In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, repeal Know-Nothing law

Mar 17, 2013 by

jamie_gassBy Jamie Gass –

“The Irish are perhaps the only people in our history with the distinction of having a political party, the Know-Nothings, formed against them,” wrote John F. Kennedy in his 1958 book, “A Nation of Immigrants.” Today, the Massachusetts Constitution maintains two amendments that still enforce mid-19th century Know-Nothing bigotry.

Yankee Massachusetts was undergoing seismic transformations in the 1850s. New railroads, factories, telegraph lines and banks ruled. Many were built thanks to the mass immigration of tens of thousands of souls fleeing the Irish potato famine.

Despite comprising one-quarter of the population in Boston and other Massachusetts cities, Irish immigrants were confronted by ethnic and religious prejudice.

The American Party, or Know-Nothings, code-named “Sam,” plotted its anti-immigrant rise in fraternal lodges one historian called “cocoon(s) of secrecy.” They assured clandestine party membership with peculiar handshakes and the password, “I know nothing.”

In 1854, the Know-Nothings rode a cunning platform of anti-Catholic nativism and progressive reforms to the largest electoral landslide in Bay State history. “Sam” had unmasked itself in the voting booths, sweeping every constitutional office and all but three legislative seats. Led by Gov. Henry J. Gardner, they promulgated a flood of unconstitutional laws designed to “Americanize America.” The Know-Nothings were not so much a political movement as an anti-Irish-Catholic cult.

More than 150 years later, Gardner’s infamous “Anti-Aid” amendment, which prevents disbursement of state funds and local tax revenues to parochial schools, still endures. In 1917, a revised Anti-Aid amendment was passed.

Today, the amendments prevent more than 100,000 urban families in Massachusetts with children in chronically underperforming districts from receiving scholarship vouchers that would grant them greater school choice.

Repeal of these amendments, which were conceived in prejudice, would allow state school funding to follow the student, as it does in higher education across America. All parents could then choose from a variety of private, parochial, public charter and voc-tech school options for their children.

Critics claim school choice would draw religion into the public domain. However, the idea of parents utilizing scholarship vouchers to select the most appropriate schools for their children respects the highest spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s desire to keep “a wall of separation between church and state.”

This St. Patrick’s Day, let’s honor the commonwealth’s Irish heritage by expelling the Know-Nothings’ anti-Irish-Catholic amendments from our realm. Only then can we declare to constitutionally protected discrimination, “No, nay never no more.”

Jamie Gass is the director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Massachusetts public policy think tank.

via JAMIE GASS: In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, repeal Know-Nothing law – Quincy, MA – The Patriot Ledger.

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