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"Know-Nothings" abandon secrecy, meet in Austin


On this day in 1856, the American or Know-Nothing party of Texas met for the first time in open convention in Austin. The party was the political manifestation of the xenophobic, anti-Catholic secret society known as the American Order. In the summer of 1855 Texas Know-Nothing leaders launched a plan to gain political control of the state. Lieutenant Governor David C. Dickson, who had defected from the Democratic party, headed the ticket, though he and his fellow candidates steadfastly denied that they were members of the American Order. During the spirited ensuing campaign Sam Houston issued a public letter endorsing the principles of the American Order. Though incumbent Democratic governor Elisha M. Pease defeated Dickson in the August election, the American party elected Lemuel D. Evans to Congress and about a dozen members to the state legislature. Buoyed by these limited successes, the party held a November rally in Austin at which Houston spoke, and at the January convention elected delegates to the national convention and nominated candidates for several state offices. But the national movement soon split over the issue of slavery, and by 1857 the American party had virtually disappeared in Texas.

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