Jealousy of the Foreigner

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIV (2) start of chapter

This hostility to the foreigner, intensified by religious prejudice, exhibited itself on various occasions—notably in the disgraceful riots of 1844; but on no occasion was the feeling so universal, or its display so marked, as in the years 1854 and 1855, when the banner of Know Nothingism was made the symbol of political supremacy. Here was every element necessary to a fierce and relentless strife. The Constitution of Know Nothingism was anomalously adopted on the 17th of June, 1854, the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker's Hill. Strange, that a day> sacred to the freedom of America should be that on which citizens of a free Republic should plot in the dark against the liberties of their fellow men! But so it was. A very few extracts from authentic documents will declare the motives and objects of this organisation:—


A person to become a member of any subordinate council must be twenty-one years of age; he must believe in the existence of a Supreme Being as the Creator and Preserver of the Universe; he must be a native-born citizen; a Protestant, born of Protestant parents, reared under Protestant influence, and not united in marriage with a Roman Catholic, &c. &c. &c.


Sec. 1. The object of this organisation shall be to resist the insidious policy of the Church of Rome, and other foreign influence against the institutions of our country, by placing in all offices in the gift of the people, or by appointment, none but native-born Protestant citizens.

The Know Nothing oath—for the society was not only secret, but bound by oaths—was in accordance with the spirit of the foregoing. It was comprehensive as well as precise, as the following will show:—

You furthermore promise and declare that you will not vote nor give your influence for any man for any office in the gift of the people unless he be an American-born citizen, in favour of Americans ruling America, nor if he be a Roman Catholic.

You solemnly and sincerely swear, that if it may be legally, you will, when elected to any office, remove all foreigners and Roman Catholics from office; and that you will in no case appoint such to office.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America