By Lawrence Phillip Knight, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
FURTHER HONING THE DEFINITION OF AMERICAN:
THE KNOW-NOTHINGS AND DEMOCRATS IN SAN ANTONIO,
AUGUST 1855-NOVEMBER 1856
The Know-Nothings were defeated in San Antonio in the state election of August 1855. So thorough was the defeat that they never again offered candidates below the national level to the public; they were not, however, finished in San Antonio. While offering no candidates, they continued to declare their definition of American in the three elections that followed the August 1855 election: one each for city, county, and national offices. Only in the latter, and then only for presidential electors, did the Know-Nothings of San Antonio actually have candidates on the ballot. Their utter defeat in the 1856 election ended their presence in San Antonio.
Although in hindsight their defeat in the August 1855 election ended any chance the party had for success in San Antonio, they were perceived, by themselves and the Democrats, to be a viable party. The Know-Nothing party retained leaders of some prominence in the city--some of whom held city offices; they maintained a public voice in the San Antonio Herald. Sam Houston, the state's most recognized leader, lent his support to the party, and the proximity of San Antonio to Austin, where a statewide Know-Nothing rally was held, gave the party an appearance of strength it did not have. Another positive for the Know-Nothings was the internal struggles of the Democrats. Despite the fear of a Know-Nothing victory and what that would mean, the Democrats had great difficulty maintaining unity in San Antonio. In an attempt to sway reluctant voters, they used the split in the Democratic ranks to prove that the Democrats were merely office seekers who had no principles and no concern for the country: a position they believed was personified in Mayor Devine and his brother Thomas Jefferson Devine. They also maintained the position that they were not opposed to the Mexican citizens or the Catholics, and they continued to attack the Germans, simultaneously labeling them abolitionists and Democrats. However, none of these positives of the Know-Nothings was enough to overcome the great strength of the Democrats in San Antonio--the Know-Nothing platform. The Mexican citizens remained Mexicans, the Germans citizens remained Germans, the Roman Catholics remained Roman Catholics, and the Know-Nothing platform excluded them all. Meanwhile the Know-Nothings never mounted more than a verbal challenge to the Democrats on the local level and finally were thoroughly thrashed at both the state and national level in the 1856 presidential election. However, the most important result of the Know-Nothings' bid for power was to reveal that San Antonio was not a Know-Nothing city. It refused to fit the definition of American proposed by the American party. San Antonio was not and never would be a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant community.
Although the Democrats were obviously the choice of the voters in the August 1855 election, neither the party nor its supporting newspaper, the San Antonio Ledger, believed that the victory ended the Know-Nothing danger. The Ledger exalted in the victory over the Know-Nothings only briefly. "VICTORY! VICTORY!! VICTORY!!!" was the heading of the front page article on August 25, 1855. Enough results had come in from the counties of the state to ensure a Democratic victory in the state offices, and an editor of the paper vilified the Know-Nothings for attacking the very foundations of American freedom. But defeat at the ballot box, the Ledger believed, had not ended the Know-Nothings threat. The Know-Nothings had, it seemed, developed a new strategy for controlling the city, an economic boycott of the Ledger. If the Know-Nothings could not defeat the truth, they would silence it by silencing the Ledger. The Ledger warned the public of the danger and appealed to the paper's subscribers to find new subscribers. While congratulating itself on being the first paper in the area, if not in the entire state, "to show up the deformity of the Know-Nothing heresy," the paper lamented the low state to which politics had brought the city. Political and religious differences had never entered into business in San Antonio before, but because of the Know-Nothings and their warped definition of American, they had done so now. The paper also appealed to the Democrats to truly organize, or the Know-Nothings, though a minority, would through organization defeat the majority.
