Wayne Lutton, Race and the American Prospect, 2006
Who Were the First Americans?
Proponents of “liberal” immigration policy often assert: “The only true Americans are ‘Native Americans’ [a.k.a. Indians]. . . the rest of us are immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants.” This view proposes that “America” is simply a piece of land. Even if this were so, it would be difficult to see why Indians have any better claim than later arrivals. American Indians are, after all, themselves the descendants of wanderers who came from Asia. Given the current popularity of hyphenated labels, it would be proper to call them not “Native Americans,” since Asians are not native to North America, but rather “Siberian-Americans.”
But I will argue here that “America” is not a mere geographic expression for a continent located between Asia on the west and Europe and Africa on the east. America was not found ready-made, waiting for habitation by the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. Rather, the Pilgrim Fathers and other, overwhelmingly British, colonists, who were the forerunners of a new people and a new nation, brought what became America to this land.
Colonial Settlement, 1607-1783
Colonization of North America began in the early seventeenth century at a time when England was experiencing remarkable social and religious changes. The Church of England was at war with various dissenters, agricultural interests vied with nascent capitalists for economic leadership, and the aristocracy was faced with demands for the extension of representative government. For many Englishmen, change did not come quickly enough. For others, what reforms did occur did little to improve their lot in a country that was overpopulated (given the standards of living and technology of that era). The discovery of the North American continent led to the establishment of British colonies, which became outlets for the ambitious and discontented, as well as some whom religious and law enforcement authorities viewed as undesirable surplus.
During the whole of the period, colonists came almost exclusively from northwestern Europe and preeminently from the British Isles. In 1606, King James I of England authorized the creation of the London Company and the Plymouth Company to promote settlement in North America. The first adventurers arrived in Virginia in 1607, taking twelve years to establish a permanent colony. In 1619, the Dutch dropped off the first African slaves, commencing a racial problem that has bedeviled American civilization ever since.
The northern colony, a project of the Plymouth Company, was established by separatists from the Church of England, who first fled to Holland, and from there to America in 1620, landing at what became known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1630, another group of approximately a thousand Puritans arrived in Massachusetts Bay. In time, they absorbed the Plymouth colony. Population growth, most of it from the expansion of families, not the importation of colonists, was rapid. The descendants of the original Massachusetts colonists in time founded the colonies of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.
Holland, under the direction of the Dutch West India Company, organized New Netherlands in 1621. Its capital city, at the mouth of the Hudson River, was New Amsterdam. Sweden sent a party of colonists to Delaware Bay in 1638. However, they were not able to maintain their independence and surrendered to the Dutch in 1655. New Amsterdam remained in Dutch hands for only fifty years. In the course of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664-1667), England seized control of this central region and then divided it into the colonies of New Jersey and New York.
William Penn was granted the right to colonize what became known as Pennsylvania in 1681. By this time, English influence extended along the Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida. Other western Europeans began to arrive, including Scotch-Irish (Presbyterians from Northern Ireland), Germans (particularly from the Rhineland-Palatinate), and French Huguenots.
Penn operated his colony as both a refuge for Quakers and as a real estate venture. He sent agents to Germany who persuaded Quakers and Pietists to migrate to Pennsylvania. The French seizure of the Palatinate at the beginning of the eighteenth century led thousands of Germans to seek refuge in England. The British government, in turn, encouraged them to move on to North America. Several thousand Germans arrived in the American colonies in 1708-09.
Protestants settled in Ulster (Northern Ireland) at the behest of James I, who tried to make Catholic Ireland a Protestant land. The Protestant Ulstermen were so industrious that in 1698 Parliament passed discriminatory legislation directed against Scotch-Irish linen, manufacturers of woolen goods, and adherents of the Presbyterian Church. These economic and religious measures led entire Presbyterian congregations to embark for North America. Between 1714 and 1720, 54 shiploads of colonists arrived in Boston from Northern Ireland. Following a famine in 1740, an average of 12,000 arrived annually from Ulster. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 Scotch-Irish came to North America in the fifty years preceding the American Revolution, constituting a sixth of the population of the colonies in 1776.
Scotch-Irish came to settle what became New Hampshire, Vermont, western Massachusetts, Maine, parts of Pennsylvania, and the foothills of Virginia and the Carolinas. From there they pushed on into Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Historian E. A. Ross said of them in his book The Old World in the New, “They fought the Indians, fought the British with great unanimity in two wars, and were in the front rank in the conquest of the West. More than any other stock has this tough, gritty breed. . . molded our national character.”
With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (the French charter of Protestant liberty) by Louis XIV in 1685, thousands of French Protestants fled to England and Holland. From there, many came on to America. They tended to concentrate in South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, becoming leaders in the professions and business life of the colonies. Not only were they Protestants but came from the most Nordic parts of France, and so in racial composition they were hardly to be distinguished from the English.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, followed by terrible persecution of Protestants, as well as the devastation of the Thirty Years War, not unnaturally disposed many Americans to view Catholics with great distrust. Catholics were not generally looked upon as a group who, if in power, would be tolerant to others. Consequently, most of the colonies passed statutes against them. It is estimated that of the approximately four million persons in the United States by 1790, no more than 35,000 to 45,000 were Roman Catholic.
For those interested in the history of immigration control, the colonial period saw many of the stock arguments against unrestricted immigration employed, especially objections to the settlement of paupers, criminals, and those unable to support themselves.
During the seventeenth century, the English government often shipped “idle poor” to its North American colonies. In 1663, Parliament passed an act which empowered justices of the peace to send “rogues, vagrants, and sturdy beggars” to the colonies. Dr. Samuel Johnson viewed Americans as “a race of convicts. . . who ought to be content with anything we allow them short of hanging.” Indeed, convicts were often given the choice of servitude in colonial plantations as an alternative to execution. In 1717, the English government launched a policy of penal transportation. From 1717 to 1776, an estimated 50,000 convicts were shipped to America from the British Isles.
As early as 1639, the Pilgrims of Massachusetts called for the expulsion of foreign paupers, setting fines for shipmasters that discharged criminals and paupers. Virginia and other colonies followed their lead.
Pennsylvania, in 1722, imposed a tax on every criminal landed and made shipowners responsible for the good conduct of their passengers. Other laws designed to control immigration followed this. In 1729, the colony imposed a head tax of forty shillings on each immigrant, an early instance of the use of a tax to restrict immigration. In order to prevent carriers of disease from landing, Pennsylvania came to require ships to anchor a mile offshore until a port physician could make an inspection.
The General Assembly of Maryland tried to reduce the number of criminals dumped on its shores with a law requiring all shipmasters to declare whether they had any convicts on board, and attempted to prohibit them from landing if they did. A fine of 2,000 pounds of tobacco was imposed on anyone attempting to import criminals illegally, half going to the government and half to informers.
Massachusetts passed an immigration law requiring shipmasters to furnish lists of passengers and prohibiting the landing of lame, impotent, or infirm persons, or those incapable of earning their own keep. Shipmasters were required to return those proscribed persons to their home country.
E. E. Proper, in his book Colonial Immigration Laws, attributes the political and religious spirit of the colonies, in part, to the restrictions and prohibitions that the different governments enacted prior to the American Revolution. Respectable settlers were welcomed. Criminals and paupers were not. The notion that even at the time of the American Revolution we were a “nation of immigrants” is imprecise. The trans-Atlantic migration of colonists and immigrants was relatively small during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the first few decades of the seventeenth century, most Americans were native born and most population increase was due to the natural increase of the resident population, not because of newcomers.
Benjamin Franklin observed in 1741 that the total colonial population of about one million had been produced from a total foreign migration of less than eighty thousand over the 134 years preceding that date. The native American population increase was so dramatic that Thomas Malthus viewed the American colonies as an example of the extreme fecundity of which the human race is capable.
The native-born population was doubling every twenty years during the colonial period. In some sections it was doubling every fifteen years. Immigration was only a small contributor to the growth.
