How Unpopular Was Levi Boone?

In 1855, Chicago had a mayor who was neither a Whig nor a Democrat – Levi Day Boone was a member of the Know Nothing Party.

The Know Nothing Party was sort of the Tea Party of their day – a movement that sprang up over frustration with the way the world was changing and the way the major parties were dealing with it. Officially known as the American Republican Party (not to be confused with the GOP), or as “Native Americans,” they got their name through their extreme secrecy. When asked about the party’s doings, members would say “I know nothing.” The party rose from the ashes of the crumbling Whig Party, which was being torn apart (largely by the issues revolving around slavery).

What was well known, however, was that their platform was heavily based on anti-immigrant sentiment (with a dose of anti-Catholicism thrown in). They attracted such notable members as former president Millard Fillmore after a few years out of office. They pretty well dominated local elections in 1854 and remained influential through around 1860, as the the questions of how to deal with slavery as the country expanded began to trump every other issue in the country and made America a chaotic place – one where senators would beat the crap out of each other with canes and brand-new parties could get a man elected president (as the new Republican party did in 1860). The slavery issue split every party in two (including the Know Nothings). Reading articles from this era and making heads or tales of what was going on that particular day is tricky business.

Chicago was among those who fell under the rule of a Know Nothing in the person of Dr Levi D. Boone, who served as mayor for a year (and whose policies led to the Lager Beer Riots on the Clark Street Bridge).

But if you type his name (or Mayor Boone, or Levi Day Boone, or any number of other permutations) into the Tribune archives, you’ll notice something odd: his name doesn’t come up until WELL after his term.

By 1856, The Tribune was thoroughly fed up with the Know Nothings, largely due to their support of the Fugitive Slave Law, which the Trib (rightly) described as “odious” and “unconstitutional.” They repeatedly stated in editorials that they would not recognize a Know Nothing Candidate. So the question is: is the archive missing something, am I typing the wrong names in, or did the Trib absolutely go out of the way to pretend that Levi Boone didn’t exist during his term as mayor? Boone DID once make a speech about how the Bible advocated slavery, but in 1855, when he was mayor, anti-slavery men still dominated the Know Nothing Party (it wasn’t until they got together in 1856 to nominate Fillmore for president that the pro-slavery guys sort of took over the party).

Various biographical entries about Boone mention that the Tribune published a lot of unpleasant stories about him (especially while he was held at Camp Douglas, the south side confederate prison, for a month or so on suspicion of helping a confederate prisoner), but I sure can’t find any of it! The Tribune generally seems to have ignored him completely.

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