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date: 27 March 2017

Nativism and Religion in America

Summary and Keywords

Nativism describes an ideology that favors the rights and privileges of the “native born” population over and against those of “foreign” status, however these categories might be defined and ascribed. In the United States, the term has usually been employed to designate hostility against foreign immigration, although nativist arguments have been used against various internal minority groups as well. Although the term is often used as a synonym for the anti-Catholicism of the antebellum era, nativism has usually focused its apprehensions on ethnic and racial differences rather than religious diversity; since religious identity is often interdependent with racial or ethnic heritage, however, any religious divergence from the dominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture likewise falls under suspicion. While not all forms of religious intolerance in the United States have been grounded in nativist attitudes and activities, the relationship between antipathy toward immigration and antagonism toward certain religions has been a recurrent and resilient theme in American culture. From the various forms of political and social enmity directed against Catholic immigrants during the antebellum era to the passage of Asian “exclusion acts” and the rise of anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and from attitudes toward the civilizing “mission” of the United States to contemporary expressions of Islamophobia, antagonism toward the foreign Other has often been inseparable from expressions of religious chauvinism and xenophobia.

Such chauvinism represents an appropriation of the idea of American exceptionalism by participating in the cultural mythology of the American civil religion, which posits both a divine origin of and special destiny for the United States. Scholars of American religion have long traced this theme of American exceptionalism, particularly as it has been expressed through the way in which Americans have read themselves into the biblical narrative as God’s “new Israel,” as a “shining city on a hill,” or as the location for the realization of the Christian millennial hope of a “new heaven and a new earth.” In less biblical but no less religious terms, the United States has been presented as the reification of a “new world order” (novus ordo seclorum, one of the three Latin mottos included on the Great Seal of the United States) or as offering humanity “the last best hope of earth.” By thus conceptualizing “America” as a type of utopian sacred space, these metaphors have simultaneously created the need for establishing the restrictions that mark one’s inclusion or exclusion in this redemptive process. Through identifying the foreign Other—by ethnicity, race, or religion—nativism has been one way to provide this religious function of defining the symbolic boundaries that keep this new “promised land” pure.

Keywords: nativism, immigration, melting pot, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia

At a lecture in Berlin in 1854, the German Reformed theologian Philip Schaff attempted to elucidate for his Prussian audience the reasons for the “chaos of sects” that informed the European image of religion in America. “Favored by the general freedom of faith, all Christian denominations and sects, except the Oriental, have settled in the United States, on equal footing in the eye of the law,” Schaff explained, referencing the First Amendment principles of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. But Schaff discerned a deeper purpose behind this “motley sampler of all church history.” Drawing attention back to his earlier discussion of the value of immigration, he propounded that “America seems destined to be the Phenix grave not only of all European nationalities … but also of all European churches and sects, of Protestantism and Romanism … [and] that out of the mutual conflict of all something wholly new will gradually arise.”1 Schaff’s hope for the ultimate theological reconciliation and triumph of Christianity, which would parallel the simultaneous dissolution of ethnic divisions and nationalist loyalties, was but one reflection of a larger cultural mythology of American exceptionalism. Whether expressed in J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur’s confidence that immigrants to the United States would be “melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world,” or in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s expectation that in America “all nations … will construct a new race, a new religion, a new State, a new literature … as vigorous as the new Europe which came from out of the smelting pot of the Dark Ages,” or in the very title of Israel Zangwill’s play The Melting-Pot (1908), the idea that “America”—as an idealized concept as much as it was the name of geographic place—offered to humanity the possibility of an eventual harmony beyond ethnicity, race, or religion has been a persistent and pervasive element of this myth.2

Nativism, as manifested both in ideology and in social practice, is an essential part of this mythology, for even in the most optimistic expressions of the myth there are those whose presence was thought to impede rather than hasten the fulfillment of American destiny. Even the term itself “is distinctively American,” noted John Higham, one of the premier historians of nativism, and “should be defined as intense opposition to an internal minority on the ground of its foreign (i.e., ‘un-American’) connections.”3 In addition to an extreme antipathy toward the immigrant, nativist opposition toward those whose “foreignness” precluded their cultural assimilation has always been a complex mixture of romantic nationalism, fear of subversion, and socioeconomic antagonisms, as well as a pronounced enmity toward the ethnic or racial “Other.” Religion, too, has been one of the key markers of such Othering, although with the exceptions of antebellum anti-Catholicism and contemporary forms of Islamophobia, direct hostility toward the religious Other has regularly been subsumed in nativist discourse by other concerns—an “epiphenomenon” to “more basic” issues such as race and ethnicity.4 Yet, in understanding nativism as an integral expression of a larger cultural mythology—one concerned with the complementary issues of purity and pollution—nativism might itself be regarded as functioning as a cultural religious form that creates and sustains the symbolic boundaries that define “Americanism” through defining the foreign Other. Sociologists of religion since Émile Durkheim as well as anthropologists such as Mary Douglas have commented upon the importance of religion in establishing the social boundaries that define individuals as members or as outsiders of any given culture. In her classic work Purity and Danger (1966), Douglas argued that this was accomplished through the religious concern with purity—and the attendant concern with pollution or “dirt”—which is not about physical hygiene but rather about establishing “symbolic patterns” that give meaning to “disparate experience.” Since “dirt offends against order,” Douglas maintained, by “chasing dirt … we are not governed by anxiety to escape disease, but are positively re-ordering our environment, making it conform to an idea.”5 Thus, even as they celebrated the idea of the melting pot, Crèvecoeur was careful to include only those of northern and western European extraction, who would practice “a strange religious medley, that will be neither pure Catholicism nor pure Calvinism,” and Schaff pointedly excluded both Orthodox Christianity and Islam, “the inveterate foe of Christendom,” from his New World ecumenism.6 The myth of American exceptionalism required no less.

Antebellum Nativism: The Protestant Crusade

In 17th-century England, the figure of the Catholic held the place of preeminence as the religious Other, and the first colonists carried their anti-Catholic attitudes to North America. Such was not the result of simple theological disagreement; Catholic Spain and France had long been traditional political rivals to England, and the religious differences that came about following the English Reformation only added to this hostility. Whatever its economic promise, the founding of the Virginia colony was in part intended to present a clear challenge to the existing territorial claims made by France and Spain in North America. Although the initial charter granted to the Virginia Company was relatively silent on the issue of religion, the Second Charter of 1609 imposed the Oath of Supremacy on all potential colonists in an explicit attempt to prevent Catholic immigration into the colony. In 1642, the Virginia House of Burgesses made it unlawful for “any popish priest that shall hereafter arrive to remaine above five days after warning given for his departure,” although no punishment for such offense was specified. In Puritan New England, a 1647 act correspondingly barred any “Jesuit or eclesiastical p[er]son ordained by the authoritie of the pope” from even entering the colony, stipulating the penalty of exile for the first offense and of execution should he have the temerity to return.7 While these laws were directed primarily against Catholic clergy, by the latter part of the 17th century, most of the British colonies in North America had passed laws restricting the practice of the Catholic faith in the hope of preventing Catholics from immigrating. Even the Maryland colony, which had been founded—ostensibly but surreptitiously—as a refuge for Catholics fleeing the penal laws of England, instituted a variety of “no popery” laws throughout the 18th century whenever Protestants held political power.

