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THE KNOW NOTHING PARTY

The Germans in Indianapolis entered the political arena with a rather heavy vote in 1854, and by 1855 they were engaged in a battle royal with the American party, a new party which appeared for a brief period of time. The American party was formed shortly after the decadent Whig party disintegrated in 1852. It was a secret organization which stood for the restriction of immigration, the use of the Bible in public schools, and the limitation of the franchise to citizens well-established in the community. In a relatively short time, the American party succeeded in capturing prized offices in many states, but soon native and foreign rowdies used that party as an excuse for outrages on the foreign-born population. While in the nation as a whole the American party was opposed principally to the Irish Catholics, in Indianapolis the opposition was in large measure against the Germans. The Germans, furthermore, were still largely members of the Democratic party, although the ties with this party were beginning to weaken. The American party was dubbed the "Know Nothing Party" because to all questions that were asked them they would give the stereotyped answer, "I don't know." . . .

The American party disintegrated just as quickly as it had risen. The Germans actively opposed it, and they were present at special anti-Know-Nothing meetings. In the city election of 1856, the Germans captured the offices of clerk, marshall, and assessor. . . . The Know Nothings ceased to have much influence after 1855 in the city elections, but they continued to be a thorn in the flesh to the German-born in Indianapolis, for as late as February, 1857, the Freie Presse still lambasted the American party for its "mad schemes," and in November of 1859 it again vented its wrath upon the American party for opposing the printing of city ordinances in German as well as English, which was an established procedure due to German pressure. The Know Nothing episode closed with some animosity between the Germans and fanatical nativists, but the net result was that the Germans came out of the political battle stronger than before.

 


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Updated: 29 April 2004, RKB
Comments: speccoll@iupui.edu
URL: http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/special/digproj/circle/exhibit5_4.html

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