The Know-Nothing Party
If you choose to bypass those preliminaries, here’s a quick recap: New Orleans was, in the 19th century, very much what America is now. It’s uncanny, actually, the comparisons, the controversy, the contempt. You know the saying, the more things change…
The 1800s in New Orleans were a time of raging epidemics – they would wane and then surge, over and over. The political indifference to them was astonishing. And then, as described by Herbert Asbury in his seminal 1936 history of the city, titled “The French Quarter,” everything changed, vanished overnight.
A storm blew in from the coast and the pandemic washed away forever. “Like a miracle,” someone in a position of power once recently alluded.
Is that what really happened? Asbury is dead now, unable to account for his…account. But we can only hope, this time around.
That was the medical – or “scientific” – side of things back then. But there were also the political factors. And that’s where we pick up the story this week.
Asbury tells the story of a populist political movement following the detritus of the yellow fever and cholera epidemics that led to civic chaos, doubt, dubiousness and violence in the city.
In a chapter from the book titled “An Epoch of Degeneration,” Asbury wrote: “The crucifixion of honesty and self-respect upon the twin crosses of greedy partisanship and political hatred,” tore down New Orleans culture and society.
Sound familiar? And no, I’m not making this up. And it only gets better. Or worse, from your perspective.
The year 1856 brought to rise the power of the Know-Nothing Party. That was their real name. Named by them, in fact. Again, not making this up.
Asbury notes, the party was called such “because members of the order replied to all questions: “I know nothing in our principle contrary to the Constitution.”
Wrote Asbury: “The Know-Nothing Party engendered more discord and hatred than any other political development in the history of the United States. For starters, one of the principal points in the credo of Know Nothingism was unalterable opposition to the absorption of foreigners into the American body politic.”
Now, I try not to be too political in my station here at myneworleans.com, but let’s review:
Donald Trump on the Proud Boys. “I don’t know who they are.”
The dismantling of the White House pandemic response team under his watch: “I don’t know anything about it.”
On Louisiana’s esteemed former Klu Klux Klan grand wizard, David Duke, endorsing him: “I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”
Weird, because in 1991, Trump had this to say about Duke’s run for Governor of Louisiana: “I hate seeing what it represents, but I guess it just shows there’s a lot of hostility in this country. There’s a tremendous amount of hostility in the United States.”
The more things change…they don’t. And so that’s Part Four of the series. And if Part Five doesn’t scare the hell out of you next week, well…you probably shouldn’t read it.
Meantime, Happy Trials.
Or was that supposed to say “trails?” Hmm.