• This 1856 broadside outlines the “Basis Principles of the American Party of Virginia.” Courtesy of Duke University Libraries via North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

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    Basis principles of the American Party of Virginia

  • The cover and preface for The Know Nothing almanac and true Americans' manual, for 1856. This almanac was an official publication of the American Party that shared their anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic views. Courtesy of Villanova University via PA Digital.

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    The Know Nothing almanac and true Americans' manual, for 1856
    • Creator
    • W.S. Tisdale.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
    • Partner
    • PA Digital
    • Contributing Institution
    • Villanova University

  • This 1856 poster promotes American Party candidates Millard Fillmore and Andrew J. Donelson as “The Americans [sic] Choice” for the President and Vice-President under the slogan, “The Constitution and the Union.” Courtesy of Hermitage via Digital Library of Tennessee.

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    Fillmore-Donelson National American Ticket
    • Date
    • 1856
    • Description
    • This poster advertised the 1856 campaign of Millard Fillmore and Andrew J. Donelson for the presidency and vice-presidency on the National American ticket. The poster has oval sketches of each man, surrounded by flags and ivy, with the slogan "The Co... more
      This poster advertised the 1856 campaign of Millard Fillmore and Andrew J. Donelson for the presidency and vice-presidency on the National American ticket. The poster has oval sketches of each man, surrounded by flags and ivy, with the slogan "The Constitution and the Union" above their heads. Note: copyrighted by N. Currier in NY, 1856. Published in N.Y. less
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Tennessee
    • Contributing Institution
    • Hermitage

  • This 1856 political cartoon, titled “The Morning After the Election, November 1856,” depicts the responses of the three candidates to the results of the election. Winning Democrat James Buchanan sits reading the returns of the election while newspaper editors approach from the left. Behind them the defeated Republican candidate John C. Fremont rides off into the West. To the right the second defeated candidate, Millard Fillmore, laments his fall into "Know-Nothingism." Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Morning after the election, November 1856
    • Date
    • 1856
    • Description
    • Election of 1856. Democrat James Buchanan sits reading the returns of the election while newspaper editors approach from the left. Behind them the defeated Republican candidate John C. Fremont rides off into the West. To the right the second defeated... more
      Election of 1856. Democrat James Buchanan sits reading the returns of the election while newspaper editors approach from the left. Behind them the defeated Republican candidate John C. Fremont rides off into the West. To the right the second defeated candidate, Millard Fillmore laments his fall into "Know-Nothingism. Title from item. less
    • Rights
    • No known copyright restrictions. No known restrictions on use.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Boston Public Library

Formed in the early 1840s and popular through the 1850s, the Know Nothing movement was a reaction to the influx of German and Irish immigrants to the United States. Proponents saw these newcomers as a “foreign invasion” that threatened to influence politics and religion. They advocated to curb immigration and naturalization and played on white native-born fears about outsiders. More extreme members of the movement claimed that new Catholic immigrants would help subjugate America under the authority of the Pope. The movement organized in various social clubs and political forums across the country and created propaganda to draw adherents to their cause.

The Know Nothing Party, otherwise known as the American Party and the Native American Party, functioned as the political arm of the movement. By 1856, it had gained enough momentum to launch a bid for the presidency on a singularly focused platform—shutting down immigration to the United States and containing and marginalizing Catholicism. Former president Millard Fillmore ran as their candidate for a non-consecutive second term. Although not previously a nativist, he saw the Know Nothings as the only viable option for national unity in the face of the dissolution of the Whig Party and the ongoing struggle between other parties on the issue of slavery. Fillmore won only eight electoral votes but achieved 21% of the popular vote. Many 1856 Know Nothing adherents also voted in support of the fledgling Republican Party, which had started to court this demographic by campaigning around anti-Popery and bans on immigration.