How Diverse Should the Citizenry Be?
In a nation created by immigrants, nothing has been more debated than what should be the ideal character of its citizenry. One view is that “multiculturalism,” the preservation of diverse cultural heritage, enriches the country. Some have called for a common citizenry—a “melting pot” where immigrants are assimilated and their traditions are transformed into a homogeneous American culture. Still others challenged diversity by seeking to restrict immigration and exclude certain racial and ethnic groups. These very different positions have greatly impacted the nation’s political debates on economic, foreign, and immigration policy, and education and social welfare programs.
Courting the “Ethnic Vote”
The Melting Pot
From 1880 to 1920 over 20 million people, largely from eastern and southern Europe, came to the United States. In response, the government and industries developed Americanization programs to turn the foreign-born into patriotic citizens by teaching “real American” values and English.
A Nation Only for Some
The American Party, also called the Know-Nothings, was a major national political force in the 1850s. It saw immigrants and Catholics as the greatest threat to self-government and to the nation. Arguing for rule by native-born Protestants, the Know-Nothings ran former President Millard Fillmore as their presidential candidate in the 1856 election. Though James Buchanan won the presidency, Fillmore received over 21 percent of the vote. During the Civil War the movement fractured and largely disappeared, but fear and distrust of new immigrants remained within the core beliefs of many future political movements.
Ku Klux Klan
Founded in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee, the Ku Klux Klan combated post-Civil War reforms and terrorized freed African Americans in the former Confederacy. Dormant for decades, by the mid-1920s a reconstructed Klan was again a powerful political force in both the South and the North, spreading hatred against African Americans, immigrants, Catholics, and Jews. Klan membership plummeted after a series of scandals involving its leadership. Although never as powerful as it was in the 1920s, Klan organizations rose to oppose the growing civil rights movements of the 1950s and ’60s.
Love It or Leave It
This 1970s bumper sticker was directed at anti-Vietnam War protesters and the counter-culture they represented, but the calls for exclusion of certain groups span the history of the nation. Americans desiring a more homogeneous citizenry did not limit their restrictions to certain ethnic and racial groups, but also sought to exclude those of differing political, social, and economic philosophies, religious beliefs, or sexual orientations.