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Know nothing

The meaning of «know nothing»

The Know Nothings were a nativist political party and movement in the United States in the mid-1850s. The party was formally known as the "Native American Party" prior to 1855 and simply the "American Party" after that.[a]

The Know Nothings were originally a secret society. It was primarily an anti-Catholic, Anti-Irish, anti-immigration, populist and xenophobic movement. It aligned with American progressivism in its stances on "issues of labor rights and the need for more government spending"[1] as well as for its "support for an expansion of the rights of women, regulation of industry, and support of measures designed to improve the status of working people."[2] It was a forerunner to the temperance movement in the United States. The Know Nothing movement briefly emerged as a major political party in the form of the American Party. Adherents to the movement were to simply reply "I know nothing" when asked about its specifics by outsiders, providing the group with its common name.[3]

Supporters of the Know Nothing movement believed that an alleged "Romanist" conspiracy was being planned to subvert civil and religious liberty in the United States, and sought to politically organize native-born Protestants in what they described as a defense of their traditional religious and political values. The Know Nothing movement is remembered for this theme because of fears by Protestants that Catholic priests and bishops would control a large bloc of voters. In most places, the ideology and influence of the Know Nothing movement lasted only a year or two before disintegrating due to weak and inexperienced local leaders, a lack of publicly declared national leaders, and a deep split over the issue of slavery. In the South, the party did not emphasize anti-Catholicism as frequently as it did in the North and stressed a neutral position on slavery,[4] but it became the main alternative to the dominant Democratic Party.[3]

The collapse of the Whig Party after the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act left an opening for the emergence of a new major political party in opposition to the Democratic Party. The Know Nothing movement managed to elect congressman Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts and several other individuals in the 1854 elections into office, and subsequently coalesced into a new political party known as the American Party. Particularly in the South, the American Party served as a vehicle for politicians opposed to the Democrats. Many also hoped that it would stake out a middle ground between the pro-slavery positions of Democratic politicians and the radical anti-slavery positions of the rapidly emerging Republican Party. The American Party nominated former President Millard Fillmore in the 1856 presidential election, although he kept quiet about his membership, and personally refrained from supporting the Know Nothing movement's activities and ideology. Fillmore received 21.5% of the popular vote in the 1856 presidential election, finishing behind the Democratic and Republican nominees.[5]

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