- The Know Nothings in Louisiana by Marius M. Carriere Jr.
In The Know Nothings in Louisiana, Marius M. Carriere Jr. strives to expand historians' understanding of nativism in the American South with an in-depth analysis of the operation of the Know-Nothing Party (the American Party) in Louisiana. Given that Louisiana had one of the most successful Know-Nothing Party organizations in the South, the state is an important location to consider. Carriere examines nativism in Louisiana from 1830 through 1860, chronicling the rise, peak, and fall of the Know-Nothing Party in the state. Despite challenges from Democrats that the American Party was just the Whig Party rebranded, that it was rabidly anti-Catholic, and that it was secretly opposed to slavery, the Know-Nothings were able to get people elected to office in Louisiana, albeit sometimes by running on a citizens' reform ticket rather than explicitly using the American Party label.
Examinations of southern nativism such as this book bring historians closer to a truly national understanding of the Know-Nothings. Furthermore, Carriere identifies differences in the Know-Nothing Party in Louisiana that illustrate the diversity of the party in different parts of the country. Most notably, although the Know-Nothings nationally were known for being anti-Catholic, nativists in Louisiana generally rejected anti-Catholicism in favor of making alliances with the Catholic Creole population of the state. Carriere finds that local leaders made efforts to distance themselves from the anti-Catholicism of nativists elsewhere, evidently with some success. He attributes this difference in part to the large number of Catholics in Louisiana, many of whom had prominent social standing, and to perceived differences between Louisiana Catholics and those in other parts of the country. Many Louisianans, both Catholic and not, maintained that the Catholics of Louisiana were adherents of Gallican Catholicism, which denied that the pope should have any power over temporal [End Page 685] affairs and, as a result, seemed to nativists to be less threatening than the Catholic mainstream.
Carriere also challenges previous scholarly understandings of who supported the Know-Nothing Party in Louisiana. Previous studies have argued that the leaders of the Know-Nothing Party were more likely to be wealthy slaveholders, prominent businessmen or lawyers, and older politicians, while the Democratic Party appealed more to younger politicians and those with more limited means. Carriere's examination of census data finds no significant difference, however, in terms of age, occupation, slaveholding, or wealth for the two parties. He provides this data in appendixes. While interesting, the charts would have been more useful with better captions. Some do not identify the year or years covered by the chart, and for those that focus on political leaders, it is not clear how leaders were defined. It would be helpful to know whether the charts include just those nominated for office or also other prominent leaders within the party and if the calculations are based on a sample or an exhaustive list of leaders. These are primarily issues of presentation rather than any problem with the research itself, but they nonetheless undermine the usefulness of the information in the charts.
Regardless, The Know Nothings of Louisiana makes an important contribution to historians' understanding of the influence of nativism in politics in the antebellum United States. This book should appeal not only to those interested in the Know-Nothings and Louisiana politics in particular, but also to anyone concerned with how immigration and reactions to it shaped American politics in the nineteenth century.