HKS Affiliated Authors


April 2021, Paper: "We study the contribution of economic conditions to the success of the first avowedly nativist political party in the United States. The Know-Nothing Party gained control of a number of state governments in the 1854-1856 elections running on a staunchly antiCatholic and anti-Irish platform. Our analysis focuses on the case of Massachusetts, which had experienced a wave of Irish Famine immigration and was at the forefront of industrialization in the United States. Voters in towns with more exposure to Irish labor market crowdout and deskilling in manufacturing were more likely to vote for KnowNothing candidates in state elections. These economic shocks have both explanatory and outcome significance. These two forces played a decisive role in the 1855, and accounted for 19-30% of Know-Nothing votes in the 1854-56 elections. We find evidence of reduced wealth accumulation for native workers most exposed to labor market crowdout and deskilling, though this was tempered by occupational upgrading. The KnowNothings lost power in 1857 to the abolitionist Republicans as the crisis over slavery came to a head, culminating in the Civil War."

HKS Author - Marcella Alsan