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September 12, 2015


Given the (real or pretended) penchant of Republican presidential candidates Trump and Walker to build walls around our southern and northern borders, respectively, I decided to do some research of American history to see if such ideas had ever occurred to Republican candidates for president before other than during the last few score years. I found none, but found a similar movement around the middle of the 19th century which contained the word “Republican” in its title in a political organization that was organized ten years before the Whig Party became the Republican Party in 1854 and elected Lincoln, a former Whig, to the presidency in 1860.

I was aware that it was a time of political ferment beyond abolitionist and slavery points of view and slave or free arguments on territories coming into statehood; that there were many who hated those of other religious views and wished to exclude such immigrants from coming to this country (and this 55 years after our Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion)!

I first went to The New York Public Library Desk Reference (Fourth Edition) where I found the following reference: “1844 – The anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Republican Party (the Know Nothings) is founded in New York City.” Intrigued that a growing nation of immigrants could want to end future immigration to this country long before our country had expanded to its western “manifest destiny,” I went to The Illustrated Oxford Dictionary (Fourth Edition), and looked up “know nothing.” The definition read: “know-nothing n. an ignorant person.”

Since I thought that definition fairly described both Trump and Walker, I pressed on in the Oxford Dictionary and came across this further definition of what came to be known as “The Know-Nothing Party: “Know-Nothing Party n. US Hist. a short-lived 19th-century political party advocating intolerance toward immigrants and Roman Catholics esp. as political candidates.” 1844 was a big year; in addition to formation of the Know-Nothing Party, Morse invented the telegraph, Mormon Joseph Smith was killed in Illinois which sent Mormons on their long trek to Utah, and more importantly for our purposes here, anti-immigrant riots broke out in Philadelphia.

The timing of formation of a new party based on hate and intolerance (especially as it applied to Roman Catholics) could not have been worse. Three years from the new party’s 1844 beginning (in 1847) the potato famine began in Ireland which resulted in huge waves of Irish Catholic immigrants to our country. Hatred of the Irish persisted through the end of the 19th century as waves of immigrant Jewish and Italian immigrants (non-Christians and Catholics who were also hated) came to our shores following the earlier Irish diaspora.

Most of us are familiar with how the Irish of that day were called “micks” and signs in bars read “no dogs or Irish allowed.” We are also familiar with how our capitalists before, during and after the Gilded Age took advantage of marginalized immigrants (Irish, Jews, Italians et el.) with poor pay and hard and dirty jobs in an era when sinew and muscle were more important than an ability to speak English, when federal troops were dispatched to break strikes,  and as I just recently blogged, when many Jewish and Italian women who labored in the garment industry in New York were burned to death when the so-called Triangle Fire of 1911 broke out and their doors were locked by their employers who suspected that the women were pilfering bits of textiles. (Admission: My paternal side of the house came from Ireland due to the potato famine and worked in the coal mines here, hardly a desirable job, either. I visited West Ireland a few years ago and saw where they came from. They did not have it easy on either side of the Atlantic with choices of famine or poverty. My paternal predecessors chose poverty.)

I have not been able to decide with any precision just what grounds either Trump or Walker have for their hatred of immigrants since both of them are the sons of European immigrants at some point in time. Perhaps hate needs no grounds and enjoys an independent and self-validating existence in the minds of some. Maybe some brains are just designed for hatred, frustration, juvenile states of mind and the like. Perhaps there are those whose brains have evolved unevenly, and human compassion has not come to the Darwinian fore just yet. Such brain cognition science is far beyond my pay grade as a lawyer to know. I will leave that to George Lakoff and other such brilliant cognitive brain scientists to ponder.

If the Republican Party nominates a presidential candidate who wants to build walls between Canada and Mexico and our country, then I recommend (as they did with the Whigs who morphed into Republicans in 1854) that they have another convention and change the name of their party from that of the Republican Party to the Know-Nothing Party, since such nomination will have fitted well the dictionary definition of Know-Nothings as “ignorant persons” and Republican delegates at such convention as “ignorant persons” oblivious to the tide of history.

Hatred as policy? Let’s hope not!   GERALD    E


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