Nativism versus Immigration

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Editor: Cynthia Rose
Date: 2004
From: American Decades Primary Sources(Vol. 3: 1920-1929. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Article; Speech; Excerpt; Topic overview
Length: 2,677 words
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Nativism versus Immigration

"Guarding the Gates Against Undesirables"

Magazine article

By: Ku Klux Klan

Date: April 1924

Source: "Guarding the Gates Against Undesirables." Current Opinion, April 1924, 400–401.

About the Organization: The Ku Klux Klan was organized in 1866, in Pulaski, Tennessee, located near the Alabama border. The Klan's mysterious name derives from the Greek word kuklos, meaning circle, the oldest symbol of unity.

Speech by Robert H. Clancy


By: Robert H. Clancy

Date: 1924

Source: Clancy, Robert H. Speech. Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st Session, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1924, vol. 65, 5929–5932.

About the Author: Robert H. Clancy (1882–1962) was a four-term Republican congressman from Detroit, Michigan. In the 1920s, Clancy represented a large constituency of firstgeneration Polish, Italian, and Jewish voters. As an Irish American whose immigrant forebears experienced discrimination, Clancy fought to protect his supporters from native hostility.


Klan intimidation and violence originated in the resentment and hatred harbored against former slaves, who achieved freedom and political power after the Civil War (1861–1865). Originally, the Klan was a six-member social club of predominately Scottish American veterans of the Confederate army. Soon, the group included members from surrounding towns and evolved into the most notorious paramilitary terrorist organization in American history. Claiming to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers, the Klan dressed in long, flowing white robes, high conical cardboard hats, and masks that made the wearers seem abnormally tall. Determined to drive blacks and sympathetic whites out of politics and restore white supremacy, the Klan roamed the countryside at night, dragging blacks from their homes, whipping and shooting them, then destroying their property. Between 1868 and 1870, the Klan was instrumental in removing Republican state governments from the Democratic strongholds of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. With the end of Reconstruction and the restoration of white supremacy, the organization nearly disappeared by the mid-1870s.

The Immigration Act of 1924 set stricter regulations on immigrants hoping to enter the United States to start a new life. LIBRARY OF CONGRESSCORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

The Immigration Act of 1924 set stricter regulations on immigrants hoping to enter the United States to start a new life. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

In 1915, the preacher William J. Simmons, who held a Thanksgiving Day cross-burning ceremony atop Stone Mountain, Georgia, revived the Klan. Simmons was influenced by the film The Birth of a Nation, directed by D.W. Griffith. The epic movie, the first full-length film, depicted the Klan as heroes, uniting postwar North and South and suppressing villainous blacks who controlled the South. The movie was a box office smash, earning more money than any other film until Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. More importantly, it was a tremendous recruiting and propaganda tool. Following its release, the Klan became a national organization. Unlike the 1870s version that was rooted in the South and the border states, the "new" Klan of the 1920s, with a membership that totaled over three million, had spread to Maine, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Oregon, and California.

The twentieth-century Klan targeted newly arriving Catholics and Jews, as well as African Americans. This hatred stemmed from the fact that Klan membership, Protestants whose ancestors had emigrated generations before from northern and western Europe, were hostile to unrestricted immigration. They believed that Italians and Russian Jews, along with other immigrants, were genetically Page 283  |  Top of Article inferior and through inbreeding threatened to mongrelize the American population. By halting unrestricted immigration, which the federal government did in 1924, the Klan hoped to preserve a mythical America of hardworking, churchgoing, small-town citizens, all white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant.


Contrary to its present-day image of a racist fringe group, the Klan of the 1920s was an integral aspect of mainstream America. In 1924, the society nearly tore apart the Democratic Party when convention delegates voted down a resolution condemning the Klan before nominating the anti-Klan candidate John W. Davis for president on the 103rd ballot. A year later, 40,000 hooded Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House. The society, whose sympathizers included President Woodrow Wilson, wielded significant power within the House of Representatives, where an estimated seventy-five members openly identified with the Klan, and the Senate, which consistently opposed antilynching legislation. The success of the new Klan was short-lived. In 1924, David C. Stephenson, the powerful Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan, was convicted of kidnapping and raping his secretary, who later committed suicide. The demoralized rank-and-file deserted the organization, and by the end of World War II (1939–1945) it had largely disbanded.

Primary Source: "Guarding the Gates Against Undesirables" [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In April 1924, Congress debated the Johnson-Reed Act, which shaped immigration policy by limiting entrants from southern and eastern Europe. The Klan supported the act because it believed that immigrants from Poland, Italy, and Russia could not assimilate into the dominant culture to become "good" Americans.