In 1699, such anti-Catholic laws were combined for the first time with immigration restrictions based on ethnicity, when the colonial Assembly of Maryland imposed a levy of twenty shillings per head upon “all Masters of Ships or others Importing Irish Servants into this Province by Land or by Water” in an effort “to prevent too Great a number of Irish Papists being Imported into this Province.”8 Some colonies also extended their immigration restrictions to exclude other minority religions. Virginia barred the admission of Quakers in 1660, and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony demonstrated their willingness to implement the harshest of penalties on those who violated that colony’s anti-Quaker laws when they publicly executed four Quaker missionaries on Boston Common between 1659 and 1661. Religions other than Christianity posed little direct threat to the homogeneity of the British colonies, although Maryland’s only Jewish resident, a Portuguese immigrant named Jacob Lumbrozo, was found guilty of blasphemy in 1658 but was released after a brief incarceration.

During the Revolutionary and early national periods, Enlightenment attitudes toward religious liberty, coupled with political and military alliances with Catholic France (and later Spain), mitigated many of the anti-Catholic attitudes that had shaped colonial immigration policies. By the end of the century, the small Catholic population of the United States, predominantly of British descent, appeared to be relatively secure. The new Constitution banned any test oath for federal office, and the first Naturalization Act passed by the new Congress in 1790 did not impose any religious restrictions on those seeking to become citizens of the United States, although it did limit naturalization to “any alien being a free white person,” so long as he or she had lived under the jurisdiction of the United States for at least two years.9 During the presidency of John Adams, a Federalist majority Congress extended this residency period initially to five and later to fourteen years, the latter action coming about as a component of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Intended to inhibit immigration of political radicals from revolutionary France, the Alien and Sedition Acts kept alive the lingering suspicion that foreign-born Catholics presented a tangible threat to American political life.

Such a threat appeared to gain more validity as immigration from Europe, particularly from Ireland and Germany, began to increase significantly after 1815. Many of these immigrants brought with them very vibrant ethnic forms of Catholicism that gave a new public presence to the faith that many American Protestants now began to find alarming and all too foreign. Latent religious antagonisms were rekindled by the rise of an emerging anti-Catholic popular press, led by the launch of the New York Observer in 1823 by two sons of the Congregationalist minister Jedidiah Morse, an avocational geographer and amateur conspiracy theorist. Similarly, many denominational publications during this time began to grow more strident in their denunciations of “popery”—on one hand, reviving Protestant allegations that the Roman Catholic Church, or more particularly the pope himself, was the embodiment of the Antichrist and, on the other, declaring the Catholic faith to be inimical to American political and moral values. These themes were reiterated by a large variety of other anti-Catholic publications, including “escaped nun” tales such as Maria Monk’s infamous Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal (1836). Monk’s account, probably written pseudonymously by a Protestant minister, detailed the scandalous activities said to take place behind convent walls, where lustful priests preyed upon captive nuns, baptizing and quickly dispatching the children born of such illicit assignations. William Hogan, a defrocked priest, in his book A Synopsis of Popery, as It Was and as It Is (1845), extended the lechery of the presumably celibate priest into the confessional, where ideas of sexual immorality could be planted into the minds of innocent female penitents. Protestant pulpits also added to the rising tide of fears of the subversive Catholic Other. Lyman Beecher, a former Congregationalist minister in New England and the first president of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, preached a series of sermons in Boston that helped literally to spark the flames that destroyed an Ursuline convent and school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834; a decade later similar incendiary rhetoric over the preference of Catholics to use their own translation of the Bible in public schools led to the torching of two Catholic churches in the Philadelphia area.

The targets of such violent acts were invariably Irish immigrants; both in Boston and in Philadelphia, the incineration of Catholic structures had been preceded by anti-immigrant riots in Irish neighborhoods. In fact, so strong was the bond between this virulent form of antebellum anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant violence that Ray Allen Billington’s classic study of this particular strain of American intolerance, The Protestant Crusade, 1800–1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (1938), simply conflated the two under the single term nativism. Even Billington conceded, however, that it was not until the 1830s that anti-immigrant passions and anti-Catholic ideology coalesced into a single form of “nativistic activity.”10 The key figure of this merger was again one of the sons of Jedidiah Morse—at the time a struggling artist but later the inventor of the telegraph code that still bears his name.

According to his own account, Samuel F. B. Morse’s anti-Catholicism was born during a visit to Rome in 1830, when his hat was knocked from his head by a papal guard during a procession. Upon his return to the United States, Morse published a series of articles in his brothers’ newspaper that was later printed separately as a book entitled Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States (1835). The significance of this work was not just that it repeated the charges that both Catholicism and immigration were corrosive to American Protestant values, but rather that such immigration was part of a larger conspiracy by Austria’s Prince Metternich and the papacy to destroy American liberties by flooding the country with poor Catholics, who were “shamefully illiterate, and without opinions of their own … who servilely obey a set of priests imported from abroad.” Laws that both stimulated immigration and required only a brief residency before naturalization created a “weak point in our system” that opened the door to political and religious subversion.11 Morse’s claims provided the impetus for the creation of a number of nativist organizations that sought to curtail immigration, to mitigate the effects of immigrants already in the United States by extending the residency period required for naturalization, and to weaken Catholic influence in American life by constantly demonstrating what they perceived to be the fundamental incompatibility of Catholic clerical despotism with American democracy. New political parties such as the American Republican Party (later renamed the Native American Party) and the secret fraternal society of the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner (which later became the American Party) made surprising gains in local and state elections on the basis of their platforms to strengthen naturalization laws and to adopt clearly anti-Catholic policies. In 1854, the American Party—now named the Know-Nothing Party after the practice of supporters to respond to any inquiries about their efforts with the phrase “I know nothing about it”—gained statehouse majorities in many northeastern states, including virtually the entire slate of state offices in Massachusetts. Among the first acts of the new nativist government in Boston was to establish a Nunnery Committee charged with investigating the convents and schools that belonged to Catholic religious orders in an attempt to discover the imprisoned nuns and strangled babies that authors such as Maria Monk had described. A number of investigations produced no evidence to support such accusations, however; rather the committee became notorious for the amount of wine that the investigators consumed at taxpayers’ expense.