In recent years there has been an attempt to rewrite history by claiming that America is a “creedal nation,” without an ethnic core. And having no core nationality, an “American” is defined as someone who embraces a set of abstract ideas (liberty, equality, religious pluralism, free enterprise) that anyone can appreciate and accept. So, according to this argument, anyone in the world can become an “American.”
The antidote to such claims is found in the first census, of 1790. The white population at the beginning of our independent national life consisted of:
Out of a total white population of 2,810,248 in 1790, there were 2,345,844 of English descent. As they represented a reasonably close approximation of the population of England itself, we can see that they were Anglo-Saxon and predominantly Nordic.
Of the non-English portions of the founding population, an additional 8.9 percent hailed from other parts of the British Isles. The German element, almost all of whom came from the Rhineland-Palatinate, was of Nordic and Alpine descent. And the Dutch were a Northern European people.
The significance of this was not lost on the Republic’s Founders. John Jay, later to become the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, in Federalist No. 2, was grateful that “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.”
Americans were, in the words of Henry Pratt Fairchild, the distinguished professor of sociology at New York University, “a physically homogeneous race, composed almost wholly of native-born descendants of native-born ancestors, of a decidedly English type, but with a distinct character of its own. This was the great stock from which the people of the United States grew, and upon which all subsequent additions must be regarded as extraneous grafts.”
Immigration to the United States to 1860
From 1790 to the outbreak of the War Between the States, the population of the United States grew from around 3 million to 27.5 million. During this seventy-year period, immigration totaled no more than 4.25 million. The very high birthrate of American natives accounted for almost all the increase. In 1790 the U.S. Congress enacted the nation’s first Naturalization Act, which confined U.S. citizenship to “free white persons.” The act was renewed in 1795.
Until the 1820s, the federal government took no active interest in immigration and did not even bother to collect statistics on the topic. Ports of entry and states collected data from ship arrivals and customhouses. In 1903 the federal Bureau of Statistics issued a report, Immigration into the United States, stating that “The best estimates of the total immigration into the United States prior to the official count put the total number of arrivals at not to exceed 250,000 in the entire period between 1776 and 1820.” Nearly all of the average of ten thousand annual arrivals was English and Scotch.
The Napoleonic Wars, with the Orders in Council, the Embargo Acts, and the interruption of cross-Atlantic commerce, stimulated the growth of industry in the United States. After the War of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the British tried to dump goods on the American market at cut prices. The U.S. responded by protecting infant industries with a series of protective tariffs. “Free trade” arguments notwithstanding, there is no question that these tariffs permitted the new American manufactures to establish a firm foundation.
The new industries, in turn, stimulated a demand for hourly-wage workers, especially skilled laborers. This sort of work was not attractive to many native Americans, who tended to be independent farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. Factory owners found it increasingly difficult to find hired hands willing to work in someone else’s factory. By the mid-1820s, word went out to western Europe that there were opportunities for foreign artisans and general factory laborers in the United States.
Along with manufacturing, the Erie Canal was completed and others were started. The first railroads were authorized. Vast numbers of people moved westward. According to the federal government, which began compiling immigration statistics in the 1820s, in the fifteen months ending December 31, 1832, there were over 60,000 arrivals. In 1842, 104,565 immigrants were counted, the first time the hundred thousand mark was reached.
The major sources of immigrants remained parts of Scotland, England, Ireland, and Germany.
Scottish immigration was sparked by the displacement of agriculture by shepherding for the expanding woolen industry at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Perthshire, Argyllshire, and Invernesshire experienced sharp reductions in population, as thousands of farmers moved to North America.
The southern English counties of Kent, Hampshire, Somerset, and Surrey underwent a similar loss of agricultural workers to North America. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, agricultural prices fell. British “free trade” advocates welcomed imported food, rather than continue to pay for homegrown produce. Unable to make a living, farmers emigrated to the United States and Canada.
Aside from Presbyterian Ulstermen, Irish emigration was prompted by the failure of the anti-British revolts led by the United Irishmen in 1798 and 1803. Thomas Emmet, whose brother Robert Emmet led the 1803 uprising, came to New York, practiced law, and was eventually elected state attorney general. The Emmets, like many of the other Irish refugees of this time, were Protestants.
At the time of the first failure of the potato crop, Ireland was one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with the population growing from 2,845,932 in 1785 to 8,295,061 in 1845. Benevolent societies in Ireland and England assisted Irish peasants to come to the United States. They tended to congregate in cities, where women became domestic servants and the men day laborers, working as ditch diggers and laying the railroads. An estimated 1.5 million southern Irish came to the U.S. between 1846 and 1860 and became the nucleus of the Roman Catholic Church.
Over one million Germans, especially from north German states, emigrated to the U.S. after the failure of the liberal revolutions of 1848. Some settled in what was then the American West, such as the cities of Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Many others became prosperous farmers. A fourth of them were Roman Catholic adherents.
Opposition to mass immigration emerged at this time for many of the same reasons that immigration is opposed today.
A number of European governments paid the fare for convicts to come to the United States. By the mid-1830s, the situation was so serious that several large American cities, including Boston, New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans, attempted to halt the practice. In 1837, the city of New York determined that three-fourths of the residents of the municipal almshouse were foreign nationals. A report to the mayor stated, “In fact, our public charities are principally for the benefit of foreigners.” The U.S. Senate held hearings on this problem in 1845-46. As late as the mid-1880s, thousands of Irish paupers were shipped to the U.S. and Canada, with their passage paid for by the government and the Tuke Emigration Society (started by a banker who wanted to rid the country of surplus citizens).
Not unlike conditions today in areas especially hard hit by immigration, the alien welfare burden was often serious. The census of 1850 revealed that, during the previous year, of 134,972 paupers supported by the public, over half (68,538) were of foreign birth. Of the foreign-born population of the United States in 1850, at least one of every thirty-three was a pauper, while only one in three hundred of the native population was a public charge.
Starting in the early 1840s, another argument raised against a mass influx of immigrants was that many of them worked for less money than natives and thus drove down wage scales. Once Irish immigration swelled post-1846, day labor wages on the east coast undoubtedly stagnated.
The Irish and Germans who came here in the late 1840s to mid-1850s were racially allied to the American people. By and large, they assimilated easily.
Post—Civil War Immigration to 1882
The period just before and after the Civil War was marked by the great migration of people to the middle and farther west. The Homestead Act of 1862 did much to encourage resettlement from the east coast and Ohio River areas. The transition from sailing vessels to steamships as the primary means of transportation played a major role in boosting immigration. Trans-Atlantic carriers sold tens of thousands of cheap third-class steerage tickets. In 1873, 459,803 immigrants were counted, a record-breaking mark for that era.
Up to 1882, Germany and Ireland were the sources of around 70 percent of our immigrants in the post—Civil War era. In the 1870s and 1880s, a relatively small percentage of immigrants arrived in the upper mid-west from Scandinavia (7.7 percent of the total in 1873, up to 13.4 percent in 1882). This still amounted to around one million people—fully one-fifth of the population of Norway and Sweden. Scandinavians engaged in farming and had the lowest percentage of city dwellers of all major immigrant groups. They were a welcome addition to the American populace.
Asian Immigration on the West Coast, 1850-1924
The first great influx of Chinese laborers to America dates from the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. The end of the 1860s found Chinese in a variety of occupations. Agitation against them developed over time and arose from the fact that they were employed as contract laborers at a fraction of the prevailing wages earned by free white men.
While Asian immigration was slow to become a nationally recognized problem, western states and municipalities took the lead in passing legislation aimed specifically against the Chinese, and later the Japanese. In 1855, the California legislature imposed a head tax of $55 on each Chinese immigrant. This was followed in 1858 by an act prohibiting all persons of Chinese or “Mongolian” descent from entering the state or landing at any port, unless driven ashore by weather or unavoidable accident, in which instance they should be immediately reshipped. In 1861 an act was passed imposing a tax on foreign miners. It was levied nominally against all foreigners, but was enforced against the Chinese. An 1862 California law provided that every Mongolian over the age of eighteen should pay a monthly tax of $2.50, excepting those engaged in the production of sugar, rice, coffee, and tea. The California Supreme Court eventually declared all of these state laws unconstitutional.
