I should have read this book a year ago:
That so many urban Whigs and Democrats should have suddenly abandoned their parties in 1854 in favor of [the Know-Nothings] then, cannot realistically be explained in terms of an overnight conversion to political nativism or antislaveryism. . . Antislavery voters and prohibitionists hopped on the Know-Nothing bandwagon to implement their agendas. Rank-and-file Democrats and Whigs, on the other hand, were drawn into the secret order by its vision of a people's party enrolled in the service of the people. If the promise contained within that vision spelled hard times ahead for the state's Irish Catholic minority, it also conveyed the idea of a positive government response to the ravages of an unharnessed industrial order. Whig and Democratic urban dwellers, in particular, had cause to turn to the new party. For them it promised relief to the festering problems of modernization, like the tyrannical factory system, slum housing, unsanitary streets, lack of public bathing facilities, and inadequate fire and police protection.