"The impoverishment of the American middle class is the first factor of populist success"

US President Donald Trump in Sunrise, Florida, November 26, 2019.
US President Donald Trump in Sunrise, Florida, November 26, 2019. YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS

Chronic. Immigrants take our jobs by accepting lower wages, they practice a religion contrary to our culture and our laws, they populate our prisons and threaten our security, they obey foreign authorities, they receive social assistance and citizenship granted too loosely by the administration. These are Donald Trump's latest tweets against Latinos or Eric Zemmour's latest talk about "Arab-Muslim" ? Not really: the immigrants in question are Irish Catholics, and these claims are partly in the investiture speech of Massachusetts Gov. Henry Gardner, winner of the 1854 election at the head of the Know Nothing Party, and partly to the a newspaper " The American Patriot, organ of this political formation today totally forgotten. The citizens of Massachusetts, however, had given 62% of the vote to Henry Gardner and 374 of 379 to 379 that party, which that year had also won six other states, as well as the city halls of Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. a thousand other municipalities in the United States.

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Its strange name comes from the fact that being originally a secret society its members were instructed to respond " I know nothing " if they were questioned, recalls Marcella Alsan, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School. With her fellow economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Katherine Eriksson (University of California at Davis) and Gregory Niemesh (University of Miami), she researched the reasons for this vote by crossing the mapping of electoral results with that of censuses. population and labor force surveys conducted in Massachusetts at the time.

The researchers first point out that, following the Irish famine in 1848, Irish immigration to the United States explodes: 1 million Irish cross the Atlantic in 1855. Boston en hosts 100,000 between 1841 and 1851; the population of the city increases by 25% over the period, that of foreigners by 85%.

Ostentatious religious practice

The results of the study show that, beyond the reproaches addressed to the Irish by the propaganda – their European origin, their obedience to the Pope, the ostentatious practice of Catholicism – the Know Nothing Party gains more success not only in the constituencies where the arrival of migrants is the strongest, but even more so in those where the share of workers disqualified has increased the most. Between 1845 and 1855, Massachusetts industrial production rose from $ 83 million to $ 215 million. This dramatic expansion, largely due to the completion of the canals linking the ocean to Lake Erie and the railway system, requires a large and unskilled labor force to work in the mills.


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