The American party of the 1850s derived its informal name from its members replying, when asked about their role, 'I know nothing.' The party was anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant. It grew out of the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, a secret society apparently founded in New York City in 1849. In the wake of the collapse of the Whigs and the Democratic split over the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 and 1855, its supporters won several offices, including mayor of Philadelphia and control of the Massachusetts legislature. Some northern Know-Nothings also sought to cooperate with antislavery forces not yet prepared to join an official Republican party.
When the Know-Nothing party endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Act at its presidential nominating convention in 1856, northern members bolted. Southern members nominated former president Millard Fillmore of New York for president and Andrew J. Donelson of Tennessee for vice president. Most northern Know-Nothings tenuously supported the Republican candidate, John C. FrÃ©mont. Fillmore tried to distance himself from the party's nativist tendencies but carried only Maryland. The Know-Nothing party soon dissolved.
The Reader's Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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Know-Nothing party [Internet]. The History Channel website; 2013 [cited 2013 May 22] Available from: http://www.history.com/topics/know-nothing-party.
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Know-Nothing party. The History Channel website. 2013. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/know-nothing-party. Accessed May 22, 2013.