Turn of the century Republican Senator from Vermont, William P. Dillingham (1843-1923) did not serve in the Civil War, citing “ill-health” and may well have purchased a substitute to serve as many northern men had done. Though Republican Party views toward immigration had been very liberal during the war as it needed a never-ending supply of recruits for its war against the American South, by 1911 Dillingham’s congressional commission issued a report supporting more severe immigration restrictions.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Republican Party Supports Immigration Restrictions
“The xenophobia of the 1880s and 1890s pointed inevitably in one direction: immigration restriction. Although the Chinese were banned in 1882 and the first general federal immigration law of that year had excluded certain classes of immigrants, these laws did not greatly affect the flow of immigration traffic. The time had come [many insisted], to decide whether the nation was “to be peopled by British, German and Scandinavian stock, historically free, energetic, progressive, or by Slav, Latin and Asiatic races, historically downtrodden, atavistic, and stagnant.”
The most popular scheme for stemming the tide was the Literacy test, Led by the Immigration Restriction League, founded in Boston in 1894 and led by Boston blue bloods, agitation for federal action grew. The literacy test, which required immigrants over 16 to be literate in some language, made no distinction among nationalities or races, but the intent of the proposal was clear.
The literacy test, supported by the Republican Party, finally did pass in 1896, only to be vetoed by President Grover Cleveland . . . it quickly reappeared and by 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt . . . called for a comprehensive immigration act to keep out “not only all persons who are known to be believers in anarchistic principles or members of anarchist societies, but also all persons who are of a low moral tendency or of unsavory reputation” and “all persons . . . who are below a certain standard of economic fitness to enter our industrial field as competitors with American labor.”
The President also wanted a careful educational test to ascertain the capacity to “appreciate American institutions and act sanely as American citizens. Roosevelt insisted that his proposals would decrease the “sum of ignorance” in America and “stop the influx of cheap labor, and the resulting competition which gives rise to so much of the bitterness in American industrial life, and it would dry up the springs of the pestilential social conditions in our great cities, where anarchist organizations have their greatest possibility for growth.”
Congress responded in part to the President’s request by excluding anarchists in 1903 and “imbeciles, feeble-minded [persons] and persons with physical or mental defects which might affect their ability to earn a living” four years later.
[Senator Dillingham’s 1911 report’s main] assumption was that the newer immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were more ignorant, more unskilled, more prone to crime, and more willing to accept a lower standard of living than the older immigrants from northern and western Europe. The newcomers, [Dillingham’s] commission announced, were “content to accept wages and conditions which the native American and immigrants of the older class had come to regard as unsatisfactory.”
(Ethnic Americans, a History of Immigration and Assimilation, Leonard Dinnerstein and David Reimers, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1975, excerpts, pp. 66-67)