AMERICAN PROTESTANTS AND IRISH CATHOLICS
In the 1840’s there was a great famine in Ireland. Fleeing from the devastation many Irish families started their mass evacuation of Ireland and began to arrive in great numbers in the port cities of America from the North East of Boston and Philadelphia to the Southern ports of Savannah and New Orleans. During this period Boston had the highest concentration of Irish immigrants.
It has got to be remembered that Boston was the home of some of the elite of American families. Many of them direct descendants of the original on the Mayflower in the 1600’s. And most likely would be children or grandchildren of those who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It would be with certainty that they would have been well aware that their ancestors had escaped from the manipulate tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church.
Soon after the massive influx of Irish into Boston, these long established families moved to the North of Boston to try and keep distance between themselves and what they considered illiterate, drunken and scraggly immigrants.
But mainly the Irish were ostracized for being Catholic. The high influx of new settlers made religious differences between Catholics and Protestants a political issue. Violence often erupted at the polls. Protestants claimed that Pope Pius1X had put down the failed liberal revolutions of 1848 and that he was an opponent of liberty, democracy and replublicanism.
Immigration during the first five years of the 1850’s reached a level five times greater than the previous decade. Most of the new arrivals were poor catholic peasants or labourers from Ireland who crowded the cities living in squalor. Cincinnati’s crime rate for example tripled between 1846 and 1853 and its murder rate increased sevenfold.
In the 19th century a political party with the official name of the American Party was formed. Its roots were from secret societies opposed to immigrants coming into America. From this secret background became the popular nickname of the Know-Nothings. This group also known as Nativists whole aim was to make their resentment against immigrants known and to thwart the rights of catholic immigrants from becoming citizens.
Violent encounters between the Nativists and immigrants was commonplace. In July 1844 riots broke out in Philadelphia with a recorded 20 deaths and the burning of Catholic churches and a school.
There were several political parties supporting a Nativist doctrine at the time among them the American Republican Party , the Order of United Americans and the Order of the Star Spangled Banner. Their members were sworn to keep immigrants out of America, or at the least to keep them isolated from mainstream society when they arrived.
The Know-Nothings and their anti immigrant and anti Irish standpoint became very popular at the time. But on the other hand some Americans were against everything that the Know-Nothings stood for. Abraham Lincoln expressed his disgust at the Know-Nothings in a letter in 1855. He said that if the Know-Nothings ever came to power, the Declaration of Independence would have to be amended to say that all men are created equal “except negroes, and foreigners and Catholics.”
The bottom line was that the party was taking a strong stand agains immigration and immigrants. Know-Nothing candidates had to be born in the United States. And there was aggressive all out attempt to change the laws so that only immigrants who had lived in the US for 25 years could become citizens. Obviously such a lengthy residency requirement would mean that the recent arrivals, especially the Irish Catholics would not be able to vote, keeping them isolated and powerless.
Apart from the legal thrust to increase the residency requirement to 25 years, there were also severe ongoing acts of violence. Fears that the Catholics were flooding the polls with non-citizens, the local activists made it clear that they were going