Nativism was an anti-immigrant policy that took place during the 19th century. The idea of nativism is to protect the rights of people who are natural-born or native citizens to America as opposed to immigrants to come to this country. Although the technical terms refers to a person’s birthplace, nativism doesn’t just focus on people from other countries; it also has been directed to native citizens who live in America who nativists are looked upon as “un-American” for a variety of reasons. All forms of nativism bring in hostility toward people who are thought of as “outsiders”, again for a variety of reasons (such as ethnic, religious, and political reasons), as well as the moral, economic, and/political dangers these people bring to America.

Click to see a short video about Nativism

Historical Background
In the early 19th century, nativists looked upon all people who they thought were not supposed to be in their land. Then starting in the 1830’s, nativists started to focus their attention on Catholic immigrants, believing that America’s republic form of government couldn’t survive with having a large Catholic population. They believed that all republican governments needed a righteous, educated and independent leader, and they thought Catholic immigrants were superstitious, uneducated, and controlled by their priests. The attention towards Catholic immigrants as well as other immigrants continued, while secret societies were formed that were faithful to stopping immigrants from coming in. The hostility against the Catholics was shown when in 1834, a group of anti-Catholic laborers and townspeople chased a group of students and nuns away from their school and convent, and burned both the buildings. All the while this conflict was occurring, early nativists tried to transform their policy into a political movement, but their principles influenced the workplace, as artisans and laborers would complain that immigrants decreased their wages because their wouldn’t work as much as native-born workers would.

The Know-Nothing Party
In 1844, the American Republican Party was a new nativist group put into place. In theory, this is what they called themselves, but their real name was the Know-Nothing party. This party was a group made up of anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, and other anti-immigrant political organizations, and was made up of mostly native-born, white males. The Know-Nothing party was a secret organization, which is why they were referred to as the American Party.
This secret organization came into existence in the 1850’s after the American Protestant Society (a society that advocated against Catholics and Catholic immigration to America), broke into two smaller organizations. Both groups, the American Christian Union and the Foreign Christian Union, promised to win back America as well as Europe to believing in Protestantism. Because of these two groups, the Know-Nothing Party was brought to life. The party enjoyed success in spreading the message of anti-immigration until disappearing from sight in 1860.

After the Know-Nothing Party
During their time in existence, the Know-Nothing party wanted a law passed which banned the immigration of poor people and convicts. The law was indeed passed, in 1882 by Congress. As a result of the passed law, registration and literacy tests for voters was something that became common in America.

After the split of the Know-Nothing party, nativism was fairly quiet, until the 1890’s, when another wave came through. This one against Jews, Italians, Catholics, Russians, and other southern and eastern European people. All these people who people who immigrated to America after the Civil War. Because of this increase in immigrants, Nativist groups thrived, the largest one of them being the American Protection Association with 500,000 members. After World War I, the United States developed very strong nationalism that showed hostility toward all groups that weren’t conservative Protestant Americans (immigrants, Jews, communists and Catholics). And then in 1924, Congress passed immigration restrictions, which targeted southern and eastern Europeans, as well as completely banned Asians.


Click to see a historical newspaper during the time of the Nativisits