The real danger to the Democrats, however, was not a business boycott, nor was it the Know-Nothings, it was, instead, the propensity of the Democrats to destroy themselves. This was first revealed in the Democrats' attempt to pick candidates for city offices in the December 1855 election. The Herald reported that the Democrats met in mid-November to nominate candidates for city offices. J.M. Devine, who chaired the public meeting, began by promptly accusing the current mayor (James R. Sweet, a Know-Nothing supporter who was elected mayor before the Know-Nothings became pubic in San Antonio) and council of doing nothing, and of not corralling the School Board which was a nest of Know-Nothings. Though Devine reported that he had supported J.G. Viall, Solomon Childress, and J. Ulrich as trustees of the school board, he did so without knowing that "they had sworn to exclude every Catholic child from [the] schools" and that they "had discharged two teachers and had not paid them, to make room for Know-Nothing teachers who [sic] they paid." Of the three trustees, Viall, a city alderman and a member of the executive committee of the Bible Society of San Antonio, was a proven Know-Nothing. Devine offered no proof, however, that either Childress or Ulrich was a Know-Nothing, nor that any of the three had fired a teacher because of political or religious affiliation. Nevertheless, the crowd, according to the Herald, gave its unanimous approval to Devine's pronouncements. Sledding was not so smooth, however, when it came to choosing candidates. Three of the Democrats, J.M. Carolan, A.A. Lockwood, and John Malloy, offered to run for mayor. Since a split among the Democrats would play into the hands of the Know-Nothings, a committee of nine men was selected to choose candidates for all city offices. Sam Smith, José Navarro, John Herman Kampmann, G.P. Post, H.L. Radaz, Juan A. Urrutia, G. Scott, Peter Gallagher, and N. Lardner were the members of the committee.
Both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the Democrats was revealed when the committee reported the next week. The list of candidates clearly showed the Democrats' open definition of American. Of the slate of candidates, six were natives of the U.S., two were Tejanos, two were Germans, and one was from Canada. Devine, the candidate for mayor, staked out the Democrats position upon accepting the nomination of mayor. He remarked that "he should know no German, Know-Nothing, Democrat, or Mexican, but should consider them all as brothers." Devine, previously the arch-foe of fandangos, also stated that he "was in favor of allowing every man to give a ball if he desired." Contrasted to the broad and strong definition of American, however, was the split in the Democratic ranks. Devine's nomination was a surprise and was not accepted with unity. J.M. Carolan, despite pleas from I.A. Paschal not to split the party, announced his candidacy for mayor. Carolan was not the only Democrat to bolt the party; enough Democrats disagreed with the selection of candidates that a new party, the People's party, formed. The Herald, unable to cheer on Know-Nothing candidates, joined the fray with glee and touted Carolan as more popular than Devine, while the Ledger mourned the short-lived unity of the Democrats.
Carolan's candidacy gave the Herald an opportunity to once again expound on the Know-Nothing definition of American. The paper declared that the Irish-Catholic Carolan would never submit to the Pope in temporal matters and was American in sentiment, "which is all our Platform requires." Further, the Herald used its support of the Irishman Carolan to note that the party was "not as proscriptive as you believe." Finally, it was noted that Devine was also foreign born. The Know-Nothings were no more successful in backing Carolan than they had been in backing their own candidates. Devine won the election, defeating Carolan 293-239, and none of the People's party candidates won (except those like José Antonio George Navarro who ran on both the People's and the Democratic tickets). Devine's election was explained by the Herald as proof that people were afraid to vote against the dominant party. Devine's victory at the ballot box, however, did not end the election; his opponents challenged his right to hold office.
When the Herald reported Devine's victory, it suggested that there was some question as to his citizenship. Had Devine, the paper wondered, ever become a citizen? Although Devine had been mayor on three previous occasions, he was challenged by council A.W. Desmuke, a Know-Nothing. Desmuke demanded that Devine, a native of Nova Scotia, show proof of citizenship before assuming office. The Council split over the issue and referred the question to a committee of Viall, Asa Mitchell, and A. Deffenbaugh, two of whom were Know-Nothings. At the next meeting of the council, the committee insisted that Devine be prohibited from taking his seat until he had produced the papers proving his citizenship. Whether or not Devine produced proof of citizenship is unknown, but the next day, January 1, 1856, Devine was sworn into office as mayor of San Antonio (for the fourth and final time), and no more was said about his citizenship.
Despite the hopes of the Know-Nothings and the fears of the Democrats, the latter had withstood the challenge of internal strife. The disunity which caused the Ledger to warn the Democrats that without rotation of offices further internal divisions would occur, could not be exploited by the Know-Nothings. In a sense, Democratic disunity highlighted the weakness of the Know-Nothings. So unpopular was their definition of American that they were relegated to supporting a candidate of the opposing party for mayor. As in the state elections in the summer of 1855, the city elections of December 1855 proved that the Democratic definition of American was supported by the great majority of the citizens of San Antonio.
