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7. Native & Foreign

Inextricably linked in the Twenties' discussion of immigration, which led to the 1921 Emergency Quota Act and the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act, were the postwar issues of national identity and "Americanism," heated by the growing support for eugenics and racial purity theories. To many, native meant not just "native-born," but "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" with deep roots in British heritage. To others, native meant "American citizen," regardless of ancestry or nation of birth. These viewpoints, of course, implied quite different concepts of foreign. Foreigners threatened the nation: too many came without an understanding of democracy or a desire to assimilate. Foreigners strengthened the nation: they were the perennial source of American rejuvenation and progress. The clash of opinions put forth the question, How far should a nation go to preserve its native heritage? It depended on what you meant by preserve, native, and heritage. Combine these resources with those in "Reds" and "Americans" and "Ku Klux Klan" to broaden your study of postwar nativism and protectionism.

    Collected Commentary Native & Foreign PDF file
  • Collected commentary. The debate over immigration restriction was a national conversation, often strident and divisive, as evident in this commentary from periodicals, newspaper headlines, novels, presidential addresses, eugenicist writings, and Ku Klux Klan publications. Selections can be divided among students for research and classroom discussion. What was the span of opinion during the period? How did opponents in the discussion answer each others' arguments? We recommend consulting the Harvard University timeline of U.S. immigration while studying these resources. (11 pp.)

  • Political Cartoons Native & Foreign PDF file
  • Political cartoons. Published between 1919 and 1924 in mainstream newspapers, these five political cartoons reflect the position held by many, but not all, native-born Americans that immigration restriction was crucial to the nation's security and identity. How are Uncle Sam, Congress, and arriving immigrants portrayed in the cartoons? How might they have been depicted by cartoonists opposing immigration restriction? Study the cartoons with the five other cartoon collections in this Theme DIVISIONS and complete the cartoon analysis chart. (Cartoons, 6 pp.; Chart: 2 pp.)

Discussion Questions

  1. Overall, how wide was the span of opinion on immigration restriction in the 1920s? How would you characterize the tone of the debate?
  2. How did the debate reflect other postwar issues such as national identity, "Americanism," the Red Scare, and the national striving for "normalcy"?
  3. How does the Twenties' discussion of immigration restriction resemble and differ from the 21st-century debate in the U.S.?
  4. Much of the debate pivoted on the definition of terms. From these resources, identify various definitions of native, foreign, preserve, heritage, and American that are implied by the commentators.
  5. Complete the chart below as you study the commentary and cartoons to organize the major issues and positions on immigration restriction. Include two or more comments for each factor, and add two factors to the chart. As an extra challenge, strive to include each commentator and cartoonist in the chart.
      American Anglo-Saxon Heritage of Democracy
        America as a Refuge for the World's Oppressed    
    1. Edmund Gale (Los Angeles Times)

    2. Langdon Mitchell
    The world has viewed America, with its melting pot theory, as a dumping ground for undesirables.

    There has been no "melting pot." We have lost our identity and stability as a "like-minded" people.
    "Melting Pot" Theory and Assimilation Before the end of the frontier, immigrants settled throughout the nation and quickly integrated with the native population.

    Recent immigrants should have been encouraged to settle across the nation instead of concentrating in urban enclaves.
    1. Frederic Howe

