Lincoln on Immigrants

Gene Griessman asked:


In a letter to his good friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln on August 24, 1855 Lincoln wrote: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’”

Throughout its history, the United States has spawned numerous anti-immigrant movements. Even Benjamin Franklin, who was known for his tolerance and opposition to slavery, thought there were entirely too many Germans in Pennsylvania. At various times Germans, Chinese, Irish, Jews, Portuguese, Italians, Muslims, Japanese, and Mexicans have been targets of resentment, hostile legislation, persecution, or deportation.

In Lincoln’s day, the most famous of the anti-immigrant groups was called the Know-Nothings. Primarily aimed at Irish and German Catholics, the party originated in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party. It spread to other states where it became known as the Native American Party. In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party. Adherents of the movement became known as Know-Nothings because the organization was a semi-secret society and members, when asked about its activities, were supposed to say, “I know nothing.”

In the spring of 1854 the Know Nothings carried Boston and several other New England cities and in the fall swept the state of Massachusetts. The Know Nothing candidate for mayor in Philadelphia won by a landslide when he promised to appoint only native-born Americans to office, ***** down on crime, and close saloons on Sunday. In 1855 the Know Nothings elected the mayor of Chicago who barred all immigrants from city jobs.

The platform of the American Party called for severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries; restricting political office to native-born Americans; mandating a wait of 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship; restricting public school teachers to Protestants; mandating daily Bible readings in public schools; and restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Is history repeating itself today with new Know-Nothings?



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