Why did it take the U.S. national government until 1882 to gain control over migration policies from the states, and what does this situation say about the strength of the early American State? This phenomenon is especially curious, since the control of entry into and across a nation is so fundamental to the very definition of a State. I argue that the delay of the national government takeover was not due to a lack of administrative capacity. Instead, there were regionally specific reasons that the states preferred to retain control of migration policy. The national government did not take over migration policy because of the strong nineteenth-century political-cultural understanding that many migration policies were properly within the province of local control. This article explains the timing and sequencing of state and federal controls over nineteenth-century migration policy and what this timing meant for the freedom of movement of many politically vulnerable classes of people.
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