In like manner, a number of city ordinances were passed for the purpose of reaching the Chinese communities indirectly. San Francisco passed a laundry ordinance imposing a fee of $15 per quarter on laundries not using a vehicle (Chinese laundries rarely had vehicles). People who sold vegetables from door to door were required to pay a fee of $2 if they drove a wagon and of $10 if they went on foot. The “queue ordinance” provided that every person convicted of any criminal offense should have his hair cut to a length of one inch from his head (the loss of his queue brought disgrace to a Chinaman). The “cubic air ordinance” required that no person should let or hire any dwelling where the capacity of the rooms was less than five hundred cubic feet for every person sleeping there. This was enforced against the Chinese, but rarely against those of other ethnic backgrounds.
But the federal courts made it virtually impossible for California to stop Chinese immigration. A state statute that gave the commissioner of immigration power to exclude lunatics, idiots, deaf and dumb persons, cripples, and prostitutes—the purpose being to exclude Chinese prostitutes—was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the prohibition or even regulation of immigration was a regulation of foreign commerce subject to the exclusive control of the U.S. Congress.
It was American workers who led the drive to end the legal importation of Chinese contract laborers, and they did so in the face of fierce opposition from American businessmen who claimed, as do the defenders of imported foreign labor today, that enterprises would fail or be forced to move overseas if they did not have a steady supply of Asian contract workers laboring at rates anywhere from one-quarter to one-twelfth of what had been the prevailing wage in such areas as mining, railroad construction and maintenance, construction, and other industries. West coast businessmen contracted with Chinese labor bosses to provide set numbers of workers, who were then shipped over to the U.S. on vessels often owned by their future U.S. employers.
Once ashore in California, the newly arrived Chinese workers came under the control of what were known as the Six Companies— Chinese syndicates that controlled the Chinese workers and their communities. Wages were paid to the Companies, and no Chinaman could return home without the express permission of the Company in which he was enrolled.
Although the Chinese in America worked for a fraction of what free labor demanded, there was no shortage of takers in a China that even then was overpopulated and suffered from periodic famines and chronic political instability. By the early 1870s, historian Alexander Saxton estimates that the Chinese constituted at least a quarter of the labor force in California. As Saxton remarks in his history of the labor-led Chinese exclusion movement, “clearly, the importation of indentured workers from an area of relatively depressed living standards constituted a menace to a society developing, at least after 1865, on the basis of free wage labor. . . A more or less free labor force was being pressed into competition with indentured labor. On the other hand, the main defenders of Chinese importation were to be found among those who benefited from the employment of contract gang labor.”
The man who epitomized opposition to the Chinese presence was Denis Kearney, who, as head of the Workingmen’s Party, forged California’s white laborers into a feared political force for economic and political reform. They demanded the exclusion of Chinese “coolie” labor, and within five years of the inception of Kearney’s brief public career, Congress passed, and President Chester Arthur signed into law, the first measure to restrict Chinese immigration into America.
In 1876 Democrats and Republicans inserted anti-Chinese planks in their platforms. A special joint committee of the House and Senate conducted investigations on the Pacific coast and issued a report warning of the danger of California becoming dominated by the Chinese. The committee recommended:
That measures be taken by the executive looking toward a modification of the existing treaty with China, confining it to strictly commercial purposes; and that Congress legislate to restrain the great influx of Asiatics to this country. It is not believed that either of these measures would be looked upon with disfavor by the Chinese government. Whether it is so or not, a duty is owing to the Pacific states and territories, which are suffering under a terrible scourge, but are patiently waiting for relief from Congress.
The first federal law went into effect in 1875, prohibiting the importation of women, including Chinese, for the purpose of prostitution. It also outlawed the transportation of residents of China, Japan, or any other Oriental country for the purpose of contracting them to a term of labor in the U.S. Any person attempting to contract to supply coolie labor for another was guilty of a felony and could be imprisoned for a year and fined up to $5,000.
Californians saw these acts as half-measures. A memorial addressed to Congress in 1879 by the California Constitutional Convention stated:
As became a people devoted to the National Union and filled with profound reverence for law, we have repeatedly, by petition and memorial, through the action of our Legislature, and by our Senators and Representatives in Congress, sought the appropriate remedies against this great wrong, and patiently awaited with confidence the action of the General Government. Meanwhile this giant evil has grown, and strengthened, and expanded; its baneful effects upon the material interests of the people, upon public morals, and our civilization, becoming more and more apparent, until patience is almost exhausted, and the spirit of discontent pervades the state. It would be disingenuous of us to attempt to conceal our amazement at the long delay of appropriate action by the National Government towards the prohibition of an immigration which is rapidly approaching the character of an Oriental invasion, and which threatens to supplant the Anglo-Saxon civilization on this Coast.
Congress addressed the question of Chinese immigration in 1882, providing that no state or federal court was allowed to admit Chinese to citizenship, and suspended for ten years the importation of all Chinese laborers, skilled or unskilled. Feelings against the Chinese continued to run strong along the Pacific coast, and the Chinese government, in 1886, announced that it would try to prevent its own laborers from going to the U.S.
Congress finally acted, and on October 1, 1888, President Grover Cleveland signed into law the Chinese Labor Exclusion Act, which prohibited all Chinese laborers from coming to the U.S. for twenty years and declared that it should remain in force for an additional twenty years, unless notice should be given by either government six months before the expiration of the first period. This did not affect the right enjoyed by Chinese travelers, students, and merchants to visit the United States. The Chinese government protested against this legislation, but the Supreme Court upheld its validity.
Extensions of Chinese labor exclusion were passed in 1892 and included in a treaty with China in 1894. After notification by China of its intent not to renew the Chinese Exclusion Treaty of 1894, Congress passed the Act of April 27, 1904, which extended and continued without modification or limitation all laws on Chinese exclusion then in force.
Although Commodore M. C. Perry “opened” Japan to the rest of the world in 1853, forcing the Mikado to sign commercial treaties with the United States, Great Britain, and Russia, it was not until 1885 that the Japanese government authorized its citizens to go abroad. The increase in the Japanese population resident in the United States was gradual:
Of the 111,010 Japanese living in the U.S. in 1920, 29,672 (26.7 percent of the total) were born in this country and were thus considered to be American citizens. Of the 81,338 born in Japan, only 572 had become naturalized citizens.
Anti-Japanese sentiment first emerged in the U.S. in 1900. Beginning in 1891, over a thousand Japanese entered the U.S. annually, settling almost without exception in the state of California. Public meetings were held in San Francisco and other towns, demanding that the Chinese Exclusion Laws be extended to include Japanese. In July 1900, the Japanese government unilaterally decided to prohibit “for the present, the emigration from Japan to Canada and also to the United States.” This measure failed to halt Japanese immigration, as many Japanese simply went to Hawaii and then on to the mainland.
A new anti-Japanese campaign was launched in San Francisco in 1905 with the founding of the Japanese & Korean Exclusion League. California representatives introduced a number of Japanese exclusion bills in Congress.
Responding to the demands of the State of California, President Theodore Roosevelt entered into the so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907-08. Under the terms of the executive agreement, the Japanese could issue passports to non-laborers (students, businessmen, travelers). The Japanese promised not to issue passports to laborers, skilled and unskilled alike, wishing to go to the United States. Japan applied these restrictions to people saying their destination was Hawaii or Mexico.
