- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2019

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has condemned President Trump’s remarks about lawmakers who should “go back” to their home countries as “terrible and unbecoming of a president.” The state’s Democratic House delegation voted unanimously to condemn the Mr. Trump’s tweets.

And when the federal government announced plans for nationwide raids to round up immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, Prince George’s County officials drafted a new policy detailing the limits of their cooperation with federal immigration officials

But Maryland was not always a bastion of pro-immigration sentiment.

In the years before the Civil War, the Native American Party — better known to history as the Know Nothings — enjoyed a brief but intense political surge, running on a platform that was anti-Catholic and hostile to foreigners. At its height in the mid-1850s, the party even elected governors in two states — Maine and Maryland.

Few realize today that Maryland’s 31st governor warned in his inaugural address that immigrants would change the “ancient landmarks of the republic,” denounced “attacks of fanatical and misguided persons against property in slaves” in a General Assembly session and helped organize the burning of bridges to prevent Union soldiers from entering the state.

Born in 1798 in Dorchester County, Thomas Holliday Hicks entered politics at an early age. At just 21, he was elected town constable, and four years later was elected county sheriff.

By the time he was 31, Hicks was elected to the House of Delegates, where he served during the 1830 session. In 1836, he was reelected to a second term as one of 21 members of the newly formed Whig Party. The Whig Party was formed in 1834 as a political party to oppose President Andrew Jackson and the Jacksonian Democrats.

During the height of the Whig Party, Hicks served as the register of wills for Dorchester County from 1838 until 1857, when he ran for governor.

By the mid 1850s, the Whig Party was on the downturn, and the Native American — or Know Nothing — Party was on the rise. As members of a secret organization, the Know Nothings were instructed to reply “I know nothing” when asked about their beliefs, which included opposing immigration and Catholics.

Hicks was previously a Democrat, then a Whig. In 1857, he changed his political affiliation for a third time to the Know Nothing Party.

As a Know-Nothing, Hicks defeated Democrat John Groome by 8,700 votes to become Maryland’s 31st governor in 1858.

Even before Hicks‘ election, the Know Nothings had control in Maryland with a mayor of the party elected in 1856, said historian Tracy Matthew Melton, author of “The Violent Career of Baltimore’s Plug Uglies, 1854-1860.” That allowed the party to help Hicks win the election with rampant intermediation of voters at the polls.

Hicks espoused his party’s beliefs against immigrants right away in his 1858 inaugural address: “We have seen this swarm of immigrants everywhere elevated, in five short years, to the power and dignity of citizenship: without regard to character or fitness, and ignorant of the habits, laws and language of their new home.”

While the Know Nothings were growing, the party refused to take a position on slavery, which had divided the nation.

In an excerpt from “The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970,” historian Frank F. White Jr. wrote: “Thomas Holliday Hicks probably had to face more serious problems than any of Maryland’s governors in preventing the State’s secession at the outbreak of the Civil War.”

By the late 1850s and early 1860s, Hicks had a secession problem on his hands.

In a message to the General Assembly on April 25, 1861, Hicks said: “The only safety of Maryland lies in preserving a neutral position between our brethren of the North and of the South,” according to the Maryland State Archives.

With help, Hicks looked to form a group with other border states that would counter the Union and the Confederacy. He eventually decided against such a plan as he believed it was against the Constitution, just like seceding from the Union.

Mr. Melton said even though Hicks was from a slave-owning family and did not support abolition, he did support the Union.

“In the secession crisis, Gov. Hicks was somewhat torn but generally favored defending the Union and working toward a resolution of sectional issues,” Mr. Melton said. “During the crisis, he tended toward delay and discussion, working to hold off consequential decisions until emotions had time to subside.”

After federal troops carried out raids resulting in the arrest of 30 secessionist leaders, including members of the Maryland General Assembly, Hicks met with two others and came up with a plan to burn railroad bridges north of Baltimore to prevent more federal troops from arriving in Maryland.

When the General Assembly investigated who was responsible for the burning, Baltimore Mayor George Brown and police Marshal George Kane, who met with Hicks to plan the burning, both blamed the governor.

In turn, Hicks said in a letter that he “neither authorized nor consented to the destruction of said bridge, but left the whole matter in the hands of the Mayor of the City of Baltimore.”

Hicks managed to keep Maryland in the Union and left office in 1862. Later that year, Hicks‘ successor nominated him to fill a seat in the Senate.

White, however, wrote that Hicks was unable to perform the duties in the Senate due to his failing health.

On Feb. 13, 1865, Maryland’s first and only Know Nothing governor, who had espoused rhetoric about immigrants similar to that of today’s politicians, died of a paralytic attack in Washington, D.C.

His funeral was attended by President Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, and the governor of Maryland, among others.

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