The Know-Nothings were a briefly successful political party in the United States in the mid-1850s. They acquired the nickname of Know-Nothings from their secretive habit of saying “I know nothing,” if outsiders asked about their activities. They were also known as the American Party or Native Americans.
The Know-Nothings loathed the Papacy, and wanted to restrict Catholic immigration into the country.
Inevitably, perhaps, there was spin-off merchandise, items such as Know-Nothing tea, dance steps, and even an almanac. There was also an 1855 romance novel with a Know-Nothing love story—-The Winkles; Or, The Merry Monomaniacs, written by John Beauchamp Jones.
The male lead is one Walter Winkle, a Know-Nothing who hasn’t told family or friends about his membership. His love interest is Virginia Oakdale, who—of course—is not a member. Complications soon ensue.
Another major female character is Honoria Fimble. When she speaks of the Know-Nothings. Walter averts “his head just in time to escape the range of her dark eyes.” Honoria believes she and her fellow Catholics “are menaced by a secret organization, whose ramifications extend into every locality.”
Walter responds by saying he does not fear the Know-Nothings, but does fear “the Jesuits; which it is said, aim to obtain the supreme power in all governments.”
After this, Walter has trouble with his romance with Virginia, due to a series of faked letters from somebody. Honoria re-appears, and admits that she is responsible. Also, that she was reared in a convent, and all during her life she has been “the instrument of the Jesuits.” As a Jesuit, her superiors allow her to use even deception to advance their agenda. They even have agents inside the Know-Nothing Party.
Honoria explains all this to Walter, for she has fallen in love with him, and is ready to renounce her works, and run away with him. But Walter remembers Virginia, even if the reader might not, and says no.
Eventually, Walter and Virginia are reconciled, Walter marries Virginia, and then he goes into politics. Honoria disappears, but it is thought she went into a convent.
So the story ends, after numerous sub-plots and 424 pages, with “the Inauguration of the next President, who was an American.”
In real life, the 1856 election was won by James Buchanan, a Democrat. Former President Millard Fillmore, a Whig, ran as the Know-Nothing candidate, and carried only the state of Maryland.
Source: The Winkles; Or, The Merry Monomaniacs. By John Beauchamp Jones. New York: Appleton and Company. 1855.