While official Washington declared that the Gentlemen’s Agreement was a satisfactory way of limiting Japanese immigration, the Pacific coast states were critical of the agreement from the outset. In 1909, the California legislature passed a resolution calling for the application of the Chinese exclusion laws to the Japanese. In 1913, California passed a land law, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, prohibiting Japanese aliens from acquiring agricultural land. A state ballot initiative in 1920 prohibited leases and all other interests in real property to Japanese. Arizona passed a similar act in February 1921, followed by the states of Washington and Texas.
Further protests against Japanese immigration were issued by the California legislature in 1919, 1920, 1921, and again in 1923. They pointed out that the Gentlemen’s Agreement was not working and Japanese were entering the U.S. illegally through Mexico.
It is worth noting that other countries passed Japanese exclusion acts during this period. South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand were among the first to bar Japanese immigration. Canada concluded her own Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan, limiting yearly admissions to 400. In May 1922 the Dominion Parliament called on the national government to take immediate action to end further Oriental immigration.
Critics of Japanese immigration cited economic and assimilation problems as reasons for supporting Oriental exclusion. Marshall DeMotte, chairman of the California State Board of Control, wrote in an article titled, “California—White or Yellow?”:
The question of the mixture of Orientals, particularly Japanese, with whites, while it has its economic side, is nevertheless a race problem in the last analysis. Not of an inferior race seeking to mix with a superior race, for at no time have we cast reflection on the Chinese as to their dependability, honesty, and shrewdness in business nor on the Japanese as to their thrift, industry, and fineness in diplomacy. We respect both of these members of the Mongolian race but the fact cannot be dodged that they either must not come or if permitted to come must not be allowed to gain a foothold that will eventually enable them to control a single state of the nation as they virtually control Hawaii today.
Senator James Phelan of California summed up the situation in his state as follows:
The solution of the Japanese problem, growing out of the California situation, requires prompt action by Congress. It is charged with danger. The people of Japan, as well as the people of the eastern States, should be informed in a spirit of frankness. . .
Great numbers of Japanese are in California and are acquiring large tracts of agricultural land. The state law forbade ownership by aliens ineligible to citizenship, but the Japanese took deeds in the name of their children born on the soil or in the names of corporations and so circumvented the intent of the law. . . The state, therefore, is obliged as a simple matter of self-preservation to prevent the Japanese from absorbing the soil, because the future of the white race, American institutions, and western civilization are put in peril. . . Japan itself excluded Chinese in order to preserve her own people, and that is what California, Australia, and Canada are doing.
Immigration and naturalization are domestic questions, and no people can come to the United States except upon our own terms. We must preserve the soil for the Caucasian race. California, by acting in time, before the evil becomes even greater, expects to prevent conflict and to maintain good relations with the Japanese government.
The U.S. House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, in a 1924 report, Restriction of Immigration, criticized the State Department for entering into secret diplomacy with the Japanese on the issue of immigration. The Committee stated:
The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that certain nationals of Oriental countries are not entitled to be naturalized as citizens of the United States under our naturalization laws. . . The Committee feels justified in offering a provision that persons ineligible to citizenship shall not be admitted as “immigrants.” All must agree that nothing can be gained by permitting to be built up in the United States, colonies of those who cannot, under the law, become naturalized citizens, and must therefore owe allegiance to another government.
The Committee went on to observe that Japan, in the exercise of a similar protection for her own people, excluded Chinese and Koreans from becoming naturalized citizens. This exclusion remains in effect today and has been extended to bar the permanent entry into Japan of “boat people” from Vietnam and Cambodia.
In March 1924, the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization reported on a bill (H.R. 7995) which provided that, with the exception of merchants, ministers, visiting professors, and college students, “no alien ineligible to citizenship shall be admitted to the United States.” Over the protests of Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Japanese Ambassador Count Hanihara, the House passed the legislation on April 12, 1924, by the decisive majority of 323-71.
Three days later, the Senate voted 76-2 to withdraw recognition of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. It then passed its own exclusion bill, by a 62-6 vote. ASenate-House conference committee reached a final version, and on May 15, the Immigration Act, with the exclusion provisions, passed the House 308-62 and the Senate 69-9.On May 26, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Immigration Act. Despite a formal protest from the Japanese government, the law providing for Japanese exclusion went into effect July 1, 1924.
Exclusion of Other Asians
India was another unwelcome source of non-white immigration to the United States and Canada. The Immigration Act of February 5, 1917, called for the exclusion of the natives of certain lands in or adjacent to Asia. Defined by latitude and longitude, the “Asiatic Barred Zone” included India, Siam, Indochina, Afghanistan, parts of Russian Turkestan, part of Arabia, New Guinea, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and other islands.
The immediate effect of this clause was to check the entrance of East Indians to the Pacific coast. As the commissioner of the California State Bureau of Labor Statistics remarked, “The Hindu is the most undesirable immigrant in the State.” In the wake of protests by organized labor, Canada likewise adopted a policy of East Asian exclusion to stop what threatened to become a veritable deluge of Hindu immigration into British Columbia.
Addressing the question of the prohibition of Asian immigration by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other countries, the distinguished British historian Geoffrey Barraclough, in his book An Introduction to Contemporary History (Penguin Books, 1964/1982) observed that population pressures in Asia prompted millions of people to emigrate. “The immediate response of the countries concerned was to erect a ring fence of stringent immigration laws and regulations so framed as to exclude non-Europeans. . . But for these restrictions,” Professor Barraclough concluded, “it seems almost certain that by that date [1936, citing the work of demographer Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, World Population] the population of the western seaboard of North America would have been largely Asiatic.”
The New Immigration, 1890-1924
Demands that American immigration laws be revised were sparked, in part, by the change in the type of immigrants who started to enter the United States after the Civil War. Up to 1890, most immigrants belonged to what came to be described as the “old” sources of immigration, namely people from Great Britain and Ireland, Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia. It was people from these areas who originally settled what became the United States of America. They established the nation’s free political institutions and wrote the Constitution. Later immigrants to come from these sources had little trouble assimilating with what became the native American majority.
The decade 1880-1890 witnessed a distinct shift. Whereas before 1890 most newcomers were of Anglo-Saxon or Germanic descent, after 1890 and prior to the quota legislation of 1924, the great majority of immigrants were Slavs and Mediterraneans. This “new” immigration had its sources in Russia, Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Greece, Turkey, Italy, and the Balkan countries.
The change is seen in the total number of immigrants to the United States. From 1871 to 1880, Western Europe contributed 2,080,266, while the total from Southern and Eastern Europe was only 181,638. But between 1901 and 1910, the total from Western Europe was 2,007,119. Southern and Eastern Europe sent 6,128,897. “Old” immigration remained virtually unchanged for two decades, while the “new” immigration increased from 181,000 to more than 6 million. Practically all the immigrants from Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia arrived in the United States after 1890.
The peak of immigration was reached in the decade preceding World War I, when in each of the years 1905, 1906, 1907, 1910, 1913, and 1914 more than a million immigrants arrived. During the other years from 1900 through 1914, immigration averaged 800,000 annually.
“Old” and “New” Immigration, 1882-1914
Total “Old” Immigration, 1882-1914…………. 7,506,041
Total “New” Immigration, 1882-1914 ……… 11,960,122
Total Immigration from Europe, 1882-1914 .. 19,526,163
Coming in such large numbers, the “new” immigrants could not be easily assimilated. This created friction and resentment among the American majority, who responded by demanding restrictions on the numbers and types of immigrants. In his discussion of the change in the character of European immigration after 1890, Woodrow Wilson wrote in his History of the American People:
The census of 1890 showed the population of the country increased to 62,622,250, an addition of 12,466,467 within the decade. Immigrants poured steadily in as before, but with an alteration of stock which students of affairs marked with uneasiness. Throughout the century men of the sturdy stocks of the north of Europe had made up the main strain of foreign blood which was every year added to the vital working force of this country or else men of the Latin-Gallic stocks of France and northern Italy, but now there came multitudes of men of the lower class from the south of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland—men out of the ranks where there was neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence—and they came in numbers which increased from year to year, as if the countries of the south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population, the men whose standards of life and of work were such as American workmen had never dreamed of hitherto.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, popular uneasiness and misgivings over the size and composition of the “new” immigration surfaced. In an attempt to blunt the rising tide of concern, apologists for the “new” immigration waged a public relations campaign that challenged the view that America was essentially an achievement of Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The symbol of the “new” immigration took the form of “The Melting Pot,” after a modest drama written by Israel Zangwill that appeared in 1909. The token was effective and lent itself to a thousand uses. According to this revised version of our country, representatives of all the peoples of the world were pouring into America. Once here, some magical process fused them into a new nation, called the United States. The apparent evidences of national disintegration were illusions. For too many, the “Melting Pot” became a convenient substitute for an understanding of the real history of our country and of the problems presented by nontraditional immigration streams.
