The American Protective Association

by Pam Epstein, Vassar '99

The American Protective Association was formed on March 13, 1887 by Henry Francis Bowers, in the city of Clinton, Iowa. Its main purpose in forming was to fight what the members saw as the threat Roman Catholicism posed for the United States. Anti-Catholicism has had a long history in America, because its traditions are often seen as contrary to the principles of the nation. What people most feared was the fact that all Catholics had some loyalty to the pope at the Vatican, which many believed superceded loyalty to their own country.

The A.P.A. formed because the loser in an election in March lost, he believed, because of the Catholic vote. Influenced also by a fear that Catholic teachings were infiltrating the public school systems, a group of men joined together and formed what became the most powerful anti-Catholic organization of the nineteenth century (Kinzer, 35). In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the A.P.A. was extremely successful throughout the country. It reached its peak of national success between 1893 and 1894; through that time the organization could claim a hand in effecting most of the local elections in the Midwest and to a lesser extent in the East (Kinzer, 92). As the overwhelming majority of the A.P.A. were members of the Republican party, with their large membership, the GOP was forced to give their desires serious thought before choosing its candidates.

However, by 1895, the A.P.A.'s membership had begun to slacken. Their influence in politics was beginning to wane, and this was disastrous for the organization, as many of its members had joined because of the political power it gave them (Desmond, 92). So early in 1896, the A.P.A. took a forceful stand against Major McKinley, who was then one of many possibilites for the Republican candidate for the presidency. The A.P.A. attacked McKinley because, unlike all the other candidates, he had refused to meet with them to discuss how he would implement their demands into his platform if nominated for the presidency. In retaliation, they spread the completely untrue rumors that he was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, that he was swayed in all his decisions as Governor of Ohio by the Catholic bishop of Columbus, and that he had two children in a convent. Moreover, there were claims that his secretary, James Boyle, and campaign manager, Mark Hanna, were also Catholics (Leech, 77).

This final stand was more of an attempt to prove the A.P.A.'s political power than out of a real belief that McKinley was pro-Catholic, although that certainly had something to do with it. In 1893, the A.P.A. had supported McKinley's candidacy for the position of Governor of Ohio. It was widely believed at the time that the A.P.A.'s support had won the race for McKinley. It was only after he had been elected that the relationship between him and the A.P.A. soured, when he refused to dismiss several appointees from their jobs because of their Catholicism. However, McKinley never outright denounced the A.P.A.. When he was asked in 1894, "What's the matter with the A.P.A.?" he obliquely replied, "The question we have to settle now is, what is the matter with the country?" So although relations between the A.P.A. and McKinley were tense, they were never hostile. This suggests that the A.P.A.'s decision to fully denounce McKinley's candidacy for the presidency came from not only their strained associations but also from a need to attack someone to prove their influence. McKinley, by refusing to play their game, proved to be that someone.

However, its failure to sway the choice of the party instead proved to be the downfall of the A.P.A.. The organization's complete lack of influence in the election of 1896 made it patently clear to the nation how ineffectual it was, and its already waning membership began to fall even more sharply. Though the A.P.A. remained in existence for at least another five years, it was basically ignored by the rest of the country and was, for all intensive purposes, defunct.

Beginnings of the A.P.A.

Henry Francis Bowers says:
The condition of the affairs in this country in 1887, and up to that time, was such that the institutions of our Government were controlled and the patronage was doled out by an ecclesiastical element under the direction and heavy hand of a foreign ecclesiastical potentate. This power became so influential that it stood as a unit in many places against the institutions of the country. Through the legislature of Maryland at one time it destroyed the public school system of that State. Seeing these things, I felt that it was necessary that something be done. Gathering around me six men who had the courage of their convictions, we met in my office in Clinton on March 13, 1887, and laid the foundations of the order. That same day we formulated the ritualistic work and adopted a constitution. The chief idea we had in view in the constitution was this, that we had not the right under the Constitution of this country to oppose any religious body on account of its dogmatic views, faith, etc,. but we did believe we had a right to oppose it when it became a great political factor. We believed then, and we believe now, that every man in this country has a right to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, but we did not believe that the Constitution intended to convey the right to any set of men to control and manipulate the political affairs of this country to the aggrandizement of any ecclesiastical power.

APA Statement of Principles, 1894

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.

