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The Disintegration of the Second Party System
Digital History ID 339

Author:   Salmon P. Chase


By 1856, the Know Nothing party was in decline. Northern workers felt more threatened by the slave power than by the Pope and Catholic immigrants, while fewer Southerners were willing to support a party that ignored the expansion of slavery. Nevertheless, the Know Nothings left an indelible mark on American politics. The movement eroded loyalty to the national political parties, fatally weakened the Whig party, and undermined the political system's capacity to contain the divisive issue of slavery.

In this letter, Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873), a leading Ohio politician, argues that opponents of slavery must ensure that their cause is not neutralized or deflected by the Know Nothing movement.


We work now to overturn the Slave-Power. For that we want the Union of all Liberty loving men, native or foreign born. While engaged in that work there can be no proscription. When that work shall be accomplished either there will be no proscribers or they will be powerless for evil. At this moment I believe that there are few of the Americans who went with us last fall, who desire any extension of the naturalization terms or who would not readily and zealously sustain any good man for office of real Republican principles without reference to the accident of birth.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Salmon P. Chase to Judge A. Lankey Latty

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