Opposition to mass immigration emerged. Organized labor came to support restrictions. As early as 1889, unionists in Boston called for a fifteen-year moratorium on all immigration. Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor challenged other union leaders to have the courage to do what was in labor’s best interest: lobby for federal legislation to end large-scale immigration. In a letter to Congress, the AFL agued that “laborers are imported from other countries to reduce our wages and thereby our standard of living” (Congressional Record 1898, 31:686).
Pro-majority groups, including eugenicists, began to be heard. They were afar-sighted element unwilling to see America’s racial character and national unity destroyed. During the 1906 debates, Senator Simmons of North Carolina remarked, “The broad fact, then, is that about two-thirds of all the immigration to this country today and during recent years has come from southern and eastern Europe. . . They belong to a different civilization from that represented by the Anglo-Saxon race” (Congressional Record 1906, 40:7295).
Attempts were made to improve the quality of immigration by the adoption of the literacy test, which provided that those who could not read and write some language should be excluded. Senator Elihu Root of New York, speaking in 1912 in favor of literacy tests for immigrants, remarked:
I think there is a general and well founded feeling that we have been taking in immigrants from the Old World in recent years rather more rapidly than we have been assimilating them. They have been coming in rather more rapidly than they have been acquiring American habits of thought and the American spirit of government.
The specific reason why I think this educational qualification will, as a whole, be a great advantage is that it will especially affect a very large immigration from southeastern Europe, which has in recent years furnished the unassimilated element, this element which is difficult for us to assimilate, and which when it gets here is cut off from the general sentiment and opinion of the country.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, the leaders of the Democratic Party were trying to court “new” immigrant voters, who tended to congregate in cities and vote as a bloc. As Samuel Lubell pointed out in his study, The Future of American Politics (1952), a “cultural chasm” developed between the two major political parties, with the Republicans being more “sensitive to the aspirations of the ‘old’ immigrant elements.” Lubell went on to note that the “new” immigrants and their descendants formed the core of support for Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” This group continues to constitute the bulk of the white vote that still supports the Democrats. Had immigration patterns not shifted in the late nineteenth century to 1914, it is likely that the Republicans would have remained the majority party, virtually without interruption, from the end of the War Between the States to the present.
President Wilson vetoed the literacy measure. The outbreak of World War I put a virtual stop to the international movement of people, and the United States enjoyed a time-out from immigration. In 1917 the Burnett Act consolidated immigration laws excluding undesirables and included a literacy test for newcomers. President Wilson vetoed this measure, but Congress overrode his veto, 287 to 106 in the House and 62 to 19 in the Senate.
The emergent anarchist and socialist movements of the turn of the century were often composed of “new” immigrants. In his book, Emigration and Immigration, Professor R. Mayo Smith declared:
An indication of the unfortunate effect of introducing so many men of foreign birth and belief into our social body is seen in the recent outbreaks of anarchism and socialism. These movements are always led and for the most part carried out by persons of foreign birth. Socialism and anarchism are not plants of the American mind; neither are they due to any deterioration in the condition of the laboring class in this country, and thus the fruit of despair and hopelessness in regard to the future. They are the importations of foreign agitators who come here for the purpose of making converts to their doctrines.
A member of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, Rep. S. D. McReynolds, stated:
Suppose we concede, for the sake of argument, that those who come are as intelligent as we are; as moral as we are; as law-abiding as we are; but coming, as they do, with different environments, different ideals, they will hold on to their ideals, spreading their doctrines in this country and undertaking to force the same upon us. They have never lived under a republic, and it is the history of most Latin countries that a republic cannot prevail, that they live greatly in revolution and fomentation. Any judge can constitute aliens American citizens, but it takes a change of heart and mind to make an American. . . An immigrant might be a good worker and a good citizen in his own country but not necessarily able to become a good American.
Even the Washington Post took notice of the impact that the “new” immigration was having on the United States, as witnessed by its editorial of March 12, 1924, which pointed out that:
In the earlier years of the Republic immigration was not at a rate that negatived absorption, and most of those who entered did so with intent and purpose to make themselves Americans, to attain the American viewpoint and to adopt American ideals and to adapt themselves to the customs and habits and mind of the nation. But in more recent years a large percentage of immigrants have come with differences. For decades now immigrants that have been pouring in have obviously been bent on seizing the opportunities offered by America but without disposition to adapt themselves to the American viewpoint and to adapt American ideals and concepts of government and citizenship in return. The record is crowded with instances in which groups of immigrants have stoutly resisted Americanism, have maintained their foreignisms. From their entrance great numbers of them have made it plain by their conduct that they propose merely to take what America has to give without giving what America should receive. At the present time, in certain areas, immigrants constitute a substantial percentage of the population, and drifting together and holding aloof from Americanization, hold themselves as foreigners in America.
The 1924 Immigration Act
The Report of the U.S. Immigration Commission of 1911 disclosed a number of problems with the operation of the laws then in force:
The present immigration from Europe to the United States is in the largest measure due to economic causes. . . The United States Government makes no effort to induce immigration. . . A large number of immigrants are induced to come by quasi labor agents. . . Another important agency in promoting emigration from Europe to the United States are the many thousands of steamship ticket-agents and subagents operating in the emigrant-furnishing districts of southern and eastern Europe. . . While, unfortunately, the present law, from the difficulty of securing proof, is largely ineffectual in preventing the coming of criminals and other moral delinquents, it does effectively debar paupers and the physically unsound and generally the mentally unsound. . . No adequate means have been adopted for preventing the immigration of criminals, prostitutes, and other morally undesirable aliens. In spite of the stringent law, criminals or moral defectives of any class provided they pass the medical inspection, can usually embark at European ports and enter the United States without much danger of detection. . . The coming of criminals and persons of criminal tendencies constitutes one of the serious social effects of the immigration movement. The present immigration law is not adequate to prevent the immigration of criminals, nor is it sufficiently effective as regards the deportation of alien criminals who are in this country. . . It is clear that there is a large induced immigration due to labor agents in this country, who, independently or in cooperation with agents in Europe, operate practically without restriction. As a rule only unskilled laborers are induced to come to the United States by this means.
The Commission recommended that future legislation should be framed on the principle that:
Immigration be such, both in quality and quantity, as not to make too difficult the process of assimilation. . . The measure of the rational, healthy development of a country is not the extent of its investment of capital, its output of products, or its exports and imports, unless there is a corresponding economic opportunity afforded to the citizen dependent upon employment for his material, mental, and moral development. The development of business may be brought about by means which lower the standard of living of the wage earners. A slow expansion of industry which would permit the adaptation and assimilation of the incoming labor supply is preferable to a very rapid industrial expansion which results in immigration of laborers of low standards and efficiency, who imperil the American standards of wages and conditions of employment.
After World War I, advocates of reform renewed their efforts to restrict the “new” immigration. As A. Lawrence Lowell, then president of Harvard University, wrote in his book Public Opinion and Popular Government, “It is, indeed, largely a perception of the need of homogeneity, as a basis for popular government and the public opinion on which it rests, that justifies democracies in resisting the influx of great numbers of a widely different race.”
