American Protective Association Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The American Protective Association was one of several American organizations created to counter the growing presence and influence of Roman Catholic immigrants in the United States. Its purpose was to protect the United States from the Catholic Church, which it viewed as a foreign organization with international designs.

Between the end of the Civil War (1861-1865) and World War I (1914-1918), approximately 25 million immigrants came to the United States. Many of these immigrants were working-class Roman Catholics who settled in the cities of the North. The presence of these immigrants and their growing economic and political influence resulted in a Protestant nativism that based its appeal primarily on conservative political values designed to appeal to the common person.American Protective AssociationIowa;American Protective AssociationAnti-Catholic movements[AntiCatholic movements];American Protective AssociationAmerican Protective AssociationIowa;American Protective AssociationAnti-Catholic movements[AntiCatholic movements];American Protective Association[cat]ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS AND MOVEMENTS;American Protective Association[00180][cat]ANTI-IMMIGRANT MOVEMENTS AND POLICIES;American ProtectiveAssociation[00180][cat]NATIVISM;American Protective Association[00180][cat]RELIGION;American Protective Association[00180]

The American Protective Association (APA) was the largest anti-Catholic organization in the United States during the late nineteenth century. It was founded in Clinton, Iowa, on March 13, 1887, by attorney Bowers, Henry FrancisHenry Francis Bowers and seven other men. While its original motivation was linked to local political activity, it began to spread to other locales within a few years. The group was a secret organization with uniforms and elaborate rituals. Its purpose was to defend “true Americanism” and fight the growing power of the Catholic Church in America. The APA advocated immigration restrictions, a free public school system to counter the growth of parochial schools, and a slower naturalization process for immigrants. All members took an oath never to vote for a Catholic, never to employ a Catholic if a Protestant were available, and never to go on strike with a Catholic worker. The organization appealed primarily to conservative working-class Protestants who perceived the growing Catholic population as a threat to their values, economic status, and political influence.

Unlike the Know-Nothing Party movement of the first half of the nineteenth century, the APA did not form a political party. Rather, it focused on working through the Republican Party. The APA’s greatest success occurred in school board and municipal elections in the Midwest. It promoted anti-Catholicism by distributing forged documents designed to promote fear of Catholics among local citizens. Before elections, it circulated lists of candidates marked C for Catholic, c for Catholic sympathizer, and P for Protestant.

The American Protective Association’s greatest national success occurred in 1893 and 1894 as it capitalized on the fear of Catholic success in national and local elections. It also began to publish Press;anti-Catholic[antiCatholic]newspapers; by 1894, approximately seventy APA weeklies were in circulation. While the organization claimed to have a membership of 2.5 million at its peak, historians estimate that its dues-paying membership was approximately 100,000. Though it was a national movement, its greatest strength was in the Midwest and West. The organization declined rapidly during the last half of the 1890’s because of internal dissension. Bowers’s death in 1911 effectively marked the end of the organization; however, its prominence during the 1890’s illustrates the continued strains between native Protestants and Catholic immigrants in the United States during the nineteenth century.American Protective AssociationIowa;American Protective AssociationAnti-Catholic movements[AntiCatholic movements];American Protective Association

Further Reading
  • Bennett, David H. The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
  • Kinzer, Donald L. An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964.
  • Lipset, Seymour Martin, and Earl Rabb. The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.



European immigrants

History of immigration, 1783-1891

History of immigration after 1891

Know-Nothing Party

Ku Klux Klan


Religions of immigrants


Categories: History