Following the defeat of the Know-Nothings in August, the Herald angrily attacked what it considered the causes of that defeat. For the first time the Hispanics of San Antonio were vilified by the paper. The initial focus of the attack was the Roman Catholic Church and its priests. The priests, the Herald claimed, owed their jobs to foreign bishops schooled in the despotic politics of Europe. Those priests went about Bexar County telling the Mexicans to vote against the Know-Nothings and "engendering the deepest hatred to the American party." For weeks the Herald carried the text of a speech by F.K. Zollicoffer hammering the Catholic church. The Sentinel, as reported by the Ledger, was even more vociferous. It reported that the 500 American born voters in Bexar county were overwhelmed by the 1,200 Mexican and German voters. The primary reason for the Know-Nothing defeat, the Sentinel observed, was the lies told by the Roman Catholic clergy to the Mexicans, most of whom were native born and were, therefore, under no threat from the Know-Nothings. The Sentinel claimed that without the poisoning influence of the priests, these Mexican citizens would have voted for the Know-Nothings. In October, the Herald accused a local priest of burning a book from the Protestant Union Sunday School Library in San Antonio. Reportedly a child had checked the book out and taken it to the Catholic Male College in San Antonio, where it was taken from him by a priest and burned. The priests were not the real target of the attack, however. The Know-Nothings lost the election because Hispanic voters believed the priests. "But ignorant and superstitious, as they are, the priest found no difficulty in convincing them that the American party were making war upon their religion."
Despite attacking the Catholic clergy and Hispanic voters, by the middle of September, the Know-Nothings were once again courting the Mexican citizens by attempting to prove that the Democrats were not their friends and that the German Democrats had no more use for the Mexican citizens than did their Anglo counterparts. In an article entitled "Wonder if it is True?" the Herald reported on a victory ball given by the Mexican citizens to honor the August victory and the elected officials. Only the "bombshellocracy," the Herald reported were invited--no other "Americans" were allowed; "it savored of proscription," mocked the Herald. However, in the most insulting of choices, the Democrats and "demo-kroutic friends" refused to take their wives along for fear of being "contaminated by contact with greasers." This showed that only as long as they were necessary for votes would the Americans of the Democratic party (or the Germans for that matter) have anything to do with the Mexicans: "they would shun them in social intercourse much as they would moral leprosy." "We have thought, and still think that the Americans are the only friends on whom the Mexicans can rely." The Germans came in for special criticism. "[O]ur Mexican citizens were not well pleased at the efforts of our bearded kroutic inhabitants, who endeavored to force upon the party their own national dances, waltzes &c., to the exclusion of such as were the choice of those who got up the ball."
The Know-Nothings continued to court the Mexican voters until the party died. In July 1856 the Know-Nothings sought Mexican votes for the Know-Nothing national ticket. The Spanish newspaper Bejareño questioned the motives of the Know-Nothings--what did they really want? As they had consistently done, the Know-Nothings pointed out that they supported all true Americans, which included the Mexican citizens of San Antonio. According to the Herald, the Bejareño falsely reported that the Know-Nothings would deprive the Mexicans citizens of all their rights and would burn their churches. The Know-Nothings countered by reminding the Mexican citizens that it was Democrats who had practiced violence on the Mexican citizens; long before the Know-Nothing party came to San Antonio, lynch laws were instituted to dispose of the Mexicans and take their land.
In an ironic turn of events, at the same time the Know-Nothings attacked the Mexican voters, they appealed to the German voters of San Antonio. It was the only time they did so. Following that outburst, the Know-Nothings returned to their attack on the Germans, but with an intensity, if not a hatred, not noticeable before. The Germans were mocked, linked to abolitionism, characterized as savages who were far more brutal than the Indians, and were called a people totally unfit to be Americans.
At times the Know-Nothing mocked the Germans. Shortly following the Democratic victory in August, the German citizens of Seguin and New Braunfels met together in Seguin at what the Herald termed a "Grand Demi-Kroutic Feed." The mockery seemed a bit forced, however, because the Herald reported that the crowd was disappointingly small, but later admitted that it numbered as much as 1,000 people. On a later occasion, the Herald reported what it "positively assured" its readers was a true story that had occurred "not a thousand miles distant from this city" in a district courtroom where a German applicant for naturalization was questioned by a judge.
Judge--Do you absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whatever; and particularly the Prince of Wurtemburg?
Applicant--Yah, all put de demecrat party.
Another tact was to portray the "good demi-krouts" as being horribly cruel. The Herald reported that an innocent Indian boy became sick and was left to die by his tribe near the German community of Fredericksburg, where he was found by one of the German inhabitants of the town. The boy was taken into town, tied to a tree, shot to pieces, and burned. "They...committed upon his person acts of diabolical cruelty and bloody, inhuman ferocity, such as is without parallel in the murderous treatment which the red men themselves deal out to their deadliest enemies."
