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Nativism and Radical Republicanism: A Curious Relationship

Once upon a time, Tennessee was a stronghold of the Whig Party. More specifically, from about 1836 to 1852. In 1860, Tennessee was also one of three states to capture the electoral vote for the Constitutional Union Party, a splinter group of former Whigs and Know Nothings.

Despite being the home of Andrew Jackson, some of the most virulent anti-Jacksonians would come from the same state.

Among them was William Gannaway Brownlow, editor of Brownlow's Whig, Methodist minister, Governor of Tennessee (1865-1869) and committed Reconstructionist.

His views are best expressed in his 1844 book A Political Register, Setting Forth the Principles of the Whig and Locofoco Parties in the United States. He uses "locofocoism" as a pejorative against all opponents of the Whig-Hamiltonian developmentalist program of internal improvements, a national bank, etc.

In addition to these typical planks is a strong nativist current. He devotes an inordinately large chapter with newspaper excerpts from the Western Christian Advocate, New York Spectator and other publications dealing with the Roman Catholic question.

From one of the WCA editorials quoted: "It is a great cause of regret indeed, that Romanists would not be content to enjoy in this country equal rights without attempting peculiar exclusive honors. It is no wonder that Native American Associations should be formed, in order to check this foreign interference, or the unjust interference of foreign emigrants, to pervert the institutions of this happy Republic."

The "unjust interference" in question referred to Bishop Hughes and his attempts at establishing Catholic parochial schools with state support in New York. A similar incident but on the other end would later occur in Wisconsin in 1889 with the passage of the Bennett Law (repealed just 2 years later) mandating the use of English in all schools, private and public. Gov. William D. Hoard stated that "We must fight alienism and selfish ecclesiasticism.... The parents, the pastors and the church have entered into a conspiracy to darken the understanding of the children, who are denied by cupidity and bigotry the privilege of even the free schools of the state," and the sentiment was practically the same in all other places.

So-called Jackson Van Buren Democracy was, to Brownlow, a sign of creeping Romanism.

"In political matters, too, their influence is already powerfully felt, and by those against whom they direct their energies, (the Whigs) very much dreaded. Hundreds of thousands, every year, reach the shores of America, from Ireland, Austria, France, and other countries; and strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that almost to a man, in the State and National elections, they vote for the Locofoco ticket. True, upon their arrival here, and for years afterwards, they learn but little in reference to our laws, institutions, or men, but they nevertheless vote with the Locos, and are even the most clamorous at the polls. What does this argue? It evidently proves that they are instructed by their Priests how to vote, and that, their leaders, and the leaders in the Locofoco ranks, have a perfect understanding. Can any unprejudiced man doubt the fact? Certainly not," Brownlow writes.

I have mentioned before the relation between Know Nothingism and progressivism, particularly in Massachussetts, but elsewhere also.

In MA, alongside tighter controls on naturalization, the General Court under the American Party enacted forward-thinking legislation as the Personal Liberty Law (designed as an opposite to the Fugitive Slave Act), the abolition of segregation in public schools, incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the state constitution (a predecessor to the incorporation doctrine and ultimate demise of American federalism), liberalization of divorce and alimony laws, vaccination of schoolchildren, free textbooks, an eleven-week compulsory minimum yearly public school attendance requirement for children, elimination of property requirements for officeholding, anti-liquor and temperance laws, etc.

Brownlow in his term as governor, as a supporter of the Radical Republicans, would be at the forefront of disenfranchising ex-Confederate soldiers and setting up freedmen's bureaus, declaring that "a loyal Negro was more deserving than a disloyal white man."

In general, the current reigning assumption by both proponents and opponents of anti-immigrant and racialist sentiment of one form or another is that it is a form of self-interested exclusion to perpetuate entrenched group interests. Opponents would call it "bigoted," "oppressive," and so forth.

Among the more radical proponents, there is now an increasingly popular idea that it is simply an expression of "ethnic interests" based on innate phenotype-matching mechanisms in humans for the purpose of detecting genetically similar kin and aiding them.

The result of this narrowly Darwinian view is that any party deemed anti-immigrant or nativist is thus seen as fundamentally conservative, i.e. it is merely acting out of self-preservation against alien forces.

A common side view is that the folkways of a given ethny follow a simple one-way determination from their genetic endowments, which is then extrapolated to imply not only a link but indeed, a basic correspondence between cultural conservatism and nativism. Any group that swears a commitment to racial preservation is automatically seen as also salvaging the folkways, customs, and mores that go hand in hand with the successful cultural characteristics of the race in question.

Hence, racial consciousness is both the necessary and sufficient condition of racial flourishing for a race that is already endowed with high cognitive ability, industriousness, and so forth.

What this perspective ignores is that commitment to racial identity is not simply a call to narrow genetic interests, but that alongside biological inheritance, there is a second inheritance of learned beliefs. Furthermore, people do not (usually) swear loyalty to their race on basis of preserving their narrow phenotype, but of some extended phenotype or belief system that is a proximate and not ultimate source of their pride.

If the nativist endorses his race because it is the only one capable of transmitting the ideals of "the rights of man," "the emancipation of women," etc. (and after all, these are largely First World white traits) we are dealing with dysgenic identitarianism. The race is preserved in the short run, but destroyed in the long run as a result of the hijacking of its cultural inheritance by the elite stratum of the identitarian tendency in charge of producing the ideology for mass consumption and mobilization.

This was the dilemma of American nativism, a movement simultaneously racially exclusionary and progressive, in alliance with Radical Republicanism and Reconstructionism by the exodus of the Know-Nothings to the Republican Party, a key reason for the latter's ascendancy.

A widespread error of modern nativists in their denunciation of "propositional nationalism" is to treat ethnic exclusivity as necessarily inverse to propositionality, when you can both be the purveyor of racial exclusion and of an artificial civic creed disconnected from one's traditions. Indeed, you can advocate for racial exclusion as a method of securing the creed, the primary goal being the latter.

In modern neoabolitionist historiography (such as Eric Foner), it is assumed that Radical Republicanism and nativism were two competing currents, with the former's representatives like William H. Seward having a distinctly modern pro-immigrant sentiment.

The revisionist (and more thoroughly researched view, by my estimate), such as that of William E. Gienapp, in his article "Nativism and the Creation of a Republican Majority in the North before the Civil War," (1985) demonstrates that these groups tended to overlap more often than not, and that "foreignism" and "popery" were frequently used as explicit contrasts to the Reconstructionist free-soil/free-labor ideology, which nativism thus reinforced rather than opposed.

In the 1850s, nativists were beginning to realize the utility of groups like German and Swedish Lutherans as muscle against Irish and German Catholics. Republican organizers, too, were keen on exploiting anti-Catholicism while toning down some of the more virulent aspects of antiforeignism without substantively changing it -- and thus unite foreign and native Protestants under one umbrella. Much of the immigration restrictionist legislation during this period was by the Republicans who synthesized the Yankee radicalism (later Reconstructionism) with nativism. The key thing is that anti-Catholicism was not just a narrow opposition to a confession deemed to be wrong; it was a proxy for far broader ethnocultural values on the nature of the American republic.

The New York Tribune, a Republican paper, conceded in an April 19, 1855 editorial that "beyond a doubt the great body of Know-Nothings in the free States are anti-Nebraska men." [opponents of Kansas-Nebraska Act]

Eminent nativist members of the abolitionist Free Soilers included Henry Wilson, who after his shift to the Republicans, contemplated introducing a bill to double the naturalization waiting period from 5 to 10 years. This was not an uncommon case among the rank-and-file, who, as Grienapp writes:

A significant minority [of the Free-Soilers] steadfastly adhered to the American party cause until the state organization abandoned its antislavery stance. In a Connecticut referendum held in the fall of 1855 on a Know Nothing-sponsored constitutional amendment to impose a literacy requirement for voting, those 1852 Free Soilers who went to the polls presented an unbroken phalanx in support of the amendment. In a similar referendum in 1857 in Massachusetts, 1852 Free Soilers who turned out favored by a decisive margin a literacy test, and apparently virtually all third-party members who endorsed the amendment had joined the Know Nothings in 1854. For many northerners anti-Catholicism and antislavery, both deeply rooted in evangelical Protestantism, were not mutually exclusive attitudes, nor did they perceive any necessity of choosing politically between the two. As a Cleveland observer commented after a Know Nothing victory in that center of antislavery feeling, adherents to the American party cause "looked upon the questions of Nativism and Catholicism, in the abstract, as not at all conflicting with the cause of African freedom."

Other prominent Republican leaders of former Know Nothing extraction were David Wilmot (of Wilmot Proviso fame), Thaddeus Stevens, Schuyler Colfax, Simon Cameron, Nathaniel P. Banks, John P. Hale and William Pitt Fessenden.

The first Republican presidential nominee, John C. Fremont, endorsed extending the waiting period for naturalization to 21 years.

In Maine, the Republican state convention nominated Gov. Anson P. Morrill, who was either a member of the Know Nothing order or else intimately allied with its leaders, as the party's first standard bearer. In addition, the 1855 Maine Republican platform termed "the debasement of the right of suffrage" by naturalized voters "an alarming evil" and urged either strict enforcement or modification of the existing naturalization laws. Not surprisingly, the American Party rejected a move to run a separate state ticket and endorsed Morrill and his fellow Republican nominees.

After 1855, it became apparent that the Kansas-Nebraska issue alone was insufficient to sway voters to the Republicans. New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts were badly lost either by sidestepping or outright condemning nativism. Samuel P. Chase, however, got a thin victory in Ohio owing to his American Party following.

The nomination of Fremont in the 1856 national contest was marked by increasing Know Nothing-Republican fusion:

Although the drawn-out struggle over the vice presidential nomination strained relations between the two groups, a number of prominent nativists, headed by James W. Barker, the order's former national president, embraced the Republican cause in 1856. George Law, who had been defeated by Millard Fillmore for the American party nomination, Ephraim Marsh, who had presided at the party's national nominating convention in February, and Chauncey Shaffer, an important New York Know-Nothing leader, all wrote public letters endorsing Fremont that the Republicans issued as campaign documents. Marsh, Shaffer, and French Evans, the author of the 1856 American platform, were active on the stump during the campaign and, along with earlier Know Nothing converts to Republicanism such as Wilson, Banks, and Anson Burlingame, were in heaviest demand for Republican meetings. For voters sensitive to the matter, the Republican party's recognition of onetime Know Nothings provided unmistakable evidence, as did Fremont's nomination by both conventions, of the growing fellowship between the two movements.

The anti-Catholic propaganda in the Republican press accordingly began to accelerate. The New York Courier and Enquirer attributed Fremont's defeat to "Irish bogtrotters, with necks yet raw from a foreign priestly yoke." The Cleveland Leader spoke of them as "sots and bums," "cattle" and "dupes of Popery."

Republican state and local platforms catered to nativists as well. The most significant example was the 1856 Union party platform in Pennsylvania, which condemned the interference of "foreign influence of every kind" in the nation's government, denounced the "pandering of any party to foreign influence," and pledged to defend the common school system, which Catholic bishops had attacked, from any attempt to pervert it to sectarian uses. The Indiana Republican platform in 1856 demanded abolition of alien suffrage, which allowed immigrants to vote in the state before they became citizens.

After 1856, with the Republicans established as the main challenger to the Democrats, the nativist strategy continued. The senatorial contest between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858 had the Republican organ Illinois State Journal run the headline "The Two Despotisms -- Catholicism and Slavery -- Their Union and Identity." John Wentworth's Chicago Democrat, which by then had shifted ideologically to the Republicans, dubbed Douglas' victory "as much a triumph over Protestantism, as it is over free labor."

An alliance of "Anti-Popery, Anti-Slavery and Anti-Whiskey" forces was solidifying:

In 1857 [Thurlow] Weed engineered the nomination of Almon C. Clapp, editor of the Buffalo Morning Express, who had been outspoken in his attacks on Catholics while simultaneously repudiating any proscription of Protestant immigrants, to head the party's state ticket. The Republican Coming Journal praised the candidate's long-standing support for a voter registry law and his denunciation of the political power of Catholicism, which it termed "collateral issues [that] are inseparable from the Republican creed." It went on to criticize the "folly" of adopting an exclusively antislavery platform and called instead for a broad statement of principles that repudiated Know Nothingism yet would "maintain at all hazards the necessity of preserving the country from the domination of the corrupt alliance of Democracy, Political Papacy, and Slavery." The same year the Republican Jamestown Journal advocated that the party "unite all the Anti-Slavery, Anti-Popery and Anti-Whiskey electors of the State into an endearing opposition to the Democratic Party."

On the immigration front, the 1858 Republican platform in New York included two traditional Know Nothing proposals, a registry law and an extension of the time between naturalization and voting, and the subsequent Republican-controlled legislature approved a registry law. In 1859 and again in 1861 Michigan Republicans also passed stringent voter registration laws, as did Ohio Republicans in 1857. Although an effort to pass a registry bill in Illinois failed in 1859, Republican legislators voted unanimously in favor of such a law.

"Opposition to Despotism -- whether the seat of its power be in the papal chair of Rome or on a Cotton Plantation of the South" was how a correspondent of Seward described this.

Indeed, the reason Lincoln was nominated over Seward in 1860 was most likely not, as the common interpretation goes, over Seward's radical abolitionism, but rather his anti-nativism which was especially alienating to the delegations in Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

George Washington Julian, one of the most extreme of the Radical Republicans, in an 1878 editorial entitled "The Death-Struggle of the Republican Party," described the Know Nothings as "a sort of 'underground railroad'" by which Whigs and Democrats "generally made their exodus from their political masters," that is, into the ranks of the Republican Party.

As many former nativists -- including Chase, Stevens, Fremont, and others -- were to form the Radical Republican faction pushing for a strong Reconstruction, one of their most fierce and intense spokesmen would indeed be the aforementioned George Washington Julian. Here is an example of his rhetoric, from his pamphlet Radicalism and Conservatism -- The Truth of History Vindicated (1865):

The people sustain [Lincoln] now, because of their assured faith that he will not hesitate to execute their will. In voting for him for a second term, they voted for liberating and arming the slaves of the South to crush out a slaveholders' rebellion. They voted that the Republic shall live and that whatever is necessary to save its life shall be done. They voted that slavery shall be eternally doomed, and future rebellions thus made impossible. They voted, not that Abraham Lincoln can save the country, but that they can save it, with him as their servant. [...] In the execution of that resolve they lost sight of everything else; but should the President now place himself in the people's way, by reviving the old policy of tenderness to the rebels and their beloved institution, the loyal men of the country will abandon his policy as decidedly as they have supported it generously. They have not approved the mistakes either of the legislative or executive department of the government. They expect that Congress will pass a bill for the confiscation of the fee of rebel landholders, and they expect the President will approve it. They expect that Congress will provide for the reconstruction of the rebel States by systematic legislation, which shall guarantee Republican governments to each of those States and the complete enfranchisement of the negro; and they will not approve, as they have not approved, of any executive interference with the people's will as deliberately expressed by Congress. They expect that Congress will provide for parceling out the forfeited and confiscated lands of rebels in small homesteads among the soldiers and seamen of the war, as a fit reward for their valor, and a security against the ruinous monopoly of the soil in the South; and they will be disappointed should this great measure fail through the default either of Congress or the Executive. They demand a system of just retaliation against the rebels for outrages committed upon our prisoners; that a policy of increasing earnestness and vigor shall prevail till the war shall be ended; and that no hope of peace shall be whispered save on condition of an absolute and unconditional surrender to our authority; and the government will only prolong the war by standing in the way of these demands. This is emphatically the people's war; and it will not any longer suffice to say that the people are not ready for all necessary measures of success.

