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American Protective Association, The

Secret proscriptive society in the United States

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American Protective Association, the, usually known as “the A. P. A.”, a secret proscriptive society in the United States, which became a disturbing factor in most of the Northern States during the period 1891-97. Its purpose was indicated clearly enough by its open activity in arranging lectures by “ex-priests”, distributing anti-Catholic literature and opposing the election of Catholics to public offices. Of the A. P. A. ritual and obligations there was frequent publication during the years 1893-94, now divulged by spies, and now admitted by ex-members. What purports to be a full exhibit of these oaths may be found in the “Congressional Record”, October 31, 1893, in the petition of H. M. Youmans for the unseating of Representative-in-Congress William S. Linton. These oaths bound members “at all times to endeavor to place the political positions of this government in the hands of Protestants to the entire exclusion of the Roman Catholics” etc. The first Council of the A. P. A. was established March 13, 1887, at Clinton, Iowa. The founder was Henry F. Bowers, a lawyer of that town, a Marylander by birth, and then in his sixtieth year. The order seems to have spread slowly. Its first outcropping in local politics occurred in 1891 at Omaha, Neb., where it endorsed the Republican ticket and swept the town (heretofore Democratic) by a large majority. The A. P. A. seems to have moved down the Missouri river from Omaha. In Missouri, Kansas City was its first conspicuous base. After the fall election of 1892, a delegation representing the A. P. A. of Kansas City asked Governor-elect Stone to blacklist all Catholics when making appointments. “Your association”, replied Governor Stone, “is undemocratic and un-American, and I am opposed to it. I haven’t a drop of Know-Nothing blood in my veins”. The following cities are among the more important which were generally regarded as under A. P. A. political dominance during all, or a portion, of the period of 1893-96: Omaha, Kansas City, Rockford (Ill.), Toledo, Duluth, Saginaw, Louisville; and, to some extent, Detroit, St. Louis, and Denver. In New York its principal activity was at Buffalo and Rochester. Pennsylvania (where the so-called patriotic societies were numerous), Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were also overrun, politically, by the new order. It was particularly militant in California. If we except Kentucky and Tennessee, the A. P. A. made but little impression in the South, although there were mild outcroppings in Georgia and Texas.

The most interesting aspect of the movement, the course and methods of its early growth, the conditions and provocations, if any, which gave it such a widespread and numerous following are precisely the aspects which are most hidden, and most difficult to determine. A marked loosening of party ties in 1892, and the hard times and industrial unrest of 1893 undoubtedly assisted the A. P. A. movement. Its founder, Henry F. Bowers, informs the writer that the coming of Monsignor Satolli, papal delegate, was the greatest single stimulus the movement received. Capital was also made out of parochial-school questions, then much current in the public press, the Faribault system in Minnesota, the Edwards law in Illinois, and the Bennett law in Wisconsin. From Boston a “Committee of One Hundred” flooded the press and the legislatures, from 1888 to 1892, with “anti-Romanist” documents. Writing in “The Century Magazine” for March, 1894, the Rev. Washington Gladden tells us that the A. P. A. movement began operations in each locality where it spread by “the furtive distribution of certain documents calculated to engender fear and distrust of the Catholics”. Of these documents there were, he says, two: one purporting to be instructions to Catholics, apparently bearing the signature of eight prelates of the Catholic Church; and the other, the famous “papal bull”, or encyclical, calling for the massacre of the Protestants “on or about the feast of St. Ignatius in the year of our Lord, 1893”. The A. P. A. movement began to develop a press early in 1893; and in 1894 seventy A. P. A. weeklies were in existence. Nearly all of these were publications of very limited circulation, few of them printing, except around election time, more than a thousand copies. They used “plate matter” and kept “standing” several columns of reading defamatory of the Catholic Church, such as alleged Jesuit and Cardinal oaths, “canon law”, and a list of unauthenticated “quotations” ascribed to Catholic sources. What Ignatius Donnelly said in the course of his discussion with “Prof.” Sims aptly applied to this matter: “I want to say, my friends, that I do not believe in some of the authorities quoted by the professor [Sims]; I doubt their authenticity. When he comes up here and admits that the A. P. A. organization sent out an encyclical of the Pope that was bogus and published documents which were forgeries, he casts doubt on every document he may produce. False in one thing, false in all”. Very naturally, Catholic citizens vigorously opposed the A. P. A., and everywhere had the best of the battle in the open forum. Their press was unremitting in its assault upon the new movement. Public meetings and anti-A. P. A. lectures and pamphlets were among the means employed. Here and there associations were formed for purposes of defense; and in many places the council meetings of the A. P. A. were systematically watched, and lists of the members procured and circulated. Under the stress of public discussion the secret movement was at a disadvantage, and time and again A. P. A. leaders confessed the desirability of discarding their secret methods and coming out in the open, and also casting aside the intolerant features of their movement.