Ninth: We demand for the protection of our citizen laborers, the prohibition of the importation of pauper labor, and the restriction of immigration to persons who can show their ability and honest intention to become self-supporting American citizens.

Tenth: We demand the change of the national naturalization laws by the repeal of the act authorizing the naturalization of minors without a previous declaration of intention, and by providing that no alien who cannot speak the language of the land, and who cannot prove seven years continuous residence in this country from the date of his declaration of intention.

Eleventh: We protest against the gross negligence and laxity with which the Judiciary of our land administer the present naturalization laws, and against the practice of naturalizing aliens at the expense of committees of candidates, as the most prolific source of the present prostitution of American citizenship to the basest uses.

Twelfth: We demand that all hospitals, asylums, reformatories, or other institutions in which people are under restraint, be at all times subject to public inspection, whether they are maintained by the public or private corporations or individuals.

Thirteenth: We demand that all National or State legislation affecting financial, commercial, or industrial interests be general in character and in no instance in favor of any one section of the country, or of any class of people.

Come ye sons of Uncle Sam,
	Come join the gallant band,
Come unite with us to fight our country's foe.
	Four our God is with the right,
	We will conquer by His might,
And the slick and wily Jesuit must go.

	Noble men are in our ranks --
	We are not a band of cranks --
We are not a lot of bigots or of fools.
	But, ye Roman Catholic hordes,
	We will buckle on our swords,
If you dare to meddle with our public schools.

Dare to be an A.P.A.,
Dare to stand alone.
Dare to work for Freedom's cause,
Dare to make it known.

Cartoons on this Site Dealing with the A.P.A. and Immigration>
April 25, Ram's Horn
June 28, L.A. Times
August 18, Rocky Mountain News
September 17, Rocky Mountain News
October 31, Ram's Horn

See also the page on Immigration

Thomas Nast, 1867

For the writings of Mary Anne Sadlier (1820-1903), an Irish-American immigrant, and for more background information on Irish-Americans and anti-immigrant prejudice, visit Liz Szabo's site at the University of Virginia, from which the two Nast images here are drawn.

Detail from an 1867 cartoon, Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly.


To the Editor of the Nation:
Sir: My fomer letter, published in your issue of November 9, called attention to the American Protective Association. There can be little doubt that this movement contributed not a little to the phenomenal majority of McKinley in the campaign just closed -- how much, of course, cannot be told. We have to deal with the often intangible influence of a secret society, and he would be a daring man who should endeavor to discover the exact number of votes lost to Neal and gained to McKinley by it. The principal reason for McKinley's great triumph was doubtless the prevailing hard times and lack of employment. The Governor conducted a splendid campaign. Almost every part of the State was visited, and he made sometimes three or four speeches a day. He remembered, no doubt, that at his door had been laid the responsibility for the two most crushing defeats ever sustained by his party, and he determined to retrieve his political fortunes. His knock-down argument was: "These are Democratic times; how do you like them?" The party in power was blamed for the distress. ...Neal's following is hardly in entire sympathy with Cleveland's administration. Many felt a desire to rebuke the party for the long and shameful obstruction in the Senate on the repeal of the silver-purchase clause of the Sherman law.
In addition to all this I am persuaded that the anti-Catholic movement had a weighty influence. This county (Franklin) is usually Democratic, but this year the Republicans carried all the offices but one. It is said that most of the Republican candidates are members of the A.P.A. Quite a number of Democrats are members of this secret organization, and have therefore taken an oath not to countenance the nomination or election of any Roman Catholic. Their votes were in all probability cast for McKinley. I am informed that representatives of that society approached one of the Democratic candidates for reelection with the promise of the support of the order if he would agree to join it, and to discharge his Roman Catholic clerks. He refused and was beaten. The one Democrat elected is reported to have joined the A.P.A. This is certainly true, that, a few days before election, the Columbus Record, the organ of the anti-Catholic movement, came out advising support of him.
At the beginning of the campaign, the Catholic Telegraph, published in Cincinnati, in an editorial asked both McKinley and Neal where they stood as regards the attempt of the A.P.A. "to abridge and destroy their civil and religious liberties." Copies of the paper were sent to both candidates. McKinley's private secretary acknowledged receiving it, and promised to bring the matter to the Governor's attention when he returned home. Nothing further was heard from Mr. McKinley. The Governor evidently knew on which side his bread was buttered, and, like a long-bearded policitian, kept a judicious silence. Mr. Neal responded at once, that he had no sympathy with any organization that sought to restrict the civil and religious liberties of the Catholic citizens of Ohio. Doubtless this courageous answer cost Mr. Neal many votes. Gov. McKinley led the ticket, receiving a total of 15,960 votes, being 1,089 more than the least number received by a winning candidate, and 255 more than the one who stood next to him. There was but one Roman Catholic in the field, the Democratic nominee for auditor. His competitor came next to McKinley in the number of votes received. There can be little doubt that a goodly number of otherwise Republican voters scratched the county ticket in opposition to the A.P.A. I heard several declare their intention to do so, and one paper on election day reported that business men were doing it to some extent. This accounts for McKinley's lead. He received the total vote of his party and, in addition, all Democrats members of, or in sympathy with, the A.P.A.
Respectfully yours, Alexander Milne
Columbus, O., November 14, 1893.
The Nation, November 23, 1893

