The Know Nothings: America’s First Anti-Immigrant Movement


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The Know Nothings were America’s first mass anti-immigrant movement. This series traces the origins of prejudices against immigrants in 17th Century America, the panic over mass immigration in the 1840s, and the triumph and collapse of the Know Nothing political party.

1. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built – Know Nothings saw immigrant conspiracies in the construction of Washington’s most famous monument.

2. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing – The Know Nothings were not a fringe group. The writings of a Know Nothing Congressman sheds light on the thinking of prominent, well-educated, bigots.

3. The Evolution of the Know Nothings – Anti-immigrant thought dates back to colonial times, but it did not generate a political movement until the 1840s.

4. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America-As the Irish and Germans assumed a new prominence in 1850s America, they became targets of violence and political disenfranchisement.

5. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America – The Know Nothings reached their apex just four years before the Civil War began, but the movement fell off a cliff.

6. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America – The Know Nothings influenced both future anti-immigrant movements and the ways immigrant communities respond to them.

7. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.


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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.