Joe Biden Knows Nothing About Know-Nothings

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Vice President Joe Biden attacked Republicans as xenophobic for opposing illegal immigration on Tuesday, likening them to the “Know-Nothing party back at the end of the nineteenth century.” However, the Know-Nothings were done by 1860.

The Know-Nothings were politically active in opposing (legal) immigration in the 1850s. They were portrayed memorably by Arthur Scorsese in Gangs of New York, where the local gang leader, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), is a member of the movement and leads street brawls against gangs of recent Irish immigrants.

The Know-Nothings split over the issue of slavery, with anti-slavery members joining the new Republican Party, which formed to oppose the pro-slavery agenda of the Democratic Party. As Carl Cannon recalled earlier this year:

…In 1856 they met in Philadelphia to pick a future president. That process didn’t go well. Millard Fillmore was chosen as the party standard-bearer (he would carry just one state in November: Maryland), but the seeds for the Know-Nothing’s demise were planted at their own convention.

A wing of Southerners moved to pass a platform plank calling for the preservation of slavery. This alarmed many Northern and Midwestern Know-Nothings, who bolted to another newly formed political entity: The Republican Party.

Echoes of conflicting cross-currents still exist in our politics today, and not only within the GOP…

Whatever the relevance of the Know-Nothings to today’s politics, the party did not exist “back at the end of the nineteenth century.” Clearly, Vice President Joe Biden knows nothing about the Know-Nothings.



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