In addition to the immigrant-plagued areas of the Northeast, another source of concern to antebellum nativists was the immigration to and settlement of the trans-Appalachian West. In another sermon, entitled A Plea for the West (1835), Lyman Beecher urged his fellow Protestants to seize the task that God had assigned them to “write the religious and political destiny of our nation [that] is to be decided in the west.” Echoing Morse, Beecher argued that “Catholic Europe is throwing swarm on swarm upon our shores,” and that “while we admit the population of Europe to a participation in the blessings of our institutions and ample territory, it is both our right and duty so to regulate the influx and the conditions of naturalization, that the increase shall not outrun the possibility of intellectual and moral culture, and … bring down destruction on ourselves and them.”12

Beecher’s fantasy of a virtual wilderness west of the Appalachians awaiting the blessings of Protestantism did not take into account the Catholic populations and institutions there that were a part of the legacy of colonial rule by France and Spain. Indeed, as the borders of the United States moved westward with the annexation of Texas (1845) and the ensuing War with Mexico (1846–1848), a large number of Amerindian and Hispanic Catholics were added to the U.S. population. Of course, these Catholics, who became a part of the United States when most of northern Mexico was ceded to the United States, were not immigrants in the strict sense of the term—Timothy Matovina’s study of Latino Catholicism cites the “common quip” that some eighty thousand Mexican Catholics “did not cross the border but had the border cross them.” These new Americans, however, often encountered forms of verbal persecution and physical violence that were similar to nativist and anti-Catholic activities in the East. In the same year that Massachusetts nativists had torched the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Anglo-American settlers in Texas burned down the parish church in Nacogdoches and were suspected of having assassinated its resident priest.13 With the conclusion of the war, politicians such as Henry Clay debated the wisdom of attempting to amalgamate such religiously and ethnically diverse populations into the largely Anglo-Protestant culture of the United States. Citing both the case of the French Catholics in British Quebec, where tensions over religious and cultural differences still lingered after a hundred years, and that of Ireland where “every Irishman hates, with a mortal hatred, his Saxon oppressor,” Clay queried whether it would be “possible that two such immense countries, with territories of nearly equal extent, with populations so incongruous, so different in race, in language, in religion, and in laws, could be blended together in one harmonious mass, and happily governed by one common authority?”14 Blending together was not the goal of the nativist proponents of American Manifest Destiny, however, who sensed the opportunities to dispossess Latino cultures and to disestablish Roman Catholicism as twin blows to be delivered against both a despotic government and an unenlightened religion.

In the antebellum South, Billington’s too facile correspondence between anti-Catholicism and nativism was complicated by the presence of an established Catholic elite, which shared with northeastern nativists an aversion to the influx of Irish and German immigrants. Although the South did not experience the massive numbers of immigrants that flooded into northern cities such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the primary immigrant portals in the South—principally Baltimore, New Orleans, and to a lesser extent Charleston—were also areas that had large Catholic communities. The anti-immigrant stance of the Know-Nothings attracted disaffected members of Louisiana’s faltering Democratic and Whig parties, but eventually they withdrew from the national party over the issue of anti-Catholicism. In other southern states with a large Catholic population, such as Maryland, Kentucky, and Virginia, local nativist parties similarly rejected or at least moderated the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the national party.15Antebellum anti-Catholicism died an ignoble death. In 1856, the American Party nominated former president Milliard Fillmore as its standard-bearer, and although Fillmore, a Whig, had joined a Know-Nothing lodge, he was informed of his nomination while in Rome preparing for an audience with the pope. Soured on its nominee and facing more substantial issues in regard to sectionalism and slavery, the Know-Nothings faded quickly into obscurity. Anti-Catholicism would remain an undercurrent of American life until the 1960 presidential election (and beyond, but significantly diminished), but nativist ideology would find new avenues of expression and new religions to question about their ability to be absorbed into the larger culture.

Asian Immigration

Each morning, in his cabin on New England’s Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau could “bathe [his] intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta,” during a time when most Americans would have regarded the religious texts of South and East Asia as superstitious “heathenism” if they gave to them any thought at all.16 Even while Thoreau was living alone in the woods, however, Americans living along the Pacific coast were beginning to come into increasing contact with immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, and even India, who brought with them various religious practices that threatened, in the minds of many, the purity of America’s Protestant culture.

Asian immigration into California and the Pacific Northwest began in earnest in the 1840s. The Chinese were the first to arrive in large numbers, drawn by the economic opportunities presented by the gold rush and the consequent growth of cities such as San Francisco. Many more arrived in the 1860s to work as laborers for the Union Pacific Railroad but likewise resettled in urban areas or turned to coal mining when the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 brought unemployment. While such “coolie” labor was initially welcomed, resentment quickly began to develop. Nativists denounced the insular nature of the Chinese workers and complained that they were taking jobs away from “white” Americans because of their willingness to work for lower wages. Anti-Chinese riots occurred in both California and Oregon over such concerns and as far to the east as Sweetwater County, Wyoming, where in September 1885 dozens of Chinese workers were killed by white miners in the Rock Springs Massacre. The episode at Rock Springs led to tensions with the Chinese government, which demanded reparations, but it also hardened the resolve of labor leaders and politicians to defend the slaughter. In a memorial to Congress, Terence Powderly, a Catholic layperson and the General Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, sanctioned the violence as a result of the “indifference of our law-makers to the just demands of the people for relief” against Chinese labor, but he noted that his other objections “to this particular race” included “their habits, religion, customs, and practices.”17

As Powderly implied, the opposition to the Chinese was primarily informed by issues of labor and an emerging racial consciousness, although religious difference was never far from the surface. As the Chinese immigrant population had grown, so, too, had public awareness of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Chinese folk religions as temples and “joss houses” took their places among the churches and synagogues in the urban landscapes of the West. Writing in the popular magazine Overland Monthly in 1868, the Presbyterian minister and former missionary to China A. W. Loomis observed that even at that early date there existed “heathen temples, and other gods in San Francisco.” After giving his readers a brief narrative tour of a “dark and gloomy” Chinese temple that enshrined various deities, Loomis concluded that among the “the dark places of the earth” there were, in the United States, “spots which are dark enough, under the droppings of our sanctuaries,” but he added hopefully that “it cannot always remain so. There is light in America. Idolatry may be imported to these shores—but it cannot live for many years.”18