But, the greatest fault of the Germans (besides their ardent opposition to the Know-Nothings) remained their opposition to slavery. In what the Herald called a failed attempt to show otherwise, J.C. Wilson met with the leaders of Bexar, Guadalupe, and Comal counties in New Braunfels. Wilson, quite drunk by the time of his speech, spoke to about fifty German men, all in their cups, and said he had defended them against the charges of abolitionism wherever he went--all of this according to a reporter from the Herald who attended the event. To prove that they were not abolitionists he wanted those opposed to abolition to squat so the abolitionists would be noticeable--intending, of course, for no one to remain standing. The Know-Nothing reporter stated that the initial response was dismal--few squatted. Was it the alcohol, the language barrier, or was it simply the fact that the Germans were abolitionists that kept the majority standing? The few who squatted told those standing that it was all right and that they should squat, but it took a long time to get the Germans to become the squatting majority. It appeared to the reporter from the Herald that the Germans were not much opposed to abolitionism. Further proof that the Germans were abolitionists came from both regional and local sources. The Herald printed a letter from August Siemering of Sisterdale in Comal County written to the editor of the German Die Union of Galveston stating that neither Siemering nor anyone else in the community would be an agent for Die Union because it was not for abolition. Siemering stated that "[t]he same opinion is entertained by the greater portion of the population of Fredericksburg, San Antonio, and New Braunfels.".
Closer to home the Herald reported that most Germans in San Antonio were opposed to slavery. Some had suggested otherwise and there was even talk of starting another German language newspaper. The Herald scoffed at the idea. The German citizens of San Antonio did not disagree with the opinions of the Zeitung, they simply disliked the trouble the paper caused by revealing the true sentiments of the Germans. The German citizens opposed slavery, but did not want to pay the price that open opposition to slavery would cost. An example was "our District Surveyor" (Gustavus Friesleben) who before his election supported the "resolutions of May 1853," the abolitionist views of Adolf Douai, but when he found those views unpopular he switched sides. His actions were merely a mirror for all the Germans in the United States. Those in the North were ardent abolitionists while those in the South claimed to support slavery. The Herald wandered how a people recently removed from a country where slavery did not exist could so quickly adopt it, while their countrymen who moved to the northern states were adamantly opposed to the institution? "We cannot believe them both sincere in their professions."
Even German protests that they were not abolitionists were turned against the Germans by the Know-Nothings or were simply ignored. Perhaps the best proof that both the Herald and Douai were wrong in their beliefs that most Germans opposed slavery was State Representative Jacob Waelder. Despite the claims that the Germans were abolitionists, Waelder was openly pro-slavery, though not apparently a slaveholder himself. Proof that he was acceptable to Anglos on the slavery question came at the State Democratic Convention in Austin in January 1856. One delegate was expelled from the convention because "he was not considered sound on the slavery question," however Waelder was elected by the State Convention as a delegate to the National Convention. The Herald ignored Waelder's pro-slavery stand and scoffed at his accusation that a Know-Nothing had written the abolitionist articles printed in the Zeitung. Waelder's assessment contradicted Douai's own statement, the Herald reported, since Douai stated that the abolitionist views in the paper were his own. The Herald also disputed that Douai's selling of the Zeitung proved the Germans were not abolitionists. When Douai sold the paper its circulation was higher than it had been when he began his abolitionist crusade. Neither subscribers nor stockholders had abandoned him during his abolitionist crusade; they had only done so when he lost advertisers because he had written an article critical of the Jews. He then sold the paper to another German, Mr. Oswald, but slavery had nothing to do with the sale. The proof that the Germans of San Antonio were against slavery was that 99 percent of the Germans in Western Texas were opposed to slavery. This was demonstrated by the fact that Waelder's pro slavery stand got him only four votes in Fredericksburg while the abolitionist candidate got hundreds of votes.
When Hugo Frederick Oswald, the new owner of the Zeitung responded that in fact subscriptions had fallen from 400 to 260 by the time he purchased the paper, and that he had brought the subscriptions back up to 400 by rejecting the anti-slavery material, the Herald merely responded that the Germans were opposed to slavery and that if in San Antonio they did not show it, it was only because they were not yet powerful enough to successfully challenge the institution. In fact, when the Germans had the numbers, they would not only challenge slavery, they would create a free state of Western Texas, and the Know-Nothings warned that at the rate of immigration the Germans would have those numbers in a short time, because "[n]ot one in every hundred of them is in favor of slavery." The Herald reported that the German vote combined with the Hispanic vote would create a free state of Western Texas.
