The malediction “Know Nothing” has a weak link to an American historical phenomenon existing between roughly 1840 and 1860, though it long ago devolved into a simpleminded epithet widely used by ignoramuses to tar politically incorrect white people.
Thus, the Jewish New York Times, one of America’s two most powerful newspapers, casually vilifies opponents of replacement migration as Know Nothings, as does Bombay-born Indian immigrant Fareed Zakaria, a naturalized alien who likewise tells whites what they must think. Jewish neoconservative pundit and Israel mouthpiece William Kristol hypocritically lectures a handful of recalcitrant Republicans that they mustn’t turn the GOP into an anti-immigration, Know-Nothing party, despite the unsurpassed racism and anti-immigrant policies of his own favorite nation. And so on.
The term now denotes, even in the dictionary, one who knows little or nothing (noun), or, when used as an adjective, extreme ignorance. Commonly castigated as “Know Nothingism” is any opposition to anti-white racism, replacement migration, genocidal governmental policies or academic schools of thought, Communism—basically, anything sanctified as politically correct.
Not surprisingly, the term originated in name-calling. It was first employed in print in 1853 by the New York Tribune, the most widely read newspaper in the nation, edited by Left-wing New York newspaper mogul and Whig congressman Horace Greeley, who employed Jewish Communist Karl Marx as a correspondent. Initially it was applied to the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, a New York City secret society opposed to Irish and German Catholic political influence, but the insulting appellation quickly spread to the movement as a whole.
The political parties with which the name is today associated were the Native American Party (1845–1855) and the American Party (1855–1860). Historian James M. McPherson noted that
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.
Rather than attempting to stem the tide, Whig and Democratic political elites scrambled for votes and influence among the newcomers in order to augment their own power. Naturalization fraud, vote fraud, and political corruption flourished.
Accounts of the Know Nothing movement invariably evince ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation, intense hostility, and an air of overweening self-righteousness. The movement’s historical significance is vastly inflated. One gets the impression that Know Nothingism is a monster that will never be slain. It will haunt the fevered minds of Leftists long after the last white man is dead.
Intellectual rigor is not required in this area, so one must be wary of dubious claims and documents. Standards of evidence are loose to nonexistent. For example, the David Rubenstein Library at Duke University has posted online a digital image of what purports to be a handwritten party document. But its heading reads “The Know-Nothing Platform,” even though members did not call themselves “Know Nothings”—their opponents did.
Also, there are planks in the document I have not seen elsewhere, such as “Repeal of all Naturalization Laws” and the vague “More stringent and effective Emigration [sic: immigration] laws.” Based upon numerous lightweight Establishment allusions to the Know Nothings I have read over the years, I would expect to find planks similar to these, but the movement’s own documents do not turn up any. Possibly the Rubenstein manuscript was issued by foes of the party intent upon “informing” the public of what Know Nothings ostensibly stood for. However, no information about its provenance is provided.
The truth about the movement is quite different from the myth. It was a short-lived populist, non-elite movement that never gained much real traction. Its primary significance appears to be its talismanic, bogey-like ability to whip up hatred and reinforce convictions of intellectual superiority and moral righteousness among those who condemn it.
The native American movement was not “anti-immigrant,” inasmuch as proponents did not advocate, strangely enough, an end to foreign immigration, much less sending anybody back. It did seek denial of entry to foreign-born “paupers” (the non-self-supporting, like today’s Third World replacement migrants) and criminals.
What was desired instead was a 21-year grace period before new arrivals (but not the foreign-born already here, who were grandfathered in) could vote. This is exemplified in the ninth plank of the American Party platform of 1856 demanding “change in the laws of naturalization, making a continued residence of twenty-one years, of all not heretofore provided for, an indispensable requisite for citizenship hereafter, and excluding all paupers, and persons convicted of crime, from landing upon our shores; but no interference with the vested rights of foreigners.” (Emphases added.)
The purpose of such a requirement, as explicitly stated in the Constitution of the American Party of Massachusetts (1855), was to enable immigrants to acquire “a knowledge of our language, our laws, and institutions,” and to encourage “such a policy as shall tend to assimilate [assimilate—a key concept] the foreign population, in sentiment and feeling, with the mass of American citizens.” (See bottom of p. 2.) What was desired was a functioning melting pot of European ethnics, including Jews (who, unlike Catholics, were not excluded).
