Uphill All the Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism, 1919-1929
By Kevin C. Murphy, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Seven:
America and the World

Progressives and the
Foreign Policy of the 1920s


VI. Immigrant Indigestion

I. The Sins of the Colonel.
II. Guarding the Back Door.
III. Disarming the World.
IV. The Outlawry of War.
V. The Temptations of Empire.
VI. Immigrant Indigestion.

In the same 1927 letter to Hiram Johnson that Harold Ickes, discussing Nicaragua and Mexico, bemoaned imperialistic and "bullying" behavior by the United States and lamented that America was not leading the way to "international understanding, good-will, and peace," Ickes also took a brief digression into the status of Japanese immigrants. "I have always believed that California was well within her rights in forbidding the Japanese to own land," Ickes told one of the authors of that particular policy. "I don't believe American culture and Japanese culture can effectively amalgamate and for that reason California was performing a real service to the whole country in setting up a barrier on the Pacific Coast. I believe in letting foreign nations alone and in asserting our own right to be let alone…[I]f our national and state governments choose to exercise their unquestioned sovereign power to limit or to destroy altogether the rights of foreigners in this country than other countries have exactly the same right with respect to Americans and American rights within their national domains."1

In other words, a restrictive immigration policy here at home was perfectly in keeping with the anti-imperialism and nationalism that informed progressives on other matters. "I am in full sympathy with your plan and your purpose," William Borah told John S. Chambers, chairman of the executive committee of the Japanese Exclusion League of California, in 1921. "I am in favor of saying to Japan courteously, but conclusively, that while we respect her as a great nation and shall always be glad to live in terms of utmost harmony with her, we will absolutely determine who shall own property and be citizens of this country. Even if Japan objected to this treatment of her former citizens, Borah told another constituent, "there is one thing that every people must reserve absolutely, and that is the right to say who shall hold real estate within the Nation's boundaries and who shall be admitted as immigrants."2

The Senate progressives' blindness on the issue of immigration was a tragic lacuna in their otherwise humanist philosophy, and their discussions of the issue often exposed the limits of their tolerance. To take just two examples, George Norris argued for "more stringent laws to bar the undesirable foreigner" and Borah attempted in 1927 and 1928 to add Mexican immigrants to the 1924 restriction act, since it "was a mistake to limit certain other countries to the quota and leave Mexican immigrants out. We certainly do not want them as citizens." But they were not alone in this unfortunate oversight. Even before the World War, as settlement house workers like Jane Addams extolled the "immigrant gifts" new arrivals brought to American life and writers like Horace Kallen and Randolph Bourne were singing the praises of group differences and the cosmopolitan American of transnational stock, there had been progressive stirrings in the direction of immigration restriction.3

"Freedom of migration from one country to another, The New Republic opined in 1916, "appears to be one of the elements of nineteenth-century liberalism that is fated to disappear." In the first fifteen years of the twentieth century, over fifteen million immigrants had entered the United States, many of them from Southern and Eastern Europe. Now, suggested TNR, with "[t]he responsibility of the state for the welfare of its individual members…progressively increasing," American "democracy…cannot permit…social ills to be aggravated by excessive immigration." These sorts of philosophical musings were soon amplified and exacerbated by the hyper-nationalism and anti-German hysteria of the War period, which saw even the ostensibly progressive President of the United States declare that the "infinitely malignant" Hyphenates must be "crushed out." (Wilson carried this attitude into the postwar period: "Hyphens are the knives that are being stuck into this document," he lamented of the Versailles Treaty.)4

Meanwhile, across the country, American citizens were bombarded by George Creel's Committee of Public Information with grotesque caricatures of the German Hun in the midst of rapine, and the Enemy did not appear to make a friendly neighbor. "Shall we permit the bestial hordes who ravished Belgium women [sic] and bayoneted little children to make their homes where American womanhood is sacred and where innocent childhood is loved?" asked the National Civic Foundation in 1918. "There is no doubt," Jane Addams wrote after the dust had settled, "that the immigrant population in the United States suffered from a sense of ostracism during the war, which, in spite of their many difficulties, their sorrows and despairs, they had never encountered in such universal fashion."5

