Immigration (Roark, 2002)

James L. Roark, et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 466-467.
The tidal wave of immigrants that broke over American in the decade from 1845 to 1855 produced a nasty backlash among Protestant Americans, who believed they were about to drown in a sea of Roman Catholics from Ireland and Germany…The new arrivals encountered economic prejudice, ethnic hostility, and religious antagonism. Because some of them displayed a taste for whiskey and beer, they also drew the wrath of the temperance movement. When the immigrants entered American politics, they largely became Democrats because they perceived that party as more tolerant of newcomers than were the Whigs.

But even so, they met sharp political opposition. In the early 1850s, nativists (individuals who were anti-immigrant) began to organize, first into secret fraternal societies such as the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, and then into a political party.

Recruits swore never to vote for either foreign-born or Roman Catholic candidates and not to reveal any information about the organization. When questioned, they said: “I know nothing.” Officially, they were the American Party, but most Americans called them Know-Nothings.
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