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Nativism, Immigration Restrictions and the Red Scare

Nativism Problem : Although America was founded by immigrants seeking a better life, most Americans in the early twentieth century believed that only white, protestant, northern and western europeans should be allowed into the country, and that these were the "desirable" immigrants. "Undesirable" immigrants included southern and eastern europeans, asians, jews, and catholics. What happened:

  • immigrants blamed for society's problems
  • fear of corrosion of american way of life
  • immigrants blamed for "lack of morals"
  • thought to pose significant health risks to americans
The natural following of this was the anti-immigration legislation of the 1920's.

Ellis Island, NY
Ellis Island, NY
Immigrants were seen as taking American jobs, as well as leeches on our economy, degrading our resources

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"For a country that prided itself on being a "melting pot," the debate over immigration during the 1920s cut to the heart of America's national identity." SIRS decades

American Reactions

"Looking at the question [of immigration restriction] from the point of view of the good of the greatest number, there arises a grave suspicion that America has been, or at any rate can easily be, permanently injured by too liberal and long continued an admixture of unskilled handworkers who belong to poor racial stocks and whose steady infiltration not only fills our asylums and jails, but tends to deteriorate our native stock. " Keep on Guarding the Gates, excerpt, June 1923

In The Passing of the Great White Racein 1916, author Grant warned of potential "race suicide" and the "reversion" of white, Nordic peoples -- older immigrants and Americans -- to more primitive levels by diluting their superior qualities after mixing with the "Alpine" (central European) and Mediterranean races, both of which were well-represented in the latest wave of immigration to America. It seemed obvious to many that "new" immigrants demonstrated their inferiority by living in urban poverty, engaging in criminal behavior, and scoring poorly on intelligence tests.

When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, psychologists saw the opportunity for mass intelligence testing on Americans of all classes, races, and ethnic groups. Officials used the Stanford-Binet test, which was given to army recruits, to validate the inferiority of "new" immigrants and black Americans. Nearly one-fourth of the foreign-born were functionally illiterate. During and after the war, various groups pressured Congress to pass legislation to conserve the "American race."


Anti Imigration Legislation

Immigration Act of 1921: established a three-percent quota system based on the number of foreign-born persons per nationality already living in America at the time of the 1910 census.
In 1924, Congress further restricted immigration with passage of the Johnson-Reed Act, also known as the
Immigration Act of 1924: This act established the 1890 census as the new quota baseline.

APA Poem (American Protective Association)

Come ye sons of Uncle Sam,
Come join the gallant band,
Come unite with us to fight our country's foe.
For our God is with the right,
We will conquer by His might,

And the slick and wily Jesuit must go.

Noble men are in our ranks --
We are not a band of cranks --
We are not a lot of bigots or of fools.
But, ye Roman Catholic hordes,
We will buckle on our swords,
If you dare to meddle with our public schools.


Connection to today :

Immigrants still face persecution and are still blamed for society's problems. Today, Mexican Americans are often harrassed in a way Eastern and Southern Europeans used to be, and anti-Mexican sentiment abounds througout the country, even in schools, books, and on the radio.

On Thursday April 30th, Boston radio station WTKK-FM announced that it had suspended right-wing talk show host Jay Severin indefinitely over derogatory comments he made on the air against Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Mexico in general. In a discussion about illegal immigration, Severin referred to Mexicans as “the world's lowest of primitives”, accused them of bringing the Swine flu to the U.S., and stated that "they are ruining the schools, the hospitals, and a lot of life in America" among other things.

According to FBI statistics, the number of anti-Latino hate crimes increased by 35 percent since 2003. In California, a state where Latinos are the majority ethnic population as well as the state with the largest Mexican American population, the number of hate crimes against Latinos has almost doubled.[32][33]

In modern times, organizations such as neo-nazis, white supremacist groups, American nationalist, and nativist groups have all been known and continue to intimidate, harass and advocate the use of violence towards Mexican Americans.[34][35][36][37] Racial slurs such as "wetback", "dogs" (as described by a member of the Houston Independent School District's Board of Trustees), "spick" or "spic", or "bandido" are used to refer to illegal immigrants. Much hatred has arisen in the U.S. during the 2008-09 drug wars in Mexico, as well as due to the swine epidemic. The movement generally consists of at least boycotting or refusing to purchase Mexican products, disrespecting hispanics, or in severe cases threatening or abusing with violence.