Adding further fuel to the fire were the theoretically science-based warnings of writers like amateur anthropologist Madison Grant, whose 1916 volume The Passing of the Great Race -- which aimed to "rouse…Americans to the overwhelming importance of race and to the folly of the 'Melting Pot' theory" -- remained a popular book into the early Twenties. Dividing the peoples of Europe into the "Alpine," "Mediterranean," and "Nordic Races," Grant warned that "the American [had] sold his birthright in a continent to solve a labor problem. Instead of retaining political control and making citizenship an honorable and valued privilege, he intrusted the government of his country and the maintenance of his ideals to races who have never yet succeeded in governing themselves, much less anyone else." As a result, "the man of the old stock is bring crowded out of many country districts by these foreigners, just as he is today being literally driven off the streets of New York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These immigrants adopt the language of the native American, they wear his clothes, they steal his name, and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals." In short, Grant argued, "democracy is fatal to progress when two races of unequal value live side by side."6

Grant's fears were further expounded on by Harvard-educated history professor Lothrop Stoddard in his 1920 book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. (Grant wrote the introduction.) "We stand at a crisis -- the supreme crisis of the ages," Stoddard told his readers. "If white civilization goes down, the white race is irretrievably ruined. It will be swamped by the triumphant colored races, who will obliterate the white man by elimination or absorption…if the present drift be not changed, we whites are all ultimately doomed." Fortunately, "the horrors of the war, the disappointment of the peace, the terror of Bolshevism, and the rising tide of color have knocked a good deal of the nonsense out of us," Stoddard thought.7

To meet this race crisis head-on, along with thoroughly revising "the wretched Versailles business," and forsaking "our tacit assumption of permanent domination over Asia," Stoddard prescribed immigration restriction right away. "[E]ven within the white world, migrations of lower human types like those which have worked such havoc in the United States must be rigorously curtailed. Such migrations upset standards, sterilize better stocks, increase low types, and compromise national futures more than war, revolutions, or native deterioration." Grant and Stoddard's pseudo-scientific arguments were given even more play in the Saturday Evening Post. Immigration left unrestricted, influential Post writer Kenneth Roberts argued, would make of Americans "a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central American and Southeastern Europe." Among the millions of converts to this line of reasoning was Calvin Coolidge, who affirmed in 1921 that "biological laws show us that Nordics deteriorate when mixed with other races."8

The virulent racism in these arguments is impossible to ignore, and the works and popularity of Grant and Stoddard testify to historian John Higham's thesis in his classic 1955 study of immigration and nativism in America, Strangers in the Land -- that the immigration restriction of the "Tribal Twenties" was the end result of an upsurge in racial nationalism in America. Certainly the Red Scare, with its anti-Bolshevik hysteria, well-publicized mass deportations like Palmer's Ark, and accompanying explosion of "100% American" organizations, compounded the hyper-nationalism of the war, made "Americanization" a very different project, and sent immigration restriction well on the path to legislative victory. Because A. Mitchell Palmer "tried to throw the nation into a panic, making it believe that every immigrant was a potential Bolshevist and bomb thrower," Edward Hale Bierstadt wrote in The New Republic in 1921, "Americanization and anti-radicalism became interchangeable terms." This lumping tendency drove Jane Addams to distraction, who railed against it in February 1920, as the fevers of the Scare were beginning to burn out. "The application of a collective judgment in regard to aliens in the United States is particularly stupid," she wrote, since immigrants "are not only quite as diversified in their political opinions as those of us forming the remaining millions of the population, but they are in fact more highly differentiated from each other by race, tradition, religion, and European background then the rest of us can possibly be, even although we are as diverse as the cracker in Georgia and the Yankee in Maine."9

But it is important to note that simple prejudice, however potent, isn't the whole story. In fact, some of the targets of one-hundred-percenters' wrath in 1919 and 1920 also backed immigration restriction, namely labor and the African-American community. "Every citizen of the United States should make protest against the influx of people from other countries," AFL-CIO head Samuel Gompers wrote in April 1921, since "[s]o many immigrants coming into this country will break down the standard of living of our people." Gompers did not indulge in specious racial arguments to explain his stance. Rather, he saw unrestricted immigration as the sharp point of the spear that would eventually force the open shop on all of American labor. "Shutting out from our shores the poor of other nations and races is caused by the law of necessity and self-protection consequent upon our industrial system," Gompers explained:
Labor does not desire to erect a wall around our country and prevent the poor of other nations from entering. It does not declare that America is for Americans alone, but it does insist that there should be and must be some restriction of immigration that will prevent disintegration of American economic standards.

