Know Nothings — Part II

There was a time in our nation’s history when some politicians tried to restrict immigration based on the country of origin and religion. In fact, an entire political party was formed with that agenda. They were called the “Know Nothings” and their platform was eerily like that of Trump and his supporters today.

The Know Nothings attempted to restrict Roman Catholics from immigrating to the U.S. and they targeted predominantly Roman Catholic countries, such as Ireland, for immigration bans. Their argument was that “papists” were enemies of our country, seeking to destroy the government and replace it with a papal state. They cited false claims of violence and weapons smuggling (for the purpose of slaughtering innocent women and children) to arouse fear of immigrants. They claimed that Catholics could not be trusted to be loyal to country over their religion (a claim that persisted even to the campaign of President Kennedy). They claimed that Catholicism was incompatible with American ideals, and that people from Catholic countries were inherently violent and criminals.

Facts about the Know Nothings are easily accessible to anyone who can read a history book, but they appear to be lost on a large part of the present generation of Americans. I even wonder how many American Catholics realize how similar their own arguments against Muslims were used against their great grandparents?

Fear was exploited by the Know Nothings to generate hatred, just as fear is being used now to justify not only violating our principles and ideals, but also our laws. Will we remember the past mistakes and the suffering of our own relatives and reject the attempts to ban Muslims? Ultimately, it was the courts who rescued our national soul and ruled against laws attempting to ban immigration based on religion and country of origin. Let’s hope the courts will do the same today.

 

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