Perhaps the 'Native Americans' may have been better served by a warning against turning the letter 'N' backwards, but it was the motto which served the 'American Party' or 'Know Nothing Party' in mid-19th America. Oddly enough, they did not see the oxymoron they were attempting to jam down the throats of a 'Puritan' nation - one that referred to the real Native Americans as savages and nearly wiped them out. In their paranoia, they seemed to forget that they were a foreign influence and not native to America themselves.
From Wide-awake! Romanism: its aims and tendencies. The sentiments of a "Know-nothing." by L.W. Granger:
Fellow citizens of America! What a field for contemplation! Are you not competent to manage the affairs of a government of which you are the main pillars and embodiment? We are not willing yet to believe that you have fallen so low, or degenerated so fast, as yet to give up to the demands made upon you by Romanism. Before your very eyes in the light of day, is this spirit of insubordination and anarchy ripening into maturity. The storm cloud is brooding; your enemies are marshalled on every hand. Let every American be on his guard against the restless foe, by securing well of his country's honor and integrity.
This book, like many others of the day, goes on spreading lies which took on a life of their own and caused the burning of many Catholic Churches -- and plenty of deaths as a result. Tall tales included that Bishops asked that the Protestant Bible be replaced with the Douay-Rheims in public schools (Fact: it was requested that Catholic children be allowed to use their own Bibles if they wished); Catholic churches were fortifying themselves with canons and muskets (there were indeed weapons at the church - after they were notified that mobs of 'nativists' were planning to riot including the the burning of churches and any occupants. 'Nativists' were warned that they must arm themselves and "shoot down the first Irish rebel, that dare insult your person as an American citizen!"
When asked about being a 'Nativist', they were expected to reply with a resounding, "I know nothing." I tend to agree with the statement but not within the context they intended. It is quite obvious that they were mired in paranoia so vast that it would rival any diagnoses in the most recent DSM.
From page 296 of The American Pageant textbook:
- Older-stock Americans were alarmed by these mounting figures. They professed to believe that in due time the "alien riffraff" would "establish" the Catholic church at the expense of Protestantism and would introduce "popish idols." The noisier American "nativists" rallied for political action. In 1849 they formed the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, which soon developed into the formidable American, or "Know-Nothing," party - a name derived from its secretiveness. "Nativists" agitated for rigid restrictions on immigration and naturalization and for laws authorizing the deportation of alien paupers. They also promoted a lurid literature of exposure, much of it pure fiction. The authors, sometimes posing as escaped nuns, described the shocking sins they imagined the cloisters concealed, including the secret burial of babies. One of these sensational books — 's Awful Disclosures(1836) — sold over 300,000 copies.
The city of Philadelphia witnessed much death and destruction at the hands of 'nativists' against Catholics and their churches. In 1844, the 'City of Brotherly Love' failed miserably to live up to the nickname. On May 7th of that year, a mob marched into the Irish section of the city and set some 30 homes ablaze. Included in the destruction were St. Michael's and St. Augustine's churches as well as a monastery and library. Firemen were not allowed to go to the scene and when the Mayor called for calm, he was struck and knocked unconscious. At least 14 souls were lost on that one day.
The Bishop, Most Rev. Kenrick, ordered all churches closed the following Sunday in order to calm the riots. He let it be known that it was better for all of the churches to be burned to the ground than to have one more drop of blood spilled. Urging Catholics to let the courts deal with those who perpetrated the violence and to not seek vengeance, it appeared at first that justice would be handed out. When the jury delivered its verdict, it found in favor of the 'Nativists' and pointed the finger at the Irish Catholics instead. That verdict only served to embolden the 'Nativists' who planned an even bigger display of hatred at an Independence Day parade. The Southwark Riots ensued and the eventual result was the laying of the foundation for a Catholic school system by Bishop Kenrick.
A bit of trivia on the Know Nothing Party: Our 13th President was a member of the Know Nothing Party - Millard Fillmore and Ulysses S. Grant was also a member of the party for a time prior to the Civil War. In 1875 President Grant called for a Constitutional amendment that would mandate free public schools and prohibit the use of public funds for "sectarian" schools. We have heard of the so-called 'Blaine Amendments' recently when school vouchers were a hot topic. Just a last note to anyone who has read this far: The Puritans who fled Europe and came to America seeking religious freedom brought their Geneva Bibles (NOT the King James Version) and were fleeing the Church of England - not the Popish Roman Church. Gosh, you'd think only a couple hundred years after the Puritans landed, the 'Nativists' would have known their history.
When slavery became a dividing issue among the 'United States', anti-Catholicism was alive but slid to the back burner for a time. In the beginning of the 20th century, enter the Ku Klux Klan and other 'gems'. Most people know that the KKK targeted African Americans, but many do not realize that Catholics were equally despised. In Oregon, the Klan had few minorities to deal with and seized the opportunity to target Catholics almost exclusively. The Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon, with the full support of the KKK, sponsored a bill with the sole intent to wipe out parochial schools. The Compulsory Education Law was passed in 1922 and thankfully was found to be unconstitutional in 1925 by the United States Supreme Court case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters.
Anti-Catholic bigotry is, in my opinion, just as Philip Jenkins suggests: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. Having experienced it myself in a most shocking way in online forums and discussion rooms. The luxury of anonymity seems to allow for a 'no holds barred' mentality for many people. I have been called a pagan, pew mushroom, cultist, droid, robot, Mary worshiper, popish, a wafer idolater and told that the Church to which I cleave is the Whore of Babylon. One 'Christian' told me that he hoped 'Mother Teresa was rotting in hell' because of the way she cared for pagans in her ministry (she did not force them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior in order to receive treatment). Folks like Jack Chick abound and derive plenty of income from attacking Catholicism, fueling the ever-present fire in America. I have found that most of the people who are extremely anti-Catholic were Catholic themselves in the past. Much can be said about the lousy catechesis of the past 40 years and that many of us have been made to suffer because of it. Maybe another entry - another day.
If you are interested in learning more about Anti-Catholicism or apologetics, consult the following links:
Catholic Answers Anti-Catholic Library
Bible Christian Society
Anti-Catholicism on the Internet - Catholic League
Dave Armstrong's Blog
Catholic Answers Practical Apologetics