“I think we now have sufficient population in our country for us to shut the door and to breed up a pure, unadulterated American citizenship,” Senator Ellison DuRant Smith in support of the Quota Act of 1921.
“America must remain American.” (President Calvin Coolidge signing the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act)
The 1924 Immigration Restriction Act
If Germany’s 1932 election of National Socialism promised a “final solution” to the West’s Jewish Problem, America’s 1924 Congress ensured its near-success.
Before the 1924 Act Congress first passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921. Both were intended to limit Jewish immigration, but the 1921 Act,
“limited immigrants to 3% of each nationality present in the US in 1910.”
And that was its weakness. By 1910 the numbers of Jews in the United States was approximately 2% and reflected the flight of a large number of Jews fleeing Russian pogroms. In 1890 Jews numbered fewer than 1% of the U.S. population.
“In operation, the quota system "materially favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe because the great waves from… Eastern Europe did not arrive until after 1890."
If the law sounds as if inspired by eugenics, it was. The chairman of the congressional committee tasked with drafting the legislation invited Harry Laughlin, head of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) to serve as his “expert advisor”:
“Eugenics Record Office Superintendent Harry Laughlin became the anti-immigration movement''s most persuasive lobbyist... [He was appointed by the chairman of the committee writing the law] expert eugenics agent.” By deceptive data and reasoning Laughlin fed Congress what it wanted to hear, that new immigrants were polluting America’s bloodline with “feeblemindedness, insanity, criminality, and dependency.” The resulting bill “did everything eugenicists had hoped for... it restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe countries to only 9% of the total. Northern and western European countries got 86% of the quota, even though they made up the minority of immigrants in 1923.”
President Coolidge signs the immigration act on the south lawn of the White House (Wikipedia)
“Upon signing the Act, President Calvin Coolidge commented, ‘America must remain American.’ This phrase would become the rallying cry of anti-immigration sentiment until after World War II.”
The degree of Congressional antisemitism inspiring the 1924 anti-immigrant Act reflected antisemitism in the United States. And eugenics, in the imagination of the United States, was the wave of the future.
In 1953 antisemitism remained at very high levels. Congress, over the veto of President Truman, overwhelmingly passed H.R. 5678 ensuring Americas border remained closed to Jewish survivors remaining in Displaced Persons camps in Europe. Addressing the Senate at the bills passage, one of its sponsors, Senator Pat McCarran said,
“I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.”
In 1894, although the movement was still in its infancy, several Harvard graduates created the, Immigration Restriction League dedicated to preserving American racial purity by closing the gates to “inferior races.” Intent on preserving America’s Anglo-Saxon heritage as represented by these upper class Harvard graduates, League membership included,
“A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard, William DeWitt Hyde, president of Bowdoin College, James T. Young, director of Wharton School and David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University.” (McWhorter, Ladelle: Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America: A Genealogy, p.204)
Antisemitism in America kept pace with the influx of Jews fleeing Russia. The great- grandson of Henry Adams, America’s second president said, “The Jew atmosphere isolates me.” In Ignatius Donnelly’s 1890-novel Caesar’s Columns, consciously or not the author well defines Christian guilt:
” the Jews seized power to take revenge against the Christians for how they had made them suffer.”
This was also the period that gave rise to the lynching of Leo Frank which inspired the emergence of B’nai Brith’s Anti-defamation League. ADL was tasked with tracking and responding to a rapidly spreading anti-Jewish threat in the United States. The lynching also inspired the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan which, in eight short years, grew from the few members of the lynch party into a mass movement of more than four million Klansmen by 1924, the year Congress shut the gate of refuge to Jews:
“The Leo Frank case was a harbinger of an upsurge of overt Judeophobia after WW1. The artificial national unity was over, and postwar disillusionment brought during the 1920’s fear that the old way of life was under the onslaught of the foreign born, the city, and religious liberalism.”
In the 1920’s automobile magnate Henry Ford published and distributed millions of copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Harvard introduced a quota system for Jews which inspired other colleges and universities to follow suit (Dartmouth refused to abandon its quota until 1945). And Jews were banished from white collar professions, including medicine, law and, ironically, banking.
Eugenics was the rage and compulsory sterilization to eliminate America’s Unfit its method of choice Tens of thousands of Americans deemed unworthy of reproduction by the Supreme Court were forcibly sterilized. Adolph Hitler, already an admirer and promoter of the writings of Henry Ford, considered the United States a model for what Germany should aspire to:
“When Hitler published Mein Kampf in 1924, he held up a foreign law as a model for his program of racial purification: The U.S. Immigration Restriction Act of 1924… When the Nazis took power in 1933, they installed a program of eugenics--the attempted "improvement" of the population through forced sterilization and marriage controls--that consciously drew on the U.S. example... Small wonder that the Nazi laws led one eugenics activist in Virginia to complain, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."”
Eugenics inspired such widely read “scholarship” as Madison Grant’s, The Passing of the Great Race which, in good eugenics form, blamed the Jews for “mongrelizing” the white race.
We will return in more detail to the impact of this restrictive immigration law on European Jewry when we turn to the Holocaust proper. One result rarely mentioned in histories of the Holocaust is that the United States could have set an example to the world by providing refuge. Instead its refusal all but sealed the fate of Europe’s Jews.
Such theatrical gestures as the Bermuda Conference and that “too little-too late” afterthought of refugee rescue, the 1944 War Refugee Board, were mere window dressing to placate its critics, and particularly America’s own and mostly impotent Jewish community threatened by antisemitism at home.
Postscript: The antisemitic 1924 Immigration Act remained in force until 1965, long after the Final Solution eliminated the threat of any “massive” Jewish immigration. In the meantime the Congressional ban was scrupulously adhered to and Europe’s surviving Jewish victims were forced by their liberators to remain in the same concentration camps, renamed “DP camps”, from which they had recently been “liberated.” The only difference was that after Auschwitz was liberated the color of the guards uniforms changed. But they were still inmates under guard.
Three years after Auschwitz Jews remained as prisoners in Europe while America provided sanctuary from the Nuremberg Trials for “useful” Nazi war criminals, like SS colonel Werner von Braun.