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The Need of an Immigration Test.

One result of the return of prosperity has been the large increase in the number of immigrants. This presents a problem that ought not to be overlooked. Immigration increased 36 per cent. from 1808 to 1809, and 44 per cent. the succeeding year. The three largest elements in the immigration of 1900 were South Italians, with 84,346, Hebrews, 60,764, and Polish, 46,938. A large share of these are absolutely illiterate, and the whole mass constitutes a pretty indigestible lump for assimilation into out body politic. Twenty years ago the United Kingdom of Great Britain including Ireland, France, Germany and Scandinavia, furnished three-fourths of the immigrants and supplied a far more valuable acquisition to our population. Only four years ago these four sources furnished one-half the immigration, but now only one-quarter.

The enormous mass of ignorance that is flowing in means the increase of the elements that breed discontent in the manufacturing towns, and the besotted electorate susceptible to the manipulation of corrupt politicians grows in voting power. It is time to cry, Halt! The tests already applied are ridiculously unsatisfactory. Only four were debarred for being criminals last year. The most practical exclusion rule that was ever suggested was the reading and writing test, to be applied in the language of the immigrants, as proposed in the Lodge bill. This is not a perfect test. But that there is a relation between literacy and the very desirable quality of thrift for one thing, is proved by the figures, which show that literate immigrants have brought much more money into the country than the illiterate. Indeed, the figures show that the per cent of money brought in varies in almost inverse ratio to the per cent of illiteracy. The Portuguese, of whom 45 per cent. are illiterates, brought $7.57 per capita; the South Italians, 46 per cent. illiterates, brought in $8.79 per capita; the French, 8 per cent. illerates, brought $31.98 per capita; the English, Scotch, Welch, 2 per cent illiterates, brought $29 51 per capita.

Thrift is not a bad test, though but a partial one, of a man's fitness to come into the country, and if it is so closely measured by literacy tests, why may not other desirable qualities also be indicated by this criterion? Though not a perfect test it is the only practical one ever suggested, that would in effect rule out a large section of the people we do not want. It is sometimes said that these illiterate people are needed to do the rough work of our country, to build our railroads, operate our mines, etc. But so far as heard from there is a sufficient supply of that class of labor now.

The Lodge bill providing a literacy test, was passed in 1896 by Congress by large majorities, but was vetoed by President Cleveland, much to the country's injury. A similar bill is now pending and it should be promptly passed. The veto of the Lodge bill was one of the cases where the granting of power by the country to a Democrat cost the country the deferment of a needed reform. Cleveland was, no doubt, patriotic and honest. But his action was another indication that you can't trust the Democratic party for a sensible view on points where the traditional party theories of extreme Democracy come into play. The average Democrat boasts of his love for and faith in the common people. But he carries his idea to such an extent, that he would debauch the electorate and lower the tone of our citizenship by letting in a herd of illiterates, without any conception of our form of government and traditions of public life, simply because they are clothed in the outward semblance of manhood.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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This article is one of many that spoke strongly against the growing number immigrants from what were seen as "less desirable" countries. In particular, many articles argued that immigrants from southern or eastern Europe and Jews were inherently unfit to enter the U.S. This article claims that a literacy test would shut out many from those countries, "a large share" of whom, it asserts, "are absolutely illiterate." Its reasoning is that illiterate immigrants were poorer and would never assimilate. But these claims mask a larger agenda: that all immigrants from these regions (literate or not) are "a pretty indigestible lump," that could never assimilate. These claims have proven to be entirely unfounded, as millions of Americans of Italian, Polish, or any other descent can demonstrate. The bill referred to here requiring a literacy test passed Congress but was vetoed, as had been the 1896 bill. In 1917 Congress did pass a literacy test bill over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson. Bills passed in 1924 and again in 1926 drastically restricted all immigration into the U.S.


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"The Need of an Immigration Test" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Courier newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   Jan 5, 1901
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
height   12.5"
width   2.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Article
accession #   #L02.153

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See Also...

"Immigrants in Industries, Part 24: Recent Immigrants in Agriculture" from Reports of the Immigration Commission

River Road House

"Are We To Be Polanized?" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Courier newspaper

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