The headline “A century ago, the anti-Catholics raged” (Dec. 12) jarred recollections of the same rage against Catholics in Maine over 150 years ago.

The anti-immigrant American Nativist party, the “Know-Nothings,” had taken over many local and state governments from the 1830s to 1860s. The coded language of those decades, “America for Americans,” resonates in today’s rhetoric directed toward Muslims and Mexicans.

In 1834, after a Boston mob burned down the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, the Catholic bishop, Benedict Fenwick, established an Irish agrarian colony in Aroostook County as a refuge to escape the Protestant mobs. That distinctly Irish community, Benedicta, would thrive.

In 1851, John Bapst, a Jesuit priest, was tarred and feathered in Ellsworth and ridden on a rail to the woods outside the town. He later became the first president of Boston College. In 1854, the Know-Nothing activists burned down the Catholic church in Bath.

A change in attitudes toward ethnic and religious minorities would begin to happen only with the rise of a young man from Illinois who eventually became the standard bearer for the infant Republican Party.

He wrote to his friend in Springfield: “Dear (Joshua) Speed: I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ … When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ ”


Signed: A. LINCOLN – August 24, 1855.

Republicans – and citizens, all – take heed and memorize these words if you wish to save your party, and our nation.

Robert F. Lyons


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