The 21-year demand bore a resemblance to certain parts of the Alien and Sedition Acts of the Federalist Party signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. The Naturalization and Alien Acts were aimed largely at Irish immigrants and French Catholic refugees. The Naturalization Act raised from 5 to 14 the number of years of US residence required for naturalization, but was repealed in 1802. (Unrelated to later American Party positions, the Alien Act empowered the president to arrest and deport any alien considered dangerous; it expired in 1800. The Alien Enemies Act, which expired in 1801, provided for the arrest and deportation of subjects of foreign powers at war with the United States.)
An undated ad in the American Patriot, a party newspaper in Boston, succinctly summarized American Protestants’ concerns, setting forth the basic themes repeated by virtually all Americanist groups. “Is it not time for a pause?” the paper asked. An actual cessation of the massive foreign influx of the 1830s–1850s was not even suggested—just a pause—despite the fact that foreigners “are disgorging themselves upon us at the rate of hundreds of thousands every year. They aim at nothing short of conquest and supremacy over us.”
“We are burdened with enormous taxes by foreigners,” the statement of principles went on. “We are corrupted in the morals of our youth. We are interfered with in our government. We are forced into collisions with other nations. We are tampered with in our religion.”
The paper demanded “the protection of American mechanics against Foreign Pauper Labor” (their term for cheap labor). The undercutting of native wages by cheap labor was a recurrent theme in Protestant American documents.
The American Patriot’s statement of principles declared opposition to “papal oppression and Roman Catholicism,” including nunneries. Like virtually all Native American groups, the paper was antagonistic to Jesuits—hardly surprising, given that at one time or another that order has been expelled from every country in Europe.
Rejected as well was the holding of public offices by foreigners, and taxation of native Americans to the tune of “millions of dollars annually” to support a massive, unending flood of newcomers. The paper favored the protection of native wages and, as previously noted, the requirement that newcomers reside in the country for 21 years before being permitted to vote.
As other sources make clear, an underlying rationale for the demand that “paupers” (those who would become a public charge) and criminals be “sent back” (actually, not admitted in the first place), was that foreign governments might intentionally unload the wretched refuse of their teeming shores onto a supine America as Great Britain did to Australia or Communist dictator Fidel Castro’s Cuba did to the US during the Mariel boatlift of 1980.
A final extremely important point made by the American Patriot: “We are assailed in our freedom of speech.” There seems little doubt that hostile elites and foreigners joined to effectively limit native Americans’ speech, including using organized mobs to silence public speakers. At the conclusion of his brief discussion of the Know Nothings in The Conquest of a Continent (1933), Madison Grant observed: “Our alien elements are to this day extremely sensitive to the public discussion of any of these matters. In this respect, Americans probably have less freedom of speech and freedom of press than exist in any of the countries of Europe” (p. 219).
In addition to the above lines from the American Patriot, the gist of the movement’s beliefs can quickly be grasped by reading the 1856 American Party platform on which ex-Whig President (1850–1853) Millard Fillmore ran for president, or pp. 2–3 of the Constitution of the State Council of the American Party of Massachusetts (1855) (save for the highly-qualified anti-slavery sentiments expressed on p. 3, which were not representative of the views of the national party).
Some Protestant secret societies asked candidates for membership in their organizations not only whether they were native born, but whether their parents and grandparents were—a more stringent test. They were also asked if any of their ancestors were in this country at the time of the Revolutionary War. Such questions were administered under oath, but evidently no additional investigation to verify the accuracy of the responses was made. Though in some instances people undoubtedly knew one another, in others they would not have.
One can readily see that such test criteria were not explicitly racial, but geographical. The movement was also non-racial in the sense that it did not take a position on slavery, other than to adopt a State’s Rights stance.
In some groups, members were expected to oppose (through voting, campaigning, writing, speaking, etc. against them) Roman Catholics running for office even if the latter were native born. Conversely, party policy held that persons born to American parents residing temporarily abroad were entitled to the full rights of native-born citizens.
A Prominent Jewish Know Nothing
There was some measure of Jewish involvement in the Know Nothing movement. Nation of Islam researchers quote Jewish scholar Dr. Harold Brackman as stating that “New York Jews enthusiastically attended Know Nothing rallies called to protest ‘the threat’ of Catholic political power . . .” Brackman continued: “many Jewish immigrants probably would have succumbed to the temptation to settle Old World scores [i.e., indulge in anti-Catholic bigotry] and at the same time demonstrate their ‘Americanism’ by echoing the anti-Catholicism of the native Protestant majority” (The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, vol. 2: How Jews Gained Control of the Black American Economy (2010), p. 443).
However, Jews did not merely “echo” the Protestant majority—sometimes they led it. Exhibit number one in this regard is attorney, newspaperman, agitator, and US Congressman Lewis Charles Levin (American Party-Penn., 1845–1851), deemed to be one of the three leading lights of the Know Nothing movement along with ex-President Millard Fillmore and machinist-turned-lawyer US Representative Nathaniel Banks (D., American Party, R.-Mass.).
