Bloody Monday was August 6, 1855, in Louisville, Kentucky, an election day, when Protestant mobs attacked Irish Catholic neighborhoods. These riots grew out of the bitter rivalry between the Democrats and the nativist Know-Nothing Party. Multiple street fights raged, leaving twenty-two people dead, scores were injured, and much property was destroyed by fire. Five people were later indicted, but none were convicted, and the victims were not compensated. The Know-Nothings won the election but ten years later a German was elected mayor.
Bloody Monday was sparked by the Know Nothing political party (officially known as the American Party), an offshoot of the shattered Whig Party, fed in large part by the radical, inflammatory anti-immigrant writings, especially those of the editor of the Louisville Journal, George D. Prentice. Irish and Germans were recent arrivals and now comprised a third of the city's population.
The Know-Nothings formed armed groups to guard the polls on election day, but the riots took place after the polls closed as the armed groups moved into Catholic neighborhoods. Germans (primarily Catholics) were also caught up. By the time it was over, more than 100 businesses, private homes and tenements had been vandalized, looted and/or burned, including a block long row of houses known as Quinn's Row. Historians estimate the death toll at 19-22, while Catholics including Bishop Martin John Spalding of Louisville, said the death toll at well over 100 with entire families consumed in the fires.
Citizens were dragged from their homes and attacked on the streets and in their place of work. Weapons, arms and later bodies of the dead, were stored in Louisville Metro Hall (the old Jefferson County Courthouse, now the Mayor's Office), a Know-Nothing stronghold at the time. Sporadic violence and attacks had occurred in the year and months leading up to August 6, continuing for some time afterward.
Only by Louisville Mayor John Barbee's intervention, despite being a Know-Nothing, were the bloodshed and the property destruction brought to an end, including his personal intervention that saved two Catholic churches: the new German parish of St. Martin of Tours and the Cathedral of the Assumption from destruction by the mob. No one was ever prosecuted in connection with the riots. The elected Whig mayor, James S. Speed, had been ousted in June by a court order. Speed, who upon his marriage, had converted to Catholicism, left Louisville for Chicago, never to return.
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The riots had a profound impact on immigration to Louisville, causing more than ten thousand citizens to pack and leave for good, most to St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee, and a large group who left in 1856 for Prairie City, Kansas. Only the Civil War, with the trade and commerce it represented, halted this trend. The immigrants going home caused dozens upon dozens of businesses to close, affecting arts, education, and charitable causes with the loss of members and money (primarily those who came in 1848). Empty storefronts were the norm on once-bustling commercial corridors and many of the destroyed and charred ruins lay untouched for years afterward, as a silent reminder of that terrible day.
That year also saw scattered violence in Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Cincinnati and New Orleans. However, within ten years, much had changed in the United States and Louisville. Immigrants brought new cultures and customs leaving their mark in this new land, and Louisville, the site of the nation's worst anti-immigrant violence, elected a German born-man, Philip Tomppert as Mayor.
- History of Louisville, Kentucky
- List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States
- List of riots
- Louisville riots of 1968
- Order of the Star-Spangled Banner
- Emmet V. Mittlebeeler, "The Aftermath of Louisville's Bloody Monday Election Riot of 1855," Filson Club History Quarterly, 1992, Vol. 66 Issue 2, pp 197-219
- Yater, 2001, p 97
- Betty Congleton, "George D. Prentice and Bloody Monday: A Reappraisal," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 65 (1965) pp 220-39
- Agnes G. McGann, Nativism in Kentucky to 1860 (1944)
- Wallace S. Hutcheon, Jr., "The Louisville Riots of August, 1855," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 69 (1971), pp 150-72
- Charles E. Deusner, "The Know Nothing Riots in Louisville," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 61 (1963), pp 122-47
- Deusner, "The Know Nothing Riots in Louisville"
- Congleton, Betty. "George D. Prentice and Bloody Monday: A Reappraisal," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 65 (1965) pp 220–39
- Deusner, Charles E. "The Know Nothing Riots in Louisville," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 61 (1963), pp 122–47
- McGann, Agnes G. Nativism in Kentucky to 1860 (Washington, 1944)
- Hutcheon, Jr., Wallace S. "The Louisville Riots of August, 1855," Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 69 (1971), pp 150–72
- Yater, George H. "Bloody Monday" in The Encyclopedia of Louisville (2001) online
- "Bloody Monday Riots: August 6, 1855" — Article by Civil War historian/author Bryan S. Bush