lose sight of God, faith and family as the truly important reasons we're all here on Earth.

Seminarian Matthew said...

An excellent post. From a Traditional Catholic perspective and from the perspective of an avid historian, I appreciate this post. I will bookmark it.