As the day of the national election approached, the Know-Nothings tried a new tack. Instead of merely labeling the Germans abolitionists, they tried to link them to the most dangerous of abolitionists, the Republican party, and to a conspiracy to forcefully overthrow slavery. In an article on page one of the Herald entitled "The Mask Thrown Off! The German Conspiracy Confessed," the paper reported that the purpose of the German Turnverein organizations, clubs where the Germans became physically fit, was not to make the Germans physically fit but to make them fit for war so that they could more easily overthrow the American institutions. The paper denounce the German "Patriots of '48" who had been welcomed into the United States but who had turned out to be "imported infidels, atheists, socialists, Fourierites, Red Republicans and anarchists."
Courting the Mexicans and attacking the Germans were nothing new for the Know-Nothings, but they added another enemy following the August election of 1855, the Irish. The attacks on the Irish were coupled with an older Know-Nothing theme--the Democrats were merely office seekers who cared nothing for principle. The Herald reported that the "Demo-Kroutic party is the euphoneous [sic] title by which the anti-American alliance is now known. It is understood this includes Irish-potatocracy." In fact the fictional Paddy Van Hachetswiler became a reporter for the Herald. Paddy was, of course, a Democrat, and he instructed the readers of the Herald on the ways of Democratic politics and on how the Democrats kept offices out of the hands of native Americans.
This ar a great kuntry, and its got sum great men it, and thar ar on our side, Gineral; and tha no better than any body else how great tha ar. Oh! it would do you good all over to see 'em stand on the street on a Sunday mornin' and tellin' the Dutch and peons and furriners the beauties of demi-kroutcy. Tha ort iu be in Kongress, ev'ry one on 'em, and they no it. Paddy Van Hachetswiler
It was no mistake that the foreigners spent Sunday mornings on the street taking government jobs from true Americans--church attending native born Protestants. On another occasion Paddy reported on the visit of Democratic Governor-elect E.M. Pease to San Antonio. Pease was, of course surrounded by the local Democratic officials--mentioned were Col. Wilson, Gen. Waul, Judge Paschal, Judge Devine, Judge Buckner, Judge McLeod, and Mr. Lockwood. The gist of the article was that all of these men craved office, but there were not enough offices to go around. Judge Buckner, for instance, wanted an office, "[b]ut Judge Devine wants that, and he's a furriner, and ef we don't get the furring vote we ain't no whar." Even the slaves were used to reveal the desire for office and the lack of principle among the Democrats.
It was reported that two slaves were in a storm in a small boat on the Mississippi and one in terror dropped to his knees and prayed.
Oh, Massa God! jest let us git to shore wunst more, and I give de church six taller candles.
Whar in de debil you gwine to git 'em frum. Cudgo?" axed Sambo.
"Hush, Sambo! for de Lord's sake hush! I no gwine to guv 'em at all. I just tell him so.
Just so were the Democrats. But the Know-Nothings, in their own eyes, were much different.
The high point of the Know-Nothings existence following the summer defeat was a rally held in Austin and presided over by Sam Houston. The numbers at the rally and Houston's presence there gave the party a respectability and sense of popularity it would not otherwise have had. The November rally portrayed the Know-Nothings as a party of principle, making them superior to the Democrats despite the defeat at the ballot box. Forty flag waving Know-Nothings from San Antonio, led by Colonel Wilcox, headed for Austin on the morning of November 20.. Among the forty were the eight Bexar County delegates who would help conduct the official business of the party while in the capital city. The senior editor of the Herald joined the San Antonio delegation for the trip and reported the results of the rally in the next edition of the Herald. The rally was a great success. At least 2,500 people attended it, yet despite a boisterous spirit and the excitement caused by the presence of General Houston, the whole affair was orderly and first class. The reason for such good order was that the "Americans [were] actuated by principle and love of country; the Bombshells by a desire for office and a love of spoils." The rally was reported to be at least equal in attendance to the "Bombshell" meeting that was held in Austin early in the month. The meeting left the Know-Nothings and the Herald flushed with an aura of success that was not warranted. The editors glee that the Know-Nothing rally was at least equal to the Democratic rally that proceeded it showed a willingness to believe one piece of attractive evidence and ignore many pieces that were not attractive. The editor and the San Antonio Know-Nothings knew that they did not even field candidates at the city level, but the rally assured them that at the state level the party would, in time, surpass the Democrats. By the simple procedure of belief, what the Know-Nothings saw in Austin was made to be true nationwide--all of America, even San Antonio, would come to agree with the Know-Nothings' definition of American.
