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“A general sentiment of disgust for the man, and detestation for his principles, fills every decent mind,” reported one local newspaper, while at the Capitol, “his colleagues heaped only scorn and derision on him.” Yet far from the halls of power, Levin ignited the passions of an aggrieved working class, men who felt the America they knew and loved was endangered by an onslaught of immigrants taking their jobs, driving down wages, and generally making a wreck of the place.

While far from the only politician espousing such views at the time, Levin was unique in that, like Trump two centuries later, he “knew how to make an open and coarse appeal to the passions of the populace,” as Forman put it – and in this he “was aided by the technology of the times.” Not Twitter, but the steam-powered ‘penny press’ that had recently ushered in the age of mass-produced tabloids and thus, “enabled a ne’er-do-well like Levin to purchase newspapers and to use them as cheap vehicles through which communication with the masses was possible.” For all his bellicose rants and doomsday proclamations, Levin was more than a two-dimensional caricature of an angry white man.

“Men with their wives, and often six or seven children, trudging fearfully through the streets … carrying away from their homes whatever they could pick up at that instant.” While Levin was widely pinpointed for inciting the violence, in the days to come the charismatic speaker accepted not a hint of blame.

In a heated defense, he asserted that his followers had nothing but peaceful intentions until “an armed body of ferocious foreigners” assaulted them.

Yet his determination to preserve America for “Native Americans” (in those days the term referred to native-born whites) steered the course of his life while upending the politics of the time.

But even worse, to Levin, was alcohol, which he saw as a device to keep the working class down while supporting the corrupt elite. Liquor was the enemy of choice for his first major public spectacle, held in January of 1842.

Seeking to raise the profile of his local temperance club, which boasted a scant fifteen members, Levin staged “a spectacular bonfire of booze,” wrote the historian David Montgomery.

For one thing, he seemed content to juggle public prejudice with private tolerance.

The noted Army captain and writer John Gregory Bourke, whose parents were old friends of Levin’s in Philadelphia, surprisingly described “a very close intimacy” between the scorching anti-Catholic populist and Bourke’s own Roman Catholic father.

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