The post-Paris hysteria toward Syrian refugees in particular and Muslims in general spurred me to seek examples of how various groups coming to America have been cast in the past.
The results are depressing, to say the least – America has a long, storied history of barring, fearing, imprisoning or killing the outsider. The only solace I find is that ultimately, each of the groups mentioned below – German, Irish, Catholic, Italian, Chinese, Jewish and Japanese – have in time become inextricable, welcomed parts of the American fabric.
How history will look back on us?
“Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”
— Benjamin Franklin, 1753, regarding German immigrants to the Pennsylvania colony
“If the potentates of Europe have no design upon our liberties, what means the paying of the passage and emptying out upon our shores such floods of pauper emigrants — the contents of the poor house and the sweepings of the streets? — multiplying tumults and violence, filling our prisons, and crowding our poor-houses, and quadrupling our taxation, and sending annually accumulating thousands to the poll to lay their inexperienced hand upon the helm of our power?”
— the Rev. Lyman Beecher, 1834
“Away with Austrian and Popish precedent… This war is a war of principles; it is on the open field of free discussion; and the victory is to be won by the exercise of moral energy, by the force of religious and political truth. But still it is a war, and all true patriots must awake to the cry of danger. They must up and gird themselves for battle. It is no false alarm. Our liberties are in danger. The Philistines are upon us. Their bonds are prepared, and they intend, if they can, to fasten them upon our limbs. We must shake off our lethargy, and like the giant awaking from his sleep, snap these shackles asunder. We are attacked in vulnerable points by foreign enemies to all liberty.”
— Samuel F.B. Morse, in “Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States,” 1835
“When the hordes of other lands are permitted to come here, as is the case daily; when ignorance, poverty, crime is allowed to land upon our shores and be transformed, hardly without ceremony, and with no time to learn the nature of our institutions, into what is called the ‘American’ citizens—when these things are done, it is time that good men lifted their arms and sounded their voices against the abomination. … Because it is every day weakening the strength, and destroying the character of the country. America can only be America by keeping it American. Its halls of legislation must reflect American sentiment, uttered by American tongues. There is no avoiding this position. Americans must fill our offices, great and small.”
–The Know Nothing and American Crusader (a Boston newspaper), 1854, speaking mainly of Irish, German and Catholic immigrants
“Nor can there be any doubt that the mob’s victims were desperate ruffians and murderers. These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigations. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they. Our own murderers are men of feeling and nobility compared to them.”
–New York Times editorial, 1891, on the lynching of 11 Italian-Americans lynched after nine were acquitted of the murder of New Orelans’ police chief; two others hadn’t been charged at all in the case
“Standing behind them are Christian employers of this land, who would rather import heathen willing to work for barely enough to sustain life than retain a brother Christian at a wage sufficient to live as becomes a Christian. We do not want Opium or the Chinese who grow it.”
— Terence Powderly, Irish-American labor leader, 1892
“We are being made a dumping ground. We are receiving the dependents, the human wreckage of the war; not the strength and virility that once came to hew our forests and till our soil. And worst of all, they are coming in such numbers at a time when we are unable adequately to take care of them… It simply amounts to unrestricted and indiscriminate dumping into this country of people of every character and description…If there were in existence a ship that could hold three million human beings, then three million Jews of Poland would board to escape to America.”
— report of the Congressional Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, chaired by Albert Johnson, R-Wash., 1920 (after pogroms in Russia and Poland provoked a wave of immigration)
“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted. To conclude otherwise is to expect that children born of white parents on Japanese soil sever all racial affinity and become loyal Japanese subjects, ready to fight and, if necessary, to die for Japan in a war against the nation of their parents. That Japan is allied with Germany and Italy in this struggle is not ground for assuming that any Japanese, barred from assimilation by convention as he is, though born and raised in the United States, will not turn against this nation when the final test of loyalty comes. It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
— U.S. Army Gen. John DeWitt, 1942