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and the Episcopalians in Virginia and the Carolinas, while what in England are called Dissenters were more numerous in the north-eastern States, yet I am not aware that these facts had ever been thought of sufficient importance to be worked up into party cries. But when this huge irruption of foreigners broke in, who were such a nuisance on business grounds, the fact that the intruders were votaries of the Scarlet Lady was not to be lost sight of by those who had influence with the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, of the Quakers of Pennsylvania, or the Dutchmen of New York.
On a sudden a cry arose in the North-East, originating none knew whence or how, against foreigners and Papists. It swept like a whirlwind over the land, and, as such things do, met with a response wherever it went. Probably, in the natural course of things, after having made a great clatter for a month or so, it would have evaporated as unaccountably as it had arisen, or at the most sunk to the level of an “ism,” the pet doctrine of some knot of Yankee crotcheteers. But it did not do this; instead of becoming an “ism,” it became the war-cry of a party. This was the reason of it.
After their victory over the Democrats in 1848, under Taylor and Fillmore, the Whigs completely broke down. They tried to carry the next election;
but although their candidate, General Scott, was a very promising one, they failed deplorably, almost ludicrously; and little more than four years after they had carried their man and his horse to the White House (where the latter was presented with a silver curry-comb by a committee of admiring office-seekers, whose Coryphæus was the present Secretary of State, Mr Seward), that great party ceased to exist. American parties are like gunpowder. When they explode, they leave no ash behind them. And consequently, when the Whigs made their grand fiasco, there was nothing left to fill the political horizon except the old organisation of the Democrats. Now, though when this happens it may be in one sense a great triumph for the party that is victorious, it is not altogether a subject for rejoicing; for the contest is carried on, not only in order to promote the success of principles, or even only for the pleasures and emoluments of office, but also for “the mere noise and movement of the fray.” I hardly think that either of our great parties would altogether be pleased if their opponents were to be suddenly converted in a body; and in America the case is even stronger. For the tendency of parties to become factions, with an organised machinery for agitation, and a large class of persons to whom that machinery is a means of procuring a livelihood, which with us is a deplorable though unavoidable result, is in America of the very essence of the system. In England persons make profit out of principles. In America they make principles for the sake of profit. English politicians often raise their party cry without believing in it very strongly. American politicians hardly ever consider it necessary to pretend to believe it at all. To the numerous class, therefore, of caucusmongers and presidentmakers who were attached to the Democratic name, the sudden “ abiit, excessit, erupit, evasit” of the Whigs was very much what the sudden extinction of vermin would be to the warreners and rat-catchers of this country. The destroyers of real vermin would probably in that case betake themselves to other trades. The destroyers of political vermin took to applying the name to creatures which had never borne it before.
At that moment there were two cries, either of which might be made use of to break up the Democratic party and renew the faction-fights. One was that of Free Soil, the other was this new one of Nationality and Anti - Popery. Which should be taken up? Should they unite with the new-comers against the South, or with the South against the new-comers ? Either course was promising. The Irish emigrants could not bear niggers, and were perfectly willing to vote for anything that would prevent the creatures from going anywhere where they themselves were likely to go; and, on the other hand, this disposition on their part could not make their presence desirable to the Southerners, who, though they did not care much about taking negroes into the backwoods, did care particularly that freesoilism should not extend, for free - soilism and Northern sectionalism were convertible terms. On the whole, the latter plan seemed best. There was more room for “ spread eagle” oratory on the text of “ Columbia unshackled by the foreigner,” than on that of “Freedom for the negro in the far West.” So a party was formed which, after burrowing underground for some time, throwing up the earth, and showing that it existed, and was actively at work, though not what it was (whence its name of KnowNothing), at length emerged into the light of day as the “ American ” party, introducing itself to the world by a most resounding clarion-peal of bombast about the stars and stripes and all the rest of it.
This was enough to constitute them into a political organisation. But it was not enough to enable them to try for the sweets of the Presidency with any hope of success. For that purpose they next made a long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull altogether, and they must find out distinctly whom they had to rely
on. In the North they would do pretty well. Any party that could talk bunkum pretty loud on a telling subject might have a chance of naming the President; and any party that had a chance of naming the President was pretty sure of followers, and plenty of them, in that part of the Union. But what could they do in the South ? They might have expected that the South, if she had not been unanimous for them, would at least have declared for them by a large majority ; for the cry which they had taken up was in accordance with what might be supposed to be Southern interests. But, greatly to the credit of the South, she showed no disposition to enter into their views. Perhaps she did not see how much her interests might be marred by so large an admission of Irish Roman Catholics ; at any rate, she would not enter into a conspiracy to keep them out; and the report that the Southern Know-Nothings had to give to their partisans as a result of their endeavours was, that they could not be sure of carrying the vote of a single State.
The astonishment of the wirepullers of the party at this piece of intelligence was probably very great : but they did not lose their presence of mind in consequence. Their course was perfectly clear. If the Southern States were so foolish as not to see what was for their advantage, and declined to join this