America for Americans: the Southern Know Nothing Party and the politics of nativism, 1854-1856

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America for Americans: the Southern Know Nothing Party and the politics of nativism, 1854-1856

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Title: America for Americans: the Southern Know Nothing Party and the politics of nativism, 1854-1856
Author: Bladek, John David, 1963-
Abstract: From 1854 to 1856, the Know Nothing, or American Party, attempted to redefine the American political scene around an explicit anti-foreign and anti-Catholic appeal. This study deals with the southern half of the Know Nothing Party which has long been viewed by historians as a group of political opportunists who lacked any real commitment to nativism, but who tagged along with the popular northern movement as their only alternative to the decline of the Whig Party following the disastrous presidential election of 1852. This work attempts to re-evaluate the party's history and argues that southern Know Nothings were indeed staunch nativists and that their nativism formed one cornerstone of an ideology committed to slavery and Unionism as well as an opposition to political corruption, immigrants, and the Catholic Church.The first chapter is a study of the origins of the Know Nothings in the South where they emerged from a coalition of forces held together by nativism and Unionism, galvanized by opposition to the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 and the stunning success of nativists in the northern elections of that same year. The second chapter examines the Know Nothings' ideology and attempts to put their nativism into the context of republican ideology and the politics of the 1850s. The third chapter deals with the crucial gubernatorial election of 1855 in Virginia and the calamitous impact it had on the party as a national organization. The fourth chapter is a study of the breakdown of the national party over slavery and the impact of the politics of slavery on southern elections where the Know Nothings attempted to remove slavery from the open political debate. The fifth chapter deals with the takeover of the party hierarchy by "old-line" Whigs who reshaped the organization into a more narrowly defined Unionist party that lessened the previous emphasis on nativism. The sixth and final chapter examines the 1856 presidential election and the decline of the party after its abandonment by northerners and the downplaying of the nativist issue in the South.
Description: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 1998
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/10514

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