Despite all the pronouncements of the Herald, and all of the local meetings and the state rally of the Know-Nothings, the party never mounted a serious challenge to the Democrats following the August 1855 election. The Know-Nothings were still noisy enough (and had shown the ability to at least mount an opposition slate in August 1855) to cause the Democrats to fear, but the fact that the Democrats could overcome a split within their own ranks during the city elections in December 1855 (they did the same at the county level in August 1856) and still win was proof that the Know-Nothings were not a real threat. Still the Democrats worried and clashed with the Know-Nothings, but not to the same degree that they had prior to the August 1855 election.
In one area, however, the Democrats still felt unsure. Their association with the Germans and the Germans association with abolitionism was a tender spot and one the Democrats sought to overcome. The Ledger insisted that the Germans were not abolitionists and that the San Antonio Zeitung did not represent the German citizens of Bexar County. In fact the German paper did not even represent the sentiments of the majority of German citizens living in the northern states, who, like their southern brethren, were loyal Democrats. Also the Ledger reported that, try as they might, the Know-Nothings could not successfully campaign against their own definition of American. "The object of this organization shall be to place in all offices of honor, trust, or profit in the gift of the people, or by appointment, none but native-born Protestant citizens." Why, the Ledger asked, did people vote against the Know-Nothings? Because common sense was not bound by ethnicity.
Supporting the Germans did not mean that the Ledger was in any way soft on abolitionism. After having spent much time defending the Germans, the paper attacked Douai and all who supported abolitionism. The Ledger was incensed that anyone who adopted Texas as his home would then attack it. The editor of the Ledger invited the editor of the Zeitung and his opinion out of town and wondered why the editor of the Herald defended the abolitionist rag. He also challenged the German businessmen in San Antonio to start another German paper, noting that the editor of the Zeitung had played into the hands of the Know-Nothings. The editor also congratulated the Spanish language newspaper El Bejareño (in one of the few times Mexican interests were mentioned) on not supporting abolitionist ideas.
As with the issue of abolitionism, each party accused the other of desiring to foment violence against the other following the election of August 1855. It did not seem that either side actually intended violence against the other, and both sides denied any intention of using violence, so the accusations of violence were, like so much of politics, just words. But on one occasion violence occurred, and each party blamed the other for it. However as in every other case in the contest between the Democrats and Know-Nothings, the latter got the worst of it.
In celebrating its victory following the August 1855 election, the Ledger reported the following conversation. "'I can tell all the Know-nothings in San Antonio,' said a young lady, the day after the late election." 'How?' inquired her lady friend. 'Oh! because they are all carrying six-shooters. The Democrats are unarmed.'" This was a cute way of saying that the Know-Nothings tended to be violent. The Ledger followed with an article that was reported to have been copied from a Know-Nothing paper again blaming the Catholic clergy for their defeat; the article ended: "IF THIS COURSE WILL NOT ENSURE THE SUCCESS OF AMERICAN PRINCIPLES OVER THE DEMAGOGUERY AND SUPERSTITION THAT CONTROLLED THE LATE ELECTION, THEN WE MUST RESULT TO ULTERIOR MEASURES TO PROTECT OUR RIGHTS AND SECURE OUR INTERESTS." Although violence was not mentioned, the intent was obvious.
The Herald responded with proof that the Know-Nothings, rather than fomenting violence, had conversely prevented it. The Herald reported that there had been a great controversy between the San Antonio Texan and the Zeitung. The Texan opposed the abolitionist views of the Zeitung but failed to persuade the editor of the German paper to change his views. The Texan then adopted some of the Know-Nothings views, but the move caused it to lose subscribers. Either out of anger or in an attempt to prove its worthiness to the readers, the Texan attempted to incite violence against the Zeitung by printing "extracts copied from their papers, which was evidently done with the view of exciting our citizens to mob the Zeitung office." The Herald came to the rescue of the Zeitung, fearing violence and hoping to
prevent our city from being disgraced by mob violence, notwithstanding we were not on friendly terms with the editor of the Zeitung. And we know, that if it had not been for prominent members of the American party, the German paper would not have been in existence to aid the Texan in misrepresenting and vilifying native-born citizens.
As was true of much that occurred in San Antonio in the 1850's, the issue of violence was finally focused on the brothers Devine. Mayor J.M. Devine's brother was Thomas J. Devine, the Judge of the Fourth District Court for many years. They became the focus of much of the Know-Nothings wrath during the year from August 1855 to August 1856. In December 1855, the Know-Nothings damned Judge T.J. Devine, in response to his attack upon the Know-Nothings and the Herald. Judge Devine was adjudged a liar of long standing, most notably "in the transfer of fifty-three city lots to his brother." But it was, the Herald reported, an act consistent with his character.
