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Nativism in America

Theodore Roosevelt

Nativism in America: Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th American President who served in office from September 14, 1901 to March 4, 1909. One of the important events during his presidency was the rise of Nativism in America.

Definition and Summary of the Nativism in America

Summary and definition: Nativism in America refers to the preference for established US residents, as opposed to foreigners or "others" considered to be outsiders and the opposition to immigration.

The belief in Nativism was a prejudicial attitude towards immigrants based on their national origin, their ethnic background, their race or religion. The doctrine of Nativism in America resulted in a widespread attitude that rejected alien persons, or culture, and led to xenophobia and new, stringent laws being passed to restrict immigration.

Nativism in America in the 1800's and early 1900's: What caused Nativism in America?
Concerns about immigration during the historical period referred to as the Gilded Age (1865 - 1900), led to the rise in Nativism in America. Advocates of Nativism hold the belief that certain skills or abilities are "native" or engrained into the brain at birth. Nativism encompassed the conviction that the interests of established US residents should be given a favored status compared to new immigrants. The policy of Nativism was adopted protecting the interests of native-born or established US residents against those of immigrants. The rise in Nativism in America was due to the following and and explains why Nativists disliked immigrants and feared the growing levels of immigration and what caused Nativism in America.

The belief in the "Manifest Destiny" of America, based on the belief of cultural and racial superiority over other nations, was deeply rooted in the minds of many Americans and helped sew the seeds of Nativism.

Various US Laws were passed aimed at the Restriction of Immigration, which to many Americans sanctioned the belief in Nativism. The US Immigration Laws were first aimed at restricting "undesirable" immigrants, then specifically targeted the Chinese, then unskilled foreigners, then European immigrants when, in 1892, the Ellis Island Inspection Process was adopted.

The Gilded Age, and the Industrialization of America, had seen the emergence of new industries that clamored for cheap labor, which fed the surge in Immigration

The massive increase in immigration is shown in the following statistics:

  • 1881 - 1890, a total of 5,246,613 immigrants arrived in the United States

  • 1891 - 1900, a total of 3,687,564 immigrants arrived in the United States

  • 1901 - 1910, a total of 8,795,386 immigrants arrived in the United States

The massive increase in immigration gave rise to significant social changes and huge disparities in wealth between the rich and the poor. Attempts were made to justify this by citing the theory of Social Darwinism that embraced the belief that some races were superior to others due to their inherent characteristics and moral attributes and advocated the "survival of the fittest" and the adoption of unfair business practices.

Squalid, appalling working conditions led to riots, strikes and anarchy which were blamed on new immigrants.

Immigrants came from different parts of Europe and Asia and flocked to urban city areas where they congregated in poor, congested neighborhoods created by the unplanned and rapid Urbanization in America.

The terrible working conditions imposed by the Robber Barons during the Gilded Age saw the emergence of the Labor Unions whose members were opposed to the employment of immigrants who worked for lower wages and undermined American workers

The Assassination of the President McKinley in 1901 had spread the fear of Marxism (a form of communism) that  advocated revolution and anarchy (hence the 1901 Anarchist Exclusion Act).

The Immigration Act of 1907 was passed further restricting the number of immigrants and established the Dillingham Commission to investigate the effects of immigration in the US.

The subsequent Dillingham Commission report discriminated between "Old" and "New" Immigrants concluding that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and should therefore be greatly reduced.

Nativism in America for kids: Nativism, Xenophobia and Ethnocentrism
The rise in the Nativism doctrine and the belief that preference should be given to existing American citizens was often accompanied by xenophobia. The term xenophobia relates to the irrational fear of foreigners or strangers leading to racism, ethnic conflict and ethnocentrism. The term 'Ethnocentrism' is the belief in the inherent superiority of one culture based on judgmental comparisons to different, alien cultures. Xenophobia, Ethnocentrism and Nativism in America was made worse by the widespread newspaper coverage that was given to the Dillingham Commission Report.

Nativism in America for kids: The Dillingham Commission Report and the 'Dictionary of Races of People'
The Dillingham Commission Report contained a volume entitled  'A Dictionary of Races of People' which was compiled to discover:
 ‘whether there may not be certain races that are inferior to other races... to show whether some may be better fitted
for American citizenship than others.'

The dictionary classified immigrants in racial terms and people were placed into ethnic groups. The Dillingham Commission Report favored "old immigrants" who had come from North and West of Europe and opposed "new' immigrants" who came from the east and south of Europe and other parts of the world. The 1911 Dillingham Commission Report further fuelled Xenophobia, Ethnocentrism and Nativism in America during the 1900's by concluding that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe posed a "serious threat to American society and culture" and should therefore be greatly reduced. This opened the debate on "Old immigrants vs New Immigrants"

The Effects and Significance of the Nativism in America
The effects and significance of Nativism in America were highly significant and impacted US immigration policy for many years:

  • Nativism in America spawned a powerful political movement called the Know Nothing Party, which made anti-immigration central to its political agenda

  • The belief in Nativism led to the formation of the Immigration Restriction League in 1893

  • Immigration restriction laws were passed

  • The Resurgence of the 1920's Ku Klux Klan occurred following and attracted 4 - 5 Million KKK members who believed in Nativism in America. The KKK advocated a strong racist and anti-immigration policy and was strongly supported by Protestants and advocated the hatred of Jews and Catholics

  • Ethnocentrism, Xenophobia and Nativism in America are significant in America as they run counter to the nation’s founding principles and ideals

  • Despite the Civil Rights Movement many elements of Nativism still resonate in American society of today.

US American History
Immigration Laws History
Eugenics Movement
Social Darwinism

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Updated 2018-01-01

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