American Protective Association

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The American Protective Association (APA) was an American anti-Catholic secret society established in 1887 by Protestants, especially Irish Protestants from Canada. It was strongest in the Midwest, and came under heavy attack from Democrats until its collapse in the mid-1890s.[1]


The order was founded at a meeting held in the law offices of Henry F. Bowers in Clinton, Iowa on 13 March 1887. This meeting drew up a constitution, a ritual and elected Bowers the group's first "Supreme President". Aside from Bowers himself, there were six other founding members. Bowers would later relate that this "First Council" was composed of three Republicans, two Democrats, one Populist and one Prohibitionist. The religious make-up of the first Council was one each Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Lutheran and "one of no religion".[2]

W. J. H. Traynor succeeded Bowers as Supreme President in 1893 and led the group during its period of greatest influence during the mid 1890s. Traynor was born 4 July 1845 in Brantford, Ontario. His father was a contractor who "met with reverses which curtailed the son's opportunities for education." Traynor nevertheless continued his studies and became a newspaper proprietor based in Detroit, Michigan. Traynor had joined the Loyal Orange Lodge when he was seventeen and attained the Scarlett degree within a year. By the time he was Supreme President of the APA he was also a member of the Royal Black Knights of the Camp of Israel, American Orange Knights and the Illustrious Order of the Knights of Malta. He joined the International Order of Good Templars as a boy, and was reportedly connected with the Order of the American Union, the Crescents, American Patriot League, American Protestant Association, Knights of the Maccabees, Royal Arcanum and the National Union.[3]

The Association took an active part in the mid-term election of 1894 and off-year elections of 1895, in some jurisdictions running its own ticket, but more often supporting candidates from the main parties who agreed with its agenda. It often took credit for Republican victories, especially in the GOP landslide year of 1894. Thus it took credit with the election of John W. Griggs to the governorship of New Jersey, by bringing up his opponent's, Alexander T. McGill support of a Catholic protection bill in 1875.It also claimed to be a factor in the elections in Upstate New York during the same period.[3] Its leader Traynor claimed the APA had twenty members of Congress as members; he boasted that one hundred members had been elected by it.[4]

The A.P.A. took the lead in organizing a Conference of Patriotic societies in Washington in Dec. 1895. Having already absorbed a number of smaller anti-Catholic groups, here the A.P.A. joined forces with the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, Orangemen, the Society for the Protection of American Institutions and other groups, having a combined membership of over three million. These groups adopted a platform which they intended to be presented to the national conventions of the political parties the following year that advocated restricted immigration, the equal taxation of all except private property, a constitutional amendment forbidding non-citizens from voting and opposition to public monies being spent for sectarian purposes. Their attempt to interject themselves into the 1896 election, however, was eclipsed by the growth of the free silver movement and the sound money question.[5]

A splinter group was formed in Illinois in February 1895 called the National Assembly Patriotic League.[6]

The Ohio APA still had enough strength in 1914 to contribute to the defeats of Democratic US Senate candidate Timothy S. Hogan and incumbent Democratic Governor James M. Cox. Its newspaper, "The Menace", depicted Hogan and Cox as puppets of the pope. The Ohio APA would disappear soon after the 1914 election.[7]

It was reportedly still in existence as late as 1923.[8]


In June 1896, Traynor claimed that the APA had a membership of 2,500,000. However, Walter Sims, an ex-APA lecturer and founder of a rival organisation, stated the previous year that "There is not a membership in the United States of 120,000, but they call it a million."[4]


While the Association claimed not have any conflict with Catholicism or the Irish per se, they believed that the Roman Catholic Church was making inroads into the government of the United States with the goal of controlling. They claimed that Catholics had congregated in areas of large cities, preventing the election of non-Catholics in those areas, that 60% to 90% of government employees were Catholic, often illiterate and current and hired on the basis of patronage, attacks on the public school system, the "remarkable" increase in untaxed church property and the "fact" that the army, navy "were almost entirely Romanized", "frequent desecration" of the American flag by priests and controlled of the federal government by the Jesuits. They claimed that Roman Catholics were under the complete political control of the Pope and were to required to obey its laws when they were in conflict with those of the state. They cited the encyclical issued by the Pope on 10 Jan 1890.[9][10] (Evidently Sapientiae Christianae issued by Leo XIII[11])

