Our Long, Forgotten History of Election-Related Violence Reply

By Jelani Cobb, New Yorker

In the fall of 1856, according to news reports, a Baltimore resident named Charles Brown was “peaceably walking along the street” when he was shot dead. It was a local Election Day, and Brown was in the vicinity of a Twelfth Ward polling place. Democrats attempting to enter it had been repelled by supporters of the American Party, better known as the Know-Nothings. For some two hours, the groups exchanged gunfire in what the Baltimore American described as “guerrilla warfare.” Brown was one of five people killed, and the newspaper marvelled that more lives were not lost. This was not an uncommon event. The American Party, a group defined by its truculent nativism, frequently deployed violence to political ends, particularly against immigrant voters. As Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace, in their book “American Violence: A Documentary History,” wrote of Baltimore, “In many districts immigrants were stopped from voting entirely.”

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