Those who favor unrestricted immigration care nothing for the people. They are simply desirous of flooding the country with unskilled as well as skilled labor of other lands for the purpose of breaking down American standards. You must not forget that if low wages, long hours of employment and unbearable working conditions are signs of prosperity China and India would be the greatest commercial and industrial countries in the world. They have no strikes in China. It is the utopia of the 'open shop.' America, however, where men are free to voice their desires for greater and still greater advancement in economic conditions, is the greatest country on earth. Its people live better than anywhere else, and the trade unions are responsible for maintaining those standards.10
Similarly, A. Philip Randolph, soon to found the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925 and become a leading figure in the civil rights movement, argued in 1924 that "instead of reducing immigration to two percent of the 1890 quota, we favor reducing it to nothing…We favor shutting out the Germans from Germany, the Italians from Italy…the Hindus from India, the Chinese from China, and even the Negroes from the West Indies. This country is suffering from immigrant indigestion…It is time to call a halt on this grand rush for American gold which over-floods the labor market, resulting in lowering the standard of living, race-riots, and general social degradation. The excessive immigration is against the interests of the masses of all races and nationalities in the country - both foreign and native."11

While opinion was not unanimous -- the NAACP's Walter White for example, opposed immigration restriction -- Randolph was not the only prominent African-American leader thinking thus. As the Chicago Defender put it in January 1924, "It is vitally important to keep the immigration gates partly closed until our working class gets a chance to prove our worth in occupations other than those found on plantations. The scarcity of labor creates the demand. With the average American white man's turn of mind, the white foreign laborer is given preference over the black home product. When the former is not available, the latter gets an inning."12

Although he always remained dismissive of "the worship of the Nordic totem," W.E.B. Du Bois also eventually came around to this way of thinking. Writing in January 1920, Du Bois called the push for restriction a "despicable and indefensible drive against all foreigners [to shut] the gates of opportunity to the outcasts and victims of Europe." But by 1925, Du Bois wrote in The New Negro that "despite the inhumanity" of immigration restriction, "American Negroes are silently elated at this policy. As long as the northern lords of industries of the white land could import cheap white labor from Europe, they could encourage the color line in industry and leave the Negroes as peons and serfs at the mercy of the white South. But to-day with the cutting down of foreign immigration the Negro becomes the best source of cheap labor for the industries of the white land. The bidding for his services gives him a tremendous sword to wield against the Bourbon South and by means of wholesale migration he is wielding it." In sum, Du Bois conceded, revisiting the topic again in 1929, "the stopping of the importing of cheap white labor on any terms has been the economic salvation of American black labor."13

In any case, immigration restriction had a full head of steam behind it by the time of Harding's election. Leading the charge in the House of Representatives was Republican Congressman Albert Johnson of Washington, a former newspaperman who had been elected in 1912 after leading an armed revolt against an IWW lumber-mill strike in the community of Gray's Harbor. Elected with a promise to run the Wobblies and other radicals out of the country, Johnson had been chomping at the bit to pass immigration restriction since he had arrived in Congress, and he now found a sympathetic ear in President-Elect Warren Harding. To court German and Irish votes in 1920, Harding had downplayed most nativist talk during the election season, although he happily endorsed Asian exclusion while in California. Otherwise, Harding had usually placed the blame for "hyphenated-Americans" on "American neglect." "We talked of the American melting pot over the fires of freedom," he told one group of foreign-born visitors to the front porch in Marion, "but we did not apply that fierce flame of patriotic devotion needed to fuse all into the pure metal of Americanism."14

Congressman Johnson moved a stopgap bill forward in the lame duck Congress following the 1920 election. That bill, suspending all immigration except for close relatives of resident aliens for one year, passed the House 296-4. Its Senate counterpart was introduced by William P. Dillingham of Vermont, who had chaired the Dillingham Commission from 1907-1911, a Senate investigation into immigration which ultimately declared that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were less assimilable than other Europeans. Dillingham instead proposed a system whereby the number of European immigrants per year would be limited to five percent of however many immigrants of that nationality lived in America in 1910, according to that year's Census. Immigration from Canada and Mexico was left untouched, as was immigration from Asia, which had already been snuffed out in years prior by the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907 Gentlemen's Agreement with Japan.15