The APAs program and stated aims included the "perpetual" separation of Church and State; maintenance of a free, non-sectarian public school system; prohibition of any government grant or special privilege to sectarian bodies; establishment of an educational qualification to vote, "purification of the ballot"; suspension of further immigration, and its resumption on guarantees of residence and educational qualifications; public inspections of all private schools, convents, monasteries, hospitals, educational and reformatory institutions. In New Jersey they were able to sponsor a "School Flag Act" and an act forbidding students from wearing religious garb in school.[12]

Representatives of the group also made public announcements that the Roman Catholic Church had instigated the Civil War, during which they claim Catholics and Irish made up large numbers of deserters, and that both Grover Cleveland and William McKinley were controlled by the Church.[13]

An independent APA press developed in early 1893, and by 1894 the movement had seventy weeklies. The Association often used spurious canon laws, Jesuit and an cardinal oaths and unauthenticated quotes from the Catholic press in their propaganda. It also sponsored lecture tours of "ex-nuns" and priests, who often turned out to be phonies[14]

The APA was not automatically hostile to immigrants--quite the contrary. Many members, perhaps a majority, were foreign-born, especially Orangemen (Protestants from Ireland), Britons, and Scandinavian Lutherans. [15]


A number of the APAs obligations and rituals were divulged in 1893–94, with the purported full ritual read into the Congressional Record on 31 Oct 1893 in the petition of H.M. Youmans for the unseating of Representative William S. Linton.[4]


As stated, the chief officer of the Association was the Supreme President. There was also a "Supreme Council" and an "Executive Board". A Junior American Protective Association for boys and girls aged 14–21 at a meeting of the Supreme Council in Milwaukee on 12 May 1895. The women's auxiliary was the Women's Historical Society. Councils for African American members were organised in the Southern States in 1895 and 1896, but Councils in the North were integrated.[6]

A branch was founded in Mexico City on 8 September 1895 called the Constitutional Reform Club. Its purpose was to "combat the growing power and prestige of the Catholic clergy and defend the public schools. It was also active in Canada, where it is said to have worked with the Orangemen and "is said to have controlled elections in the chief cities of the Dominion in 1894 and 1895." In England they also apparently worked with the Orange Lodge.[6] They were also reportedly active in Australia.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donald L. Kinzer, An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association (1964)
  2. ^ Stevens, Albert Clark, 1854– The cyclopædia of fraternities; a compilation of existing authentic information and the results of original investigation as to more than six hundred secret societies in the United States New York city, Paterson, N.J., Hamilton printing and publishing company 1899 p.295 It is unclear why this does not add up to seven. Perhaps Bowers, who was reporting the religious composition, excluded himself from the calculation. Stevens says that Bowers was a Methodist
  3. ^ a b Stevens pp.295–6
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ Stevens pp.297–8
  6. ^ a b c Stevens p.298
  7. ^ David Sarasohn, The Party of Reform: Democrats in the Progressive Era. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1989; pg. 177.
  8. ^ Preuss, Arthur A Dictionary of Secret and other Societies St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co. 1924; republished Detroit: Gale Reference Company 1966; p. 27
  9. ^ a b Bliss p.38
  10. ^ Stevens pp.294–5
  12. ^ Stevens pp.295–7
  13. ^ Stevens pp.296–7
  14. ^ Preuss p.28
  15. ^ Richard J. Jensen (1971). The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896. Richard Jensen. p. 232. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bennett, David H. The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History. University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
  • Desmond, Humphrey Joseph, 1858–1932 The A.P.A. movement. A sketch Washington, The New Century Press 1912.
  • Desmond, Humphrey Joseph, "The American Protective Association," Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Co., 1911.
  • Hingham, John. "The Mind of a Nativist: Henry F. Bowers and the A.P.A.," American Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 1 (Spring 1952), pp. 16–24. In JSTOR
  • Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955.
  • Kinzer, Donald L., An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964.
  • Schlup, Leonard C. and Ryan, James Gilbert, eds, Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age (M.E. Sharpe, 2003) s v “American Protective Association” by Leonard Schlup, 15.
  • Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America, 1790–1970. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.
  • Wiltz, John E. "APA-ism in Kentucky and Elsewhere," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 56, no. 2 (April 1958), pp. 143–155. in JSTOR

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