ALL Americans were immigrant families, of course, but until 1890 most immigrants were 'WASPs' (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) from the wealthier countries of Europe such as Britain, Germany and Sweden. After 1890, more immigrants started arriving from Eastern Europe and Asia.
Demand was growing, however, to slow down immigration (Source F), and there followed a number of laws to restrict immigration:
a. 1917: Immigration Law
This required all immigrants to prove they could read English, banned all immigration from Asia, and charged an immigration fee of $8.
b. 1921: Emergency Quota Act
This stated that the number of immigrants from 'the eastern hemisphere' could not be more than 3% of the number already in America in 1910. It set the maximum number of immigrants in any year at 357,000.
c. 1924: Reed-Johnson Act
Maximum number of immigrants in any year at 154,000. Quota from eastern hemispherereduced to 2% of those already in America in 1890; the South and the East of Europe were thus only allowed to send 20,000 immigrants per year, and non-Europeans only 4,000.
An American cartoon of 1921
At the same time measures were taken to 'Americanize' immigrants:
● The Federal Bureau of Naturalization organised naturalization proceedings, and patriotic 'Americanization Day' rallies and Fourth of July celebrations.
● The Federal Bureau of Education organised courses on politics and democracy to prepare immigrants for the 'citizenship exam'.
● The courts clamped down harshly on political crimes by immigrants. (The case you MUST know about is the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti - two immigrants from Italy who were anarchists - who in 1920 were found guilty of armed robbery and murder (and executed in 1927), even though the defence produced 107 witnesses that they were elsewhere at the time, and in 1925 the actual murderer came forward and gave himself up ... the jury did not believe the defence witnesses because they were all Italian immigrants).
Not all this was racism and prejudice - many social workers saw it as a way to help immigrants out of the terrible poverty many of them lived in.
America is God's Melting Pot, where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming! Germans, Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians - into the Melting Pot with you all! God is making the American.
Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot (1908)
New arrivals should be limited to our capacity to absorb them into the ranks of good citizenship. America must be kept American ...
I am convinced that our present economic and social conditions warrant a limitation of those to be admitted. Those who do not want to be partakers of the American spirit ought not to settle in America.
President Coolidge, Message to Congress, 1923
As soon as they step off the decks of their ships our problem has begun - bolshevism, red anarchy, black-handers and kidnappers, challenging the authority and integrity of our flag…
Thousands come here who never take the oath to support our constitution and to become citizens of the United Sates. They pay allegiance to some other country while they live upon the substance of our own. They fill places that belong to the loyal wage-earning citizens of America… They constitute a menace and a danger to us every day.
Speech by an American Senator, 1921
Why stop immigration [PRT]
Racism and mistrust!
a. Prejudice: after 1880, many immigrants were poor Catholics and Jews from eastern Europe. This worried the WASPs; one Senator in the 1920s said that the American pioneers were becoming 'a race of mongrels'.
b. Red scare: Communism terrified Americans; a number of bombs were planted in 1919-21, one by an immigrant Italian. Immigrants were suspected of being communists and anarchists.
c. Trade Unions: opposed immigration because they feared that immigrants would work for lower wages and take their jobs.
1. Prejudice/ Red Scare/ Trade Unions - can you see any of these prejudices influencing the statements in Sources D and E?
2. Why do you think the 1924 Act pushed the Census year back from 1910 to 1890