Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Nativism Old and New
Earlier I wrote about my disgust with both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich's demagoguery concerning Muslims in America. Actually, Palin's rant wasn't as dangerous as Gingrich's. But both are what some call "Christianists," and in their understanding of "real American" is quite narrow. The Nativism that is driving the debate in Arizona and in New York is not new. It has a fairly strong pedigree, that goes back to the early days of the Republic. It fueled the dispossession of Native Americans from their lands, kept blacks in servitude, excluded Asians, and targeted Catholics, especially Irish Catholics.
Back in the 1850s a political movement emerged that came to be known as the "Know Nothing Party" -- a party that targeted Catholics. It had some political success and even recruited a former President to run on its behalf in 1856 -- Millard Fillmore. The response that Abraham Lincoln gave in a letter to friend Joshua Speed dated 1856 speaks clearly to what is happening today. Although the majority of the letter speaks to the question of slavery and the impending admission of Kansas to the union, the letter also speaks volumes not only to the situation then regarding immigration and the other, but to that which exists today.
I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].
So, in response to Gingrich's demand that no mosque be built whilst churches can't be built in Saudi Arabia, perhaps we who love liberty should move not to Russia but to Saudi Arabia, for if the "Know Nothings" of today take over, then at least we'll not live with they hypocrisy of our pretensions of liberty for all.