CNN's Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck: Anti-Mexican journalists
  • These two CNN "journalists" have in the last few years relentlessly criticized Mexican people, for their "illegally invading our porous border, bringing crime, disease, drugs and overly cheap labor to our country, stealing social services and jobs from our people".

The First Red Scare
Late 1910's-1920's
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The Red Scare of the 1920's caused deep social divisions across the country as neighbor turned upon neighbor to try to locate the infamous "radicals," who people believed would begin a revolution. New and older immigrants were greatly feared; the organized labor and progressive movements were slowed; more than ever the idea of the "original American" was present in daily life.

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1917 The Bolsheviks, a Russian revolutionary group, created the world's first Communist nation after succeeding in overthrowing their previous form of government.
The Revolution in Russia caused a lot of apprehension in the US, only strengthened by involvement in WWI and the influenza epidemic that followed; many Americans feared that Bolshevik and Communist sympathizers would attempt such a revolt in their country. People across the country began to become extremely
paranoid about any kind of forward thinking or actions.

"[The] Red Scare [was] external image gidlow_fig2_b.gif
a nation-wide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution... was imminent - a revolution that would change Church, home marriage, civility, and the American way of life."
--historian L.B. Murray

external image Close_the_gate_-_First_Red_Scare_political_cartoon.jpg - Bombs exploded in major cities around the country, spurring people's fear on to hysteria and xenophobia.
- April 1919, the police discovered thirty-six bombs hidden in the mail, ready to be sent to prominent members of the economy and politics including: J. P. Morgan, J. D. Rockefeller, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, A. Mitchell Palmer, and a few other immigration officials.
- 1919 eight bombs in eight different cities (including DC, the target Palmer) exploded simultaneously, confirming to some the suspicions that a nationwide conspiracy and communist/socialist revolution was brewing.

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Who to blame?
Fearful middle class Americans blamed any and all involved in potentially 'radical' activities; communists
socialists, labor unions, strikers (like those from the Industrial Workers of the World 1916-1917), newly arriving immigrants, progressives, anarchists, etc.

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Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Case

external image Sacvan.jpg- Happening around the same time was the Sacco and Vanzetti Case
- Sacco, Vanzetti = Italian immigrants
with anarchist beliefs
- They were accused of murdering a paymaster and a security guard
in South Braintree, MA
- Their case is thought to have a tainted jury pool (against them), and questionable eyewitness accounts, unfair trials; many believe that merely because they were anarchists they were convicted of the crime
- Both were died in the electric chair in 1927, even with multiple international attempts to secure them fair appeals
- extreme example of the extreme fear people held, and how it blurred their sense of justice

A. Mitchell Palmer and the "Red Raids" (1919-1920)

apush_wiki_picture.jpgAfter many widespread bombings, Palmer, appointed by Wilson to be Attorney General in 1919, ordered the US Justice Department to begin the Palmer "Red Raids:"
- "reds" = people suspected/arrested; named after the Russian communist flag
- raids were supposed to locate and deport all radicals from the country before they could do any harm; they expected to find evidence of a mass conspiracy, but in reality they found very little supporting their theory, and only a few weapons
- executed by his chief investigating officer, Edgar Hoover
- took place across thirty eastern cities; six to ten thousand people were arrested on the basis of being potential radicals
- arrest warrants were not issued until after those suspected were already held in jail
- "due process of the law" was violated in almost all respects during this process
- convictions often based on thoughts and ideals as opposed to actionsrediceberg_cvr_510.jpg
- Gaspare Cannone - refused to sign a sheet proclaiming he was an anarchist; somebody forged his signature and he was deported anyway
- Palmer worked with officials from the Bureau of Immigration and used the 1918 Deportation Act to increase the number of people deported
- 1918 Deportation Act authorized deportation of:
1) anarchists and those opposing organized gov
2) those wanting to overthrow the gov by force
3) members of any groups which supported or taught these views
- Assistant Secretary of Labor, Louis F. Post, was one of the few at first who stood up to Palmer; he overruled numerous deportations he viewed to be unjust
- controversy over Palmer's actions was widespread and very present in Congress. As time passed and no Mayday revolution was visibly occurred, people began to dismiss Palmer's credibility, and the scare calmed

"My one desire is to acquaint people like you with the real menace of evil-thinking which is the foundation of the Red movement."
-- A. Mitchell Palmer