This article addresses the origins of the immigration restriction movement in the late 19th century United States, a movement that realized its aims in the early 20th. It critiques the dominant scholarly interpretation, which holds that the movement sprang from a racism that viewed the new immigrants of this period as biologically inferior. It argues first that activists did not have at hand a biological theory sufficient to this characterization and did not employ one. It argues second that the movement arose as an adroit political response to labor market competition. The Republican Party recognized the discontent of resident workers (including those of older immigrant origin) with competition from new immigrants. The Party discerned ethnic differences among new and old immigrants and capitalized on these conditions in order to win elections. Ethnocentrism and middle-class anxiety over mass immigrant added to a movement that depended on bringing working class voters into the Party.
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