NATIVISM AND THE KNOW NOTHINGS: Should the U.S. Restrict Immigration?
Amid the nation’s first big wave of immigration in the 1840s and 1850s, the Know Nothings emerged, a nativist group aimed at restricting the number of people entering the United States. The Know Nothings, who were largely Protestant, denounced the new immigrants, who were largely Catholic and from Ireland and Germany, as drunkards, criminals, paupers, and enemies of the American way of life. They feared they would lower wages, threaten jobs, and increase Catholic influence in the United States. Opponents of the Know Nothings, however, defended the new immigrants and argued that they would boost the economy and benefit the nation. America had always opened its doors to the poor and the oppressed, they claimed, and everyone, including immigrants, have the right to freedom of religion.
Let your students get the facts and decide for themselves: Did the flood of immigrants into the United States in the mid-19th century threaten or strengthen the nation? Should the United States have restricted immigration in the 1840s and 1850s? Also, what if the Know Nothings had succeeded in persuading the U.S. government to restrict immigration?
Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in American History‘s clear and unbiased examination of nativism and the Know Nothings. Extend the discussion and encourage critical thinking with the questions and insights posed in the thought-provoking “What If…” section of the article.
Issues & Controversies in American History is an accessible educational database that delivers dynamic, concise, and balanced coverage providing the background, outcome, and contemporary points of view for every major debate and conflict in American history.