Monday, January 31, 2011

The Plug-Uglies take their show on the road

Philadelphia was not the only city to see anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant prejudice break out into nativist violence. In 1854 runners for a Baltimore Hook and Ladder company formed an associate called the Plug-Uglies that were associated with the Know-Nothing movement. Know-Nothings, like Today’s Tea Partiers, were not so much a nationally organized party as much as a movement consisting of a network of local associations, clubs, and societies. Like the Tea Party they had a common agenda on which they were united—in this case Anti-Catholicism and Anti-Immigrant—and points on which they could not reach consensus, most importantly, slavery. The Plug Uglies were one local group in Baltimore associated with this agenda; another was a gang called the Rip-Raps.
Despite its Catholic roots, Maryland was a stronghold of the Know-Nothings. They were the only State in the 1856 presidential election to go for the Know-Nothing ticked of Millard Fillmore and Andrew Jackson Donelson. But that was not the first election that the Plug Uglies disrupted. Baltimore had election riots in both 1855 and 1856 as Know-Nothings tried to control the polls in the municipal electins and insure that only nativist candidates received votes and the Plug Uglies played a prominent role in both disturbances. Then in June 1857, a Know-Nothing contingent comprised of Plug Uglies and Rip-Raps from Baltimore and the Shiffler Fire Company from Philadelphia descended on the National Capital in Washington to disrupt municipal elections there. President Buchanan called out the Marines who fired on the crowd. While the Plug Uglies and other out-of-town Know-Nothings were at the heart of the riot the majority of rioters were DC Residents. Nine of the ten civilians killed in the skirmish were White Washington nativists.
Know-Nothings also organized an attempt to disrupt elections in New Orleans in 1858. Historically there was a strong Catholic Presence in New Orleans—it had always been a French Catholic city—and while the riots there were anti-immigrant, the Know-Nothing success was more limited and they seemed not to have the ability to recruit as wide a selection of the population for their mob, Nevertheless, the Know-Nothing candidate was elected. Catholics may not have appreciated the Know-Nothing anti-Catholicisnm, but these old time French families may not have liked the immigrants any more than their Protestant counterparts up north.
Bishop John Hughes of New York took a very pro-active response the nativist threat. A native of what is today Northern Ireland, Hughes was never one to mince words, back down from a fight, or resort to diplomacy when he could hammer a point (or an opponent) ino the ground. After the Philadelphia riots in which two churches, a convent, a school and hundreds of Catholic homes were burned, it was rumored that the ringleaders of the Philadelphia riot were coming to New York to incite anti-Catholic riots there. Hughes called out Catholic volunteers to protect Church property and informed the Mayor that if there was any anti-Catholic rioting in New York the city would “become a second Moscow.” This was a reference to the residents of Moscow burning their own city to prevent Napoleon taking it in 1812. (Remember Tchaikovsky’s famous overture?) The threat was taken seriously—as it was meant to be--and the city government made sure there was no trouble in New York. It will be fun to do some blogs on Hughes but I think tomorrow we will go back to the conclusion of the the story about the burning of the Charlestown Convent. Then i want to go back to the saga of the American nuns (You know, the ones whom the Vatica is hell-bent on "investigating") for a day or two—and then something on Rome. When we come back to this topic, we will deal with the Know-Nothings and the “Pope’s Stone.” No—it wasn’t a kidney stone or a gall stone—but it was just as painful and far more embarrassing.
The image today is John Hughes, 1797-1864, fourth bishop and later first Archbishop of New York.

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