AskDefine | Define nativism

Dictionary Definition



1 the policy of perpetuating native cultures (in opposition to acculturation)
2 (philosophy) the philosophical theory that some ideas are innate

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. In the context of "mostly|US": a policy of favoring native-born inhabitants over immigrants
  2. the policy of perpetuating the culture of the natives of a colonised country
  3. the doctrine that some skills or abilities are innate and not learned

Extensive Definition

Nativism is a form of xenophobia usually targetting immigrants who are scapegoated as undermining the core essence of a nation or society.

Nativism in the United States

In the United States, anti-immigration views have a long history. U.S. nativism appeared in the late 1790s in reaction to an influx of political refugees from France and Ireland. After passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 it receded.
Nativism first gained a name and affected politics in mid-19th century United States because of the large inflows of immigrants from cultures that were markedly different from the existing American culture. Thus, nativists objected primarily to Roman Catholics (especially Irish American) because of their loyalty to the Pope and supposed rejection of American ideals.
Nativist movements included the American Party of the mid-19th Century (formed by members of the Know Nothing movement), the Immigration Restriction League of the early 20th Century, and the anti-Asian movements in the West, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act and the so-called "Gentlemen's Agreement" aimed at the Japanese.

Anti-Catholic nativism in the 19th century

Nativist outbursts occurred in the Northeast from the 1830s to the 1850s, primarily in response to a surge of Irish Catholic immigration. In 1836, Samuel F. B. Morse ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City on a Nativist ticket, receiving 1,496 votes. In New York City, an Order of United Americans was founded as a nativist fraternity, following the Philadelphia Nativist Riots of the preceding spring and summer, in December, 1844.
In 1849–50 Charles B. Allen founded a secret nativist society called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner in New York City. In order to join the Order, a man had to be twenty-one, a Protestant, a believer in God, and willing to obey without question the dictates of the order. Members of the Order became known as the Know Nothings (a label applied to them because if asked they said they "know nothing about" the secret society).
The Nativists went public in 1854 when they formed the 'American Party', which was anti-Irish Catholic and campaigned for laws to require longer wait time between immigration and naturalization. (The laws never passed.) It was at this time that the term "nativist" first appears, opponents denounced them as "bigoted nativists." Former President Millard Fillmore ran on the American Party ticket for the Presidency in 1856. The American Party also included many ex-Whigs who ignored nativism, and included (in the South) a few Catholics whose families had long lived in America. Conversely, much of the opposition to Catholics came from Protestant Irish immigrants and German Lutheran immigrants who can hardly be called "nativists."
This form of nationalism is often identified with xenophobia and anti-Catholic sentiment (anti-Papism). In the 1840s, small scale riots between Catholics and nativists took place in several American cities. In Philadelphia in 1844, for example, a series of nativist assaults on Catholic churches and community centers resulted in the loss of lives and the professionalization of the police force.
Nativist sentiment experienced a revival in the 1880s, led by Protestant Irish immigrants hostile to Catholic immigration. The Orange Order was the center of nativism in Canada from the 1860s to 1950s.

Anti-German nativism

From the 1840s to 1920 German Americans were distrusted because of their separatist social structure, their opposition to prohibition, their attachment to their native tongue over English, and their neutrality in World War I.

Anti-Chinese nativism

In the 1870s Irish American immigrants attacked Chinese immigrants in the western states, driving them out of smaller towns. Dennis Kearney led a mass movement in San Francisco in 1877 that threatened to harm railroad owners if they hired any people who were Chinese. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first of many nativist acts of Congress to limit the flow of immigrants into the U.S. The Chinese responded with false claims of American birth, enabling thousands to immigrate to California. Ironically, the exclusion of the Chinese caused the western railroads to begin importing Mexican railroad workers in greater numbers ("traqueros").

20th and 21st century anti-immigration movements

Fear of low-skilled immigrants flooding the labor market was an issue in the 1920s (focused on immigrants from Italy and Poland), and in the 2000s (focused on immigrants from Mexico and Central America).
The second Ku Klux Klan, which flourished in the U.S. in the 1920s, used strong nativist rhetoric.
After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, the resulting influx of Vietnamese refugees caused some racial tension to flare up as host communities struggled to adapt to the cultural differences between the new arrivals and the existing American culture.
When Fidel Castro opened the doors to Cuban emigration, a number of communities in the southeastern U.S. struggled to accommodate the sudden inflow of Cuban immigrants ("Marielitos"), many of whom were mentally ill or criminal elements.
An immigration reductionism movement formed in the 1970s and continues to the present day. Prominent members often press for massive, sometimes total, reductions in immigration levels.
However, as most Americans are themselves descended from immigrants, many feel that it is hypocritical to criticize those who enter the country through legal means, and neither of the two major parties has proposed curtailing the number of visas given out annually.
American nativist sentiment experienced a resurgence in the late 20th century, this time directed at illegal aliens, largely Mexican resulting in the passage of new penalties against illegal immigration in 1996.
Illegal immigration, principally from across the United States-Mexico border, is the more pressing concern for most immigration reductionists. Authors such as Samuel Huntington (famous for the "Clash of Civilizations" thesis) have also seen recent Hispanic immigration as creating a national identity crises and presenting insurmountable problems for US social institutions. In the May 2005 Spanish edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, he lists the size, illegality, cultural roots, and poverty of this recent wave of migration as most problematic.


Language was a political and an emotional issue as early as the 1750s, when British settlers in Pennsylvania began to fear and resent the fact that a third of their fellow Pennsylvanians were German speakers. Since that time, American nativists have sought to eradicate minority languages and discourage bilingualism wherever it could be found. Complaints about non-English-speakers became common in the last quarter of the 19th century, and again during and after World War I, when the immigrants and their non-English languages prompted protective English-only legislation. Many Americans deemed non-Anglophones to be subhuman. In 1904, a railroad president told a Congressional hearing on the mistreatment of immigrant workers, "These workers don't suffer--they don't even speak English."(Shanahan, 1989.) Today, there is still opposition to nonanglophones and bilinguals. The result is the proposed English Language Amendment (ELA), a Constitutional amendment making English the official language of the United States.

Limitation on elgibility to be elected as President

The one aspect of Nativism which is enshrined in the United States Constitution is the requierment for the President to be a native-born American, excluding immigrants from attaining the highest office. On numerous occasions it has been argued that this limitation is discriminatory and unreasonable - most recently in connection with the Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, whose supporters believe he deserves a chance to contest the Presidential elections. Still, given the long and complicated process necessary to amend the Constitution, the chances of having this requirement eliminated are not high.

Nativism in Taiwan

Nativism flourished in Taiwan in the 1970s as a reaction against the influx of mainland Chinese to the island after the Kuomintang's defeat in 1949. Nativists felt that the political influence of mainland Chinese was disproportionately large. The term is especially found in the field of literature, where nativist literature was more traditionally minded than the modernist literature written largely by mainland Chinese.

Nativism in Europe

Regarding the Irish in Great Britain, Lucassen (2005) argues the deep religious divide between the Protestants and Catholics was at the core of the ongoing estrangement of the Irish in British society. In the case of the Poles in the mining districts of western Germany before 1914, it was nationalism (on both the German and the Polish sides), which kept Polish workers, who had established an associational structure approaching institutional completeness (churches, voluntary associations, press, even unions), separate from the host German society. Lucassen find that religiosity and nationalism were more fundamental in generating nativism and inter-group hostility than the labor antagonism. Once Italian workers in France had understood the benefit of unionism and French unions were willing to overcome their fear of Italians as scabs, integration was open for most Italian immigrants. The French state, always more of an immigration state than Prussia/Germany or historical Great Britain, fostered and supported family-based immigration and thus helped Italians on their immigration trajectory with minimal nativism. (Lucassen 2005)
Many observers see the post-1950s wave of immigration in Europe was fundamentally different from the pre-1914 patterns. They debate the role of cultural differences, ghettos, race, Muslim fundamentalism, poor education and poverty play in creating nativism among the hosts and a caste-type underclass, more similar to white-black tensions in the U.S. (Lucassen 2005) Algerian migration to France has generated nativism, characterized by the prominence of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front. (Lucassen 2005)


  • Allerfeldt, Kristofer. Race, Radicalism, Religion, and Restriction: Immigration in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1924. Praeger, 2003. 235 pp.
  • Barkan, Elliott R. "Return of the Nativists? California Public Opinion and Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s." Social Science History 2003 27(2): 229-283. Issn: 0145-5532 Fulltext: in Project Muse, Swetswiseesting that such pride can be accompanied by a full in the United States, France, and Germany. Cambridge U. Press, 2000. 253 pp
  • Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (1994),
  • Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (1955).
  • Hueston, Robert Francis. The Catholic Press and Nativism, 1840-1860 (1976)
  • Houston, Cecil J. and Smyth, William J. The Sash Canada Wore: A Historical Geography of the Orange Order in Canada. U. of Toronto Press, 1980.
  • Lucassen, Leo. The Immigrant Threat: The Integration of Old and New Migrants in Western Europe since 1850.'' University of Illinois Press, 2005. 280 pp; ISBN 0-252-07294-4. Examines Irish immigrants in Britain, Polish immigrants in Germany, Italian immigrants in France (before 1940), and (since 1950), Caribbeans in Britain, Turks in Germany, and Algerians in France
  • Melton, Tracy Matthew, Hanging Henry Gambrill: The Violent Career of Baltimore's Plug Uglies, 1854-1860 (2005)
  • Mclean, Lorna. "'To Become Part of Us': Ethnicity, Race, Literacy and the Canadian Immigration Act of 1919". Canadian Ethnic Studies 2004 36(2): 1-28. ISSN 0008-3496


External links

nativism in German: Nativismus (Politik)
nativism in French: Nativisme (politique)
nativism in Hebrew: נייטיביזם (מדע המדינה)
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1