New century, familiar rhetoric
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 11, 2007

Hispanics likely to follow suit of the Germans, Italians and others who learned English and assimilated

Published on: America has a long history of mass migrations and an equally long history of mass hysteria in response to those migrations.

As far back as 1751, Benjamin Franklin looked askance at what he described as a "swarm" of German immigrants flooding his home colony of Pennsylvania. By 1775, one of three Pennsylvania residents was German-speaking, inspiring Franklin to complain that the Germans, while hardworking and frugal, were refusing to adapt to their adopted land and clung to their old ways.

Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion."

Those fears proved unfounded, as Pennsylvania never did turn into a Teutonic colony and descendants of its early German settlers assimilated fully.

The same proved true for the Italians who were part of an unprecedented tide of immigration in the early part of the 20th century. Like the Mexicans of today, Italian immigrants were drawn to America in response to changing economic conditions in their own countries; rural sectors were becoming commercialized and farming jobs were disappearing. And like the Mexicans, Italians who came to America were perceived as low-skilled and distressed communities. Newspaper editorial pages warned that their children would not fare well in school because of language and cultural differences.

Yet Italians, like the Germans before them, wove their way into the American fabric. Their children learned English and graduated high school. Their grandchildren never learned Italian and graduated college. There is nothing to suggest that their Hispanic counterparts today will not follow suit.

Maureen Downey, for the editorial board (

"In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from

this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious."

Benjamin Franklin, writing about German immigrants in 1753

"... that you will not vote, nor give your influence for any man for any office in the gift of the people, unless he be an American-born citizen, in favor of Americans ruling America, nor if he be a Roman Catholic."

Part of the oath taken by members of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party in 1850s

"I endeavored to show that the South could not be the gainer by this flood of foreign immigration. ... I contended that the South, if she were mindful of her interests and safety, should unite to prevent such dangerous additions to the population."

Letter to constituents in 1855 from Percy Walker, Know-Nothing Alabama congressman

"Americans must rule America; and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all state, federal, and municipal offices of government employment, in preference to all others."

From the 1856 political platform of presidential candidate Millard Fillmore

"The question to-day is, not of preventing the wards of our almshouses, our insane asylums, and our jails from being stuffed to repletion by new arrivals from Europe; but of protecting the American rate of wages, the American standard of living, and the quality of American citizenship from degradation through the tumultuous access of vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry from the countries of eastern and southern Europe."

Francis A. Walker, influential economist and president of MIT, in The Atlantic Monthly, 1896

"Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country."

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, 1901-1909

"... and see endless streets crowded with the shacks of illiterate, diseased, pauperized Mexicans, taking no interest whatever in the community, living constantly on the ragged edge of starvation, bringing countless numbers of American citizens into the world with the reckless prodigality of rabbits."

An 1928 editorial against the Mexicanization of America in the Saturday Evening Post

"Many persons who have spoken and written in favor of restriction of immigration, have laid great stress upon the evils to society arising from immigration. They have claimed that disease, pauperism, crime and vice have been greatly increased through the incoming of the immigrants. Perhaps no other phase of the question has aroused so keen feeling, and yet perhaps on no other phase of the question has there been so little accurate information."

Jeremiah Jenks and W. Jett Lauck in a 1912 report for the United States Immigration Commission