The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860 by Ray Allen Billington

The Protestant Crusade 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism by Ray Allen Billington published by Quadrangle Paperbacks (1938)

The classic work on the intellectual, if that is the word, origins of the anti-immigrant movement is more than seventy years old, but by God it is still a fascinating read.

The Protestant Crusade is old-fashioned history at its best. Ray Allen Billington did not have the tools of modern historical analysis available back when he wrote it before World War II, but he was able to read a massive amount of hate literature from the presses of the Know Nothings and their antecedents. Billington’s survey of the roots of anti-immigrant ideology during the Elizabethan era and its development over two centuries is magnificent and enlightening.

The Know Nothings brilliantly hit on deep veins of hatred which have been mined by successive generations of anti-immigrant demagogues, who, all too often, fail to honor or even acknowledge their Know Nothing forebears. The process of stigmatization of Irish Catholics pioneered by the Know Nothings would be used successfully against Italians, Chinese, Jews, and Latinos  between the 1870s and the present day.

This book is not only a remarkable work of historical scholarship, it is also a cautionary tale for today.


About Patrick Young

Program Director of the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) and Supervising Attorney for the Westchester Hispanic Coalition. Blogs for Long Island Wins and New York State Immigrant Action Fund
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