With the end of World War I, immigration rapidly swelled to unmanageable proportions. In 1920, 805,228 aliens arrived. The Commissioner-General of Immigration reported that 2 million aliens could be expected to head for this country every year for the foreseeable future.
In response, on May 19, 1921, Congress passed an emergency measure to stem this unwelcome tide. This was the “Quota Act,” which, for the first time, provided for quantitative limitations on immigration, in addition to the qualitative limitations contained in earlier legislation. This law, whose life was extended in 1922 to July 1, 1924, gave Congress time to work out a more permanent plan for numerical restrictions.
Section 2 of the Quota Act provided that “The number of aliens of any nationality who may be admitted under the immigration laws to the United States in any fiscal year shall be limited to 3% of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the United States as determined by the United States census of 1910.”
The emergency legislation achieved its purpose. During FY 1922, 309,556 immigrants were admitted to the U.S., down by 495,672 from the previous year. It has been estimated that the interim law kept 1,750,000-2,000,000 immigrants from America’s shores, “few of whom we would have been prepared to receive and care for in a year of unemployment and readjustment,” Vanderbilt University economics professor Roy Garis noted at the time. “Restriction of immigration by means of a quota system had vindicated itself by this time,” Professor Garis stated, “and it was already evident that the plan would be a good one if a proper basis for the quota scheme could be worked out, together with amendments to eliminate certain administrative difficulties.”
The 1921 law was not considered a final resolution of the problem of how to curtail mass immigration. The challenge to Congress was to come up with a more permanent set of laws.
In his first annual message to Congress, on December 6, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge addressed the issue of immigration:
American institutions rest solely on good citizenship. They were created by people who had a background of self-government. New arrivals should be limited to our capacity to absorb them into the ranks of good citizenship. America must be kept American. For this purpose, it is necessary to continue a policy of restricted immigration. It would be well to make such immigration of a selective nature with some inspections at the source, and based either on a prior census or upon the record of naturalization. Either method would insure the admission of those with the largest capacity and best intention of becoming citizens. I am convinced that our present economic and social conditions warrant a limitation of those to be admitted. We should find additional safety in a law requiring the immediate registration of all aliens. Those who do not want to be partakers of the American spirit ought not to settle in America.
The House Committee on Immigration, chaired by Rep. Albert Johnson of Washington, drafted what would eventually become the Immigration Act of 1924. The bill passed the House on April 12, 1924, by a vote of 323 to 71 (with 38 not voting) and the Senate six days later, 62 to 6 (28 not voting). President Coolidge signed the bill into law on May 26, 1924.
Under this act, the basic immigration law of 1917 was preserved. It retained the principle of numerical limitation inaugurated in the 1921 law, changing the quota basis from the census of 1910 to the census of 1890, and reducing the quota admissible in any one year from three to two percent. It provided for overseas inspection of prospective immigrants, rather than have them come to this country without prior inspection (aliens who came down with some infectious disease during transit to the U.S. could still be turned away, but this “pre-approval” system did much to reduce hardships).
In his 1924 message to Congress, President Coolidge said of the new immigration act, “I believe this law in principle is necessary and sound and destined to increase greatly the public welfare. We must maintain our own economic position, we must defend our own national integrity.”
The 1924 Immigration Act was regarded as “Progressive” legislation at the time it was passed. The majority view then was that immigration policy should reinforce the most positive aspects of the American experience, and the success of America was recognized as being based on the particular ethnic and cultural composition of the American population. The 1924 act would help stabilize society, promote assimilation, and contribute to economic progress.
The practical effect of the new law was to sharply reduce legal immigration into the United States. The annual quota for 1925 was 164,667. The figure was later reduced, after July 1, 1927, to 150,000 annual admissions.
The 1924 Immigration Act, with its numerical and ethnic limits, followed by the Great Depression, led to a “time-out” from large-scale immigration. During the Depression, many recent immigrants returned home. Assimilation of the vast wave of pre—World War I immigrants and their children began to take place.
Writing in early 1930, Rep. Albert Johnson was of the opinion:
I believe that considerably more than one-half of the people of the United States favor a complete suspension of immigration to the United States. . . I have become convinced that the safety of our institutions, the continuity of our prosperity, the preservation of our standards of living, and the maintaining of a decent level of morals among us depends upon a most rigid limitation of immigration and the maintaining of a rigid standard as to even those few who may be admitted.
As a matter of fact, we need no more immigrant labor. We need no more increase in population than that which will come from our present 121,000,000. . . In fifty years there will be 230,000,000 inhabitants in the continental United States.
Our present immigration laws may seem drastic, but they are not complete. The attempt to close the doors by the Immigration Act of 1924 was experimental. It has worked well, but it is not final. That which is needed for the well being of the Nation is an immigration law that actually restricts almost to the point of suspension. . . In my opinion, the United States will never again adopt a liberal policy of immigration. How to make the policy more restrictive is the problem.
For a number of reasons, chief among them the Great Depression, immigration fell during the 1930s, averaging about 40,000 per year from 1936 through 1940.
Beginning in 1930, the federal government implemented a stricter interpretation of the “liable to become a public charge” clause of the Immigration Act of 1917. This brought about a further reduction in immigration. In 1937, an amendment to the 1917 Act became law, providing for the deportation of indigent aliens to their native land at government expense at any time after their entry. Persons so removed were ineligible for readmission unless they received special approval from the secretary of labor and the secretary of state.
The last pre—World War II Congressional action relative to immigration was the Alien Registration Act of 1940. This required the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens.
Immigration Legislation, 1940-1965
The wartime theme that the “United Nations” were fighting the Axis powers helped create an atmosphere conducive to the breakdown of American immigration restrictions. The first to go were the Chinese Exclusion Acts, repealed in 1943, when an annual Chinese quota of 105 was set and eligibility for naturalization established. In 1946, the quota for the Philippines was increased from 50 to 100, and a quota for India was set at 100. The “Asiatic Barred Zone” quickly became a thing of the past.
In 1945, by order of the president, immigration priority was given to “displaced persons” within the legal quotas for each nationality. Up to 90 percent of each quota was reserved for DPs. Objections were raised to this practice by organized labor, which charged that American generosity was being abused. Representative of this view was Charles Babcock, legislative chairman for the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, who testified before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee on the Judiciary:
It is a well-known fact that more than 50 percent of these displaced persons are in the category of displaced persons by their own action. So many of them, therefore, as come within this category have no one to blame except themselves for their present situation. The best solution for them is to return to their own nations.
A leading Congressional critic of the Displaced Persons program was Rep. Ed Gossett of Texas, who argued that:
One of the largest, best-paid lobbies in the city of Washington at this time is the so-called displaced persons lobby. They are backed up by a nation-wide organization that has spent and is spending millions of dollars on propaganda. These organizations have filled the press and radio of the nation, a large part of which they control, with canned editorials, syndicated columns, sentimental appeals, feature stories, and a vast array of misleading information. They have lined up many politicians of both parties who seek to acquire or retain the foreign bloc votes in the pivotal states.
When well-grounded objections are raised to the character of the DPs. . . proponents always answer that we will screen them carefully. Our screening to date has been a joke—a joke for which we may pay dearly. We have no reason to suppose a better job would be done in the future.
Senator Elmer Thomas (D-Oklahoma) was among those calling for continued immigration restrictions. In an article in Modern Industry (June 1947), he wrote:
As a temporary policy, I favor closing our gates to aliens for a period of at least five years in order to protect our ex-servicemen and women and their opportunity to secure homes and jobs. . . The reason for stopping immigration now for at least a five-year period is for the benefit of our own temporary reconversion and stabilization programs. . . We have plenty of workers for all the jobs we have.
It is true that America is comparatively a new country and that all of our present citizens are the descendants of former immigrants from abroad. At a time when the several states were thinly populated there was ample room for aliens. But now with no new frontiers, the time has come for serious reconsideration of admitting aliens into the United States.
