The long, ugly history of insisting minority groups can’t criticize AmericaRoundup
tags: racism, Nativism, immigration history, Know Nothing Party
Tyler Anbinder is a professor of history at George Washington University. His most recent book is “City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York.”
The racist and nativist themes Trump and some of his supporters have taken up since he tweeted about the four women on Sunday have a long history in American political discourse. The idea that immigrants and their offspring should either accept America as it is or “go home” echoes attacks made against other groups a century ago. Immigrants, especially those not seen as white, have long been subjected to claims that they’re not entitled to the same rights and freedoms as other Americans.
The first large-scale American anti-immigrant movement, popularly referred to as the Know Nothing Party, did not advocate that immigrants “go home.” The vast United States only had about 23 million inhabitants in 1854, the Know Nothings’ heyday. Even nativists could not imagine the United States succeeding without immigrants doing the backbreaking kinds of work — digging cellars, unloading ships, scrubbing floors, washing clothes — that native-born Americans disdained.
The political issue that most often caused clashes between immigrants and nativists then concerned public schools. Most public school systems, relatively new institutions, were run by committees of ministers who made Protestant Christianity an integral part of the curriculums. When Catholic immigrants began arriving in large numbers in the late 1840s during the Irish Potato Famine, they asked school leaders where they settled to remove Protestantism from the classroom or to publicly finance Catholic schools so their children would have an alternative to overtly Protestant public systems.
Some people saw these Catholic requests as reasonable. But most were furious that newcomers had the nerve to tell native-born Americans how to run their schools. The Know Nothing response was not to direct immigrants to “go home,” however, but to “stay in their lane.” Keep digging our ditches and mucking out our stables but, even after you become citizens, don’t “dictate” how the country should be run.
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