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[dc ]I[/dc]n the 1850s, a party known as the "Know Nothings" existed in the U.S. It was an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant and xenophobic political party which originated as a secret society. Its members, when asked about its beliefs by outsiders, were instructed to respond "I know nothing". Sounds a lot like today's GOP under the dictatorship of Donald J. Trump.

know nothings

In the North in the late 1850s, the Know Nothing Party disintegrated over the issue of slavery, but in the South, it became the main alternative to the ruling Democratic Party. In 1854, a Know Nothing Congressman actually became Speaker of the House, as the party coalesced into a new party, which they named the American Party. In 1856, the American Party nominated former President Millard Fillmore, although he was abroad and may not even have known he had been nominated.

Fillmore received 21.5% of the popular vote in the 1856 election, finishing 3rd behind the candidate of the new Republican party, John C. Fremont, and the Democrat James Buchanan, who went on to become one of the least effective Presidents ever (only ahead of Trump). In the 1850s, the new American rage was Know Nothing candy, Know Nothing tea, and Know Nothing toothpicks. [Political paraphernalia is always the rage: I still have a "Feel the Bern" condom.]

The Know Nothings, as they became popular, were populists, hostile to wealth, to elites and to expertise, and deeply suspicious of outsiders. The Know Nothing electorate expelled the traditional upper-class political leaders, especially lawyers, and elected working class men, farmers, teachers and ministers. Few were wealthy. [Sounds a lot like the Trumpsters with their MAGA hats…]

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In 1855, Abraham Lincoln wrote the following, in a private letter to a friend: "as a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal'…When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics'."

In the South, the American Party was composed largely of ex-Whigs, a major political party in the 1840s. They were looking for a new party to fight the dominant Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson and his later colleagues. They were worried about the pro-slavery extremism of the Southern Democrats and the emergence of the anti-slavery Republican Party in the North.

The Know Nothings collapsed after the 1856 election, as the controversial 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision galvanized opposition to slavery in the North, causing many of the Know Nothings to become Republicans. In the South, they remained strong at the local and state levels until the Civil War. The spirit of the Know Nothing movement in the South was revived by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and thereafter. It exists today in many of the followers of Trump…

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