As an expression of a conservative nationalist vision of America as a Protestant northern European country, ideas about “mongrelization” represented an entrenched mind-set that opposed extending open immigration to countries and races that were perceived to sully bloodlines of Nordic purity, which was regarded as the noblest manifestation of the American character.
Although from its inception America had been shaped by virtually unrestricted immigration, late nineteenth century conservatives began expressing their fears that allowing peoples such as Irish Catholics, eastern and southern Europeans, and Asians into the country threatened the American identity. The incendiary rhetoric surrounding controversial legislation curbing–or in some cases eliminating altogether–immigration from specific countries and regions deemed alien was based on the argument hat such immigrants compromised the racial makeup of the nation. Proponents of this view, who regarded themselves as fierce nationalists, defined American identity as based on western and northern European stock–which was white in skin color and primarily Protestant in religious beliefs.
The argument insisted that characteristics intrinsic to that Nordic American identity–intelligence, moral character, self-reliance, faith in democracy, sobriety, virtue, honesty, and a committed work ethic–adhered to some racial and ethnic groups but not to others. According to the argument, groups routinely designated as inferior would inevitably pollute the Nordic American bloodlines, creating “mongrel” generations of hyphenated ethnicity. The designation most often used to describe the immigration flow of these peoples was “hordes.” Africans, Asians, and Mexicans were the peoples most commonly referred to as “hordes,” but the term was also applied to Italians, Poles, Jews, Slavs, and other peoples from the Mediterranean basin. Advocates of the “mongrelization” theory wanted the immigration of all these peoples to be stopped or restricted.
The controversial eugenicist and self-proclaimed anthropologist
Mongrelization was largely discredited first by the groundbreaking work of professionally trained anthropologists during the 1930’s who railed against such biological generalizations as the mongrelization theory as forms of fear-mongering. They argued for the influence of environment on shaping character and later cited the rise of
Bennett, David H. The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the New Right in American History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. Gerstle, Gary. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Tirman, John, ed. The Maze of Fear: Security and Migration After 9/11. New York: New Press, 2004.
History of immigration after 1891