In the nineteenth century, virtually anyone could get into the United States. But by the 1920s, U.S. immigration policy had become a finely filtered regime of selection. Desmond King looks at this dramatic shift, and the debates behind it, for what they reveal about the construction of an "American" identity.
Specifically, the debates in the three decades leading up to 1929 were conceived in terms of desirable versus undesirable immigrants. This not only cemented judgments about specific European groups but reinforced prevailing biases against groups already present in the United States, particularly African Americans, whose inferior status and second-class citizenship--enshrined in Jim Crow laws and embedded in pseudo-scientific arguments about racial classifications--appear to have been consolidated in these decades. Although the values of different groups have always been recognized in the United States, King gives the most thorough account yet of how eugenic arguments were used to establish barriers and to favor an Anglo-Saxon conception of American identity, rejecting claims of other traditions. Thus the immigration controversy emerges here as a significant precursor to recent multicultural debates.
Making Americans shows how the choices made about immigration policy in the 1920s played a fundamental role in shaping democracy and ideas about group rights in America.
King has written a subtle analysis of the construction of American identity in the 20th century...Highly recommended.
Minority rights are protected--and delineated--precisely because majorities rule; and whatever the degree of tolerance, lines will be drawn eventually...and some cultural imperatives will not be tolerated...Decisions will be made--increasingly in a world ever more culturally mobile--and Making Americans is a salutary warning about the force of illegitimate adjudication.
King links debates and decisions about immigration with concurrent developments in the politics of race in the United States, particularly drawing parallels between the way in which the boundaries of full citizenship excluded both African-Americans and immigrants from outside of western Europe. He weaves a fascinating and convincing account of the roots of American multiculturalism, an account that adds considerably to the increasingly tired ideological debate over multiculturalism and its causes and consequences. This is a very fine piece of work, exhaustively researched, effectively presented, and well written.
Students of U.S. politics will welcome this synthetic treatment of ‘Americanization,’ racialist thought, and citizenship in the 1910s and 1920s. Among the most thorough accounts in existence of the 1924 immigration legislation, Making Americans has much to suggest about current debates over multiculturalism, their deep roots in early twentieth century diversity-in-the-making, and Progressive Era constructions of—and resistance to—‘difference.’
Research on American immigration policy and history is considerable, and research on American racial attitudes and policies is vast—but embarrassingly few people have drawn clear and compelling links between the two topics. This book does. Making Americans is history for our times; it brings a completely contemporary sensibility to a very traditional subject, and thereby illuminates both current debates and historical causes.
Making Americans should be required reading for assimilationists, multiculturalist and the undecided--on both sides of the Atlantic...[King] breaks new ground in synthesising the arguments of eugenicists, racists and proponents of immigration restriction during the 1920s and relating them to contemporary debates over multiculturalism and group-interest politics.
Americans have long been conditioned to believe themselves 'a nation of immigrants.' The reality, as King's insightful analysis makes clear, is that cherished images of 'open doors' and 'melting pots' fly in the face of U.S. immigration and naturalization laws. From the 1880s through the mid-1960s, the U.S. government used racial quotas, eugenic categories, and national origins to exclude, restrict, and stigmatize...King brings an interesting British perspective to current American debates. Building on the work of earlier scholars, he successfully links early 20th-century battles between assimilationists and cultural pluralists to contemporary struggles over civil rights and multiculturalism. In each instance, readers are reminded that immigration policy remains a powerful political tool.
[King's] deeply researched and closely reasoned book has ambitions well beyond its immediate subject. He isn't much concerned with the motives or circumstances that prompted these people to migrate in the first place; and he is only secondarily concerned with what happened to them once they arrived. His principal focus is on the reception that American society extended to immigrants and prospective immigrants, and with what that reception shows about American self-perceptions and national identity...Making Americans is part history, part cultural commentary, part policy prescription.
Desmond King, professor of politics and fellow at St. John's College, University of Oxford, has written an excellent book on twentieth-century immigration to the United States, focusing on the debates surrounding policy and how these discussions related to concepts of American democracy. King's book is based on careful and deep research. The author has utilized the secondary literature well and has done an impressive job of digging through congressional sources and the writings of Americans who discussed immigration and its relation to definitions of Americanism.
- 400 pages
- 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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