Nativism, an American Perennial

  • David A. Gerber
  • Alan M. Kraut


From the very founding of the republic, there were those who feared immigration. In Notes on the State of Virginia (1781–1787), Thomas Jefferson expressed concern that most immigrants would necessarily come from countries with despotic governments and would either retain undemocratic principles of government (especially monarchy) or they would pass to the other extreme and be ungovernable. Though Jefferson and other Americans applauded the French Revolution in 1789 and avidly followed other revolutionary movements, especially in Latin America, it was feared that political refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States might be either too conservative or too radical to nourish the gains of the American Revolution. In 1820, John Quincy Adams made clear in his correspondence with a Dutch colleague how the United States regarded immigrants, “To one thing they must make up their minds, or they will be disappointed in every expectation of happiness as Americans. They must cast off the European skin, never to resume it. They must look forward to their posterity rather than backward to their ancestors; they must be sure that whatever their own feelings may be, those of their children will cling to the prejudices of this country, and will partake of that proud spirit …” As historian John Higham and other scholars have observed, by the late nineteenth century, such antiradical nativism, present from the earliest days of the nation, had become a significant dimension of American culture.


Immigration Policy Recent Immigrant American History South Central American People 
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Suggestions for Further Reading

  1. Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  2. David H. Bennett, The Party of Fear, from Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  3. Erika Lee, at America’s Gates, Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  4. John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955).Google Scholar
  5. Lucy Salyer, Laws Harsh as Tigers, Chinese Immigration and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  6. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues, The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917 (New York: Hill & Wang, 2000).Google Scholar
  7. Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800–1860:A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: Macmillan Company, 1938).Google Scholar
  8. Roger Daniels, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  9. Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door, American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (New York: Hill & Wang, 2004).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David A. Gerber and Alan M. Kraut 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Gerber
  • Alan M. Kraut

There are no affiliations available

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