What Is the Goal of a Nativist?

Nativist movement goals include keeping native cultural traits in place over traits of immigrant cultures and ensuring the interests of an area's established inhabitants are favored over immigrant interests. Nativism was prevalent in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 made it more difficult for immigrants to become American citizens and gain full political rights. Under one act, aliens could be imprisoned or deported by the president at any time. Democratic-Republicans were critical of the acts, and it helped them win the 1800 election when Thomas Jefferson became president. Two of the acts were allowed to expire in 1800 and 1801. The Alien Enemies Act, which allows imprisonment or deportation of male citizens of an enemy country during times of war, is still in effect as of 2014.

Nativists were critical of Irish immigrants in the 1850s and Asian immigrants beginning in the 1880s. In the 1920s, nativists objected to Jewish and southeastern European immigrants. Nativists and labor unions supported literacy tests in the early 20th century to make reading and writing English a requirement for getting a job. The plan was vetoed, but the Dillingham Commission was created in 1907 to study immigration effects on the United States.

During the 19th century, Protestant Americans in the Northeast grew increasingly hostile to Catholic immigrants moving into urban areas from Europe. These predominately Catholic immigrants were seen as ignorant, immoral, and easily manipulated by the Roman Catholic church. Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was one among many Americans who spoke out against Catholic immigrants. The Know Nothing party was established in the 1840s with the goals of preventing immigration, curtailing immigrant voting, barring them from holding public office,and stopping any public support for Catholic-backed institutions, such as parochial schools.

After World War I, nativists were particularly influenced by conceptions of racial inferiority in the eugenics movement and by a desire to prevent an influx of immigrants with radical political beliefs. In 1921, these groups succeeded in passing the first bill that included specific quotas for immigration.