President Harry Truman came to oppose the 1924 Immigration Act. His advisors claimed that U.S. foreign policy and America’s new “superpower” status required that we no longer look out for what they saw as the parochial interests of the American majority. During his term in office, Truman called for a complete revision of U.S. immigration policy.
The first major post-war legislation on immigration was the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. It was passed over the objections of President Truman, who dismissed as “absurd and cruel” the “outdated notion” that future patterns of immigration should resemble the ethnic composition of the United States as it was then.
Compared to the law it superseded, the McCarran-Walter Act was liberal legislation. It removed virtually all of the existing racial and sexual bars to naturalization. An amendment sponsored by Rep. Walter Judd (R-Minnesota) and included in the final act did away with the “Asiatic Barred Zone” by establishing quotas for twenty countries from the Asian-Pacific triangle.
A measure of the “national origins” system was retained, but European quotas were restricted to one-sixth of one percent of the number of American citizens of that particular nationality residing in the U.S. in 1920. The law gave the Justice Department greater discretion to prohibit the entry of political radicals.
Despite the inclusion of new quotas for Asia, the sponsors of the act felt they were retaining the essence of the “national origins” program. The Senate Judiciary Committee issued a report, The Immigration and Naturalization Systems o f the United States, which defended the concept of national origins in these terms:
The subcommittee [on immigration] believes that the adoption of the national origins formula was a rational and logical method of numerically restricting immigration in such a manner as to best preserve the sociological and cultural balance in the population of the United States. . . The subcommittee hold that the peoples who had made the greatest contribution to the development of the country [i.e. Western Europeans] were fully justified in determining that the country was no longer a field for colonization, and henceforth further immigration would not only be restricted but directed to admit immigrants considered to be more readily assimilable because of the similarity of their cultural background to those of the principal components of our population.
Before he left office, Truman established a liberal President’s Commission on Immigration and Naturalization. The commission called for abolition of the national origins system and portrayed supporters of the 1924 act and of the revisions included in the McCarran-Walter Act as racists. The commission’s report stated that, “America was founded upon the principle that all men were created equal. . . that differences of race, color, religion, or national origin should not be used to deny equal treatment or equal opportunity.” This set the tone for the campaign to do away with the 1924 Immigration Act. Hereafter, immigration policy was debated in public as a “civil rights” issue.
Although supporters of the McCarran-Walter Act thought they were voting to retain limits on legal immigration, the law gave the attorney general broad discretion to admit non-quota entrants. During the Eisenhower administration, this power was used to admit thousands of otherwise ineligible aliens. Non-European immigration reached levels not seen before the 1921-1924 restrictions. Indeed, under President Eisenhower, the 1956 Republican platform, for the first time, renounced restrictionist immigration policies.
Starting in the 1940s and gaining steam in the 1950s, pro-mass immigration ethnic and religious interest groups directed a public relations campaign to influence popular opinion in favor of their reform program. As one immigration scholar notes:
Leader of this band of nongovernmental policy makers was the well-organized network of Jewish agencies that had come into existence during the refugee crises surrounding World War II. As the policy debate progressed, these agencies proved to be powerful allies for Congressional liberalizers, and even more powerful allies for Presidents Truman and Kennedy. As both tried to gain greater control over immigration issues, the Jewish agencies were readily available to support policy change and help shape public opinion. . . After the war [World War II] Jewish organizations turned their collective clout to ridding the nation’s immigration policy of this old [national origins] system of selection.
From 1956 on, Senator John F. Kennedy saw immigration as an issue that could garner important support for his presidential ambitions. He willingly served as a front man for the public campaign against the national origins system. Kennedy came to oppose restrictions that gave even theoretical preference to northern and western Europeans. A flood of public opinion pieces—speeches, articles, pamphlets, and books—was issued under his byline. The American Jewish Committee, “always at the forefront of efforts to liberalize immigration policy,” B. K. Koed points out in her Ph.D. dissertation, was one of JFK’s major backers. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published his book A Nation o f Immigrants (which was apparently ghosted by Theodore Sorensen).
Following Kennedy’s election as president in 1960, immigration reform bills were introduced in the Senate by Michigan Democrat Philip Hart and in the House by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.).
An umbrella organization, the American Immigration and Citizenship Conference, launched a public relations campaign promoting increased immigration and the abolition of the national origins provisions in existing law. A major claim, repeated over and over again, was that the proposed revisions would promote economic growth by encouraging more skilled immigrants to enter the United States.
Within the Kennedy administration, the key player involved in trying to eliminate the national origins provisions was Abba Schwartz of the State Department, who later called himself the “architect” of the Kennedy-Johnson era immigration policy. He received important support from Mayer Feldman, Norbert Schlei, and Adam Walinsky at the Justice Department.
Left-liberal immigration reform legislation remained bottled up in the House Immigration Subcommittee by its long-time chairman, Francis Walter of Pennsylvania. However, Walter died of leukemia on May 31, 1963. He was succeeded by Michael Feighan (D-Ohio). In July, the Kennedy Administration introduced its new immigration reform package, confident that they could now proceed to do away with the 1924 law and the objectionable provisions of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.
While the mass media barraged the public with pro-immigration pieces, there was little organized opposition to this campaign. The American Legion called for maintaining America’s cultural and social institutions. Likewise, the National Association of Evangelicals predicted that increasing “diversity” would undermine American culture. But there was no national organization defending immigration restriction, as there had been at the turn of the century, when the Immigration Restriction League, chaired by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, waged a successful public relations effort that led to passage of the 1924 Immigration Act.
The Kennedy administration enacted the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act in 1962. This gave authority to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to determine the status of refugees, some of whom were then admitted to the United States. Here was an instance where the U.S. government willingly surrendered its right to define the criteria upon which a certain class of immigrants would be admitted.
John Kennedy’s assassination and the 1964 presidential campaign delayed efforts to pass the immigration reform legislation. During the 1964 campaign, Republican vice-presidential nominee Rep. William Miller attacked efforts to undermine our existing immigration policies. For example, in a speech in South Bend, Indiana (where unemployment was high), Miller charged that Lyndon Johnson and his liberal allies planned to “completely abolish our selective system of immigration and instead open the floodgates for virtually any and all who would wish to come and find work in this country.”
The Johnson landslide victory over Republican Barry Goldwater made it certain that the package of Great Society legislation, including bills to scrap much of the 1924 and McCarran-Walter immigration acts, would pass in the new Congress. In 1965 Congress passed a new immigration act—rushed through after less than a month of hearings—which eliminated the “national origins” quotas. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asserted that this measure was largely “symbolic” and claimed that no more than 5,000 Asians were likely to emigrate to the United States in any given year. Other administration spokesmen, as well as Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), perhaps the bill’s most vocal Congressional sponsor, brushed aside fears that massive immigration from the Caribbean, South America, and Asia would be one of the main results of the proposed changes.
Within Congress, the only major opponent of the 1965 immigration revisions was Senator Sam Ervin (D-N.C.). Ervin replied to Kennedy et al. that their legislation would discriminate against the ethnic groups that made America. In an exchange with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Ervin observed:
You take the English-speaking people, they gave us our language, they gave us our common law, and they gave us a large part of our political philosophy. The first settlers that came to America, came from the British Isles, from France, from Germany, from Ireland, from Holland, from the Scandinavian countries, isn’t that true?. . . The reason I say this bill is discriminatory against those people is because it puts them on exactly the same plane as the people of Ethiopia are put, where the people of Ethiopia have the same right to come to the United States under this bill as the people from England, the people of France, the people of Germany, the people of Holland, and I don’t think—with all due respect to Ethiopia—I don’t know of any contributions that Ethiopia has made to the making of America.
An angry Senator Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) protested: “I can’t sit still for the proposition uttered by my colleague from North Carolina that the ethnic groups that came from northern Europe and England made America.” Not surprisingly, the mass media branded Senator Ervin and the few other opponents of the radical legislation as “racists.”
