The American Protective Association was founded in 1887 by Henry Francis Bowers
in Clinton City, Iowa
. Losing an election to a Catholic candidate there, he became convinced that a vast conspiracy of Catholic voters had prevented his election. Since Bowers was a mason, it drew much of its inspiration and membership from the freemason
s, with such borrowings as elaborate rituals, secret signals, and archaic heirarchy. The two organizations frequently collaborated. The APA took a position of strict exclusion of Catholics from all aspects of life: labor, social, and political. The anti-Catholicism
encouraged by the APA fed on mainly racist
fears of a new gathering tide of immigrant
s from Southern and Eastern Europe
s were terrified of the growing power of Catholics, believing that their loyality to Pope
was greater than their loyality to the United States. In the APA's paranoid
worldview, the Catholics would infest the public schools
with Papal doctrine, hand over control of the government to the Vatican
, and eventually take over the world.
During its heyday the APA was an extremely powerful organization. It had a hand in every election in every constituency throughout the Midwest (its main base of support) during the 1890s. One could simply not win an election without catering to the APA, and if one was a Catholic... good luck. The heavy presence of Italians and Irish on the East coast weakened the APA's power in that area somewhat, however it was still a force with which to contend. Besides political advocacy, the APA engaged in a great deal of lobbying for harsher immigration law. Especially favored was a literacy test, which would ensure that there would be almost no chance of another Southern or Eastern European passing through New York harbor. Other activities included the sponsorship of 'shocking true stories' from ex-nuns about the lustful, lavicious sexual exploits conducted behind closed doors in convents and Catholic schools. The titilation provided by these fantasies were an excellent advertising scheme for attracting new members.
All members of the organization were required to recite this secret oath:
I do most solemnly promise and swear that I will always, to the utmost of my ability, labor, plead and wage a continuous warfare against ignorance and fanaticism; that I will use my utmost power to strike the shackles and chains of blind obedience to the Roman Catholic church from the hampered and bound consciences of a priest-ridden and church-oppressed people; that I will never allow any one, a member of the Roman Catholic church, to become a member of this order, I knowing him to be such; that I will use my influence to promote the interest of all Protestants everywhere in the world that I may be; that I will not employ a Roman Catholic in any capacity if I can procure the services of a Protestant.
I furthermore promise and swear that I will not aid in building or maintaining, by my resources, any Roman Catholic church or institution of their sect or creed whatsoever, but will do all in my power to retard and break down the power of the Pope, in this country or any other; that I will not enter into any controversy with a Roman Catholic upon the subject of this order, nor will I enter into any agreement with a Roman Catholic to strike or create a disturbance whereby the Catholic employes may undermine and substitute their Protestant co-workers; that in all grievances I will seek only Protestants and counsel with them to the exclusion of all Roman Catholics, and will not make known to them anything of any nature matured at such conferences.
I furthermore promise and swear that I will not countenance the nomination, in any caucus or convention, of a Roman Catholic for any office in the gift of the American people, and that I will not vote for, or counsel others to vote for, any Roman Catholic, but will vote only for a Protestant, so far as may lie in my power. Should there be two Roman Catholics on opposite tickets, I will erase the name on the ticket I vote; that I will at all times endeavor to place the political positions of this government in the hands of Protestants, to the entire exclusion of the Roman Catholic church, of the members thereof, and the mandate of the Pope.
To all of which I do most solemnly promise and swear, so help me God. Amen.
Their statement of principles, a document distributed to the public, went as such:
First: Loyalty to true Americanism, which knows neither birthplace, race, creed, or party, is the first requisite for membership in the American Protective Association.
Second: The American Protective Association is not a political party and does not control the political affiliations of its members.
Third: While tolerant of all creeds, it holds that the subjection to and support of any ecclesiastical power, not created and controlled by American citizens, and which claims equal, if not greater, sovereignty than the government of the United States of America, is irreconciliable with American citizenship. It is therefore opposed to the holding of offices in National, State, or Municipal government by any subject or supporter of such ecclesiastical power.
Fourth: We uphold the constitution of the United States of America, and no portion of it more than its guaranty of religious liberty, but we hold this religious liberty to be guaranteed to the individual and not to mean that under its protection an un-American ecclesiastical power can claim absolute control over the education of children growing up under the Stars and Stripes.
Fifth: We consider the non-sectarian free public schools, the bulwark of American institutions, the best place for the education of American children. To keep them as such we protest against the employment of subjects of any un-American ecclesiastical power as officers or teachers of our public schools.
Sixth: We condemn the support out of the public treasury by direct appropriations or by contract with any sectarian school, reformatory, or other institution now owned or controlled by the public authority.
Seventh: Believing that an exemption from taxation is equivalent to a grant of public funds, we demand that no real or personal property be exempt from taxation, the title to which is not vested in the National or State governments, or in any of their subdivisions.
Eighth: We protest against the enlistment in the United States army, navy, or the militia of any State, of any persons not an actual citizen of the United States.
Sound reasonable? Not particularly; it was plain and simple bigotry. Fortunately enough, the power of the APA began to wane in the late 1890s. The election of McKinley to the presidency, a candidate who had refused to consort with the APA, signaled the organization's death knell. As control of political machines slipped from their grasp, more and more members abandoned the organization because they had merely joined it out of desire for power. By the early 1900s, it was more or less ignored and forgotten.
Bailey, Thomas A., Kennedy, David M., Cohen, Lizabeth. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998
Protestant Paranoia: The American Protective Association Oath. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5351/
1896: McKinley and the APA. http://iberia.vassar.edu/1896/apa.html