Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > America Singing

Back to Collection Connections

[Detail] Let me kiss him for his mother

The Civil War | Nativism and The American Party | Temperance | Women's Rights | Historic Commemorations

Nativism and The American Party

A wave of Irish immigration in the 1840s and 1850s sparked the nativist policies of the American Party. Also known as the "Know Nothings," for their staunch denial of participating in anti-immigrant activities and secret societies, the group rallied under the slogan, "Wide Awake." Searches on the terms wide awake and know nothing, produce songs such as "Wide Awake Jordan," which describes a victory over "the mickeys of New Orleans" and "Wide Awake Yankee Doodle," which offers a variation on the "Original Yankee Doodle."

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy

Chorus from "Original Yankee Doodle."

Yankee Doodle, Wide Awake,
Be silent you should never,
Until you drive the popish snake,
From off the soil, FOREVER

Chorus from "Wide Awake Yankee Doodle."

  • How do these songs characterize the threat of immigration in America?
  • Who is the American Party referring to with the phrases, "mickeys of New Orleans" and "popish snake"?
  • Why do you think that the American Party targeted these immigrants?
  • What do you think is the significance of writing a variation of "Original Yankee Doodle" to rally a nativist organization?
  • Considering that these songs were most likely written by and for descendants of European immigrants, why do you think that the American Party rallied against new immigrants?
  • What types of people do you think qualified as "Americans" to the American Party?
men in hats smoking

Illustration from "Paddy's Lament," Describing "Them Know Nothing chaps."

When the Republican Party formed in 1854, it absorbed many supporters of the American Party. The Know Nothings were no longer an independent political force but they still influenced the Republican agenda. The slavery issue was a point of contention for many people within the party. The song "Two Years Ago" characterizes the regret of a Know Nothing who did not believe that the South would secede from the Union:

"Oh, if then I had only dreamed, / The things that now I know, / I ne'er had been a Wide Awake / About two years ago. / I said the South would never dare / To strike a single blow; / I thought that they were cowards then, / About two years ago."

  • Why do you think that the narrator of "Two Years Ago" regrets that he was a Wide Awake?
  • How does the song describe the attitude of some Know Nothings towards the South?"
  • Do you think that this song is historically accurate? Why or why not?