Student Inquiry Questions:

  • Why would the Know Nothing Party be able to attract many members and become a viable political party in Massachusetts during the mid 1850's?


  • What was the xenophobia of the Know-Nothings based upon and why did these fears seem real at the time?


  • How did the the legislation passed by the Massachusetts Legislature during the 1850's impact the lives of immigrants in Massachusetts?
  • Task

    Historical Background:

    Massachusetts State House, Boston, MA.  Drawing by Alexander Jackson Davis (1827)In the 1850's, a movement began gaining strength manifesting in the Native American Party, or the Know-Nothings. This party grabbed a hold of the Massachusetts State Legislature during the 1850s and passed a series of laws benefiting their agenda.

    The Native American Party

    Citizen Know Nothing The Native American Party was comprised of citizens who were both born in America and Christian, belonging to a variety of Protestant denominations. In 1850 they banded together and formed the Order of the Star Spangled Banner and in 1851 their name was changed to the Native American Party. Party members were committed to an America where the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) male had all the power and in which non-WASP's were relegated to second-class status or barred from entry altogether. By banding together, the party was able to capture public offices, pass legislation, and exert massive influence in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    The party thrived on secrecy since the precursor organizations thrived on secrecy themselves. Whenever an outsider would ask party members about their platform or activities, the members would reply "I know nothing." and the nickname for the party was born, the Know-Nothings. By the mid 1850's, a nativist political party with the potential to accumulate much power was born and attained political supremacy in Massachusetts.

    A Gallery of Handbills

    Handbill example - Free Soil Using information from a variety of primary sources you will investigate the perceived threats that established, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant citizens believed were threatening their ideal image of the United States.

    You will also investigate the political landscape of the 1850's through the platform of the Native American Party and political propaganda of the day.

    During the 1850's, handbills were an effective means of spreading propaganda. With this in mind, you will create a political handbill which will be displayed within the class as part of a "Gallery of Handbills." Your handbill will take one of the following forms:

    Some questions to think about as you work on this project:

    Key terms: