In the aftermath of World War One, and many changes in the previous decades, many in 1920s America wanted a return to ‘normalcy’ - and this included a change in immigration policy. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here) continues his Scared America series by looking at nativism in the 1920s.

Past articles in the series are on strained 19thcentury politics here, Chinese immigration here, and anti-German propaganda during World War One here.

29th US President Warren G. Harding. Harding signed the 1921 Quote Law that restricted immigration to the US.

29th US President Warren G. Harding. Harding signed the 1921 Quote Law that restricted immigration to the US.

As the United States headed towards the holiday season and the new year, another government shutdown loomed. President Donald Trumpinstigatedthe showdown over funding for the Mexico border wall. Congress and the White House entered a tense negotiating stance; on the ground in Mission, Texas another type of battle loomed.

On the outskirts of the town situated close to the border on the Rio Grande River is the National Butterfly Center. Recently Border Agents informed the Executive Director of the Center that wall construction wouldcommence in February 2019. It is unknown how much land the Center will lose, but estimates indicate 70% of the Center’s propertywill be on the other side of the wall. “The center's 100-acre sanctuary… is home to at least 200 species of butterfly, and serves as criticalhabitat for the migration of the threatened Monarch butterfly and endangered species including the ocelot and jaguarundi.” Also, for construction to commence, twenty-eight federal laws governing the land were waived; including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.[i]

The Mexico border wall is a cornerstone of the Trump administration. When dealing with border security, the President fixateson the southern border. However, it was using the legal student visa process that enabled the September 11, 2001 terrorists to enter the country and not via the Mexican border. Politicians, usually of the conservative stripe, have been decrying the lax border security conditions on the southern border for decades. Immigration control on the southernborder links back to the nativist movement of the 1920s.


A Return to Normalcy

The European War was over, peacebrokered, and the American people were tired. The decades of the aughts and the teens were exhausted with the rapid change of Progressive reforms and mobilization towards war. In the election of 1920, one man was speaking their language; in a campaign announcement “aide Ed Scobey announced: `One of his slogans is `back to normal’ and another is `America First.’ In connection with the former, I think I can say there is no man better fitted to bring this country backtonormal more efficiently than Warren G. Harding.” [ii]The return to normalcy included a return to the isolationist days of the nation. One of the ways to achieve that goal was a severe limitation of immigrants permitted entry into the United States.  Congress enacted, and Harding signedthe 1921 Quota law. The Quota law mandated the number of immigrants permitted into the United States, limiting it to three percent of each nationality. The percentage derived by the total number of that nation’s immigrant counted in the 1910 census. While structured around the category of “nationality” soon the quotas naturally evolved into ones based on race.  The Johnson-Reed Act amended the Quota Act of 1921becoming the Immigration Act of 1924.[iii]

The 1924 law had two significant changes: the origin point in determining a nationalities population shifted from 1910to the 1890 census, andthe percentage of acceptable immigrants fell from three to two percent.  “The new immigration law differentiated Europeans according to nationality and ranked them in a hierarchy of desirability…. non-European immigrants—among them Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, and Filipinos—acquired ethnic and racial identities that were the same. The racialization of the…national origins rendered them unalterably foreign and unassimilable to the nation.”[iv]

The 1921 law established the Quota Board whose job it was to determine the definitions governing immigration. Tocalculate quotas, the Board needed to define such terms as “National origin,” “foreign stock,” and “native stock.” Any citizen who traced their lineage to those present in the United States before1790 were native stock. All other were foreign stock. The countryof birth defined national origin. However, there was no American nationality because “inhabitants in [the] continental United States in the 1920s’does not include (1) immigrants from the [Western Hemisphere] or their descendants, (2) aliens ineligible to citizenship or their descendants, (3) the descendants of slave immigrants,or (4) the descendants of the American aborigines.”[v]The American nation, therefore, was made up only of those white European settlers who arrived before1790. 

In addition to setting quotas on immigration,the act also banned outright immigration from the Asian states. Citizens of Japan, China, et al.were considered aliens ineligible for citizenship. Unfortunately, thepolitical reality of the 1920s included a system of mandates and protectorates established after World War One. Great Britain and France were the major colonial powers after the war and governed much of modern-day Africa, the Middle East and parts of Eurasia. Most often, immigrants from those regions were not natural born citizens, but rather, descendants of the governing colonial powers. For instance, there were scant black South African emigresadmitted while white South Africans, with British heritage, entered the United States.  This practiceaided the quotas in decreasing non-white immigration.


The Era of Scientific Racism 

Attitudes towards indigenous and non-white populations made an interesting turn at the end of the 19thcentury.Aboriginesand indigenous peoplewere considered something less than the civilized white Europeans. This belief was so strong that English author and poet Rudyard Kipling penned a poem mocking this belief, entitled The White Man’s Burden. In 1903, G. Stanly Hall, President of Clark University wrote in the Journal of Education: “My plea is that Indians, who are men of the stone age, and other low races should be first of all sympathetically studied as we study children.”[vi]

It was during this period that scientific theory was gaining a widespread societal acceptance. By the 1920s the White Man’s Burden became a defactoscientific theory. “Historical and sociological data [were] used to prove that race lines, racial distinctions, and inequality of the races are essential.”[vii]In drawing up,the quotas the scientific rationalization of racial prejudice casts its influence. Racial mixing resulted in the downfall of ancient civilizations from Rome to Athens was the argument used to justify limitations on the unacceptable nationalities. That same worry dominated a large segment of the American population in the 1920s. It was a period that saw a sharp rise in membership and activities of patriotic clubs, as well as the Ku Klux Klan. These organizations preached a message of fear regarding the unadvanced foreign interloper. The main concern revolved around the theory that the outsider was unable to conform to accepted American societal norms. The fear was the outsider might manipulate the system toachieve equal societal status with the average American. Thus, “the ambitious immigrant, non-Anglo-Saxon, non-Protestant, whose frequent tendency to overachieve led to actions to `keep him in his place.’”[viii]One of those actions was the strict immigration acts of the 1920s.


The Trouble with Mexico

The Mexican-American war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. As part of the peace, Mexico ceded a broadswathof territory to the United States. The present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and California all comprise former Mexican territory. The treaty declared that those living in the areasbecame American citizens after one year if they did not announce their intentions to return to Mexico. Unlike the other nations of the world, the treaty governs the naturalization of Mexicans to American citizens.  Hence, Mexico was exempt from the quota system. “While not subject to numerical quotas or restrictions on naturalization, Mexicans were profoundly affected by restrictive measures enacted in the 1920s, among them deportation policy, thecreation of the Border Patrol, and the criminalization of unlawful entry.”[ix]

Embracing the respectability of scientific theory, President Herbert Hoover commissioned a large study conducted by academics and social scientists. The resulting report provides a detailed look at American life in the decade of the 1920s. The report, entitled Recent Social Trends, examined the state of racial and ethnic groups in chapter eleven.  In discussing Mexican migration, the report noted: “that the Mexican element has increased from 3 to 16 percent of all immigration within the past twenty years. Thishas meant an increase from 400,000 in 1910 to nearly a million and a half in 1930 in the number of persons born in Mexico or of Mexican parentage. Of this million and a half,about 65,000 were enumerated in 1930 as "white Mexicans" or those of Spanish descent, while the remaining 1,400,000 were of “Indian and Negro descent.”[x]The report found a variety of pull and push factors for Mexican migration; civil unrest in Mexico and a strong United States economy beforethe Stock Market crash. The impact of the Great Depression decreased the flow of migrants into the United States from Mexico. The American border while porous became tighter in the 1920s; the trickle of emigres permitted in through the quota system virtually stopped as a result of the events of the 1930s. As for the immigrants already present in the United States, the return to normalcy translated into Americanization. Under the pressures of nativism, the narrative of the American melting pot became more one of assimilation. 


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[i]CBS News, “Butterfly Sanctuary in Texas Expected to be Plowed Over for Trumps Border Wall,”

[ii]David Pietrusza, 1920: The Year of Six Presidents, (New York: Basic Books, 2007) 314.

[iii]Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The 1920s to the 1990s, (Harper Collins: New York, 1983) 205.

[iv]Mae M. Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924,” The Journal of American History, 86 June 1999, 69-70

[v]Ibid., 72

[vi]G. Stanley Hall, “The White Man’s Burden Versus Indigenous Development of the Lower Races,” The Journal of Education, 58 July 1903, 83.

[vii]W.O. Brown, “Rationalization of Race Prejudice,” International Journal of Ethics, 43 April 1933, 302-3.

[viii]Paul L. Murphy, “Sources and Nature of Intolerance in the 1920s,” The Journal of American History, 51 June 1964, 69.

[ix]Ngai, 71, 88.

[x]T.J. Woofter, Jr., “The Status of Racial and Ethnic Groups,” Recent Social Trends (York, Pa: The Maple Press Company, 1933), 561.

Politicians have a history of using fear to gain votes and win elections. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here), follows on from his first article on Scared America (here) and considers recent events in the US in the context of 19th century America. He explains how Chinese immigration to America, particularly to California, led to hostility and the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would significantly reduce Chinese immigration.

A sketch on the ship  Alaska , bound for San Francisco, with many Chinese people aboard. Sketch from  Harper’s Weekly  in 1876. Available  here .

A sketch on the ship Alaska, bound for San Francisco, with many Chinese people aboard. Sketch from Harper’s Weekly in 1876. Available here.

Something unexpected happened as an outcome of the Watergate Scandal: Americans realized their leaders were merely human. When transcripts from the Oval Office tape recording system utilized by Nixon became available, the populace was shocked to hear their President say to his Chief of Staff: “You know, it's a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. Whatthe Christ isthe matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.”[i]

President Donald Trump has further demystified and possibly demoralized the Office of the President. In an Oval Office meeting with Congressional leaders, discussing protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and some African nations, the President asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"[ii]

Immediately upon taking office in January 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order[1]banning immigration from certain Middle East countries. The purpose of the Order was laid out in the first paragraph:

The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States.  Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from adequately scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.  And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admittedto the United States.[iii]


According to a Fact Sheet issued by the State Department, “For the next 90 days, nearly all travelers, except U.S. citizens, traveling on passports from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen will be temporarily suspended from entry to the United States.”[iv]

Despite many legal challenges and additional Executive Orders issued by President Trump, some form of this travel ban remains in effect. Numerous raids by the aptly acronymic ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have stormed businesses and stalked illegal immigrants at non-immigration related court hearings. No one is safe from deportation, including military veterans. 

These actions are just part and parcel of the American experience. Nor is this the first timethat our leaders enacted laws barring the immigrant population from becoming part of the American Narrative.  



`They are coming to take our jobs,’ is an oft-repeated refrain when speaking of any significant numbers of want-to-be immigrants. From the Irish of the 1850s to the Latinos of the 1980s, and somewhere in between, there is the Chinese.  The 47thUnited States Congress has the ignominious distinction of being the first to codify discrimination based upon national origin.  The signature piece of legislation: The Immigration Act of 1882, historically referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In similar fashion to the Know Nothing Party, decades later in California,there was a political party with nativist roots. Founded in 1877, the California Workingman’s Party took control of the state legislature in 1878. In their session in Sacramento, they rewrote the State’s Constitution, disenfranchising the Chinese. In an address that same year, Denis Kearney, founder of the CWP, declared, the Chinese “are imported by companies, controlled as serfs, worked like slaves, and at last go back to China with all their earnings. They are in every place; theyseem to have no sex. Boys work, girls work; it is all aliketo them.” Kearney used inflammatory rhetoric, stating that “we shall arm” and “we are men, and propose to live like men in this free land, without the contamination of slave labor, or die like men, if need be, in asserting the rights of our race, our country, and our families.[v]

The Chinese first began emigrating to the western coast of the American continent after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. In the decade of the 1850s, over 40,000 Chinese immigrants entered the United States. In the next decade,that number increased to close to 65,000.[vi]A majority of that population settled in California. 


The Chinese Exclusion Act

When discussing the motivation of any group of immigrants, there are two factors: pull and push. Pull factors are the concepts, ideas,ormonetary reward for moving to a new nation. In this example, the California Gold Rush was the first pull factor for the Chinese. An additional pull factor was the plentiful jobs working on the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. By the early 1860s, in response to the rise of the Chinese immigrants, the State of California enacted legislation heavily taxing these cheap "coolie" laborers, the "Anti-Coolie” tax. 

 Push factors, on the other hand, are intolerable conditions in the native homeland of the immigrant group. The potato famine of the 1840s drove many Irish and Germans away from their ancestral homes. In the 1850s China was engulfed in the Taipei Rebellion, a quasi-religious Civil War that raged from 1850 until 1864. There are estimates that 20 to 30 million Chinese lost their lives during the Rebellion, not counting those that died due to disease and famine in the aftermath. The Taipei Rebellion served as a significant push factor in the Chinese immigration to the United States. 

Political pressure mounted on Congress to act on the immigration issue. California continued to place prohibitions on Chinese immigration, but it was not enough, a national solution was required.  On August 3, 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Immigration Act into law. In bowing to the California pressure groups and the national labor movement, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred any additional skilled or unskilled labor from entering the country. There were exceptions for professional Chinese immigrants such as doctors and lawyers though. The Immigration Act of 1882 was modified in 1888 by the Scott Act, which stated any Chinese in the United States who returned toChina were no longer permitted re-entry intothe United States. Set to expire in 1892, Congress enacted the Geary Act, re-authorizing the Immigration Act of 1882, for ten years. In 1902 the Geary Act was renewed but did not set an expiration date. 


Judicial Discretion: Chae Chan Ping v United States, 130 US 581 (1889)

The judicial branch must make any test of law enacted by the legislative branch, in accordance withthe wishes of the Founders when they created the conceptual idea of a separation of powers. In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court declared the Chinese Exclusion Act constitutional.  The Plaintiffin the case was Chae Chan Ping, who challenged the validity of the Chinese Exclusion Act on the ground it violated the Treaty of Wangxia. Signed in 1844, the Treaty of Wangxia was the American equivalent of the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanjing, which ended the First Opium War in China. The relevant section of the treaty guaranteed unlimited entry of Chinese to America. Writing for the majority, Justice Horace Grey stated, “The power of the government to exclude foreigners from the country whenever, in its judgment, the public interests require such exclusion, has been asserted in repeated instances, and never denied by the executive or legislative departments.” The justice questioned the legal standing of the Plaintiff. Concluding that “If there be any just ground of complaint on the part of China, it must be madeto the political department of our government, which is alone competent to act upon the subject.” [vii]

An analogy: The majority of the Supreme Court told Mr. Chae, “Sorry, sir, that’s not my department, let me see if I can find someone for you.” The Legislative Branch passed a law based upon the "threat" represented by the incoming Chinese. The Executive Branch, in all its 19thCentury feckless glory, signed the Bill into Law. The Judicial Branch, eight white men (Stephen J. Field, Joseph P. Bradley, John Harlan, Horace Gray, Samuel Blatchford, Melvin Fuller, David Brewer, Henry Brown, andLucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II), ratified the law.  The Chinese Exclusion Act finally ended in 1943, when the United States and China became wartime allies.


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You can read more of Jonathan’s work at Portable

[1]An Executive Order is a rule or order issued by the President to the Executive Branch, bypassing the legislative branch, and having the full force and effect of law. 


[ii]Josh Dawsey.  “Trump Derides Protections for Immigrants From ‘Shithole’ Countries.” The Washington Post(January 2018)

[iii]President Trump. “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” (2017)

[iv]Homeland Security. “Fact Sheet: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States.” (January 29, 2017)

[v]Dennis Kearney, President, and H. L. Knight, Secretary, “Appeal from California. The

Chinese Invasion. Workingmen’s Address,” Indianapolis Times, (28 February 1878).

[vi]Immigration to the United States, “History of Immigration, 1783-1891,”

[vii]CHAE CHAN PING v. the UNITED STATES 130 U.S. 581(9 S.Ct. 623, 32 L.Ed. 1068)

Politicians have a history of using fear to gain votes and win elections. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here), considers recent events in the US in the context of 19th century America. He explains how immigrants from Ireland and Germany led to fear and the rise of the American Party – or Know Nothing Movement.

An image representing the American Know Nothing Movement. 1850s.

An image representing the American Know Nothing Movement. 1850s.

In 1958 for three-bits you were able to purchase "Masters of Deceit" by J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The book is currently available at various booksellers and online. In explaining Communist Discipline, he wrote, "Modern-day communism, in all its many ramifications, simply cannot be understood without a knowledge of Communist Discipline: how it is engendered, how it operates, how it tears out man's soul and makes him a tool of the Party.”[i]After defeating the Axis powers in the catastrophic war, a new/old threat emerged, Red Communism. The era of bomb shelters and duck and cover, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, McCarthy and Nixon, and Alger Hiss and the Pumpkin Papers. Korea ended in a stalemate, and something was brewing with the French in Indo-China. Americans were afraid.

According to J. Edgar Hoover, this was the threat America faced, "To make the United States a communist nation is the ambition of every Party member, regardless of position or rank. He constantly works to make this dream a reality, to steal your rights, liberties, and property. Even though he lives in the United States, he is a supporter of a foreign power, espousing an alien line of thought. He is a conspirator against his country."[ii]

Many questions surround the legitimacy of the 2016 elections and the current political climate in America. Regardless, we are still a scared nation, whether it be from a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, or just everyday life in poverty-stricken America. When we vote, that fear is present. We elect leaders whom we believe will take care of us. In the television show The West Wing, the character of Josh Lyman explains to an aide how the electorate makes their choice at the polls: “When voters want a national daddy, someone to be tough and strong and defend the country, they vote Republican. When they want a mommy, someone to give them jobs, health care the policy equivalent of matzah ball soup, they vote Democratic.”[iii] Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst studied the impact of fear and anger in political information processing.[iv] They found “feelings of anger may promote voting for candidates who are well recognized, regardless of their beliefs on issues. However, fear may encourage individuals to vote for candidates whose positions on specific issues are congruent with their own, thus leading to more thoughtful, meaningful, and self-relevant choices.”[v]

At the height of the 2016 election cycle, Time magazine’s political correspondent, Molly Ball, published an article in The Atlantic. The title of her article: “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear.”[vi] In it, she wrote: Fear and anger are often cited in tandem as the sources of Trump's particular political appeal, so frequently paired that they become a refrain: fear-and-anger, anger-and-fear. But fear is not the same as anger; it is a unique political force. Its ebbs and flows through American political history have pulled on elections, reordering and destabilizing the electoral landscape.”[vii]

It is with that premise in mind that I plan to write on the use of fear in politics, in particular, the “fear of the other.” The other being whomever the politicians need to target to arouse fear and anger. I will work through this examination in chronological order; examining various political campaigns, parties, and movements for their use of fear and treatment of the other. I will demonstrate how the use of fear impacts the electorate.


The First Immigration Crisis: The Irish and Emergence of the Know-Nothing Party

Most Americans recognize the words of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Patriarchal language aside, this was a fundamental tenet of the Founding Fathers. In contrast, thirteen years later, these same founders indicated that an African-American was 3/5th a person, for purposes of the decennial census.

This American Narrative, a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality, was accepted as truth. The narrative makes false assumptions, using an English and Protestant-centric view. The everyday use of the English language as an amalgamating societal force aided the growth of the narrative. Enacting its first Naturalization Act in 1790, the United States accepted any white person into its citizenry. Estimates are that between 1790 and 1805 immigration to the United States averaged 6,000 new citizens a year. The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 tampered down new influxes of Americans. The first rise in immigration began in 1815, leading the Congress to enact the Steerage Act, in 1819, requiring all ships to keep detailed records of passengers and offer better transportation conditions.[viii]

Immigration to America peaked in 1854 at 428,000, with Irish and Germans escaping adverse agricultural conditions. [ix] For these immigrants, their first views of America were the port cities they disembarked from. The first test of the American Narrative began in that time and place. "In the communities where the new Irish Catholic immigrants settled, many wondered whether their presence would affect American cultural identity. Natives also expressed fears and doubts regarding the allegiance of this group to American democratic values and institutions. Finally, they feared that these newcomers were being manipulated by corrupt city politicians, who were more concerned about votes than inculcating the principles of democracy in the new immigrants." [x]


The Order of United Americans/Know-Nothing Party

Thomas R. Whitney, son of a New York silversmith, is a little-known name to most Americans. A politician and a journalist, Whitney was a moving force in the Order of United Americans (OUA), a nativist fraternity. Founded in 1846, the OUA, was an amalgam of former Whigs, Free-soilers, and nativists who opposed slavery and were concerned with the growing power of the foreign-born. Initially, a secret society (members were instructed to answer that they knew nothing about the organization if questioned), by the early 1850s knowledge of them was common. Whitney served as editor starting in 1851 of the Republic, “a monthly magazine of American Literature, Politics, and Art that the rapidly expanding OUA initiated, sponsored, and distributed. Whitney's standing in the OUA was confirmed in 1853 when he began a second term as grand sachem. In 1856 Whitney crowned his writing career with the publication of a nearly four-hundred-page Know-Nothing bible, A Defence of the American Policy." [xi]

Economic development, a homogeneous national culture, active government, and opposition to the burgeoning women's rights movement was at the heart of OUA beliefs. The nuclear family was essential and required female and filial subordination. An active government was committed to economic and cultural development. It did not offer legislation attacking societal inequality. Whitney opposed maximum hours laws, public aid to the elderly, as well as a homestead bill that proposed to grant federal lands to those without. "Government’s proper task, Whitney argued, was to shore up the foundations of existing society, serve its needs, and advance its general interests."[xii]

To Whitney and the rest of the OUA, foreign-born nationals were not reliable conservatives and would not support the American Narrative. The OUA was threatened by the new peasants, craft workers, and unskilled laborers emigrating to the United States. They did not have the proper political experience. They had the wrong acculturation. The threat to the United States came in two forms: Roman Catholics and Radicals.



According to the Library of Congress, nearing one-third of those immigrating to the United States between 1830 and 1860 were Irish Catholics.[xiii]

An Anti-Catholic fervor swept the nation. One conspiracy theory postulated the Catholic Church was behind the influx of Irish. The Irish also represented a greater fear for the OUA; they did not own property, so they were corruptible, irresponsible, and ignorant. The OUA used propaganda that the Irish were uneducated, politically unaware and easy to manipulate to attract men (i.e.voters) to the OUA. Voters were scared that the corruptible immigrants would prevent "good men" from governing. [xiv]

There was also a fear of radicalism, as Europe was undergoing its transformation in the 1840s. A riot between striking Irish dock workers and strikebreakers exemplified this radicalism. The political upheaval of 1848 added to the fear of newly arrived citizens. Some of the radical ideas were coming out of Germany; thus German emigres were marked as targets. In speaking of these working-class immigrants, Whitney said they were "carriers of a deadly plague--Red Republicanism." [xv]

The political wing of the OUA, the American Party, had strong showings in the elections of 1852 and 1854. The American Party drew most of its support from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The 1855 Congressional session started with 43 members of the American Party. Their candidate for President in 1856 won 21% of the vote.[xvi]

The leaders of the American Party were men who had never voted and defectors of the Whig Party. They promised to take power away from the political machines, to "drain the swamp," as it were. They proposed a direct primary voting system and required candidates for office to be "fresh from the people-not professional, no politicians." As a result, most, American Party candidates were inexperienced and incompetent.[xvii]

America, then as in now, was a nation in crises. The people, the voters, were scared. There were more Irish, Germans, and other Europeans coming to America. The revolts in Europe in 1848 added to the influx. The uneducated immigrants added to the population of the emerging cities. Soon, ghettos would appear. As the towns grew so did their political machines. These events added up to a threat against the traditional American narrative cherished by Thomas Whitney and others like him. They seized upon the inherent fear of the other in trying to preserve the American Narrative, never knowing they were altering it by their use of fear.

To be continued.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

You can read more of Jonathan’s work at Portable


[i] J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit, (NY, 1958), 163

[ii] Ibid., 4

[iii]  Elie Attie, “The Mommy Problem,” The West Wing, (2005)

[iv] Michael T. Parker and Linda M. Isbell, “How I Vote Depends on How I Feel: The Differential Impact of Anger and Fear on Political Information Processing,” Psychological Science, 21 (April 2010), 548.

[v] Ibid., 549

[vi] Molly Ball, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear,” The Atlantic, September 2, 2016, 1.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] The Statute of Liberty- Elis Island, "Immigration Timeline,"

[ix] Raymond L. Cohn, "Nativism and the End of the Mass Migration of the 1840s and 1850s," The Journal of Economic History, 60 (June 01), 361.

[x] Jose E. Vega, "Cultural Pluralism and American Identity: A Response to Foner's Freedom and Hakim's Heroes," OAH Magazine of History, 20 (July 2006), 19.

[xi] Bruce Levine, "Conservatism, Nativism, and Slavery: Thomas R. Whitney and the Origins of the Know-Nothing Party," The Journal of American History, (Sept 2001), 461-463.

[xii] Ibid. 464-466


[xiv] Levine, 468

[xv] Ibid., 469

[xvi] Encyclopedia Britannica, "Know-Nothing Party,"; Michael F. Hot, "The Politics of Impatience: The Origins of Know-Nothingism," The Journal of American History, 60 (September 1973) 311.

[xvii] Ibid., 311, 318,319

As the days grow darker and winter descends, Halloween ushers in the change in season, as a sweet and spooky community celebration. While candy and costumes are all the rage on Halloween, there's more to this tradition than just belly aches, naughty nurses and Frankenstein. In this article, we veer off modern history and explain the history behind the tradition. 

A witch as drawn in a 15th century book by Martin Le France

A witch as drawn in a 15th century book by Martin Le France

Ancient Origins 

The history of Halloween dates back over 2,000 years and is believed to have originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, where in an attempt to ward off evil and ghosts, villagers would wear costumes and light bonfires. Samhain was not the most rational of festivals though. Indeed, as in many festivals of the ancient world, it was steeped in strong superstitious beliefs that were perpetuated over the years; this tradition trickled into church practices. For example, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III proclaimed November 1st as All Saints Day in order to honor the souls of saints and martyrs, and so incorporated some Samhain traditions. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Eve or Halloween as we know it today. 

Originating in what we know today as modern Ireland, England and northern France, the Celts would usher in their new year on November 1st with fear and foreboding, as the cold winter marked the end of the grain harvest and the beginning of the reaping season. According to Celtic history on the night before their New Year (October 31st), death was palpable as the Celts believed that the lines between life and death were blurred, allowing the dead to roam free and plague the living. The effects of this were felt by humans too. On this night, Celtic priests (Druids) were believed to be able to predict the future.

In this period, the Celts would extinguish their hearth fires and gather to build a sacred community pyre where they would make crop and animal sacrifices to their deities for protection during the coming cold. When their celebration was over they would use the sacred fire to reignite their hearths. In the early years of the first millennia AD, the Romans descended on Celtic lands, seizing some Celtic territory and ruling for many years. During this time two Roman festivals influenced the Celtic Samhain festival, notably Feralia, another festival in October that celebrated the souls of the dead, and Pomona, which celebrated the Roman Goddess of trees and fruits. Interestingly the symbol of Pomona was an apple, which is probably why people go "bobbing" for apples - so in our Halloween celebration we are commemorating the Goddess Pomona. 

When Christianity later spread throughout Celtic lands, it is believed that the Christians tried to replace Samhain with a Church sanctioned day to honor the dead, what we know today as November 2nd or All Soul's Day.


Halloween in America

The history of Halloween in America evolved very differently from the European tradition, as it meshed with Native American practices and the different customs of the various European groups that had emigrated to America. By the 19th century Halloween was practiced in some but not all parts of America, with people telling ghost stories, playing tricks, dancing, singing, and fortune telling. 

American Halloween was changed forever with the influx of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine of 1846, who helped to popularize the tradition of costumes. From this, the American Halloween "trick or treat" tradition was born with people dressing up to go house to house to ask for food or money, which later evolved into candy. 

When the Irish came to America they also brought with them the tradition of the Jack-o-lantern. According to Irish Halloween tradition it was believed that a cruel man named Jack captured the Devil and trapped him in a tree. Jack swore to let the Devil go if he promised that Jack would never go to Hell. When Jack died he found the gates of Heaven barred because of his cruelty on Earth. And following his deal with the Devil nor could he go to Hell; however, the Devil did gave Jack a burning ember from the fires of Hell which Jack placed within vegetable shells to navigate the dark recesses of the Earth.

As time wore on, the American Halloween tradition was molded further into a day of celebration as opposed to one of witchcraft. Newspapers encouraged parents to remove anything grotesque and frightening from the celebration to put an end to the religious and superstitious beliefs behind the festival. 

The history of American Halloween hasn't always been all chocolates and fairies though. By the 1920s and 1930s, even though Halloween was largely a community celebration, the festival was becoming associated with vandalism, but by the 1950s, Halloween was more fully developed into a children's tradition. Today Americans spend a whopping $6 billion dollars on Halloween candy and costumes, making it America's second largest commercial festival.


Unknown Facts

Before you leave here are some interesting facts about Halloween:

  • What do you call the fear of Halloween? - Samhainophobia
  • Black and orange are the two most common colors associated with Halloween which is indicative of its origins. Orange is reminiscent of the change in season or autumn while black is a reminder of the boundary lines between life and death
  • The largest Halloween parade is in New York City
  • It is illegal to dress up as a Priest for Halloween in Alabama


While Halloween for us today is about parties, games and sweet treats, we should remember that it was a major part of Celtic life. After all, they attributed their survival during winter to the practice of Samhain. Furthermore it was this combination of Irish and Roman superstition and belief that led Christianity to develop two days dedicated to the remembrance and honor of the dead. In other words, Halloween is a surviving relic of the past that once combined religion and superstition. Even in celebrations today, Halloween has preserved some of its eeriness, relying on the goodwill of "spirits" by appeasing them with candy treats.

By Shrinivas


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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones