Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)





Committee Chair

Susannah J. Ural

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Chester M. Morgan

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Heather Marie Stur

Committee Member 3 Department



During the 1850s in the South, the American Party, also known as the Know Nothing Party, rallied southerners culturally and politically around nativism, an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic ideology. This thesis studies nativism in the Deep South and challenges existing scholarship by Tyler Anbinder and William Darrell Overdyke. Anbinder claims that southern Know Nothings held little in common with their northern counterparts and exhibited only regional characteristics. Overdyke maintains that the American Party in the Deep South participated in the national organization, but he argues that nativism appeared only as an incidental component.

An analysis of private papers, speeches, and newspapers from Alabama and South Carolina reveals a different reality. Alabama and South Carolina are excellent representative case studies because their port cities attracted significant, but not exceptional, levels of immigration to the South. These states provide a mainstream picture of southern cultural and political nativism, indicating that southern Know Nothings shared core nativist ideals with northern members of the American Party. Southerners sympathized with nativist fears of criminal immigrants and the Catholic Church. Furthermore, Dixie Know Nothings used nativist ideology to explain the growing influence of abolitionism in America, which became a powerful political issue in the South. Though northerners maintained that Catholics and immigrants supported slavery, southern Know Nothings contended that they exerted abolitionist influences on the nation. Nativist ideology threatened to alter the southern political landscape by pushing southern nativists into an alliance with Fire Eaters and forced Democrats to radicalize their own states’ rights policies.