There was once a political party in this country called the Know Nothing Party. Now, I know what you are thinking…...
But this party is not around today. Well, at least, not using that name.
The Know Nothing’s “came into being” in the late 1840’s, lasted into the mid 1850’s, elected several local candidates, a congressman or two and a mayor in Washington, DC. The backlash in Washington by folks upset by being upstaged by some “know-nothings” was the formation of the Anti-Know Nothing Party.
I have lost sleep over this deal. Now, apparently no one knows for sure what the Know Nothing Party didn’t know. Or professed not to know. Or did know for that matter! So, if that was the case—and this is where the lost sleep comes in—how in the world did the Anti-Know Nothing Party know what they were against?
It’s a little unclear how this Know Nothing group was founded. A good portion of their early members were dissatisfied remnants of the old Whig Party. And that’s another story all together. Mostly the Whigs had one rallying cry. They opposed President Andrew Jackson.
That was enough to elect William Henry Harrison to the presidency in 1840. I don’t want to sound Anti-Whig here, but the party didn’t have much luck picking presidents. Harrison died after one month in office. John Tyler ascended to the job. Tyler so infuriated the Whig bigwigs (say that real fast three times) with his friendliness to the Jacksonian Democrats, they kicked him out of their party WHILE HE WAS STILL THE PRESIDENT.
The Whigs also elected Mexican War hero “Old Rough and Ready” Zachary Taylor in 1848. He was a rather reluctant candidate and was the first person to be president who had no former political experience. He lasted seventeen months before he succumbed to a mysterious stomach ailment after washing down a hamper of raw fruit with half a gallon of iced milk. The memorable Millard Fillmore filled out the remaining portion of his term.
I reckon the Whigs passed on all they knew to the Know Nothings. It was a difficult time in America for sure. Slavery was the big issue. States-rights versus a large central government was another controversial subject. Manifest Destiny was a term some loved, many detested. The Compromise of 1850 had people taking sides…..
It just seems natural that a good way to avoid the political pitfalls of the moment was to make believe you didn’t know nothing! And of course, just understanding a smidgeon of what goes on in Washington, then and now, I’m sure there were lots of folks on both sides of the aisle that weren’t pretending.
The Know Nothing Party didn’t last long. I reckon they couldn’t agree on what they didn’t know. They reached their high-water mark in the 1854 mid-term elections.
It’s a bit hard to stand on a platform made out of nothing.
They did manage to run a candidate for president in 1856. It was our old buddy and former Whig, Millard Fillmore. And of course, Fillmore filled the role perfectly by allowing he didn’t even “know” he had been nominated.
By this time, they had wisely changed their name to the America Party. It had a better ring to it. Same cast of characters mind you, but any true patriot would agree the “American Party” was way better, smarter, keener, prettier and more electable than a bunch of “Know Nothings”.
We might need to rethink the current political scene for a moment. I thought these Republican and Democrats had reached a new high in ineptness…..when they could just be carrying on an old Family Tradition.
It would be innovative and refreshing to hear just one political voice today—I don’t care which party or rank—come out say, “I Know Nothing about that subject.” They all purport to be experts on all things national, international, local, foreign, domestic, organic, financial, social, prehistoric, economic, metropolitan, rural, weather related and/or macrobiotic. Will Rogers debunked that political stance years ago when he wrote, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
Honesty is such a novel idea in politics that is just might work.
Maybe the Know Nothing Party was ahead of its time. Or possibly it was the most candid group that ever asked us for a vote. Or perhaps they weren’t about to compound a simple solution with complex answers. Or maybe they just lived up to their name…..