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JIM: Dr. Gaither and the goose question

America has had many challenges to adherence to its higher principles. JIM examines a incident from the Nineteenth Century in Adair County, with a funny story about the Know Nothings. And in the essay, writes a new-to-many-of-us capsule of who these early politically despicables were. It's written with all good humor - though at the time of their zenith, the Knownothings were as big a challenge to our Democracy as fascist-leaning demogogues were in the 1930's or McCarthyism was in the 1950s
Click on headline for complete essay


In the early 1920s, the Adair County News had an occasional column titled "Do you remember...?" in which long ago people and events briefly saw again the light of day. One of the items in the April 4, 1922 paper was a most excellent recollection of an incident dating back to antebellum Adair County involving the Knownothings (Know Nothings), the goose question, and a well-known Adair County Physician.

The Know Nothing party was so-called because when those who belonged were asked about the organization, they were supposed to feign ignorance; i.e., they were to reply they knew nothing about it. It flickered into existence in the 1840s, enjoyed two or three peak years in the mid-1850s, and soon thereafter went gently into that good night of political oblivion.

In a word, the party was founded on fear. To borrow from Wikipedia,
"The movement arose in response to an influx of migrants...[and] was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, whom they saw as hostile to Republican values..."
Altho' the origin of the term seems somewhat muddled, "the goose question" stood as the party's dogwhistle to determine a Knownothing member's stance on the issue of slavery. If one were "sound on the goose," then he (membership forbade any but Protestant males from joining) believed in human bondage.

The above-mentioned issue of the News stated thus:
(Do you remember...?) When the Knownothing party was in existence? Dr. Nathan Gaither, of this place, was a very ardent Democrat and Mr. W.E. Baker, a very young man, was a Knownothing. There was a proposition up advocated by the Knownothings, called the "Goose Question."

A hot race was on for the State Senate and the Knownothing was elected. The morning after the election Dr. Gaither left his home for the square, and he was met by Mr. Baker, who said: "Well, doctor, what do you think of the goose question, now?"

"God d-n the feathered tribe," said the doctor, passed on.
Compiled by JIM

This story was posted on 2016-10-21 05:44:15
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