Levin is regarded as something of an embarrassment by Jews, who rarely mention his name. The Jewish Virtual Library omits the term “Know Nothing” in its capsule biography of him, knowing full well that 99% of readers will not make the connection. Nor does it inform them that he died in an insane asylum. Levin was a ringleader of the Catholic-Native American riots that occurred in Philadelphia in 1844.
So obscure is Levin today that the Nation of Islam overlooked him, as did Wilmot Robertson in his book The Dispossessed Majority and more than two decades of Instauration magazine—and as I did until I researched this article.
But he is by no means a minor figure in the history of Know Nothingism. “Levin’s newspaper output,” his extremely hostile chronicler wrote in 1960, “was fantastic; one needs to read through the whole body of his editorials in order to understand the prodigious energy which went into his many agitations.” A veteran Pennsylvania journalist and politician wrote of him in 1905:
A brilliant adventurer named Lewis C. Levin, a native of Charleston, S.C., and a peripatetic law practitioner, first in South Carolina, next in Maryland, next in Louisiana, next in Kentucky and finally in Pennsylvania, was the acknowledged leader of the Native American element that had erupted during the summer of 1844 in what is remembered as the disgraceful riots of that year in which Catholic churches and institutions were burnt by the mob. . . . He was one of the most brilliant and unscrupulous orators I have ever heard. He presented a fine appearance, graceful in every action charming in rhetoric and utterly reckless in assertion. I have heard him both as a temperance and political orator, and I doubt whether during his day any person in either party of the State surpassed him on the hustings.
Levin, who was born in South Carolina, is said to have been a first generation American, which for some reason does not surprise me. I’ve come to more or less expect such things. One of his close associates in the movement was a man named Samuel Kramer, possibly also Jewish. Levin never became a convert to Protestantism.
Initially a crusader against drink and loose morals in his newspaper the Temperance Advocate, in 1843 he bought the Philadelphia Daily Sun, which he turned into a platform for Americanism and anti-Catholicism.
There were two main pillars to Levin’s thought. The first, unpersuasive, one was belief in a Catholic monarchical conspiracy centered in Europe that sought control over America.
The American Revolution, Levin maintained, struck the first blow for national freedom. The French Revolution was a continuation of the American, bringing universal liberty to Europe; even Ireland and Germany caught the infection of freedom. But after the fall of Napoleon Catholics and monarchists reasserted their power over the Continent. Catholic monarchs in Europe then plotted to gain control of America by utilizing and manipulating the votes of Catholic immigrants.
The other pillar of Levin’s thought was a sober evaluation of corrupt Irish Catholic machine politics, which he witnessed up-close in Philadelphia. He described this phenomenon, familiar to every student of American politics, quite accurately, and correctly condemned it as inimical to democracy. The phenomenon persisted well into the 20th century, as seen in Tammany Hall in New York City (in which the Jews were also deeply involved), the urban machine of Harry Truman’s friend and mentor Boss Pendergast in Kansas City, and the Daley machine in Chicago.
Levin’s last major political activity occurred in 1856, when he campaigned against John C. Fremont (R.) and James Buchanan (D.) on behalf of American Party presidential candidate Millard Fillmore. He spent the last years of his life incarcerated in hospitals for the insane in Philadelphia and Baltimore. He died in 1860 and was interred in Philadelphia’s nondenominational Laurel Hill Cemetery. Twenty years afterward, his second wife and son, Louis, converted to Catholicism.
For all its fearsome reputation, the American Party and its predecessor and associated organizations appear exceedingly tame. The Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1944 came to the same conclusion: “The times were propitious for the success of an aggressive third party, but the Know Nothings lacked aggression.” If you’re going to attract the kind of hatred they did, you may as well say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done.
A major lesson seems to be that if you’re too nice, too moderate, you’ll lose to foes who are hard and cruel. Defeat is dishonorable, and you’ll receive no credit for your softness. Instead, you’ll be painted by the victors, virtual thugs, as the most evil and despicable villains who ever lived. Your cause and the people who championed it are certain to be shamelessly lied about by skilled, inveterate liars. No lie will be too big, and those lies will ultimately become enshrined as “truth.”
Morality is not easy. Sometimes the enemy establishes the rules, thereby forcing hard choices upon you. When the stakes are particularly high, there is something to be said for doing whatever it takes to win, thereby settling scores once and for all. There are no “beautiful losers,” just losers.
Besides, it would be gratifying to see good triumph over evil for a change. I mean, why not?