The Know-Nothing Movement
"As early as the 1830's local political parties had appeared on the eastern seaboard to oppose unrestricted immigration and to urge that the open door to America be more carefully guarded. There were violent public controversies about the Roman Catholic Church--which counted thousands of recently arrived immigrants in its expanding numbers--and over the use of public funds for parochial schools, and such conflicts between American Protestants and immigrant Catholics led to disgraceful acts of vandalism in many parts of the country. The floodtide of nativism and religious bigotry occurred in the 1850's, when immigration from Germany and Ireland was so heavy that many Americans believed the melting pot was literally boiling over and that the sacred institutions of the Republic were endangered by unassimilable immigrants, especially those derived from the Catholic parts of Europe.
"The Know-Nothing movement of the 1850's was so largely anti-Catholic that the Irish bore the brunt of its attack, but Germans came in for their full share of denunciation, largely because of the attitude of their radical leaders toward religion, temperance legislation, and the Puritan Sabbath, their advocacy of extreme political and economic reforms, and their insistence that the United States should become a crusader for republicanism in Europe....
"More disturbing to many native Americans was the arrogant air of superiority of some Germans, particularly editors of radical papers, toward the American "way of life." They resented the intolerant attacks on the alleged low cultural and educational standards of the United States, the ridicule of American eating and drinking habits, and the criticism of American art, architecture, literature, dirty cities, corrupt spoils politics, and the American's absorption in business to the exclusion of all interest in intellectual and theorectical matters.
"Whatever justification there may have been for the nativisit agitation--and it was not wholly the result of religious or national bigotry--the German-language press closed ranks immediately to give battle to the enemies of the foreign-born. In their eagerness to refute unjust accusations they boasted too much of German contributions to America and of the superiority of German culture to existing American standards of civilization. In their hypercritical comments they frequently included older German immigrants, whom they regarded as distinctly inferior to later arrivals. The arrogance of these champions of the foreign-born was resented even in some German quarters and did much to aggravate the bitter controversy between the "Greens" [more recent immigrants] and the "Grays" [older, less recent immigrants]. Ludwig von Baumbach, who in 1856 published a book on his observations in America [Neue Briefe aus den Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-amerika], specifically blamed the political refugees of the German revolution, with their arrogant attacks upon so much which the American people held dear, for the rise of the Know-Nothings. On the other hand, the unjust attacks of narrow-minded native Americans on every thing of non-English origin brought about an organized resistance on the part of the whole German element and thereby retarded the normal processes of Americanization by producing an artificial unity among the German group which might not have occurred otherwise."
From the book The German-Language Press in America
by Carl Wittke, University of Kentucky Press, 1957; pages 131-133.
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