Dillingham's bill also passed easily, and in conference the House dropped the total suspension plan in exchange for the yearly quota being lowered to three percent - thus allowing for approximately 350,000 immigrants a year. This bill then went off to the desk of Woodrow Wilson, who, for reasons unknown - be it post-election despair or a stricken conscience - chose never to sign it. Once Harding had entered the Oval Office, the Johnson-Dillingham bill was quickly introduced and passed - there was no recorded vote in the House, the Senate voted in favor 78-1 - and the new president signed it into law in May of 1921. "[T]he real un-Americanism, therein the great treason," Harding told the American Legion Weekly, had been native-born Americans not working to fully Americanize new immigrants. Nonetheless, "we must not take any more of these strangers in a given time than we can make comfortable."16

The Emergency Quota Act went into effect in June 1921, prompting chaos in American ports each month as dozens of steamships loaded with hopeful immigrants sprinted to the docks before the quota filled. Disgusted with the "gross injustice" of sending immigrants back who had liquidated everything they had just to get to America, Ellis Island Commissioner Frederick Wallis resigned in protest soon thereafter. Harding, noting his "own distress has been very great over some of the specific instances which have been reported to me," urged his immigration officials to move inspections overseas to ensure a more humane application of the quota. When this system was put into effect, even strong opponents of immigration restriction, like Survey writer Edith Terry Bremer, conceded it was an improvement. "Thus," she noted in 1925, "the fruitless breaking up of homes, the useless squandering of 'toil money,' and finally the sickening anxiety ending in heart-break, a familiar experience for 'detained aliens' in the old scheme, is enormously decreased."17

The 1921 Act, originally set to run for one year, was extended for two more years in May 1922. In the meantime, Congressman Albert Johnson began pushing the House Committee on Immigration to work on a more permanent immigration restriction bill. Working with nativist luminaries like Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, Kenneth Roberts, eugenicist Harry Laughlin, and well-connected New York Anti-Semite John B. Trevor, Johnson used the Committee to lay the groundwork for the tightening of the quota system.18

By early 1923, Johnson's Committee had penned a bill which made the current system permanent, reduced the quotas from three percent to two percent, and moved back the Census basis for these quotas from 1910 to 1890, a year that saw considerably less in the way of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. It also altered the calculation of the quota so that it was based on the total American population in 1890, rather than just the foreign-born population, further prejudicing the figures in favor of English, Germans, and Irish stock and against Poles, Slavs, Greeks, and Italians. In practice, this meant over 51,000 Germans, 34,000 English, and 28,500 Irish could come to America every year. But the Italian quota dropped from 42,000 to 4000, the Polish quota from 31,000 to 6000, the Greek quota from 3000 to 100. No nation in Africa could send over 100 people either. In addition, immigration from Japan -- already curtailed by the 1907 Gentlemen's Agreement -- was now officially banned.19

With labor costs rising, irate business interests were able to get the bill stalled for a year. But by early 1924 the legislation passed through both houses of Congress easily -- 322-71 in the House, 62-6 in the Senate -- and was signed into law as "a protection to the wage earners of this country" by Calvin Coolidge in May. Secretary of Labor John Davis, a strong advocate of restriction, told Coolidge that "this is the most important [bill to] which you will attach your signature during your term. History will record it as one of the greatest acts of your administration." The 1924 law had an immediate effect, slashing the number of immigrants entering the country by over half within one year, from 357,803 in 1923-1924 to 164,667 in 1924-25. It would also mark the beginning of a forty-year-period when the doors of the nation were effectively closed to many of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. As one triumphant Nordic enthusiast proclaimed after the vote, "The passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 marks the close of an epoch in the history of the United States." The law had a particularly tragic effect in the years before and during World War II, when Jewish families frantically trying to escape the genocide taking place in Germany and Eastern Europe were turned back from safe harbor, time and time again.20