The Celler bill passed the House on August 25, 1965 by 318-95. Senator Ervin introduced some sensible amendments to place a total annual limit on numbers of immigrants admitted, to abolish non-quota immigration, and prohibit the admission of unskilled labor. He continued to defend the national origins provisions of the existing law. None of Ervin’s proposals passed. On September 20, 1965, the Hart bill (S.500) passed the Senate 76-18. Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler bill into law at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965.
Historian Theodore White, an admirer of Lyndon Johnson, confessed in his book America in Search of Itself (1982) that the 1965 Immigration Act was “probably the most thoughtless of the many acts of the Great Society.” He went on to admit that the Kennedy-Johnson immigration laws may well end up being the principal contributing factor in:
what could become a catastrophe—the tide of immigration, legal and illegal, pouring into this country. For this under-swell, neither the census nor any other authority can provide fully reliable measurement. One starts with the obvious: that the United States has lost one of the cardinal attributes of sovereignty—it no longer controls its own borders. Its immigration laws are flouted by aliens and citizens alike, as no system of laws has been flouted since Prohibition.
Prior to the 1965 Immigration Act, the United States was bedeviled by problems associated with the presence in our midst of a large population descended from former slaves from sub-Saharan Africa. The passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, followed by the 1980 refugee law, the 1986 Immigration Reform & Control Act (which did neither, but did grant permanent residency to millions of illegal aliens, mostly from Mexico), and the 1990 Immigration Act (which raised legal immigration by 40 percent, tripled employment-based visas, and established “temporary protected status” for people from countries beset with armed conflict or natural disasters, especially benefiting Caribbean and Central American natives), has multiplied America’s racial problems many times over.
Doris Meissner, President Bill Clinton’s commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), boasted that “we are transforming ourselves.” It would have been more accurate if Mrs. Meissner had admitted that “we are transforming you.” Contrary to what the public was told to expect, the 1965 Immigration Act, and subsequent revisions of immigration law, opened the floodgates to a tidal wave of immigration, overwhelmingly of non-white, Third World origin.
Legal Immigration by Decade, 1971-2000
- 1971-80: 4,493,000
Top five nations of origin: Mexico, Philippines, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam
- 1981-90: 7,338,000
Top five nations of origin: Mexico, Philippines, China, Korea, Vietnam
- 1991-2000: 9,095,000
Top five nations of origin: Mexico, Philippines, Russia, China, India
During FY 2002, the most recent data available, 1,063,732 persons immigrated legally to the United States. The top five sending countries were Mexico, India, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam [Source: Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, March 2004, www.uscis.gov].
In addition to legal immigrants, an estimated 12 million illegal aliens are currently residing in the United States. Most are believed to be Mexican nationals, with anywhere from 1 million to 2 million more expected this year, according to U.S. border enforcement officials.
The Census Bureau reported in March 1996 that the United States reached a turning point during FY 1993-94: the increase in the Hispanic population was greater than that of non-Hispanic whites. This was the first time whites have trailed another group. Census Bureau figures indicate that non-Hispanic whites—the people who used to be simply referred to as “Americans”—constituted 88 percent of the U.S. population in 1960. By 1990 they were reduced to 73 percent. By 1990, proportionally, there were fewer European-Americans than in 1790. If trends continue, it is projected that European-descended whites will be a numerical minority in the United States by mid-century (2050).
Many Americans have quietly packed up and fled the regions where the impact of immigration is greatest. Some have migrated to Washington state and Oregon. Others are moving to the Rocky Mountain region (which now suffers from water “shortages” caused by the influx of Californians). Such states as Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are other destinations of preference for whites decamping from “immigrant rich” areas. Demographer William Frey of the University of Michigan has been following this internal migration for many years. He notes that some areas are becoming more homogeneous as millions of Americans choose to escape from “diversity.”
Those who remain behind are increasingly huddling inside walled and gated private communities, which have been springing up in coastal areas as well as the Midwest. This follows the abandonment of our cities by the white majority, sparked by the forced integration of public schools in the early 1960s, and which accelerated after the black race riots of the mid-to-late 1960s. Never before in history has a majority population simply picked up and left behind the equivalent of trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure, homes, museums, and other public facilities, which they have then had to rebuild in new communities.
A Question of Sovereignty
For several decades, the concepts of consent, sovereignty, and self-determination have been under assault in Western countries. In the U.S., government agencies and the courts have extended privileges formerly reserved to citizens, such as education, health care, and housing assistance, to aliens whose very presence here is against the express wishes of the national majority.
The American people have not been asked if they wanted to be “transformed.” Historically, the determination of who is a citizen has been intrinsic to national self-determination. The concept of citizenship has been the cornerstone of the nation-state. In the United States and other Western nations, the state is supposed to exist to protect the rights and interests of its citizens.
Distinctions between “national” and “alien” have been deliberately blurred by the post—World War II emphasis on universal and trans-national “rights.” The right of aliens to make claims on the citizens of other countries, stated now in terms of “international human rights,” has played a major role in changing the character of the state and its basis of legitimacy.
Thus, the purpose of government, in the West, has been turned on its head. Instead of acting as the representative, and for the benefit, of its own nationals, it is now accountable to international institutions and often gives preferential treatment to foreigners who happen to be residing within its borders.
The emergence of transnational rights has come during an era of renewed transnational migration. U.S. federal courts have cited provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in cases involving aliens and “refugees.” And the European Commission on Human Rights has been cited in U.S. courts as a recognized instrument of international human rights law. This has been used as a further excuse to expand government power in order to monitor the “rights” of various constituencies—newly favored groups, including migrants, racial, religious, “gender” minorities, women, and the physically and mentally handicapped.
As we head into the twenty-first century, we see that the state is no longer the embodiment of the “general will” of a particular people or nation—as least not of most Western peoples and nations.
Public opinion polls in the United States (and other Western nations, for that matter) indicate that the majority does not support “open borders.” And the more people know about our immigration policies, the less likely they are to endorse them. However, public sentiment has yet to be translated into public policy. An array of ethnic, religious, business (including corporate agriculture and select industries and services), education, media, and government special interests work ceaselessly to create a new reality by what amounts to demographic warfare against the majority population.
President George W. Bush asserts that if people do not celebrate the ongoing transformation of America through mass immigration, they must be motivated by “resentment.” But to more thoughtful people, clearly much is at stake.
The United States is not a “nation of immigrants,” but rather the creation of what were overwhelmingly Anglo-German Protestant colonists. Most population growth in early American history was due to natural increase, not to immigration, and popular reactions to non-white immigration have historically been hostile and have led to explicitly racial restrictions on it. Our national tradition is not one of “welcoming all immigrants” in accordance with an abstract ideological identity as a “proposition country,” a “creedal nation,” a country “founded on an idea,” or the “first universal nation.” The institutions that we call characteristically “American,” including our Constitution, common laws, representative political institutions, religious heritage, language, and literature (as well as almost all of our scientific achievements), and distinctive popular customs, tastes, and values derive from this core population of Anglo-German Protestants. There is no reason to believe that “America” will remain “American” if their descendants are displaced by a congeries of peoples who do not share these traditions or have a record of attainments of this magnitude. If that core population fails to regain control of our nation, then the real American people and the civilization they have created over centuries will disappear.
In the absence of a reconquest of America by its historic majority, the probable outcome of the process of social, cultural, political, and demographic disintegration—of which our immigration policies are the major culprit—was suggested by Andrew Hacker in his book The End of the American Era (1968):
The United States is about to join other nations of the world which were once prepossessing and are now little more than plots of bounded terrain. Like them, the United States will continue to be inhabited by human life; however, Americans will no longer possess that spirit which transforms a people into a citizenry and turns territory into a nation.
Though long out of print, a limited number of copies of Race and the American Prospect are available for purchase through the American Identity Movement website.