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Abraham Lincoln on the Anti-Immigrant Know-Nothings

February 12, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

The President who would have been 200 today was not a fan of the anti-immigrant/anti-Catholic movement of his era.  He wrote a letter to Joshua Speed on August 24, 1855, which primarily addressed the expansion of slavery, but ended with this about the Know-Nothings, the political anti-immigrant party of the time:


I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or 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." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic]. – Abraham Lincoln, August 24, 1855


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