The struggle continues over the Johnson bill to restrict immigration to two per cent. of each national group domiciled here in 1890. The opposition comes mainly from certain groups of Southern and Eastern Europeans, and individuals representing them. Specifically the opposition comes from Congressmen representing districts in which compact blocks of Italians, Poles, Russians, Greeks and Slavs now reside.

Against these unassimilated and unassimilable peoples the proposed measure would discriminate. They all represent the newer immigration. Before 1890 the United States received mainly folk from northern and western Europe. Since 1890 the majority have come from southern and eastern Europe. By basing the quotas upon the 1890 census Italian immigration would be cut down from over forty thousand to under four thousand, the Russians from over twenty thousand to under two thousand, and the Poles from about twenty thousand to five thousand, admissible in one year. The new bill would not greatly reduce the number who would come in from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Germany. These groups have made no protest against a measure which aims to cut the immigration total approximately in half, from about three hundred and sixty thousand to about one hundred and eighty thousand persons.…

There is no blinking the fact that certain races do not fuse with us, and have no intention of trying to become Americans. The Poles, for example, are determined to remain Polish. No doubt this is good Polish patriotism, but it is very poor Americanism. The Polish Diet, as the Indianapolis Newspoints out, has adopted a resolution asking the government to request the Holy See to use its influence with the Catholic hierarchy in the United States to permit the continued use of the Polish language in Polish Catholic churches and parochial schools. A dispatch from Warsaw declares that the resolution is part of an effort to stop "the systematic Americanization of the Poles"! Nevertheless, as the News declares, if we are to permit any Poles to come here in the future, "the systematic Americanization" of them must continue.

Primary Source: Speech by Robert H. Clancy

SYNOPSIS: Robert Clancy opposed the Johnson-Reed Act as "un-American" because it discriminated against the foreign born.

Since the foundations of the American commonwealth were laid in colonial times over 300 years ago, vigorous complaint and more or less bitter persecution have been aimed at newcomers to our shores. Also the congressional reports of about 1840 are full of abuse of English, Scotch, Welsh immigrants as paupers, criminals, and so forth.

Old citizens in Detroit of Irish and German descent have told me of the fierce tirades and propaganda directed against the great waves of Irish and Germans who came over from 1840 on for a few decades to escape civil, racial, and religious persecution in their native lands.

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The "Know-Nothings," lineal ancestors of the Ku-Klux Klan, bitterly denounced the Irish and Germans as mongrels, scum, foreigners, and a menace to our institutions, much as other great branches of the Caucasian race of glorious history and antecedents are berated to-day. All are riff-raff, unassimilables, "foreign devils," swine not fit to associate with the great chosen people—;a form of national pride and hallucination as old as the division of races and nations.

But to-day it is the Italians, Spanish, Poles, Jews, Greeks, Russians, Balkanians, and so forth, who are the racial lepers. And it is eminently fitting and proper 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. The fearful fallacy is that one is made to rule and the other to be abominated.…

In this bill we find racial discrimination at its worst—;a deliberate attempt to go back 84 years in our census taken every 10 years so that a blow may be aimed at peoples of eastern and southern Europe, particularly at our recent allies in the Great War—;Poland and Italy.

Jews In Detroit Are Good Citizens

Of course the Jews too are aimed at, not directly, because they have no country in Europe they can call their own, but they are set down among the inferior peoples. Much of the animus against Poland and Russia, old and new, with the countries that have arisen from the ruins of the dead Czar's European dominions, is directed against the Jew.

We have many American citizens of Jewish descent in Detroit, tens of thousands of them—;active in every profession and every walk of life. They are particularly active in charities and merchandising. One of our greatest judges, if not the greatest, is a Jew. Surely no fair-minded person with a knowledge of the facts can say the Jews of Detroit are a menace to the city's or the country's well-being.…

Italian Citizens Are Not Inferior

Forty or fifty thousand Italian-Americans live in my district in Detroit. They are found in all walks and classes of life—;common hard labor, the trades, business, law, medicine, dentistry, art, literature, banking, and so forth.

They rapidly become Americanized, build homes, and make themselves into good citizens. They brought hardihood, physique, hope, and good humor with them from their outdoor life in Sunny Italy, and they bear up under the terrific strain of life and work in busy Detroit.

One finds them by thousands digging streets, sewers, and building foundations, and in the automobile and iron and steel fabric factories of various sorts. They do the hard work that the native-born American dislikes. Rapidly they rise in life and join the so-called middle and upper classes.…

The Italian-Americans of Detroit played a glorious part in the Great War. They showed themselves as patriotic as the native born in offering the supreme sacrifice.

