The Pains of Being a Democrat in Richmond
In 1855, John Sergeant Wise, the young son of the newly elected Governor Henry Wise, was desperately trying to adapt to his new home in Richmond, Virginia. Having previously come from a rural town, John Wise was mocked by his schoolmates for being a provincial bumpkin. However, most of the abuse from his fellow students was due to his father's political persuasion as a Democrat. In one particular passage of his writing, he recounted how his days as a schoolboy in Richmond were comprised of deflecting taunts, and fighting off bullying from the sons of Whig and Know-Nothing citizens who were instilled with a hatred of all things Democrat. At this time, the Whigs had essentially joined forces with the new American, or Know-Nothing Party, against the Democrats. Many of Henry Wise's votes had come from the rural Virginia farmers and yeoman, while Richmond itself was a stronghold of Know-Nothingism.
The American Party, also known as the Know-Nothings, began in 1855. It was founded along the lines of a secret society with elaborate initiation rituals, and a series of secret passwords and coded communications between its members. Its platform was essentially radical nationalism that included anti-immigration and anti-Catholicism stances. As the Whig party began to slowly loose strength in the United States, members often threw their allegiance to the Know-Nothing Party in an attempt to continue fighting the Democrats. The Know-Nothings took power in some Northern states, and were so strong in Richmond that Democrats were referred to as The Spartan Band there.