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What We Would Like to See

1888
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The Bancroft Library

The WASP, What We Would Like to See, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library, https://digicoll.lib.berkeley.edu/record/180225?ln=en#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&r=0&xywh=292%2C246%2C1618%2C1165

Native-born Protestant white Americans grew increasingly concerned about the millions of immigrants coming to the United States in the late nineteenth century. In the eastern United States, racist and nativist propaganda targeted immigrant laborers from southern and eastern Europe as a threat to political stability and economic opportunities for Anglo-Americans. Many Italian, Greek, and Slavic immigrant communities were demonized as lazy, dark-skinned, and unassimilable and were associated with radical political beliefs. Many of these immigrants were also Jewish or Catholic. Although racial hierarchies looked different in the West than they did in the urban North or the rural South, most whites across the country began to agree that they should limit economic and political opportunities to people most like them and actively exclude the people that were most different. 

 

In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and established the federal government’s role in distinguishing between desirable and undesirable immigrant communities. This was the first major federal statute aimed at excluding a particular immigrant community, and it was driven by the support of western states, especially California, where the Chinese had come to mine, start businesses, work on railroads, farm, and pursue a wide range of other economic opportunities. Their successes were resented, and they became the main scapegoats for the economic failures of white men in California and other western states. Although the Exclusion Act technically prohibited only immigration by Chinese laborers, it established the United States as “a gatekeeping nation” (an important concept and phrase developed by historian Erika Lee), which would expand in the early twentieth century to exclude a wider range of immigrant communities, most of them from southern and eastern Europe. Like the Chinese in California, these immigrant communities were blamed for many of the perceived social and political ills of big cities in the Northeast and Midwest at the end of the nineteenth century. How does this document and information about the Comstock Lode (Source 2) help to answer the question, How did the country change after the Civil War?

Native-born Protestant white Americans grew increasingly concerned about the millions of immigrants coming to the United States in the late nineteenth century. In the eastern United States, racist and nativist propaganda targeted immigrant laborers from southern and eastern Europe as a threat to political stability and economic opportunities for Anglo-Americans. Many Italian, Greek, and Slavic immigrant communities were demonized as lazy, dark-skinned, and unassimilable and were associated with radical political beliefs. Many of these immigrants were also Jewish or Catholic. Although racial hierarchies looked different in the West than they did in the urban North or the rural South, most whites across the country began to agree that they should limit economic and political opportunities to people most like them and actively exclude the people that were most different. 

In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and established the federal government’s role in distinguishing between desirable and undesirable immigrant communities. This was the first major statute aimed at excluding a particular immigrant community, and it was driven by the support of western states, especially California, where the Chinese had come to mine, start businesses, work on railroads, farm, and pursue a wide range of other economic opportunities. Their successes were resented, and they became the main scapegoats for the economic failures of white men in California and other western states. Although the Exclusion Act technically prohibited only immigration by Chinese laborers, it established a legislative template that would later be expanded in the early twentieth century to exclude a wider range of immigrant communities, most of them from southern and eastern Europe. Like the Chinese in California, these immigrant communities were blamed for many of the perceived social and political ills of big cities in the Northeast and Midwest at the end of the nineteenth century. 

 

The following questions can help your students make connections between immigration, industrialization, western expansion, and federal immigration policy in the years following the Civil War: What does this political cartoon tell us about the racial attitudes of white Americans in the late nineteenth century? Where was this cartoon published? Why does it matter? Who was the audience for this magazine? What alleged problem does the cartoonist identify? What groups are the subject of this cartoon? What assumptions are made about these groups? Does the cartoonist propose a solution to the perceived problem they have identified? How does the photograph of the Central Pacific locomotive help explain this political cartoon? Does the illustration of the strike help explain the critique of the Italian immigrant in this political cartoon? How? Does this political cartoon demonstrate how racism unified many white Americans at the end of the nineteenth century? What does racism against many groups say about the ways that the Civil War and Reconstruction did and did not change the United States?

The WASP What We Would Like to See