All so called “Native Americans,” were once immigrants. There were two waves of immigration between the early 1800’s through the early 1900’s. The first wave of immigrants called the “old immigrants” came to America between 1890-1897. They were primarily from Northern Europe: Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia. The second wave of immigrants called the “new immigrants” came to America from 1897-1924. The “new immigrants” primarily came from Southern and Eastern Europe countries such as Poland, Russia, and Italy. Nativist parties, like the Know-Nothings and the Order of the Star Spangled Banner verbalized their distaste and disapproval of immigrants. Actions and regulations against immigration did not begin until near the end of the “old immigration” and the beginning of the “new immigration.” Nativists had many fears and concerns regarding immigrants. These concerns included being socially ill-suited to live with the older stock Americans, stealing jobs from the native work force, and bringing new, radical ideas to the country. These fears and concerns caused nativists to come up with schemes to keep immigrants out of the country. These strategies had a great impact on immigration in our country.
Nativists had many concerns regarding immigrants. They feared that immigrants would take the jobs of “native Americans” because they were willing to work for very low wages. When the native work force went on strike many workers feared that many immigrants would displace them in the workplace. Another concern was that immigrants were hard to “Americanize.” These people came to American with their own culture, traditions, and language; many of them didn’t even know English. Many nativists resented immigrants because they permeated the city and made it unsafe and dirty. Their slums were breeding grounds for disease and violence. Nativists regarded immigrants as an inferior class of people. One of the theories to support this dispute was eugenics. Eugenics is the study of human heredity, aimed at “improving” the genetic quality of the human stock. The eugenics movement was an effort to grade races and ethnic groups according to their genetic qualities. Eugenicists claimed that immigrants were inferior to Anglo-Saxons and were polluting the “pure” American bloodstream. The sheer number of immigrants entering the country also scared many people. A. Piatt Andrew noted this in the North American Review in 1914, ” we have still to ask whether there is not a menace in the very numbers of the immigrants now coming in.” Nativists were also greatly concerned with religion. The majority of the Anglo-Saxon, Protestant population feared the incoming Catholicism and Judaism. Many Irish immigrants were becoming active in urban politics, and being Roman Catholic, many “native Americans” feared that the Church of Rome was gaining a foothold in American government. With the constant flow of immigrants coming into the country, nativists during this time period began coming up with strategies to stop these people from entering the country.
There were multiple regulations passes between 1880 and 1925 which regulated the number of immigrants entering the country. In 1882, the Immigration Act only allowed for people of “good stock” to enter the country. This act passed by Congress provided for the examination of immigrants and for the exclusion from the U.S. of convicts, prostitutes, persons suffering from diseases, and persons liable to become public charges. This act, along with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which disallowed immigrants from China to enter the country, was responsible for a precipitous decline in immigration. In 1885, The Alien Contract Labor Laws were created. They prohibited the immigration to the U.S. of persons entering the country to work under contracts made before their arrival. In 1887 the American Protective Association was created by Henry Bowers. It was a radical group that created conspiracy theories of immigrants and wanted to do away with immigration completely. In 1887, the Immigration Restriction League was also created. A group of five Harvard alumni fought to get literacy testing, immigrant screening, and other standards to separate the desirable from the undesirable. These organization had a great impact because in 1896 Congress tried to pass a literacy test, but it failed. Henry Cabot Lodge, a nativist, was a strong supporter for the literacy test at this time along with Theodore Roosevelt. In Congressional Record on March 16, 1896, Lodge wrote about the proposed literacy test and how it would allow the wealthier and more intelligent immigrants into the country, ” …. It also appears from investigations which have been made that the immigrants who would be shut out…are those who bring least money to the country, and come most quickly upon private or public charity for support.” In 1906 there was a great influx of Japanese immigrants in California, and the San Francisco School Board ordered all Orientals to attend a segregated school. This order for segregation was quickly undone after the Japanese government complained to President Roosevelt. He was able to negotiate for the Gentleman’s Act of 1907 which made it so the Japanese government would not issue passports to Japanese laborers intending to enter the U.S. In 1917 Congress passed an immigration law that imposed a literacy test, which made it so intelligent immigrants were allowed into the country. In 1921, the Emergency Immigration Act was passed. This act made it so the number of aliens of any nationality admitted to the U.S. in a year could not exceed 3 percent of the number of foreign-born residents of that nationality living in the U.S. in 1910. Even though this heavily cut down the number of immigrants entering the country, the majority of the immigrants were “new immigrants.” This led to the National Origins Act in 1924. This act was harsher than the act of 1921 because it decreased the percentage of immigrants from 3% to 2%, and pushed the year from 1910 to 1890, thus making the majority of immigrants “old immigrants.”
It is quite ironic that these “nativists” came to America for the same reasons as the immigrants who came in the time period of 1880-1925; however, they do not accept the immigrants who came in that period, just as they had once wanted to be accepted. Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”, which is on the Statue of Liberty, reads “Give me you tired, your poor, Your huddled mass yearning to breathe free,” but in fact, many Americans, nativists, did not want these poor, huddled mass at all.