And if that call for a holy war wasn't clear enough, from his Political recollections, 1840 to 1872 (1884) we get:

The abolition of the chattel slavery of the Southern negro was simply the introduction and prelude to the emancipation of all races from all forms of servitude, and my Congressional record had been a practical illustration of my faith in this truth. The rights of man are sacred, whether trampled down by Southern slave-drivers, the monopolists of the soil, the grinding power of corporate wealth, the legalized robbery of a protective tariff, or the power of concentrated capital in alliance with labor-saving machinery.

Ultimately, the Anglo-Protestant ethnic identity and its nativist politics was bolstered by a highly meliorist cultural perspective, the triad of free soil/free labor/free men, that would ultimately destroy the Englishness and Protestant nature of their identity, both of these surviving only in the most faint and perverted of residues.

Since these specific antebellum and post-Reconstruction currents of American identity have largely died out owing to the New Deal revolution, the industrialization and suburbanization of the South significantly bridging the gap with the North and other factors, many of the modern nativists have lulled themselves with a sense of complacency that a simple reliance on "white identity" will do the trick and that the problem of ethnic strife is a simply reducible to some exogenous variable (Jewish elites, globalist big business, etc.) which can be straightforwardly eradicated (expulsion, nationalization/confiscation/protection, etc.)

But, as many have pointed out before, ethnic markers can arise for reasons not easily traceable to expression of heritable traits (at least not linearly), and bind themselves to highly odd cultural proclivities that can preserve the race as a reproductive lineage but ultimately kill it by conditioning it to adopt suicidal customs. Which is what I argue happened in the antebellum political realignment giving rise to the factions driving the later Reconstruction era, and of course the persistence of its ideology in American life. Now more than ever.

A fine example of what happens when you are oblivious to this, comes from this fine chap of the Dork Enlightenment and its autism spectrum:

At my core, I identify as an intellectual within certain Western traditions, namely the Scottish Enlightenment (e.g., David Hume and Adam Smith), along with two schools of which came out of the interwar period in Vienna and are usually thought to be in opposition to each other: Austrian Economics (most importantly, Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek) and Logical Positivism (for example Rudolf Carnap). I see a common strand going through the scientific, philosophical, and aesthetic history of the West, which above all else I form my identity around. I don’t identify as an American, although I did grow up on the East Coast near Baltimore City and Washington DC. Instead, I identify more generally as a Western intellectual, with most of the historical figures which had great influence on my development being Western European in European [sic] ...

I identify with my whiteness, since there are significant differences in psychological parameters, physical architecture, and valuational proclivities among the races, and my personality makes sense as a man whose ancestors hailed from various cold climates of Europe. Although certainly this could change in the future, as far I know there there have never been any thinkers like Hume who weren’t white.

When a society reaches a point where it’s considered “racist” to identify as a member of the great race of men who built the institutional framework which is now being exploited for hedonistic gain of other races, then it becomes clear that the core of the society has succumbed to pathological rot. So no, I’m not going to tell you that I’m “colorblind” and that I consider my “skin color” to be a tiny incidental detail of my existence; the fact of the matter is that I absolutely have a heritage that’s worth standing up for, notwithstanding the regrettable state of many of my contemporaries, who are allowing themselves< to be bossed around by spoiled children.

This fine man, is also an expatriate to Japan.

So, we have:

A white man a) who lives in Japan because of their TRAD VALUES, b) takes pride in identifying as a member of "the great race of men who built the institutional framework which is now being exploited for hedonistic gain of other races," [but his being a gaijin doesn't count] with the institutional framework in question consisting of c) Enlightenment philosophe sentimentalism, d) Jewish liberal economics and e) logical positivism.

I could quote some of the things he's said on PUA, but I'd rather not.

This is your brain on Judeo-reaction.

Never again.

Republished from Carlsbad 1819.

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