And yet, many of the usual progressive suspects heartily endorsed the restriction bills. William Borah, Hiram Norris, George Norris, Smith Brookhart, and Thomas Walsh all voted for the 1924 act, while Robert La Follette and Burton Wheeler were among the abstainers. "I am in favor of a drastic immigration law to prevent this country from being overrun with foreigners," Borah told one constituent. Among the many letters of support the Senator received for this position were a thank you from the Allied Patriotic Societies of America, a proclamation from the workers of Omaha Nebraska endorsing restriction "in justice to ourselves and the Nation that will over run with the unemployed," and one warning from Brooklyner Mary Cannon, who told Borah "women have the vote now, and if the Government does not do something to stop these beasts entering the country, there will be trouble for the politicians, and the Italian vote, the murderer's vote, will be a negligible quantity." Harold Ickes, meanwhile, declared himself "in favor of excluding the Japanese as well as other Asiatics. I think we have enough of a race problem in this country now," he wrote in 1924, "and we haven't shown enough aptitude in dealing with that one to warrant us in undertaking an additional burden of the same sort."21

So who opposed the immigration restriction acts, other than the affected immigrants themselves? The most effective opposition at the time assuredly came from conservatives and business interests. Judge Elbert Gary, the apostle of the open shop, thought restricted immigration "one of the worst things that this country has ever done for itself economically," while T. Coleman Du Pont chalked it all up to "sheer Red hysteria, nothing more." Business groups lobbied Congress to recognize "[w]e need every respectable, ambitious and industrial person the world can spare," while the Illinois Manufacturers Association argued that "the final action [by Congress] will have considerable to do with the success or failure of the open shop movement." The Wall Street Journal also believed the push for restriction was a result of the unions, and wondered aloud in 1920, "[i]s there any connection between restricted immigration and the closed shop?" Senator LeRoy Percy of Mississippi, who had served on the Dillingham Commission, warned that "the crippling of the manpower of the nation is the one thing that will check its prosperity, check it effectually, and for an indefinite duration." And Secretary of State Hughes, frowning at the bill for diplomatic rather than economic reasons, thought the 1924 Act "a sorry business and I am greatly depressed. It has undone the work of the Washington Conference and implanted the seeds of an antagonism which are sure to bear fruit in the future."22

In Congress, the most vociferous dissenters against immigration restriction were representatives from immigrant-heavy districts in the belt between New York and Chicago - perhaps most notably Congressman Fiorello La Guardia, son of a Jewish mother and Italian father, who thought restriction was "the creation of a narrow mind, nurtured by a hating heart" and who informed Secretary of Labor Davis that his enforcement of it was "cruel, inhuman, narrow-minded, prejudiced."23

The 1924 bill, La Guardia told the House, "is unscientific, because it does not fit with the economic condition of the country, because it is the result of narrow-mindedness and bigotry, and because it is inspired, prompted, and urged by influences…who have a fixed obsession on Anglo-Saxon superiority." "Is not the country made up of immigrants no matter what period of history you take?" La Guardia queried his colleagues. When fellow New York representative Bertrand Snell condescended to La Guardia about the worthiness of his Northern and Western European stock, La Guardia replied that "I hope you can understand my pride when I say the distinguished navigator of the race of my ancestors came to this continent two hundred years before yours landed at Plymouth Rock." When the tide began to turn for good, La Guardia offered an amendment to change the quota year from 1890 to 1920, but it was easily struck down before passage. Two years later, La Guardia was equally unable to stop another bill put forward by Albert Johnson that extended from five to seven years the time that any immigrant could be deported for such reasons as insanity, "chronic alcoholism," or "constitutional psychopathic inferiority."24

In these battles, La Guardia did not fight completely alone. His Manhattan colleague, Congressman Samuel Dickstein -- anticipating a trope of the Second World War -- recounted to the House a tale of wartime bravery, and then gave the names of the eight heroic soldiers involved: "John Bilitzko, Lonnie Moscow, Aloizi Nagowski, Isaac Rabinowitz, Epifianio Affatato, Wasyl Kolonczyk, Daniel Mosckowitz, and Antony Sclafoni." Minnesota Congressman Ole Kvale warned the House "of the kind of the hyphenates you had better worry about. A new breed that is fast springing up and they are your native-born, dollar-a-year, loud-mouthed, flag-waving, 100% paytriotic graft-Americans. These and not your Americans of foreign blood and language are the menace to America today." (Despite this zinger, Kvale voted for the final bill.)25

