Event To Call For Moving “Know-Nothing” Governor’s Portrait From State House Wall

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Bigoted Know-Nothing Amendments still part of state constitution

Read coverage in The Boston Globe: “School-choice advocates target portrait of 19th-century governor

BOSTON – Former Ambassador to the Vatican and three-term mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn will headline an event calling for moving symbols and repealing amendments from a disgraceful and bigoted chapter in Massachusetts history.

“Move This Portrait: The Know-Nothings’ Governor and Barriers to School Choice” will be held on Monday, August 1 from 9:00 to 10:20 a.m. at the State House.

“It should trouble Massachusetts residents that the portrait of Gov. Henry Gardner, a member of the nativist “Know-Nothing” party, hangs in the State House right next to the main entrance of the Massachusetts House of Representatives,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios.  “Just as the portrait should be moved from its prominent spot on the wall of our State House, so should two bigoted amendments that are the Know-Nothings’ legacy be struck from the commonwealth’s Constitution.”

A wave of immigration in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s triggered a strong anti-Catholic backlash in Massachusetts.  In the 1854 state election, the Know-Nothing Party rode a cleverly crafted platform of anti-Catholicism and progressive reforms to the biggest electoral landslide in state history, winning every constitutional office and nearly every legislative seat.

Led by Gov. Gardner and their legislative super majority, the Know-Nothings passed a constitutional amendment that was conceived in prejudice and prohibits public funds from going to parents to send their children to sectarian schools, thereby closing off one of the ways in which Catholic schools carry out their mission of providing needy students with a quality education.

A revised amendment was passed in 1917.  The two amount to an insult to the integrity of our system of public education and state law.

“There is no issue more central to the American Dream than giving poor, working-class and minority kids a chance to get a good education,” said Ray Flynn, former Ambassador to the Vatican, Boston mayor and member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  “I am horrified not only that we have bigoted nativist amendments in our state constitution that block greater school choice, but that Gov. Henry Gardner’s picture hangs outside the chamber where I once served.”

Several distinguished speakers will join Flynn at the event.  Con Chapman is a partner at Burns & Levinson in Boston. He devised the strategy for Boyette v. Galvin, a 1998 lawsuit that challenged the “anti-aid” amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, and he authored a 2009 Pioneer report, “The Know-Nothing Amendments: Barriers to School Choice in Massachusetts.

Gerard Robinson is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and was commissioner of education in Florida and Virginia’s secretary of education.  He is a former president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Former New Hampshire State Representative Jason Bedrick is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.  His articles on school choice and religious freedom have been featured in The Boston Globe, New York Post and Education Next.

Grace Cotter Regan is head of school at St. Mary’s in Lynn and former Executive Director of Advancement for the New England Province of Jesuits.

Allowing parents to use scholarship vouchers and education tax credits to select the schools most appropriate for their children would allow money to follow the student, as it does in higher education, and give low-income families the same options that are available to the more affluent. Many states have education tax credit programs, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Florida.

Despite the impediment created by the so-called anti-aid amendments, Catholic schools have held fast to their unique mission of providing quality education to those who need it most.  The Archdiocese of Boston’s schools outperform Boston Public Schools (BPS) and state averages on SATs and other measures of achievement.  They also have high graduation rates and a 96 percent college matriculation rate.

The Catholic schools succeed despite spending less than half as much per student as BPS.

Other states are re-examining their symbols of intolerance and discrimination.  Last summer South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its State House grounds.

“Move This Portrait” is co-sponsored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, The Center for Education Reform, the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Friedman Legacy Day 2016.


Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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