Saturday, May 24, 2008

The KNs Vote for Pope Pius

In New York, “[t]he disintegration of anything like party regularity in the chaotic four-party election of 1854 made it impossible to forecast the party breakdown in the new legislature” that assembled at the beginning of 1855. KNs constituted roughly one-third of each house. “By cooperating with the Hards, their most likely allies,” the KN could have controlled both houses.

William Seward had a long history of courting immigrants and Catholics. As such, there was every reason to assume that he was anathema to the KN legislators. Remarkably, Thurlow Weed nonetheless engineered the reelection of Seward to the United States Senate. He used a variety of methods. Using the compliant new governor, Myron Clark, Weed delayed all government appointments until after the vote, to the point that a Silver Grey complained that “[t]he State creeps all over like an old cheese, & swarms of maggots are out hopping & skipping about all the avenues to the Legislature.”

Substantively, Weed and the KNs reached an accommodation. If the KNs voted for Seward, Weed would not “hinder passage of a temperance law and of an anti-Catholic church property law designed to prevent clerical control of ecclesiastical property. Both laws were key pieces of legislation to the KNs, and the temperance law would please the governor as well.

The upshot was that a majority of the American party legislators in both houses voted for Seward, and the legislators got their temperance and church property laws.

The New York Evening Post acerbically commented on the surprising result, “one need not be surprised if the vote of the Know-Nothings is cast for Pope Pius at the next election.”

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