Robert Clancy of Detroit was glad to see that so many "Members of this House with names as Irish as Paddy's pig, are taking the floor these days to attack once more as their kind has attacked for seven bloody centuries the fearful fallacy of chosen peoples and inferior peoples." He reminded his colleagues that, not so long ago, it was the Germans and the Irish who were the "riff-raff, unassimilables, 'foreign devils,' swine not fit to associate with the great chosen people." And a few urban papers -- although assuredly not the New York Times -- echoed the message of this handful of embattled representatives. The Brooklyn Citizen deemed the legislation "disgraceful and unworthy of America," while the New York World argued the bill would mean the "closing the haven of refuge to the oppressed." And the Boston Globe wrote that "the immigrants coming into Boston" in 1921 have "a light in their eyes that is good to see and a smile that stirs the slumbering pulse of human brotherhood."26

Among the old-line progressives, the figures most likely to be in sympathy with the arguments against immigration restriction were the settlement house and social workers who comprised the bulk of the readership of The Survey, most of whom spent their careers interacting with newly-arrived immigrants. "The Johnson bill," it editorialized, "is based on an unfortunate racial animosity, is supported by unsound evidence, and would tend to undo the most earnest efforts for Americanization and international friendship." In a February 1922 article for that magazine, "Americans by Choice," John Palmer Gavit, attempted to destroy for good "the legendary presumption of some change for the worse in recent years in the inherent character-quality of immigration to this country…There has been no such change." Gavit then painstakingly explained the fallacies that had misguided the Dillingham Commission in 1907 -- namely that the Commission never bothered to ascertain how long the immigrants they studied had been here. "The major, not to say exclusively controlling fact in the political absorption of the immigrant," Gavit concluded, "is length of residence. The longer an individual lives in America the more likely he is to seek some active membership therein."27

Similarly, a December 1923 article by biologist H.S. Jennings turned the pseudo-scientific arguments of eugenicist Harry Laughlin back on the nativists. Looking at the "groups of the foreign-born who, in proportion to their share in the total population of the United States, contribute the largest numbers of inmates to custodial institutions," Jennings found that the Irish led in "Insanity" and "Dependency" and the English were first in "Epilepsy" and second in "Feeblemindedness." "All the lines of evidence presented," Jennings concluded, "thus converge upon Ireland as the chief source of defectives. The general upshot is of a character to discourage attempts to regulate immigration on the basis of race and nationality so far as Europeans are concerned. He would be a hardy politician who framed a law designed to discriminate against Ireland."28

Along with poking holes in the nativists' arguments, writers in The Survey also worked to salvage some progressive form of Americanization. "Since the fevered days of the war there has been an immense amount of flag waving and drum beating in the name of Americanization," Robert Bruère wrote in the April 1923 issue. But Americanization is "not flag raising and 'patriotic' howling.'…[It] is a slow, patient and unsensational educative process." True Americanizers, Bruère argued, citing the success of the California Commission on Immigration and Housing, "sought knowledge chiefly from the immigrants themselves. They respected the soul of the immigrant…They stood firmly against that form of Americanization 'which hands to the immigrant some things which he is supposed to swallow. They sought to understand and to preserve 'the best national cultural elements in art, literature, music, science, the crafts' which the immigrants had to contribute to our American life." In a series of 1920 articles deeming immigrants "the Strength of America," Simon J. Lubin and Christina Krysto argued similarly. Americanization "should lift the inhabitants of America, foreign born and native born alike, to a plane which is worthy of the best nation, and in turn make that nation worthy of being the home of the best developed people." But "patriotic perversion," they argued, had made a "menace" of the project: "It is only the political perverts of Americanization who would force citizenship upon anyone."29

The Survey also continued its inquiries into how best to achieve Americanization, including publishing reviews in each issue on recent studies in the field. If "isolated zones could be prescribed for immigrants," suggested John Valentine in March 1922, "so those of different nationalities should not be contiguous but interspersed with native American zones, the process of Americanization would work splendidly. Who can estimate the tremendous effect an American birthday party, for example, may have on an Italian boy?...A year of visits by social workers will not work such wonders as that neighborly invitation of the Jones to the kid of the Italian family who lives in the rear cottage next door." However improbable Valentine's specific plan, he and many others continued to argue in The Survey that, yes, immigrants were in fact assimilable into American life.30

On the eve of passage, Edith Terry Bremer wrote a scathing article for The Survey which tried to ascertain the "Human Consequences of the Pending Bill." "On every fundamental premise," Bremer argued, "this new bill strikes at important social attitudes upon which our democratic thought and social institutions have been built…The 'Nordic superiority' myth which has been floating about the halls of Congress for a long time, for which many congressmen have felt a sneaking friendliness while reluctant to recognize it in public, has suddenly become the basis of the immigration policy of what is still the greatest 'receiving country' in the world." As a result of the "thinly veiled discrimination, which fastens the stigma of social incompetence, of cultural inferiority" on all non-native-born Americans, Bremer warned, the world would feel intense "disillusionment and lasting bitterness." Along with dividing families, disrupting labor markets and "normal assimilation processes," and causing "personal disaster" to millions of people, "[t]his immigration bill would throw the wholesome social evolution in America into violent reverse. The United States is made to declare for discrimination. Sensitiveness, rivalry, suspicion are bred by it." "This nation may be 'saved for posterity'," Bremer concluded, but "[i]t may be that our children will view matters in a different light. Perhaps posterity will not thank us after all."31

As for the dean of social workers, Jane Addams once again saw the traumatic experiences of the war at work in immigration restriction. The Quota Act, Addams argued, was "the nation's massive attempt to draw its traditional forces together." It came about because, "as a nation we had become during the war overconfident of our own nobility of purpose and had learned to distrust all foreigners as 'unworthy'… Self-righteousness has perhaps been responsible for more cruelty from the strong to the weak, from the good to the erring than any other human trait." Along with Wilsonian hubris, Addams also wondered if the desire for conformity she herself had felt the brunt of was another reason for "our contemptuous attitude toward immigrants who differ from us…Everyone wants to be like his neighbors, which is doubtless an amiable quality, but leading to one of the chief dangers of democracy -- the tyranny of the herd mind."32

Still, Addams did suggest some silver linings to come from immigration restriction. For one, she wrote, "there is no doubt that whatever its evils the shutting off of immigration has given the immigrant groups already here, a breathing space." For another, perhaps a subsiding fear of encroaching immigrant hordes in America would help the country finally take the next necessary steps toward social progress. "The immigrant is continually blamed for conditions for which the community is responsible," Addams argued:
There is no doubt that America has failed to make legislative provisions against those evils as other countries have done, partly because the average citizen holds a contemptuous attitude toward the 'foreigner' and is not stirred to action on his behalf. This may account for the fact that the United States has been so unaccountably slow in legislation designed to protect industrial workers.

For instance, if we compare our country with others in regard to Old-Age Insurance, the record is most astonishing. Some form of pension legislation for the aged has been enacted in fourteen countries since the beginning of the World War, and still a larger number secured such legislation in the two preceding decades. If we ask why the United States has been so slow in this world-wide undertaking, may we not fairly say it is because we are less concerned for the old age of our immigrant laborer than the other countries are for their own kinsfolk, and we thus overcome the strong democratic tendency we are supposed to possess?33
"Is our understanding slower for those whose background is alien to our own," Addams wondered, "so that we have allowed ourselves to become indifferent to old people, surrounded too often by poverty and neglect, while Europe, out of its more slender resources, takes care of them?"34

Addams' question is a hypothetical one. Still, it is curious to note that, when America subsequently took on its own great social experiment in old age insurance, it occurred at a time when fears of an alien Bolshevism had been replaced with a begrudging regard for a homegrown Popular Front, and newly-arriving masses of immigrants could no longer be forced into the role of either scabs or scapegoats.

Continue to Chapter 8: The Duty to Revolt.

Return to the Table of Contents.

1. Ickes to Johnson, January 14, 1927. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
2. Borah to John Chambers, November 19, 1920. WJB, Box 83: Japanese Question. Borah to G. Sponberg, April 25, 1921. WJB, Box 96: "Japanese Question."
3. Ashby, 248. "Doubtless, there are many good people in Mexico," Borah extemporized in the same letter, "but they do not seem to come here." Borah to W.G. Swendsen, January 9, 1928. WJB Box 248: Immigration.
4. Higham, 121, 301-302. Barry, Rising Tide, 154. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 204-205.
5. Higham, 306. Addams, Second Twenty Years, 263-264.
6. Ibid. Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922), xxviii, 10, 13.
7. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 204-205. Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922), 299-308.
8. Ibid. Barry, Rising Tide, 154. Higham, 318.
9. Higham, 7-11, 264. Edward Hale Bierstadt, "Pseudo-Americanization," The New Republic, May 25th, 1921, 371-373. Jane Addams, "Nationalism, a Dogma?" The Survey, February 7, 1920, 524-526.
10. Sanuel Gompers to J.H. Reiter, April 28, 1921. H. Keith Thompson Collection, The Hoover Institute. Reprinted at "Samuel Gompers - The Voice of Labor," CWA Local 4250, Chicago, Illinois. (http://www.cwalocal4250.org/politicalaction/binarydata/The%20Voice%20of%20Labor.pdf)
11. Daryl Scott, "Immigrant Indigestion: A. Philip Randolph, Radical and Restrictionist," Center for Immigration Studies, June 1999. (http://www.cis.org/articles/1999/back699.html)
12. Scott, "Immigration Indigestion."
13. Ibid. Lewis, 90-91. Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro, An Interpretation (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925), XX. "Old School Black Perspectives on Immigration," Booker Rising. May 2006 (http://www.bookerrising.net/2006/05/old-school-black-perspectives-on_12.html).
14. Higham, 177-178. Hans P. Vought, The Bully Pulpit and the Melting Pot: American Presidents and the Immigrant, 1897-1933 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2004), 165-167.
15. Higham, 308-311, 319.
16. Ibid. US State Department Office of the Historian, "The Immigration Act of 1924" (http://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/ImmigrationAct). Vought, 169.
17. Vought, 170-177. Edith Terry Bremer, "How the Immigration Law Works," The Survey, January 15, 1925 (Vol. LII, No, 8), 441.
18. Higham, 312-316.
19. Higham, 322-323. Zinn, The Twentieth Century, 105. Statistical Abstract of the United States (Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1929), 100. (Reprinted at: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5078)
20. Higham, 323-325. Zieger, 84-85. Murray, The 103rd Ballot, 7. Desmond King and Rogers Smith, Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 70.
21. Zinn, La Guardia in Congress, 90. Borah to Jacob Blakeman, March 28, 1924. WJB, Box 154: Immigration. George S. Ford to Borah, December 27, 1920. WJB, Box 95: Immigration. Nebraska workers to Borah, December 7, 1920. WJB, Box 95: Immigration. Mary J. Cannon to Borah, December 16, 1920. WJB, Box 95: Immigration. Ickes to Philip Elting, Esq., April 25, 1924. HLI, Box 34: Hiram Johnson Campaign 'E'
22. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 206-207. Zieger, 80-81. Barry, Rising Tide, 140.
23. Ashby, 249. Zinn, La Guardia in Congress, 86.
24. Zinn, La Guardia in Congress, 86-91, 94.
25. Ibid.
26. Robert H. Clancy, April 8, 1924, Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st Session (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1924), vol. 65, 5929-5932. Reprinted at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5079 Marion Marzolf. "Americanizing the Melting Pot: The Media as Megaphone for the Restrictionists," in Catherine Covert and John D. Stevens, ed. Mass Media Between the Wars: Perceptions of Cultural Tension, 1918-1941 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1984), 111-112.
27. "The Common Welfare," The Survey, March 15, 1924, 677. John Palmer Gavit, "Americans by Choice," The Survey, February 25, 1922, 815-821, 867.
28. H.S. Jennings, "Undesirable Aliens," The Survey, December 15, 1923, 309-312, 323.
29. Robert Bruère, "Do Americans Want Americanization?" The Survey, April 15, 1923, 75-76. Simon J. Lubin and Christina Krysto, "The Strength of America: V. The Menace of Americanization," February 21, 1920, 610-612.
30. John Valentine, "Of the Second Generation," The Survey, March 18, 1922, 957.
31. Edith Terry Bremer, "Immigration: A Look Ahead," The Survey, May 15, 1924 (Vol. LII, No. 4), 207-210.
32. Addams, Second Twenty Years, 263-264, 289.
33. Ibid, 301, 288.
34. Ibid, 301.

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