Sometimes events from the distant past carry echoes of our modern world. The year 1854 was an election year. In St. Louis when the Missouri Republican called for the presentation and examination of naturalization papers at the polls the stage was set for violence. As voters were turned back at the polls in the mostly Irish 5th Ward, tempers flared. It started with the knifing of a boy by one of the rejected voters. A Nativist crowd soon assembled and soon shots rang out from the Irish houses, creating a riot as the mob began to sack Irish homes. It was then an Irish mob joined the fray. Two men were killed in the day's violence. The police waited for matters to calm down before entering the ward. The next day the Illinois State Militia was called out and patrolled the streets. In the dark of night the violence flared anew, with three militiamen being wounded. Among the dead that evening was an influential iron maker and a saloonkeeper who refused drink to rioters. Citizen patrols leavened by mostly Irish policemen restored order. This little experiment in preventing voter fraud had resulted in ten dead and roughly 30 wounded. It must be remembered that both Nativists and recent emigrants used very similar tactics, that of challenging the authenticity of voters at the polls and backed up their attempts to affect the election with violence. This was far more successful than participating directly in fraud as it slowed or stopped voting at certain polls.
It is little surprise that the current blend of Nativists reach back to the playbook of the Know-Nothings of the 19th century. The ultimate goal in requiring an examination of the credentials of potential voters clocks itself in the garb of protecting the vote from fraud, but turns out to be a form of suppressing the vote of the opposition. Saint Louis had a series of Know-Nothin Riots, going back to 1852, E.Z.C. Judson (known to most as Ned Buntline) moved to St. Louis in 1852 to promote nativism among a city with large Irish and German populations. He helped set the working-class natives against the foreign-born laborers. How many times in history do we see elites such as Judson setting workers against each other.
The tragic events in St. Louis were repeated in many places that year. Below is a segment of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of November 18, 1854. It presents the testimony of Charles E. Silkworth who was a Nativist sent to challenge voters at a certain poll. Before he started his duties he was handed a pistol. Charles' own credentials became an issue and during a melee he pulled the pistol out of his pocket before being knocked unconscious. Will such scenes re reenacted in 2016... stay tuned for the reality show is bound to have a big finish.