American Protective Association
The American Protective Association (APA) was a secret, anti-Catholic organization founded by Henry F. Bowers in Clinton, Iowa, in 1887. It reached a peak membership of perhaps 500,000 immediately following the economic depression of 1893, before rapidly diminishing by the end of the century.
Following the Civil War (1861–65), many Anglo-Americans were concerned with the growing Roman Catholic influence in education, politics, and labor organization. In addition to millions of Irish and German Catholics who had been entering the country since the 1830s, after 1880 their numbers were enhanced by the admission of hundred of thousands of Catholic Italians and Poles. Bowers suspected Catholic conspiracies against public education and political campaigns in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Founding the APA, he required members to swear that they would never vote for a Catholic political candidate, would never deprive a Protestant of a job by hiring a Catholic, and would never walk with Catholics in a picket line. With the onset of depression in 1893, Protestant workers in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states were quick to blame immigrants for their plight. With the Democratic Party heavily reliant on Irish Americans, especially in major urban centers, those most concerned often turned to private lobbies such as the APA, though they usually voted Republican. Although anti- Catholic sentiment was heavily influenced by fears of economic competition, the movement also contained an undercurrent of ethnocentrism aimed at non-Protestant European immigrants. Hostile toward many immigrant groups, the APA nevertheless enjoyed enthusiastic support from many Protestant immigrants from northern Ireland (Ulster), Scandinavia, and Canada, leading the organization to focus on anti-Catholic policies, including the repeal of Catholic Church exemptions from taxation. As German and Irish Catholics became more prominent in national life in the late 1890s, it became political suicide for a national candidate to openly espouse an anti-Catholic policy, thus leading to the decline of such openly hostile societies.
See also nativism.