In all, I am informed, over 300,000 Italianspeaking soldiers enlisted in the American Army, almost 10 percent of our total fighting force. Italians formed about 4 percent of the population of the United States and they formed 10 percent of the American military force. Their casualties were 12 percent.…

Detroit Satisfied With The Poles

I wish to take the liberty of informing the House that from my personal knowledge and observation of tens of thousands of Polish-Americans living in my district in Detroit that their Americanism and patriotism are unassailable from any fair or just standpoint.

The Polish-Americans are as industrious and as frugal and as loyal to our institutions as any class of people who have come to the shores of this country in the past 300 years. They are essentially home builders, and they have come to this country to stay. They learn the English language as quickly as possible, and take pride in the rapidity with which they become assimilated and adopt our institutions.

Figures available to all show that in Detroit in the World War the proportion of American volunteers of Polish blood was greater than the proportion of American volunteers of Polish blood was greater than the proportion of Americans of any other racial descent.… Polish-Americans do not merit slander nor defamation. If not granted charitable or sympathetic judgment, they are at least entitled to justice and to the high place they have won in American and European history and citizenship.

The forces behind the Johnson bill and some of its champions in Congress charge that opposition to the racial discrimination feature of the 1800 quota basis arises from "foreign blocs." They would give the impression that 100 per cent Americans are for Page 285  |  Top of Article it and that the sympathies of its opponents are of the "foreign-bloc" variety, and bear stigma of being "hyphenates." I meet that challenge willingly. I feel my Americanism will stand any test.

Every American Had Foreign Ancestors

The foreign born of my district writhe under the charge of being called "hyphenates." The people of my own family were all hyphenates—;English-Americans, German-Americans, Irish-Americans. They began to come in the first ship or so after the Mayflower. But they did not come too early to miss the charge of anti-Americanism. Roger Williams was driven out of the Puritan colony of Salem to die in the wilderness because he objected "violently" to blue laws and the burning or hanging of rheumatic old women on witchcraft charges. He would not "assimilate" and was "a grave menace to American institutions and democratic government."

My family put 11 men and boys into the Revolutionary War, and I am sure they and their women and children did not suffer so bitterly and sacrifice until it hurt to establish the autocracy of bigotry and intolerance which exists in many quarters to-day in this country. Some of these men and boys shed their blood and left their bodies to rot on American battle fields. To me real Americanism and the American flag are the product of the blood of men and of the tears of women and children of a different type than the rampant "Americanizers" of to-day.

My mother's father fought in the Civil War, leaving his six small children in Detroit when he marched away to the southern battle fields to fight against racial distinctions and protect his country.

My mother's little brother, about 14 years old, and the eldest child, fired by the traditions of his family, plodded off to the battle fields to do his bit. He aspired to be a drummer boy and inspire the men in battle, but he was found too small to carry a drum and was put at the ignominious task of driving army mules, hauling cannons and wagons.

I learned more of the spirit of American history at my mother's knee than I ever learned in my four years of high school study of American history and in my five and a half years of study at the great University of Michigan.

All that study convinces me that the racial discriminations of this bill are un-American.…

It must never be forgotten also that the Johnson bill, although it claims to favor the northern and western European peoples only, does so on a basis of comparison with the southern and western European peoples. The Johnson bill cuts down materially the number of immigrants allowed to come from northern and western Europe, the so-called Nordic peoples.…

Then I would be true to the principles for which my forefathers fought and true to the real spirit of the magnificent United States of to-day. I can not stultify myself by voting for the present bill and overwhelm my country with racial hatreds and racial lines and antagonisms drawn even tighter than they are to-day. [Applause.]

Further Resources


Chalmers, David. Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan 1865–1965. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987.

Trelease, Allen W. White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Wyn, Craig Wade. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.


Coben, Stanley. "Ordinary White Protestants: The KKK in the 1920s." Journal of Social History 28, Fall 1994, 155–65.

Dessommes, Nancy Bishop. "Hollywood in Hoods: The Portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan in Popular Film." Journal of Popular Culture 32, no. 4, 1999, 13–23.


Dirks, Tim. "The Birth of a Nation (1915)." Greatest Films. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed January 28, 2003).

Ohio State University Department of History. "Immigration Restriction" and "Ku Klux Klan." Clash of Cultures in the 1910s and 1920s. Available online at ; website home page: (accessed January 28, 2003).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3490200504