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 Creating the Refuge In 1883, Emma Lazarus penned the famous poem embronzed at the Statue of Liberty inviting Europe to send its unwanted masses to America. “The New Colossus” (Emma Lazarus, 1883) Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. Madison Grant was dismayed by the attitude of Lazarus .Theveryideathatwewouldactuallyinvite“wretched refuse” to enter and defile our homeland sickened him. More to Grant’s liking was the 1892 poem “Unguarded Gates” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Aldrich’s poem was also about the Statue of Liberty, but it expressed a quite different philosophy. “Unguarded Gates” (Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 1892) Wide open and unguarded stand our gates, And through them presses a wild motley throng— O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well To leave the gates unguarded? The difference between the two poems reflects the difference not only between the Jewish Lazarus and the Nordic Aldrich but also between the 1880s and the 1890s. For it was in the latter decade that the New Immigrants started to arrive in droves. And they kept coming, in ever larger numbers, well into the twentieth century. It was then that Madison Grant began quoting Gouverneur Morris, who said in 1787: “Every society from a great nation down to a club has the right of declaring the conditions on which new members should be admitted.” From the Society of Colonial Wars to the American Eugenics Society, Grant had sternly controlled admission to all his clubs, and now he was intent on doing the same with his nation. His unflinching and determined effort to preserve the Nordic character of the United States involved three legislative steps that progressively and severely restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe: the literacy test of 1917, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, and the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924. It was an undertaking that one scholar has referred to as “America’s most ambitious program of biological engineering.”1 Step One:The Literacy Test The main proponent of the literacy test was the Immigration Restriction League, which was founded by a group of Boston Brahmins from the Harvard class of 1889 (the same class that produced Charles Benedict Davenport). The three original leaders of the IRL were Prescott F. Hall, an anti-Semitic lawyer with a love for the music of Richard Wagner and the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain; Robert DeCourcy Ward, yet another eugenicist who spent his childhood in Dresden and who became America’s leading professor of climatology at Harvard; and Charles Warren, who served as assistant attorney general in the Wilson administration (during which he drafted the Espionage Act of 1917) and went on to become one of the century’s leading constitutional historians (Warren’s Supreme Court in United States History won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923). Hall, Ward, and Warren were approximately the same age as Madison Grant, and they all shared his intense unease that the country that was their birthright was being overrun by ungrateful and undeserving foreigners. In the spring of 1894 they gathered in Charles Warren’s State Street office and formed the Immigration Restriction League, with chief financial backing from Joseph Lee, heir to a New England banking fortune and an overseer of Harvard University . John Fiske, foremost exponent of the Anglo-Saxon tradition among American historians, agreed to serve as the league’s first honorary president, and the vice presidents included publisher Henry Holt, novelist Owen Wister, and Bowdoin College president William DeWitt Hyde. Within two years, the league had a membership of almost seven hundred blue-blooded New Englanders, featuring various Endicotts, Houghtons, Lowells, Lymans, and Saltonstalls.2 The goal of the Immigration Restriction League, of course, was to convince Congress to pass legislation restricting undesirable immigration. But political considerations demanded that the effort not be aimed too obviously at any particular ethnic group. In those pre–Passing of the Great Race days, the league’s leaders could not openly state that they wanted to bar Greeks, Italians, Russians , and Jews—although that was precisely their desire. Therefore, they hit upon the idea of requiring immigrants to pass a literacy test. Such a provision Creating the Refuge 197 would not only lower the total number of immigrants entering the country every year; it would also—without having to mention any nationality by name— discriminate against the New Immigration from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781584658108
Related ISBN
9781584657156
MARC Record
OCLC
667076920
Pages
508
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-31
Language
English
Open Access
No
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