Others were less sanguine than Loomis about the ability of Christianity eventually to “enlighten” the “heathen” Chinese or even if such should be desired. As early as the 1850s there were attempts to impose restrictions or even outright bans on Chinese immigration into California. These efforts were renewed at the local and state levels in the 1870s and finally became federal policy in 1882 with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Although the intent of the Exclusion Act was to end any further immigration of the Chinese solely on the basis of nationality—making them the first group to be denied the ability to immigrate for such a reason—the rhetoric supporting such action often identified religious differences as among the justifiable motivations that drove its passage. “The Chinese are aliens,” argued James Harvey Slater of Oregon during the Senate debate on the bill; they were “born in a foreign land, speak a foreign tongue, owe allegiance to a foreign government, are idolaters in religion, have a different civilization from ours, [and] do not and will not assimilate with our people.”19 Slater’s language was reiterated by other defenders of the bill, who ridiculed Chinese religious traditions as little more than superstitious forms of folk magic and ancestor worship and scorned Chinese participation in Christian Sunday schools as dissembling efforts merely to learn the English language. Even Catholic writers disallowed the possibility of conversion to Christianity as an admissible reason for continued immigration. “The promiscuous mingling together of Christian and non-Christian peoples,” observed Bryan J. Clinche, writing in the American Catholic Quarterly Review, “is so far from being a likely means of spreading a knowledge of the Faith that it often serves rather as an obstacle to its diffusion…. As a matter of fact, the immigrants are totally indifferent to religion in any shape.”20

As the title implied, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred only “ethnic” Chinese from immigrating to the United States; it said nothing about the immigration of other groups from East or South Asia. This proved to be a boon for Japanese immigrants, who began to arrive in large numbers in the 1880s to take the jobs that were no longer being filled by the Chinese. Since most Japanese immigrants were more willing to assimilate Western styles of dress and behavior than the Chinese had been, many Americans initially preferred them over the Chinese because their foreignness seemed to be more rapidly dissipated. Indeed, many of the earliest Japanese immigrants to the Pacific coast region were already Christian, and the very first religious institution established by these Issei (first-generation immigrants) was not a Buddhist or Shinto temple but rather a “Gospel Society” in San Francisco, founded in 1877.21 Since conversion to Protestantism was considered by immigrants and “natives” alike as an imperative step toward assimilation, many immigrants who had not yet converted upon arrival did so shortly thereafter, and the adoption of Christian cultural practices—such as the observation of the Sunday Sabbath—became widespread within the Japanese immigrant community. Not for another two decades did those who retained their Buddhist religion have a similar institutional presence when the first Japanese (Pure Land) Buddhist temple opened in 1899 in San Francisco.

By the early 20th century, the escalating population of Japanese immigrants along the West Coast and in Hawaii, which had been annexed by United States in 1898, instigated nativists to expand their rhetoric to include all such “Orientals” within a more comprehensive Asian exclusion law. A writer for the San Francisco Chronicle could barely hide his contempt at the arrival of two Pure Land Buddhist priests in that city to staff the new temple and “to convert Japanese and later Americans to the ancient Buddhist faith. They will teach that God is not the creator, but the created; not a real existence, but a figment of the human imagination, and that pure Buddhism is a better moral guide than Christianity.”22 That the writer included Japanese immigrants as those among whom the priests sought converts offered an unintentional commentary on the success of the assimilation efforts to bring these immigrants into the Christian faith, but ultimately Christian conversion proved an inadequate defense against nativist racism. In 1914, Takao Ozawa, a Japanese immigrant living in Hawaii, filed naturalization papers seeking to become a U.S. citizen. Citing his twenty-year residence in Hawaii, his use of the English language even in his home, and the fact that his “family had attended American churches,” Ozawa was finally denied the right of naturalization by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 because—despite his Christianity—he was not “Caucasian,” a racial identity of relatively recent coinage that the justices nevertheless interpreted as conveying the original intent of the language of the 1790 Naturalization Act.23

Only a few months after the Ozawa decision, the Court stripped an immigrant from British India, Bhagat Singh Thind, of the naturalized citizenship he had been granted by a federal court, arguing that his generally accepted status as Caucasian did not inevitably qualify him as white. Rejecting “the speculative processes of ethnological reasoning” in favor of the “common understanding, by unscientific men” that a brown-skinned Indian was not a white man, the justices argued that “the great body of our people instinctively recognize [the racial difference] and reject the thought of assimilation.” The glaring inconsistency of these two unanimous rulings reflected the collusion of racist and nativist attitudes of the time period and further illustrated the degree to which religion was always present as a subtext. Identifying as a Christian was insufficient to make Ozawa, as a member of one of the “the brown or yellow races of Asia,” white, but being a practitioner of a non-Christian religion could likewise disqualify even one racially identified as Caucasian from naturalization as a citizen. Thind, although he was a Sikh, had argued that his status as a “high-caste Hindu” had kept his Aryan bloodline pure, owing to the proscription against marrying outside one’s own caste; the lawyers representing the government responded, however, that since Hinduism sanctioned child brides and the immolation of widows, Thind represented a religious culture utterly incompatible with American civilization.24

The Ozawa and Thind cases demonstrated the way in which the issues surrounding immigration were inextricably bound together with ideologies about race, religion, and “civilization” in nativist discourse. “The Asiatic race[s] have developed a civilization of their own, which they deem superior to ours,” pronounced Charles F. Curry, California’s secretary of state, in an address to the Asiatic Exclusion League in 1910. “Their idea of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is different from ours. Their habits and customs, their morals and domestic economy are different from ours…. If the surplus millions of the teeming hordes of India, China and Japan were permitted to immigrate to the United States they would soon outnumber and dominate our present population, subvert our form of government, degrade our standard of living and substitute the semi-barbarous heathen civilization of Shintoism and Brahma, Buddha and Confucius, for our Christian civilization.”25 Organized in 1905 by various labor unions along the Pacific coast, the Asiatic Exclusion League (originally founded as the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League) had been formed in the hope of expanding the prohibition of immigrant labor from other Asian countries besides China as well as halting any further immigration of Japanese labor from Hawaii to the mainland; as Curry’s remarks indicated, however, its focus had in a few years widened far beyond its original intent to protect American workers. Agitation by the league and legislative actions by the California State Assembly, which segregated the children of Japanese immigrants into separate public schools, led the administration of Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate the so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 with the imperial government of Japan, in which the United States agreed not to outlaw immigration outright if the Japanese government would work to discourage such. Congress, however, never ratified this agreement, passing instead a few years later the Immigration Act of 1917, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, which defined a massive “Asiatic Barred Zone” that stretched from Southeast Asia to western Turkey. With the more comprehensive Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, all Asian immigration was banned—along with immigration from Africa and much of the Middle East—and strict quotas imposed on immigrants from areas of central and southern Europe that were home to Jews, Orthodox Christians, and those, such as the Italians, whose localized expressions of Catholicism appeared all too foreign—and thus all too problematic—even to other American Catholics.

