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Ellis Island Era Immigration Terms

Nativism, Nativist, Nativists

Opposition to immigration on the grounds that an influx of foreigners will marginalize the English language, undermine American culture, destabilize American politics, and weaken the economic status of American workers.

Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment most prevalent during the decades leading up to the Civil War, when large numbers of Irish and German immigrants poured into the U.S.

A xenophobic policy (or ideology) which stresses the interests of a country's native inhabitants over those of immigrants. Many (though not all) white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of nineteenth-century America became embodiments of this philosophy, to varying degrees. Those most concerned about foreign immigration joined nativist political parties. The most prominent of these parties was the American Party (a.k.a. the Native American Party, a.k.a. the Know Nothings), which began in 1843 and called for a 25-year residency qualification for citizenship and sought to elect only native-born Americans to political office. The Know Nothings enjoyed political victories on state and local levels, notably in Massachusetts and Delaware in 1854 (the pinnacle-year of their success). But the slavery issue eclipsed the nativists in importance and public attention, and ultimately divided their membership along sectional lines.

Opposition to immigration based on fears that an influx of foreigners will marginalize the English language, undermine American culture, destabilize American politics, and weaken the economic status of American workers.


The adoption or assimilation of American culture by foreign immigrants.


The process through which a person attains citizenship in a country other than the one in which he or she was born.

The process by which an immigrant becomes an American citizen.


A racist and pejorative term for low-skilled, low-wage Asian laborers.

"new Immigration", New Immigrants, New Immigrant

Large-scale immigration to the United States from the nations of Eastern and Southern Europe between about 1880 and 1930.

"old Immigration", Old Immigrant, Old Immigrants

Immigration to the United States from Northwestern Europe—primarily from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany—that occurred before 1880.

e Pluribus Unum

A Latin phrase meaning, "out of many, one," e pluribus unum has appeared on the Great Seal of the United States since 1782.

Anarcho-syndicalism, Anarcho-syndicalist, Anarcho-syndicalism

A radical philosophy of trade unionism that advocates seizure of control over industry by rank and file workers.

Anarchist, Anarchists, Anarchism

A believer in anarchism, the philosophy that holds that abolition of all forms of government is necessary to achieve true liberty.

Robber Baron, Robber Barons

A pejorative term used by some workers to describe the wealthy tycoons who built vast fortunes in the nineteenth century railroad, steel, and petroleum industries.


The status of being a citizen of the United States. Citizenship can be attained either through birthright (for those born in the United States) or through naturalization (for those who immigrate to the United States from foreign countries).

Refugee, Refugees

A person who flees from his or her home to another country out of fear of violence or persecution for political, religious, or ethnic reasons.

Expatriation, Expatriated

The process by which an individual renounces citizenship in his or her country of birth. The Expatriation Act of 1907 forced American women who married foreign men to forfeit their American citizenship.

Xenophobia, Xenophobic

Fear or hatred of foreigners.


Communist philosophy rooted in the doctrines of Karl Marx as interpreted by V.I. Lenin.

Deportation, Deported

The government-sanctioned expulsion of an alien from the country.

Assimilation, Assimilated, Assimilate

The process through which a particular immigrant group abandons its ethnic traditions to adopt the cultural mores of mainstream America.

Eugenics, Eugenicist, Eugenicists

The idea that humanity can be improved through the selective breeding of those with superior genetic traits. Eugenics was a popular pseudo-scientific movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as people just becoming familiar with Charles Darwin's theories of evolution sought to intervene in normal human patterns of reproduction in order to advance supposedly desirable genetic traits and weed out undesirable ones. In practice, eugenics was often deeply racist, and it was sometimes used to justify atrocities such as the forced sterilization of people deemed genetically inferior. The theories of Aryan racial supremacy that underpinned German Nazism were rooted, in part, in eugenicist ideas, and the murderous evil of the Holocaust permanently discredited the eugenicist movement after World War II.

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