Slang, slander and falsehood are his favorite weapons, and in their use he is such an adept, that before he can be cornered in one falsehood, he will have given utterance to any number of new ones. And when finally cornered, he will take back all that he has said, and erringly sign a LIBEL, (as he has done in two instances,) to save his cowardly carcass from merited castigation. He has been published as a willful, malicious liar on several occasions, and tamely submitted.
The act of violence, though, came months later and was committed by J.M. Devine. The background of the violence was the political battle that heated up in the summer of 1856.
August 1856 was another election opportunity. County officers were being selected as were the electors for the presidential race. The national race, at least, gave the Know-Nothings, who still fielded no local nominees, someone to campaign for instead of against. The specific incident that resulted in violence concerned the Mexican voters and the Ranchero, a Spanish language newspaper that the Know-Nothings believed was financed and run by the Democrats to profane the Know-Nothings. The Herald reported a meeting of Know-Nothings on July 29, the purpose of which was to discuss an article printed in the Ranchero. The meeting was chaired by John Stewart McDonald, himself a former mayor of San Antonio. The Know-Nothings were upset over claims in the Ranchero that the Know-Nothings intended to burn Catholic churches. Mayor Devine labeled the meeting a mob. Fuel was added to the fire when the Herald printed some of the Ranchero's articles in English. In response Devine issued a Law and Order handbill and deputized citizens to keep the peace. When this occurred, McDonald confronted Devine in the latter's store. What conversation took place between the two was unknown, but Devine shot and killed McDonald. Following the killing he dispatched riders to the Missions and Mexican ranches warning them that McDonald had been killed and that the Know-Nothings were on the way to attack the Mexican citizens. Remarkably, there was no more violence, which was proof that none was really wanted by either party, and that had McDonald and Devine not met in the heat of anger none would have occurred.
Following the killing, Mayor Devine "surrendered himself into the hands of the Sheriff of Bexar Co." He was replaced temporarily as mayor by Francios Giraud, Mayor pro tem, and was absent from the Council meeting on August 1, but was back as mayor by August 12. The Herald and the Ledger had vastly different versions of the incident.
Before the death of McDonald, the Herald reported that in an attempt to keep the Mexican voters in the fold, the Democrats, used the Ranchero as a cover, and spread the lie that the Know-Nothings planned to use violence against the Mexican citizens. Devine, the Herald reported, had concocted the story of violence against the Mexicans. When McDonald entered his store, Devine killed McDonald and then, claiming self-defense, used the murder to show that the Know-Nothings had resorted to violence to achieve their ends. Of Devine, the Herald stated that he was "a dastardly wretch" who lied and committed murder "for political effect." The paper further reported that Devine was "a dangerous character and should be held up to the scorn and contempt of all high minded and honorable men, as a being to be watched and shunted." By that time a preliminary hearing had already begun. It was noted by the Herald that Devine was assessed a $5,000 bail, and must therefore be guilty. That Devine was the cause of the violence was clear by his other actions. Had Devine not issued the handbill calling for the deputation of all citizens to keep the peace following the Know-Nothing meeting on July 29, there would have been no sense of impending violence in the city, and McDonald would not have been murdered. The handbill "issued by the Mayor, was...the cause of more excitement and ill feeling than all the articles...published." It was also "the cause of J.S. McDonald's death." The Know-Nothings, the Herald reported, were blameless, all they had done was to determine that the Devine brothers were the authors of the offensive articles that had been translated into Spanish and printed in the Ranchero. The Devines were not alone, however; Judge McLeod, General Waul, and Colonel J.C. Wilson also contributed to the Ranchero. The Herald labeled "J.M. Devine's Voluntary Statement" a piece of fabrication, but it revealed some interesting facts. Devine had spies who spied on the Know-Nothings to determine the meaning of their secret code; by this means he erroneously determined that the Know-Nothings were about to precipitate violent action against the editor of the Ranchero. In reality J.S. McDonald and M.G. Cotton were under orders to talk to Quintero, the editor of the Ranchero, determine who was responsible for the libelous articles, and report back to the committee. However, the mayor panicked and ordered "all goyd [sic] citizens, without regard to party distinction, to assemble at the Mayor's office forthwith, and be sworn in as special police." Because of the excitement the Democratic party was to be on Military plaza the next morning armed--in reality they were to protect the Devine brothers, the real authors of the articles printed in the Ranchero. "Before their victim was yet cold" the Democrats had sent the false word out that the Know-Nothings were on a rampage, that they were out to get the Germans and Mexicans, but to protect them J.M. Devine had killed the Know-Nothing leader, McDonald. Devine was unrepentant even in jail. He was reported to have stated that had others done their part as he had done, there would be no Know-Nothings. The final report on the incident was a response by the Herald's new editor, J.D. Logan to a demand by J.M. Devine that Logan recant of an editorial he had written following the no bill decision of the Grand Jury concerning Devine's shooting of McDonald. Devine adamantly demanded an apology, but Logan believed that Devine's over zealousness to prove his innocence, the $5,000 bail imposed on Devine by Chief Justice Hemphill, and the fact that Devine had not been acquitted by a public jury, but by a Grand Jury which contained a number of Mexicans, were all proof that Devine was guilty. Justice had become politicized, reported Logan, and guilt or innocence was assumed by party.