    2. John Milholland
      Immigration from Asia and Central & Eastern Europe    
    and National Identity
        Immigration and Need for
    Labor Supply
    Contribution or
    Harm to America
        Eugenics and
    Racial Purity
  6. Create an editorial, dialogue, blog entry, online video essay, etc., summarizing the immigration restriction debate of the 1920s for a 21st-century audience. Select one of the statements below from these resources to introduce your piece. Remember that you may not agree with the opinion in the statement you select, but that you will use it to frame your summary of the debate.
Contemporary commentary___
  1. Within the commentary, how did the positions of immigrants and immigrant officials differ from those of other commentators? (See selections by Frederic Howe, Terence Powderly, and Anzia Yezierska.)
  2. What immigration policies were recommended by the three presidents in their State of the Union addresses? How did their tone differ from other voices in the debate?
  3. What anti-immigration views were shared by eugenicists and Klansmen? How did their positions differ?
  4. How did black leader W. E. B. Du Bois explain the worldwide explosion of fear and intolerance after World War One?
  5. How did Klan leader Hiram Wesley Evans and eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard reject the labels of bigot or racist?
  6. Who were the moderate or centrist voices on both sides of the debate? Why? How effective were they, do you think, in balancing the more extreme positions?
  7. Explain how John Milholland, who encouraged calm and reasoned debate, strategically used words like stampede, panic, and shocked in his introductory comments.
  8. How were these concepts used in the immigration restriction debate? For what emotive and persuasive effects did the commentators employ them?
    the "American spirit"
    American homogeneity
    the American frontier
    tolerance and intolerance
    cheap labor
    "racial purity"
    the "alien"
    the "oppressed"

  9. Why might Terence Powderly have expressed his position through poetry? How might his message have differed if he had presented it as an essay, short story, or political cartoon?
  10. What message did Anzia Yezierska deliver to fellow immigrants through the conversation of Fanya and Henry Scott (the scholar-activist who is "all she could never be") in her novel All I Could Never Be?
  11. Considering the excerpts from novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anzia Yezierska, how do fiction writers use their characters to express views they might or might not agree with? How do they direct the reader's response to the views?
Political cartoons___
  1. What mainstream opinion on immigration was represented in the five cartoons?
  2. How were Uncle Sam, Congress, and arriving immigrants portrayed in the cartoons? How might they have been depicted by cartoonists opposing immigration restriction?
  3. How does the Denver Post depiction of Uncle Sam differ from the others? Why?
  4. Select one of the cartoons and pair it with a selection from the commentary that mirrors its perspective. From this exercise, what do you learn about how cartoons work to deliver a point?
  5. Select one of the prose selections in the commentary and present its position as a political cartoon. What did you learn from this exercise?
  6. Complete the cartoon analysis chart for this Theme DIVISIONS to study the cartoonists' viewpoints and the visual devices they used to convey them.

Framing Questions

  • What factors precipitated and fueled the social divisions of the 1920s?
  • How did each division reflect postwar adjustments and the "modern age"?
  • What issues overlapped the multiple social divisions of the period?
  • How had each issue evolved by 1930 as the nation entered the Great Depression?


Collected commentary
Political cartoons
      Cartoon analysis chart
11 pp.
 6 pp.
 2 pp.
19 pp.

Supplemental Sites

Aspiration, Acculturation, and Impact: Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930 (Harvard University Libraries) U.S. Immigration History Online (student project, University of Washington-Bothell) Immigration Restriction and the Ku Klux Klan, in Clash of Cultures in the 1910s and 1920s (Ohio State University & Pearson Publishing)

Resources from the Library of Congress (pre-1920) Primary sources in History Matters (George Mason University and the City University of New York).

– Certificate of Identity (duplicate) of Anna May Wong, issued at the port of Seattle, Washington, August 28, 1924 (details). Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives, Dept. of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, ARC Identifier 5720287.
– Russian family posed on deck aboard the Orbita on arrival in New York City from Russia, photograph, Sept. 16, 1921 (detail). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, George Bantham Bain Collection, LC-USZ62-42743.
– Posters promoting free English classes in Tompkins Branch Library (New York Public Library) in the lower east side of Manhattan, 1920. Courtesy of the New York Public Library, ID of English language card: 434261.
– Howard Chandler Christy, Victory Liberty Loan poster, 1919 (detail). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-5845.
– Branford Clarke, "On the Run," illustration in Alma White, Heroes of the Fiery Cross, 1928 (detail); permission request submitted to Pillar of Fire International.
– Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, The Menace of Modern Immigration, 1924, cover image (detail). Digital image courtesy of Michigan State University Libraries, Ku Klux Klan Collection.
– Headlines from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, 1921-1924; permission requests in process. Digital images courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
– Edmund Gale, "We'll Tell the World," Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1924. Reproduced by permission of the Los Angeles Times. Digital image courtesy of ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

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