Nativism and Empire

In addition to its anti-Asian impulses, the “new nativism” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was born of a xenophobic nationalism that was developed within a complex matrix of economic issues (the labor situation and the Panic of 1893), fear of foreign subversion (in the form of Marxism and European anarchism), and the tensions of a rapidly urbanizing society. Religion was only one sign of Otherness that the immigrants of this era brought with them into the United States, and while it was usually less prominent than the issue of race or ethnicity, it nevertheless continued to be cited by nativists as another reason why assimilation was improbable if not impossible. Yet, at the same time that the idea of a self-consciously Protestant and Anglo-Saxon culture was being affirmed by the Supreme Court, the United States was becoming an international and imperial power and thus faced questions about the non-Christian and dark-skinned Other within its own colonial dominions.

Not all those who faced nativist aggressions were foreign immigrants. As the United States had expanded westward, Amerindians and Native Hawaiians found themselves dispossessed of their ancestral territories and thus “strangers in their own lands.” In the minds of many Americans, it thus became necessary to find a way to incorporate such peoples into the larger culture, but such integration had to be assimilative on the terms that the larger culture set. Under the provisions of President Ulysses S. Grant’s Peace Policy in 1869, Amerindians were placed on reservations and herded into boarding schools that were generally under the control of Christian denominations that deemed it necessary first to strip them of their traditional cultures and religions. Similar forms of suppression took place in Hawaii, led by Protestant missionaries who began arriving on the islands in the 1820s. Despite their success at converting large numbers of the population—including the royal family—to Christianity, missionaries such as Sereno Bishop were determined to eradicate any lingering traditional religious practices in the name of “civilization.” When a native cultural revitalization began during the reign of King Kalakaua (r. 1874–1891), Bishop and the “Missionary Party” accused Kalakaua of being “the chief organizer of sorcery and idolatry in his kingdom” and assailed the royalists as being “the party of heathen revival and sorcerous domination of the kingdom.” Bishop pleaded for the United States “to interpose its protection and to cherish this wonderful and prosperous colony of 22,000 Americans and other whites.” The threat to Christian civilization was ended when the white minority overthrew the monarchy and its “revolutionary heathen element” with the aid of U.S. Marines, the initial step toward full territorial annexation in 1898.26

In the Great Basin, the practice of “plural marriage” among the Latter-day Saints (Mormons)—who had emigrated from the United States only to be brought back in by the conquests of the Mexican War—attracted the attention of federal authorities and brought an opportunity for the Supreme Court to issue its first ruling on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Court upheld the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act under which Mormon official George Reynolds had previously been indicted and found guilty, arguing in a unanimous opinion that while Reynolds may have believed that his plural marriages were divinely sanctioned, the First Amendment did not give him the right to practice such. The justification of this denial by the Court was explicitly nativist in arguing that while “polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, [it was] until the establishment of the Mormon Church … almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people.”27 A few years later, in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892), the Court declined to uphold a lower court ruling that an Episcopal Church in New York had violated the intent of the Alien Contract Labor Law—which forbid arranging for transport of foreign nationals to the United States for a previously contracted position—when the church chose a British priest as its rector. Citing various practices such as prayers before governmental meetings and the use of congressional chaplains, the unanimous opinion of the Court was that the law was never intended to prejudice Christianity because the United States was “a Christian nation,” adding that this designation signaled an acceptable intolerance toward non-Christian religions. Thus, while it was illicit “to revile, with malicious and blasphemous contempt, the religion professed by almost the whole community … we [are not] bound by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the Grand Lama; and for this plain reason that the case assumes that we are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors.”28

At the same time that the American West was being subjugated to a Christianized Manifest Destiny, the United States was becoming an imperial power internationally. In addition to the forced annexation of Hawaii, the Spanish-American War (1898) brought Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines under American colonial rule—an imperial expansion that was justified in part by religious arguments. Potential fears that such dominions might encourage immigration to the mainland were mitigated by globalizing the same sense of divine mission that had led to the conquest of the West, thereby generating a preclusive form of nativism that sought to avert emigration by extending America’s Christian civilization to the Caribbean and Asian colonies. For example, on the issue of what to do about the Philippines, President William McKinley claimed that he “went down on [his] knees and prayed Almighty God,” until he came to the determination “that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.”29 Few combined this form of imperialist nativism with a jingoistic Manifest Destiny more persuasively than the Congregationalist minister Josiah Strong, whose book Our Country (1885; rev. ed. 1891) also illustrated the explicit “scientific” racism embedded in these ideas. Decrying the associated domestic “perils” of immigration, “Romanism,” Mormonism, and socialism, among others, Strong nonetheless concluded his work with the confident forecast “that God, with infinite wisdom and skill, is training the Anglo-Saxon race for an hour sure to come in the world’s future.” Armed with the twin ideas of civil liberty and “a pure spiritual Christianity,” Strong asserted that the United States would soon “move down upon Mexico, down upon Central and South America, out upon the islands of the sea, over upon Africa and beyond. And can any one [sic] doubt that the result of this competition of races will be the ‘survival of the fittest?’”30 While Strong worried, on one hand, about the ability of most immigrants already in the United States to adapt properly to American liberty and Christian moral values, the Social Darwinist framework of his claims signified, on the other hand, a confident hope that American civilization would eventually displace the “inferior” ones with which it came into contact.

If Strong’s Anglo-Saxon racism might be regarded as optimistic in terms of its ultimate triumph over those less fit, others worried about the potential of racial dilution as “undesirable” immigrant groups continued to make their way into early-20th-century America. The arrival of large numbers of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century initially created tensions primarily within the American Jewish community itself, which at that time was Germanic in heritage and Reform in its religious practices. Fearful of the effects that a Judaism informed by ethnicity, nationalism, and traditional (Orthodox) practices might have on anti-Semitism, leaders such as Isaac Meyer Wise acted to define an American Judaism that was more easily assimilated into the predominant culture. At its meeting in 1885, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations drafted under Wise’s leadership the Pittsburgh Platform, which, among other assertions, declared: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine … nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”31 While decidedly not anti-Semitic, the Pittsburgh Platform marked a definitive rejection of the Judaism of the Ashkenazi immigrants.

