American society esteems itself as a sanctuary for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses of the world. It adamantly claims to celebrate the principles of rowdy ethnic pluralism and colorful cultural diversity at the core of its identity. However, the proverbial melting pot of American society has not, and perhaps never will, epitomize the egalitarian spirit of the American Dream – the belief that this nation is an unlimited beacon of hope and opportunity. From the 1798 Alien Acts, which required the immediate expulsion of foreigners “dangerous to the peace and safety of the
The heart of the progressive reform movement during the first decade of the twentieth century was quite unlike anything American society had ever experienced before. Rather than campaigning for the government as a bulwark of individual liberty, progressive reformers fought for the government as an agent of human welfare. They felt that the burden of purging social, economic, and political corruption should be accepted by the government – that unbridled capitalism and unregulated politicking are dangerous for democracy.
However, an unfortunate extension of the logic behind economic and political regulation was the misguided belief that all aspects of society must be stringently monitored and delicately disinfected. Indeed, this Panglossian campaign for an ideal
The concepts of social restriction and genetic sanitation clearly buttress nativism. Harry Laughlin, an influential developer of the eugenics movement, remarked, “The recent immigrants (largely from Southern and Eastern
The aftermath of World War I left American society disillusioned by foreign intervention and apprehensive about the rise of radicalism abroad; these conditions provided an ideal setting for the fomentation of social purification programs developed during the progressive era and for the upsurge of nativism. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 fanned the flames of the isolationist movement by inspiring new fears of communist agitators in the minds of Americans. Many angry citizens blindly ascribed the scourge of labor strikes during the period between 1918 and 1919 to Russian revolutionaries. War-time American author stuck a chord in American nativism by declaring, “My motto for the Reds is S.O.S.—ship or shoot. I believe we should place them all on a ship of stone, with sails of lead, and that their first stopping place should be hell” (Bailey 280). The paranoid anti-foreignism and vindictive censorship of radicalism of the day are two hallmarks of nativism.
The hysteria reached epic proportions during 1919 and 1920, culminating in the first organized manifestation of brewing anti-foreignism, “the red scare.” Attorney general Mitchell Palmer capitalized on frightened Americans by zealously rounding up over six thousand alleged enemies of the state. Moreover, he successfully forced the deportation of 249 suspected radical communists back to
No better example of the subversion of American justice in the name of American nativism exists than in execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The men were convicted of murder not because their guilt was proven beyond all reasonable doubt, but because their blasphemous ideology was known beyond all reasonable denial: they were atheists, Italians, anarchists, and draft dodgers. Vanzetti famously acknowledged, “But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical and indeed I am a radical” (Bailey 281). The supercharged atmosphere of post-World War I America – vivid dreams of a better future and dark fears of social collapse – provided an ideal environment for the triumph of narrow-minded bigotry.
Congress responded to the nativist pressures of the 1920s by passing the Immigration Act of 1924 – codifying the nation’s calls for provincial Americanism. According to this legislation, number of immigrants allowed from a certain country was set to the quota of 2% of the number of immigrants in 1890s
Finally, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan during the first quarter of the twentieth century – membership exceeding a staggering 5 million by 1925 – embodied, perhaps more so than anything else, the violent nativism of the age. Spawned by the dizzying effects of rapid change, the Klan rose on the pillars hate and intolerance; it added antiforeignism, anticommunist, and antichange to its typical arsenal of hate. Reverend Bob Shuler of Shuler’s Magazine excuses the violent tendencies of the Klan by noting that “the tenets, principles, and aims of the Ku Klux Klan” include a “positive emphasis for Americanism as opposed to foreignism”; and therefore, the “the principles of the Klan are not so damnable as pictured” (Bailey 286). Pro-Americanism dignified violent antiforeignism, and the Ku Klux Klan rose to power.
The widespread bans on interracial marriage, the compulsory sterilization programs, the systematic deportations of intellectual radicals, the strict racial quotas, and the powerful vigilantly group founded on hate and bigotry cumulatively gave 1920s
Bailey, Thomas A., and David M. Kennedy. The American Spirity. Vol. 1.
Quinn, Peter. "Race Cleansing in
Satel, Sally. "A Better Breed of American." The New York Times 26 Feb. 2006.