A.P.A. circular:
After carefully analyzing the evidences adduced, the committee found to be true the charges made against one of the candidates, viz.: Ex-Gov. McKinley, of discriminating in his appointments in favor of Romanists and against American Protestants because the latter were members of the American Protective association.
Among the managers and active supporters, secret or public, of Major McKinley, are Richard Kerens, a Romanist, of Missouri, who has again and again in the public press denounced the A.P.A. organization in the most vindictive terms, and sought, but in vain, to have the national Republican committee denounce the organization; also Steven Elkins of West Virginia.
Of the other candidates, viz.: William M. Allison of Iowa, Senator Quay of Pennsylvania, Senator Cullom of Illinois, Governor Bradley of Kentucky, Governor Morton of New York, Ex-President Harrison and Thomas B. Reed, the committe was satisfied with their Americanism and sympathies with the principles of the order.

A.P.A. President Traynor says:
A review of his [McKinley's] political career brings to light many incidents showing that he has deliberately catered to the Catholic vote for no other reason than because he thought it was a vote that could be influenced in his behalf by special favors. It was generally understood that, while governor, McKinley was unduly under the influence of Bishop Watterson of the Catholic diocese of Columbus. A leading citizen of Toledo showed me a letter a few days ago, received in answer to one written to McKinley, charging McKinley with allowing under his administration the use of public funds in buying Catholic paraphernalia for the use of priests in the prisons, other churches furnishing their own supplies. McKinley made an equivocal denial of this, if I am not mistaken, throwing it on others. While governor he appointed more Roman Catholics to office than any other Republican governor Ohio has had.

Resolution of A.P.A. convention, May 1896
Whereas, Maj. McKinley did on May 14, 1896, to a committee of the National Advisory Board in the city of Canton, O., state that he heartily approved the principles of the A.P.A. and on the following day gave an interview to the press denying that he had met such a committee, thus giving the lie to the report of the committee which was composed of honorable and truthful gentlement; and
Whereas, The members of the Supreme council have, during its session, been hounded and badgered by a large McKinley lobby composed of members and non-members of the order that has used the most disreputable blackmailing methods to discredit the advisory board and to turn the supreme council into a McKinley ratification meeting, and having signally failed to clear McKinley of the consequences of his pro-A.P.A.l political record, today, after two-thirds of the delegates had started for home, attempted to take revenge by abolishing the National Advisory board and accomplished the same by a vote of 30 to 29.
Resolved, That the delegates in condemnation meeting assembled, denounce the cowardly denial by McKinley of his endorsement of the principles of the order given him to our committee, and
Resolved, That because of his record as reported by the National Advisory board, we herewith pledge ourselves, by our influence and efforts, to endeavor to accomplish his defeat.

Oaths and Songs

I hereby denounce Roman Catholicism. I hereby denounce the Pope, sitting at Rome or elsewhere. I denounce his priests and emissaries and the diabolical work of the Roman Catholic church, and hereby pledge myself to the cause of Protestantism to the end that there may be no interference with the discharge of the duties of citizenship, and I solemnly bind myself to protect at all times, and with all the means in my power, the good name of the order and its members, so help me God. Amen.

Oath No. Four
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 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 employees may undermind and substitute their Protestant coworkers; 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, or 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 off 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, amen, amen.

Desmond, H.J. The A.P.A. Movement. 1912.

Kinzer, Donald L. An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association. Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1964.


© 2000, Rebecca Edwards, Vassar College