chapter  1
The Next American Nation
Pages 6

In the past two decades, scholars and public officials have differed widely over whether this current trend is a catastrophe or a blessing, not unlike the generation of scholars and public officials who witnessed the last great wave of migration. In response to the common perception that that migration was indeed a catastrophe, Congress passed a series of rules in the 1910s and 1920s that severely limited migration to the United States for about forty-five years. It was the “tr ibal twenties,” according to the eminent historian John Higham, a time when President Calvin Coolidge said that “America should be kept for the Americans,” and everyone knew what he had meant. Politicians complained regularly about “indigestible

race,” “degenerates,” and “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” Newspapers and politicians referred to immigrants in less charitable terms. Nationally, of course, the trend toward such incivility to immigrants dated to the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, when prominent federal judges referred to Asian immigrants as “vast hordes” for whom “[restricting] further immigration was felt to be necessary to prevent the degradation of white labor, and to preserve to ourselves the inestimable benefits of our Christian civilization.”1