The Ledger was almost silent on the incident. In an article copied by the Herald, the Ledger was reported to have stated that "From the testimony thus far adduced no person of a candid and impartial mind can come to any other conclusion than that Dr. Devine killed McDonald in self defense. He was attacked by him in his own store without any previous notice."
Much of what occurred remains unknown. Certainly J.M. Devine killed McDonald, but the evidence in the papers and the Council Journal Book is too sparse to make a further judgment. Devine was charged with the murder but returned to his duties as mayor where he remained until June 4, 1857, when he left for New York. Nevertheless, for political purposes, what was important was that the Democrats won the county elections in August 1856, as they had won the city elections in December 1855, against a challenge from those who split off from the Democratic party, and they followed that with an overwhelming victory against the Know-Nothings in the national elections in November 1856. The Democrats won Bexar County by a vote of 747-370 and won every precinct except one. With their thorough defeat in the presidential election, the Know-Nothings disappeared from the nation and from San Antonio.
The Know-Nothings sought to change the basis of America and by doing so to change the definition of American. They opposed the right of the free practice of religion by native Americans and the right of people not born in the United States to become truly Americans. By attempting to change the definition of American, however, the Know-Nothings forced the people of San Antonio to examine their own definition of what an American was and by doing so broaden the definition to fit all people who wanted to become Americans. There were exceptions of course to which both parties agreed: Indians, slaves, and abolitionists were deemed unfit for citizenship. Ironically, attempts to gain political support in San Antonio caused the Know-Nothings to accept a definition of American almost as broad as that of the Democrats, although the Know-Nothings refused to acknowledge German immigrants as fitting the definition. In rhetoric, at least, there was little difference between the parties. But had the definition of American actually changed, or was the rhetoric merely empty words? Were Germans, Hispanics, and Catholics truly accepted as American? The new, broad definition of American was soon to be tested by a series of incidents termed the Cart War.
Texas, Secretary of State Election Returns, 1855, Bexar County (Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin; cited hereafter as ADTSL); In addition to winning the races for all state legislators in Bexar County, the Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor also won; E.M. Pease defeated David C. Dickson 1682-619 and H.R. Runnels defeated M.G.W. Lewis 1667-612.
San Antonio Herald, Nov. 20, 1855 (quotation); San Antonio, Council Journal, Book B, Dec. 24, 1855, 304, July 19, 1855, 332 (City Clerk's Office; cited hereafter as SACCO); San Antonio Western Texan, Aug. 3, 1854.
United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules; Frederick C. Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio: Genealogies of the Early Latin, Anglo-American, and German Families with Occasional Biographies (San Antonio: Artes Graficas, 1937), 264; Casino Club Papers, 1856 (John Peace Collection: University of Texas at San Antonio); San Antonio Ledger, Nov. 17, 1855 (first quotation); San Antonio Herald, Dec. 12 (second quotation), Dec. 26, 1855.
San Antonio Herald, Aug. 21, 1855 (first quotation), July 26, 1856, Sept. 4, 1855; San Antonio Ledger, Aug. 25, 1855 (second quote); the best proof that the Hispanics voted in block against the Know-Nothings was the ire of the Know-Nothing press. The vote for state officials was not broken down by precinct and city officials were elected city wide and no breakdown by ward was given in the city's newspapers nor in the council minutes, see Texas, Secretary of State Election Returns, 1855, Bexar County (ADTSL) and San Antonio, Council Journal, Book B, Dec. 24, 1855, 347 (SACCO).
San Antonio Ledger, Nov. 17, 1855; United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Slave Schedules; Ernest William Winkler (ed.), Platforms of Political Parties in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1916), 64 (quotation); San Antonio Herald, Dec. 5, 1855, May 17, 1856.