Semester of Graduation

Summer 2023


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



This thesis analyzes the Catholic Creoles who joined the nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party in antebellum New Orleans. The ethnic, religious, and political diversity in New Orleans created a tense environment and a struggle for power between Catholic Creoles, Anglo-Americans, foreign French clergy, and primarily Irish immigrants. Many Creole Catholics believed Anglo-Americans illegally enfranchised immigrants in exchange for their vote. This belief was reinforced when Charles Gayarré, a Catholic Creole politician from a prominent, wealthy family lost the election of 1853 to an Anglo-American. Gayarré and other Catholic Creoles subsequently joined the Know-Nothing Party in an act of desperation to save their political power from the Anglo-Americans and immigrants. The Catholic clergy, comprised of primarily foreign French missionaries, urged the Creoles to be aware of the party’s anti-Catholicism. However, some Creole Catholics ignored the anti-Catholic nature of the Know-Nothings, and believed they were less threatening than immigrant Catholics. Ultimately, the Know-Nothing Party could not ignore their Catholicism and barred Gayarré from entry to the national convention. The Catholic Know-Nothings in New Orleans can be used to understand nativism, xenophobia, and the pervasive question of who should have political power in the United States.



Committee Chair

Michael Pasquier

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