Catholic and Immigrant Voters

Bloody Monday Illustration, 1922

Illustration of the riots in Louisville on Bloody Monday, August 6, 1855, printed in the Louisville Herald, 1922

Bloody Monday

Immigrants and religious minorities have often faced suspicion and mistrust throughout American history. In the 1850s these sentiments were directed by the Know-Nothing Party toward Catholic immigrants coming to the U.S. primarily from Ireland and Germany.

The Know-Nothing Party's platform called for the repeal of all naturalization laws and banning immigrants from holding public office. They also wanted to lengthen the time required to become a citizen and to vote. During the 1854 election, nativists took over state government in four New England states and California and won elections in Kentucky and Maryland. Anti-Catholic rioting took place in many cities, including Louisville.

On Election Day, August 6, 1855, a day that would be remembered as "Bloody Monday," Louisville erupted in anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant riots. German and Irish voters were driven from the polls, killed, and had their homes destroyed.

Contemporary Voices

"On Bloody Monday this mob commenced its work in the upper part of the city by killing young Murphy, a widowed Son who was ho was employed at the pork-houses. A Blameless young man....The terrible state of affairs can not be imagined and those who resided here at that time could not very well describe it. The wild excitement and terror was most terrible. A man could not believe in times of peace that the Americans could act so savagely."

            - Michael Heffernan (1830-1907), Memoir, ca. 1880.

"It is bad enough to have the beggars and burglars & highwaymen and murderers sent to our shores annually, bringing with them all the vices & villains & diseases of over crowded cities. But when these vagabonds of every clime and language are proclaimed entitled as of right to an equality with the Native American citizen and to neutralize his influence at the Polls we deny the assumption and denounce it as an outrage upon common sense, decency & justice."

            - Orlando Brown Papers

American Republican Manifesto Broadside, ca. 1850

Broadside declaring the American Republican Party manifesto in the 1850s: that German and Irish immigrants posed a "danger of foreign influence." This threat was magnified by the "most gross and outrageous frauds...committed under our present Naturalization system," ca. 1850s

Disenfranchised Voters in the Commonwealth
Catholic and Immigrant Voters