A Nation of Immigrants, written while John F. Kennedy was still a senator, espouses reform of exclusionary immigration policies. After Kennedy was elected president of the United States in 1960, he called on Congress to reform immigration law.

In 1958, the Anti-Defamation League[Antidefamation League]Anti-Defamation League asked Senator John F. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize winner for Profiles in Courage (1955), to write an essay advocating reform of U.S. immigration policy. Politically, Kennedy hoped to ensure support from Jewish and other immigrant communities for his 1960 bid for the presidency. He used the occasion to compose a meditation on the United States as “a nation of immigrants.”Nation of Immigrants, A (Kennedy)Kennedy, John F.Nation of Immigrants, A (Kennedy)Kennedy, John F.[cat]THEORIES;A Nation of Immigrants[03720][cat]IMMIGRATION REFORM;A Nation of Immigrants[03720]

John F. Kennedy.

(John F. Kennedy Library)

For Kennedy, the leveling effects of Old World oppression shaped the egalitarian nature of American democracy, built upon successive waves of immigration. In the book, Kennedy skirts the economic issues associated with cheap immigrant labor, but he eloquently documents the abuses of nineteenth and twentieth century nativist movements. He summarizes exclusionary U.S. immigration policy from the [a]Naturalization Act of 1790Naturalization Act of 1790 to the [a]Immigration Act of 1924;John F. Kennedy on[Kennedy]Immigration Act of 1924. According to Kennedy, America is not a “melting pot” for immigrants. Rather, invoking the language of Cultural pluralismcultural pluralism, he promotes immigration as the engine of democracy that allows new ideas in the arts, politics, economics, and the sciences to challenge the status quo. The book calls for legislative action to remove the Quota systems;and John F. Kennedy[Kennedy]immigration quota system–which was achieved after his assassination in 1963 in the [a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965;and John F.
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.Nation of Immigrants, A (Kennedy)Kennedy, John F.

Further Reading

  • Giglio, James. The Presidency of John F. Kennedy. 2d ed. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006.
  • Kennedy, John F. A Nation of Immigrants. Expanded ed. Introduction by Edward Kennedy. Foreword by Abraham Foxman. New York: HarperPerennial, 2008.
  • Melhman, Ira. “John F. Kennedy and Immigration Reform.” The Social Contract 1, no. 4 (Summer, 1991): 201-206.

Anti-Defamation League

Commission on Immigration Reform, U.S.

Cultural pluralism

Immigration Act of 1924

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Jewish immigrants

Melting pot theory


Naturalization Act of 1790