Professor Johnston, explaining in “The American Encyclopedia of Politics” the failure and sudden collapse of the American party after 1854, says: “The existence of a secret and oathbound party was always an anachronism in an age and a country where free political discussion is assured”. This also was true of the A. P. A. Expressions of disapproval of the A. P. A. were evoked from prominent men in public life, such as Governor Peck of Wisconsin, Governor Altgeld of Illinois, Senators Vilas, Hoar, Vest, and Hill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Speaker Henderson. Democratic conventions, and in some instances Republican conventions, denounced the movement

by resolution. The A. P. A. reached its high tide in 1894. President Traynor, in the “North American Review” (June, 1896), says that twenty members of the Fifty-fourth Congress (1895-97) were members of the order, and “one hundred were elected by it and went back on it”. Traynor also, in this connection refers to the A. P. A. as “so dominant before, and so insignificant after election”. He claimed for it (June, 1896) a membership of 2,500,000, and threatened that should the old parties refuse to endorse its essential principles, “it is absolutely certain to put up an independent presidential ticket”. On the other hand, Professor Walter Sims, at first an A. P. A. lecturer and afterwards the founder of a rival organization, speaking in Minneapolis in 1895, said: “It is a great bugaboo.. There is not a membership in the United States of 120,000, but they call it a million”. The truth lay somewhere between the calculating boastfulness of Traynor and the resentful disparagement of Sims. There is no reason to think that in its palmiest days the A. P. A. could count on its roster of membership over a million voters. Numerically, it never equalled the old American party of 1854-57, which once had five United States senators and twenty-three congressmen wearing its livery.

Unlike the Know-Nothing movement, the A. P. A. did not form a distinct party. Its political activity consisted in capturing Republican primaries and conventions, and promoting local candidacies. Also unlike the Know-Nothing party, it invited and admitted to membership thousands of foreign-born persons. In southeastern Michigan the strongest element in the A. P. A. were Anglo-Canadians; in Milwaukee, the Germans predominated; and in Minneapolis, Scandinavians. Few men of any prominence in public life were members of the A. P. A., although it undoubtedly initiated a number of mayors and sheriffs throughout the West; with the exception of Governor William O. Bradley, of Kentucky, and Representative-in-Congress William S. Linton, of Michigan, no men of higher than local official dignity openly acknowledged fealty to the order. In 1895 the A. P. A. was overthrown in the earliest stronghold, Saginaw, Mich., and in 1896 its defeat here was further emphasized by the failure of Representative-in-Congress Linton to secure a reelection. The Bryan wave cleared Omaha and the Nebraska field of A. P. A-ism, and in Toledo “Golden Rule” Jones deprived it of its last local citadel, in 1897. The A. P. A. national organization made a spasmodic effort to prevent the nomination of William McKinley in 1896, and when the futility of this effort was apparent the plan was to secure recognition in the Republican national platform for one or more of the principles of the order, preferably for that opposing appropriations to sectarian institutions. This also failed. President-elect McKinley’s appointment (March, 1897) of a Catholic (Judge McKenna, of California) in his first cabinet probably best illustrates the subsequent estimate that the Republican leaders had of the importance of the A. P. A., or of the necessity of being regardful of its resentments; and although this act of the new administration, as well as the appointment of Bellamy Storer to an important diplomatic mission, and of Terence V. Powderly as Commissioner of Immigration, drew forth bitter protests from the proscriptive leaders, there was not a ripple of antagonism in either house of Congress or in any of the great newspaper organs of the party. It may have been that many Republican leaders rather enjoyed the discomfiture of the A. P. A., in view of the swaggering tone its followers had assumed in its more prosperous days. For not a few prominent Republicans, like Senators Hoar and Hawley, Thomas B. Reed, Levi P. Morton, and John Sherman, had been made the targets of its bitter attack and innuendo. In fact, it seems probable that during the years 1894-96, the A. P. A. was considerably more of a vexation to the leaders of the Republican party than to the prelates of the Catholic Church. The loss of prestige due to these several notable discomfitures in national politics told on the membership of the A. P. A. Its councils failed to meet, its state organizations fell into desuetude, and, although it preserved its national organization by elections up to 1900, its history may be said to have closed for all purposes of general interest. H. F. Bowers was reelected its national president in 1898, an office which he still holds (1906). Although the A. P. A. had a platform calling for not a few changes in the laws, and in the policies of government, it failed to establish any of its demands, or to bring into our history any new departure in statecraft. Upon two matters only did the A. P. A. leave a record, though a rather ineffective one, in Congress. It joined in the opposition prevalent for a time against further grants of federal money to the Catholic Indian schools; and it sought to prevent the acceptance by Congress of the Marquette statue, presented by the State of Wisconsin to the nation, pursuant to a law of Congress.


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