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Don’t look for Gilbert Nations there

The St. Joseph Parish Picnic is scheduled for this Sunday. But you won’t see Gilbert Nations there.

For starters, Gilbert has been dead for over 50 years. But even if he was alive, ole Gil wouldn’t have been there. You see, Gilbert Nations wasn’t much on Catholicism. In the early part of the 20th century, from about 1915 to 1925, Nations lived in Washington, D.C. and wrote prolifically, publishing numerous pamphlets. In one he asserted that because the Pope is surrounded by many trappings of a king (e.g. a throne, ambassadors, a crown), the Pope was not a religious leader but actually a civil sovereign. Thus, according to Gilbert Nations, Catholics were disqualified from American citizenship.

Here are his words exactly, written in 1916: “No Roman Catholic, while retaining membership in the Papal Empire, which is identical with the Roman Catholic Church, is entitled to citizenship under any civil government.” Catholics could not remedy their citizenship problem by swearing an oath of allegiance to America. Instead, Catholics must be “disenfranchised.” (Gil’s word, not the Observer’s).

In 1917, Nations wrote a pamphlet, in the form of an open letter to President Wilson, purporting to prove that “the Roman Catholic Hierarchy is now … actively fomenting and inciting revolution in the Republic of Mexico and attempting to bring about a state of war between the Republic of Mexico and the United States of America.” According to Nations, a war between Mexico and the U.S. would help Catholics take over “political and civil power in said Republic of Mexico.” Pancho Villa worked for the Pope, said Nations.

In his day, Gilbert Nations, his writings and his views were part of the national debate. If Nations were around today he’d be sitting alongside George Will or Robert Novak, giving political commentary on television shows.

But Nations was destined for even greater things. In 1924, at its convention in Columbus, Ohio, the American Party nominated Nations as its presidential candidate for the national election that year.

The American Party’s platform was anti-immigrant, anti-war, anti-polygamy (read anti-Mormon), and anti-Papist. Under Nations’ leadership, the American Party openly and vigorously sought the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, then at the height of its influence in America. (We usually think of the KKK for its animus toward blacks, but its esteem of Catholics was little better). Indeed, at least one authority references the American Party as the Ku Klux Party.

In the end, of course, Calvin Coolidge, not Gilbert Nations, was elected president in 1924. But the American Party’s finish was respectable … right behind the Communist Party and well ahead of something called the Commonwealth Land Party.

And so it was that the only time Gilbert Nations was elected to anything was right here in St. Francois County. He was our probate judge for eight years, from 1903 to 1911. You see, Gilbert O. Nations was born and raised in Farmington.

The Settlement Observer is a resident of Farmington.

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