The “Know-Nothing” movement, also known as the American Party, was a political party that existed in the United States in the mid-1850s.
The Eastern states of America, and most prominently in Massachusetts, set up the group, which was essentially a nativist and anti-immigrant movement that was primarily focused on limiting or ending immigration and naturalization of Irish and German Catholics, who were seen as a threat to American values and way of life.
They were mainly Protestants, whom supported the restrictions on immigration in order to protect jobs and culture of American born citizens, whilst also wanting to prevent Roman Catholics from holding public office.
Where does the name Know Nothings come from?
The name derived from the fact that whenever they were asked what the party stood for, their response was always the same – “I know nothing!”.
Its members were instructed to respond “I know nothing”, when asked by people they considered outsiders, about the party’s activities.
In 1855 the movement changed their party name to the American Party and had a strong presence in several Northern states and made significant gains in the 1854 elections.
But it soon declined in popularity and was mostly defunct by the late 1850s.
The Know-Nothing movement is often seen as a precursor to the modern nativist and anti-immigrant movements in the United States. It also played a role in the political and social tensions leading up to the American Civil War.