Highlighting just how long standing concern over immigration is as a political issue, the 18th February marks 160 years since the American Party convened to nominate its first presidential candidate.
At a time when discussions over immigration dominate the US electoral caucuses, and political debate in Europe is shaped by the flow of migration into the continent, the anniversary is particularly revealing of the political background to these issues.
Put simply, immigration was the American Party’s chief concern. It was made of Americans who over the previous decades had become increasingly fearful that a massive wave of immigration to the USA was starting to change the country’s identity. The party developed the nickname ‘The Know Nothing Party’ as a consequence of its origins in secretive nativist societies in the early 1850s whose members denied all knowledge of the movement’s existence.
The 18th February, 1856, meeting of the party in Philadelphia saw Millard Fillmore of New York nominated as its presidential candidate, with Andrew Donelson of Tennessee chosen as his running mate. Significantly, the party had completely ditched the secretive element of its existence, making clear its position as a serious political party.
Anti-immigrant sentiment had started to become prevalent in the United States during the 1840s. On the west coast, a huge influx of immigrants from China and Japan had made their way to the United States in search of work. On the east coast, massive waves had started arriving from Europe, particularly Ireland, Italy and Germany. This diverse influx of immigrants began to draw resentment from those born in the United States.
By Daryl Worthington of New Historian
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