Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Vincent J. Cannato

Second Advisor

Timothy Hacsi

Third Advisor

Julie P. Winch


In November of 1854, a new political party swept the eastern coast of the United States. This party was immensely popular because of its political stance, which promised change against the established order. In their secret meetings, the members of the party promised to address the issues created by the American immigrant, the expansion of slavery, the prevalence of alcohol, the treatment of the contemporary worker, and more. Their populist appeal helped them win the election of 1855 in Massachusetts, allowing them to hold both houses of the state legislature and win the governorship as well. However, their broad appeal is what hurt them in 1855 as they struggled to appease all their major constituents. This paper is a focused micro-history on the events of 1855 and how these events affected the political strength of the Know-Nothing Party in their inaugural year in Massachusetts. The primary aim of my research is to provide an answer as to why the Know-Nothing Party lost much of its popularity within one year, and address gaps in the literature about the party’s demise. A focused look at the major events of the year 1855 through the lens of the various newspaper publications of the time will help to answer this question. Slavery forced the Massachusetts Know-Nothing Party to take a stance that placed it in opposition to the national party yet remained too moderate domestically, which caused them to lose votes to both the new Republican Party and the more conservative Democratic Party alike. Temperance put a similar stress on the new party as the ¬Maine Liquor Law was poorly received and strenuously resisted across the state. The Know-Nothing Party’s inability to respond to the issues of 1855 pushed many voters away from the party just months after their huge victory. While the Know-Nothings still won the state election of 1855, they experienced more than a thirty-five percent decrease in votes in one year. Eighteen fifty-five proved to be the pivotal year that showed the vulnerability and long-term weakness of the new Know-Nothing Party in the state of Massachusetts.


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