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.“Mongrelization”[Mongrelization]Eugenics;and “mongrelization”[mongrelization]“Mongrelization”[Mongrelization]Eugenics;and
[cat]PSYCHOLOGY;”Mongrelization”[03600][cat]NATIVISM;”Mongrelization”[03600][cat]THEORIES;”Mongrelization”[03600][cat]ANTI-IMMIGRANT MOVEMENTS AND POLICIES;”Mongrelization”[03600][cat]STEREOTYPES;”Mongrelization”[03600]

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 1882 [a]Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882;rationale forChinese Exclusion Act and nearly six decades of subsequent legislation aimed at eliminating Asian immigration were manifestations of this argument. Unlike other types of immigrant restrictions–those based on the potential for political subversion or the potential for a health threat–the argument of mongrelization played to the bigotry and racist fears of the white Protestant American majority by designating certain ethnicities as “Undesirable aliens”[Undesirable aliens];and “mongrelization”[mongrelization]undesirables.

The controversial eugenicist and self-proclaimed anthropologist Passing of the Great Race, The (Grant)Grant, MadisonMadison Grant published The Passing of the Great Race in 1916. In print for more than thirty years, this book made the unapologetic argument that the greatest evil facing the burgeoning American empire came from unrestricted immigration. Drawing on the metaphors–if not the science–of Darwin, CharlesCharles Darwin, proponents of the mongrelization theory argued a kind of scientific racism. In proposing eugenics as a way to maintain American racial integrity, these vocal and impassioned public figures, most notably Senators Tillman, BenjaminBenjamin (Pitchfork Ben) Tillman of South Carolina and Helfin, J. ThomasJ. Thomas Helfin of Alabama, saw unrestricted immigration of such unsavory ethnicities as doing irreparable damage to the racial makeup and hence the moral integrity of Nordic America.

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 Germany;Nazi regimeNazism in Hitler, AdolfAdolf Hitler’s Germany as an example of the dangers of notions of Nordic racial purity.“Mongrelization”[Mongrelization]Eugenics;and “mongrelization”[mongrelization]

Further Reading

  • 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.

Anti-Chinese movement

Anti-Japanese movement


Asian immigrants

Eugenics movement

European immigrants

History of immigration after 1891

Quota systems