Prior to the 1920s, anti-Semitism had not been a significant problem in the United States, but postwar economic distress and the failure of World War I to solve Europe’s social ills contributed to its sudden rise. The precipitating event was the lynching of Leo Frank, the son of a pencil manufacturer in Atlanta, who was killed for the presumed murder of a young girl at his father’s factory. Frank’s executioners formed the basis for the revival of the Ku Klux Klan on Georgia’s Stone Mountain in 1915, which became as infamous for its hyper-Protestant nativism—opposing immigrants, Jews, and Catholics—as for its attempts to restore white supremacy. Hiram Wesley Evans, the second Imperial Wizard of this Second Klan (named after the white supremacist group of the Reconstruction era), detailed the religious nativism of the group in an article published in North American Review in 1926. Although Evans certainly underscored the Klan’s position of white supremacy, the bulk of the article stressed the organization’s anti-Catholicism, which echoed many of the same claims made by the antebellum nativists. “Protestantism is an essential part of Americanism,” wrote Evans. “It has been a distinctly Nordic religion, and it has been through this religion that the Nordics have found strength to take leadership of all whites and the supremacy of the earth.”32 Immigration threatened not only to “mongrelize” the “Nordic race” (a new subdivision of Anglo-Saxonism necessitated by wartime propaganda against the “Teutonic race”) but also to dilute the Protestant faith that sustained white supremacy, both domestically and abroad. From the unassimilable Catholic “alien,” to the “the Eastern Jews of recent immigration … [who] are not true Jews, but only Judaized Mongols,” Evans and the Klan brought together within a self-consciously Protestant organization religious nativism, white supremacy, and a virulent ideological racism that spread throughout the rural areas of the South and Midwest. By the end of the 1920s, however, its membership was already in decline, as measures such as the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 imposed strict national quotas on further immigration and thus realized one of the long-standing hopes of American nativists.

Nativist Revivals

The immigration restrictions of the Johnson-Reed Act diminished the more antagonistic expressions of nativist antipathies for much of the 20th century. By the 1950s, Judaism and Catholicism had, for the most part, lost their identity as foreign religions and had become, in the judgment of sociologist Will Herberg, alternative expressions of “the American Way of Life.”33 In 1965, a new Immigration and Naturalization Services Act abolished the quota system of the early 20th century, further diversifying the religious landscape by clearing the way for increased immigration from Asia and Africa. By the 1990s, a second generation of American-born “Muslims from Providence, Hindus from Baltimore, Sikhs from Chicago, [and] Jains from New Jersey”—in the words of Diana Eck, professor and founder of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University—began to embody this new diversity, as did the largely Catholic and sometimes “undocumented” immigrants arriving from Mexico and Latin America.34 Nativist tensions began to resurface, beginning in those states most affected by Mexican immigration. California’s contentious Proposition 187 (1994) sought to bar “illegal” immigrants from receiving any public benefits, and proponents of the bill evoked the language of Samuel F. B. Morse when they denounced the “invasion” of third world “criminals” who threated to overrun Anglo-American supremacy and return the state to Mexico.35 Although this so-called Save Our State (SOS) proposition was passed by voters, it was ruled unconstitutional in federal court in 1999.

With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Islam became the favored target for nativist objections to the new immigrant religions. Although Muslim immigration dates back to the colonial period, when covert Muslims (“Moriscos”) traveled with Spanish explorers and African Muslims from Senegambia were brought as slaves to North America, the Asian Exclusion Acts served to inhibit significant immigration until the later 20th century. The first freestanding mosque was built by Syrian immigrants in North Dakota in 1929, but many Americans became aware of Islam only through the activities of Malcolm X and the indigenous Nation of Islam in the 1960s or through the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979–1980. The 2001 terrorist attacks focused attention on the rapid growth of Islam within the United States since the 1965 Immigration Act and fueled impulsive and nativist responses. A number of state governments quickly passed legislation barring the imposition of Islamic law (sharia), and attempts to construct new mosques or even to expand existing ones have often been met with fierce local and national resistance, from a small Islamic center planned in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to the Park51 project in Manhattan (termed by its opponents the “Ground Zero Mosque”). During the 2008 presidential campaign, the “birther movement” attempted to disqualify the Democratic Party’s nominee Barack Obama from candidacy by arguing not only that he had been born in Kenya but also that he was, in fact, a clandestine Muslim.

Subsequent attacks by Islamist militants at home and abroad, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the refugee crisis sparked by the civil war in Syria, and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have increased Islamophobia in the United States. Echoing the fears of their anti-Catholic antebellum counterparts, 21st-century nativists have responded to these new threats by insisting on an indissoluble link between Protestant Christianity and national identity. “America is different,” contended Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington—whose book The Clash of Civilizations (1996) presaged for many the struggle between the “West” and militant Islamists—“and that difference is defined in large part by its Anglo-Protestant culture and its religiosity,” which preserve and enhance “those qualities that have defined America since its founding.”36 The attack on the headquarters of the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015 by “radicalized Muslim extremists” even led real estate magnate and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to propose a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”37 Although Trump’s statement drew condemnation from fellow Republicans as well as his Democratic opponents, it contributed to his populist support (as did his promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and to make Mexico pay for it) and illustrated that nativist hostility toward the religious Other continued to inform political ideology and rhetoric at the highest levels.

This situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. According to a Pew Research Center report published in May 2015, “nearly eight-in-ten Muslims” in the United States are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, as are 96 percent of American Hindus. Even within Christianity, ethnic and religious diversity remains strong: immigration still accounts for 40 percent of the Orthodox Christian population, while 42 percent of American Catholics are either first- or second-generation Americans, the vast majority of whom are Hispanics from Latin America or the Caribbean.38 Commenting on earlier but similar Pew findings, sociologist Robert Wuthnow remarked that the presence of such immigrant religions will continue to inform the ways in which “Americans view America itself,” especially those deeply committed Protestant Christians who assert that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation.” “Believing that Christianity is exclusively true,” Wuthnow observed, “is strongly associated with believing that Christianity is the source of America’s greatness and with feeling that immigrants with different religions are a threat to America’s distinctive values and lifestyles.”39

When it was articulated by Crèvecoeur and Schaff in the early years of the American republic, the metaphor of the melting pot provided an enlightened alternative to the more provincial forms of European nationalism. The assimilationist premise of the melting pot, however, was too confined and too easily gave way to the intensely exclusionary rhetoric of nativism. As the pace of immigration accelerated, concerns with purity undermined pluralism in the name of preserving a mythologized past. Seemingly benign appeals to a nationalized Christianity or a nostalgic “return to Judeo-Christian values” serve to ground more malignant forms of nativist rhetoric that vilify diversity and demonize the religious Other, undermining, in the process, the constitutional guarantees of both religious liberty and the separation of church and state. The irony of nativism is that by attempting to establish the religious boundaries that protect American values, it must simultaneously violate those very principles that it claims to defend.

Review of the Literature

There is no comprehensive study of religion and nativism in America; indeed, with the exception of Ray Allen Billington’s book The Protestant Crusade, which made the term nativism problematically synonymous with anti-Catholicism, religion has appeared in most subsequent studies as subordinate to other anti-immigrant concerns such as race or ethnicity. Thus, scholars have approached nativist attitudes and movements after the American Civil War from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—including political science, history, and sociology—but rarely through the lens of what might be considered a religious studies approach. Researchers seeking information about the role of the religious Other in nativist discourse would need to consult a wide array of humanistic and social scientific resources as well as broadly interdisciplinary fields such as immigration studies, ethnic studies, and Jewish studies.

Still, Billington’s book remains unsurpassed for understanding antebellum nativism and its integral connection to anti-Catholicism; although more recent studies of the latter have appeared by scholars such as Mark S. Massa and Philip Jenkins, their concern is with more contemporary forms of anti-Catholicism that are generally disassociated from nativist concerns.40 As might be expected, studies on Latino and Hispanic Catholicism such as Timothy Matovina’s Latino Catholicism have continued to comment on aggression against immigrant Catholic communities, although such books often concern internal issues of faith and practice rather than outright nativist hostility. There is extensive scholarship on the “immigrant church” in the United States that would be of value to scholars and students seeking a broader context for nativism, since issues of ethnicity inform so much anti-Catholic rhetoric. Jay P. Dolan’s now classic study The Immigrant Church surveys the lives of Irish and German immigrants in antebellum New York, while another classic work, Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White, examines the ways in which ethic and racial identities were fluid and subject to change in the presence of other ethnic challenges. The issue of “whiteness” as a criterion for the assimilation of the immigrant Other has attracted the attention of numerous scholars, especially in regard to postbellum Italian immigration; see, for example, David A. J. Richards, Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Identity; Joseph P. Cosco, Imagining Italians: The Clash of Romance and Race in American Perceptions; and the anthology by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno Are Italians White? How Race Is Made in America.

No scholar is more associated with the study of nativism than John Higham, whose book Strangers in the Land provided the definitional parameters of nativism that most subsequent scholars have adopted. While Higham’s emphasis was on nativism as an “anti-foreign spirit,” the time period that he studied corresponded not only to the most significant migration of southern European Catholics and eastern European Jews into the United States but also to the development of American imperialism and the “tribal twenties” that witnessed the rise of organizations such as the Second Ku Klux Klan.41 Thus, while religious intolerance is not a primary theme in Higham’s analysis, it is a prevalent refrain throughout the book. Together, the works of Billington and Higham represent the most complete accounts of nativism and religious xenophobia from the colonial period to the 1920s. Perhaps owing to the complexity of the subject, no scholarly work has appeared since Higham to extend religious nativism into the late 20th century and beyond, but David H. Bennett’s book The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History offers the most complete historical survey of the role of similar “antialien activities.”42 And while not focused solely on either nativism or religious intolerance, Richard Hofstadter’s provocative essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has become one of the standard interpretive statements of the peculiar temperament that drives such antagonisms.43

The “new nativism” that began in the 1990s with the passage of state laws such as California’s Proposition 187 is addressed in an anthology entitled Immigrants Out! The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the United States, although only a few of the contributions to this volume specifically consider the role of religion in the so-called “border wars” of the American Southwest.44 Issues of religious tolerance and intolerance and the “new diversity” in the United States since the Immigration Act of 1965 have been addressed by scholars such as Diana Eck and Robert Wuthnow, both of whom promote “pluralism” as analternative response to the former dichotomy of assimilation or exclusion.45 Other scholars such as Samuel S. Huntington and Daniel Pipes question whether a pluralistic and multicultural society is even possible, with Huntington, in particular, questioning whether American culture can survive the loss of its dominant Protestant core.46 Of greatest concern to both is the religious and cultural “threat” posed by Islam, which has been the subject of numerous studies since the terrorist attacks of 2001. Among the most useful works for the issues that recent national and international events have raised in regard to Muslim immigration to the United States are Aminah Beverly McCloud’s Transnational Muslims in American Society, which considers Muslim immigration beyond the Arab areas of the Middle East, and Edward Curtis’s short but very accessible Muslims in America.47

The major histories of nativism were written with the intention of supplying an epitaph for the movement, from the collapse of the political Know-Nothings in the 1850s to the imposition of immigration quotas in the 1920s. As the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign has illustrated, however, future scholars will one day need to assess its 21st-century resurrection, which—like its earlier manifestations—continues to be fueled by religious conceptions of the American past.

Primary Sources

Since nativism is such a wide-ranging phenomenon, there is no single or even dominant collection of primary sources. Billington’s bibliography lists many of the newspapers and denominational journals that provide the basis for a study of antebellum nativism; for some of them, as well as for other sources published before 1923, researchers should consult the extensive digitized holdings available at HathiTrust.48 Other useful digital collections include Google Books and Internet Archive.

A number of reference works on immigration contain selections from primary sources that would be of interest to scholars and students of nativism, and many are available in print or as e-books.49 Greenwood Press has also published a number of books in its Opposing Viewpoints Series that offer selections from primary documents on immigration and anti-immigrant hostility; unfortunately, many carry the exact same title, but all are accessible and suitable as introductions to the many facets of immigration and nativism or for classroom use.50 Katie Oxx’s book The Nativist Movement in America includes selections from documents related to the Know-Nothing period of American political life.51

The Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota has a large collection of resources, including archival documents and texts, manuscripts, and photographs and audio recordings, some of which are accessible online. Diligent researchers can discover references to religious and anti-immigrant forms of intolerance. The same can be said for America’s Historical Newspapers, which has recently added a selection of American Ethnic Newspapers—many of which were published in languages other than English—but access is by subscription only (available through many university libraries). Through its “Chronicling America” website, the Library of Congress offers free access to many American newspapers published between 1836 and 1922. Finally, the continuously shifting demographics of American religious affiliation has been tracked in recent years through the work of the Religion and Public Life project by the Pew Research Center.

Further Reading

Bennett, David H. The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Billington, Ray Allen. The Protestant Crusade, 1800–1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism. New York: Macmillan, 1938.Find this resource:

Curtis, Edward E. Muslims in America: A Short History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Davis, David Brion. “Some Themes of Counter-Subversion: An Analysis of Anti-Masonic, Anti-Catholic, and Anti-Mormon Literature.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 47 (1960–1961): 205–224.Find this resource:

Dinnerstein, Leonard. Antisemitism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Eck, Diana L. A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.Find this resource:

Goldschmidt, Henry, and Elizabeth McAlister, eds. Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955.Find this resource:

Higham, John. “Another Look at Nativism.” Catholic Historical Review 44 (1958): 147–158.Find this resource:

Hofstadter, Richard. “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” In The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays, 3–40. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965.Find this resource:

Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.Find this resource:

Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.Find this resource:

Ichioka, Yuji. The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885–1924. New York: Free Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Jaher, Frederic Cople. A Scapegoat in the New Wilderness: The Origins and Rise of Anti-Semitism in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Find this resource:

McCloud, Aminah Beverly. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.Find this resource:

Moore, R. Laurence. Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Perea, Juan F. Immigrants Out! The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the United States. New York: New York University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Pipes, Daniel. Militant Islam Reaches America. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.Find this resource:

Schrag, Peter. Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Wuthnow, Robert. America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.Find this resource:


(1.) Philip Schaff, America: A Sketch of the Political, Social, and Religious Character of the United States of North America, in Two Lectures (New York: Scribner, 1855), 96–97.

(2.) J. Hector St. John Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer (1782; repr., New York: E. P. Dutton, 1912), 43; Ralph H. Orth and Alfred R. Ferguson, eds., The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971), 9:299–300; and Israel Zangwill, The Melting-Pot (New York: Macmillan, 1909).

(3.) John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955), 3–4.

(4.) Philip Gleason, “Immigration, Religion, and Intergroup Relations: Historical Perspectives on the American Experience,” in Immigrants in Two Democracies: French and American Experience, eds. Donald L. Horowitz and Gérard Noiriel (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 170.

(5.) Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), 2–3.

(6.) Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, 50; and Schaff, America, xiii.

(7.) William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, vol. 1 (Richmond, VA, 1823), 269; and Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, vol. 3 (Boston, 1854), 112.

(8.) William Hand Brown, ed., Archives of Maryland: Proceedings and Acts of the Maryland General Assembly (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1902), 22:497.

(9.) “An Act to Establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization,” in The Public Statutes at Large for the United States of America, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, 1845), 1:103.

(10.) Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800–1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: Macmillan, 1938), 118.

(11.) Samuel F. B. Morse, Foreign Conspiracy against the Liberties of the United States (New York, 1835), 61, 57.

(12.) Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West (Cincinnati, 1835), 11, 126, 175–176.

(13.) Timothy Matovina, Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 1, 15.

(14.) Quoted in Epes Sargent, The Life and Public Services of Henry Clay, down to 1848, ed. Horace Greeley (New York, 1860), 285–286.

(15.) See John M. Sacher, A Perfect War of Politics: Parties, Politicians, and Democracy in Louisiana, 1824–1861 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 240–243; Richard R. Duncan, “Catholics and the Church in the Antebellum Upper South,” in Catholics in the Old South: Essays on Church and Culture, eds. Randall M. Miller and Jon L. Wakelyn (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1999), 95–96; and Andrew H. M. Stern, Southern Crucifix, Southern Cross: Catholic-Protestant Relations in the Old South (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012), 173–174.

(16.) Henry David Thoreau, Walden (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1910), 393.

(17.) Quoted in W. W. Stone, “The Knights of Labor on the Chinese Labor Situation,” Overland Monthly 7, 2nd series (March 1886): 229–230.

(18.) Rev. A. W. Loomis, “Our Heathen Temples,” Overland Monthly 1 (November 1868): 453, 461.

(19.) Congressional Record, 47th Cong., 1st sess., 1882, 13, pt. 2:1636.

(20.) Bryan J. Clinche, “The Chinese in America,” American Catholic Quarterly Review 9 (January–October, 1884), 69.

(21.) Yuji Ichioka, The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants, 1885–1924 (New York: Free Press, 1988), 16.

(22.) “Missionaries of the Buddhist Faith,” San Francisco Chronicle (September 13, 1899), 5. An image of this article is in Thomas A. Tweed and Stephen Prothero, Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 79.

(23.) Ozawa v. United States, 260 U.S. 178 (1922).

(24.) United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, 261 U.S. 204 (1923). Both Thind and the government in this case used the term Hindu in a broader ethnoreligious sense; see Jennifer Snow, “The Civilization of White Men: The Race of the Hindu in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind,” in Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas, eds. Henry Goldschmidt and Elizabeth McAlister (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 268–273.

(25.) Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League (March 1910): 12.

(26.) Sereno Bishop, “The Hawaiian Revolution,” New York Evening Post (February 8, 1893).

(27.) Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878).

(28.) Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457 (1892).

(29.) General James F. Rusling, “Interview with President William McKinley,” Christian Advocate 78 (January 22, 1903): 17. It was apparently of little significance to McKinley that a large portion of the Filipino population was Catholic.

(30.) Josiah Strong, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, rev. ed. (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1891), 222–223.

(31.) James G. Heller, Isaac M. Wise: His Life, Work and Thought (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1965), 464–465.

(32.) Hiram Wesley Evans, “The Klan’s Fight for Americanism,” North American Review 223 (March–May, 1926): 54, 60.

(33.) Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956).

(34.) Diana L. Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 17.

(35.) Kevin R. Johnson, “The New Nativism: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” in Immigrants Out! The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the United States, ed. Juan F. Perea (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 177–180.

(36.) Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), 365.

(37.) Russell Berman, “ Donald Trump’s Call to Ban Muslim Immigrants ,” Atlantic (December 15, 2015).

(38.) Pew Research Center, “ America’s Changing Religious Landscape ” (May 12, 2015).

(39.) Robert Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 229.

(40.) Mark S. Massa, Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (New York: Crossroads, 2003); and Philip Jenkins, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

(41.) Higham, Strangers in the Land, xi and 264.

(42.) David H. Bennett, The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), ix.

(43.) Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), 3–40.

(44.) Juan F. Perea, Immigrants Out!

(45.) Eck, A New Religious America; Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity. The Pluralism Project at Harvard University, founded and directed by Eck, contains a wealth of information about America’s religious diversity as well as news articles on conflicts and tensions in addition to cooperative interreligious endeavors.

(46.) Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), Who Are We?; and Daniel Pipes, Militant Islam Reaches America (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002). Pipes is the president of the Middle East Forum, which many label as a nativist group that promotes Islamophobia. Huntington’s label of the “clash of civilizations,” coined years prior to 2001, has become one of the key paradigms around which much nativist and Islamophobia discourse has taken place.

(47.) Aminah Beverly McCloud, Transnational Muslims in American Society (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006); and Edward E. Curtis, Muslims in America: A Short History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

(48.) Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 445–504.

(49.) See, e.g., Kathleen R. Arnold, ed., Anti-Immigration in United States: A Historical Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2012); and Patrick J. Hayes, ed., The Making of Modern Immigration: An Encyclopedia of People and Ideas (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012).

(50.) See, e.g., Mary E. Williams, ed., Immigration: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2003); and Tamara L. Roleff, ed., Immigration: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1998).

(51.) Katie Oxx, The Nativist Movement in America: Religious Conflict in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Routledge, 2013).