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The Plymouth 400 Symposium
When the Sons of the Mayflower Struck Back

2,101 words

Daniel Okrent
The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America
New York: Scribner, 2019

The Mayflower arrived at Plymouth 400 years ago this week. This monumental anniversary has largely gone unremembered. In the past, the Plymouth anniversary was a great event that drew our nation’s foremost orators to speak of the glories of America and its settlers. Today, Plymouth Rock mostly attracts Left-wing vandals instead of national leaders. This is what happens when your people are replaced.

In our age, the great symbol of America is Ellis Island, not Plymouth Rock. Mass immigration and the system’s mythology made our nation care more about the huddled refuse than the hardy settlers. There was a time when the descendants of the Mayflower tried to stem the tide In the past, the Plymouth anniversary was a great event that drew our nation’s foremost orators to speak of the glories of America and its settlers and protect their inheritance. They succeeded in reducing immigration, but it was already too late for the WASP elite.

My article last week examined E. Digby Baltzell’s The Protestant Establishment and its foolish claims of an evil WASP caste dominating Cold War America. Baltzell’s WASPs were ethnocentric and firmly committed to the preservation of their power. The reality of post-war America belied those claims, with WASP elites happily assimilating to the new America. Boston Brahmins were not vigorously defending immigration restriction or freedom of association for whites. Instead, many of them were zealous civil rights advocates who welcomed the new Ellis Islander elites into their private clubs.

But Baltzell’s Right-wing WASP caste did exist a few decades before, and they did try to preserve the America they knew and loved. Daniel Okrent, a former New York Times editor, does a fine job of documenting this class’s support for immigration restriction in his book, The Guarded Gate. The book’s hilariously long subtitle gives away Okrent’s opinion on the matter: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America. The journalist tells readers in the introduction his ancestors were Jewish immigrants who would’ve not been allowed in under the 1924 Immigration Act. (Shouldn’t we be thankful they made it!?) Besides this digression and his constant need to say eugenics and race science are pseudoscience, the book is readable and restrained in its liberal sermonizing. It’s a fine work on the time when WASPs struck back.

The “villains” of Okrent’s story are not cranks and outsiders. They weren’t relegated to the fringes of the Republican Party, nor were they upset immigrants “took their jobs.” They were some of the most respected and well-connected men in America, and they all shared a desire to see the historic American nation preserved. For that sin, they are branded as unredeemable bigots in official history. Yet the smears cannot obscure their elite pedigrees and high intelligence.

These rogues include pioneering biologist Charles Davenport, blue blood senator Henry Cabot Lodge, liberal philanthropist Joe Lee, sociologist Edward A. Ross, eccentric lawyer Prescott Hall, and the well-heeled writer Madison Grant. All of these men went to the best schools, attended the best clubs, shook hands with movers and shakers, and could easily claim elite status. Their stature allowed them to spread their ideas throughout the Ivy League, social clubs, Congress, and even some corporate boardrooms. This was the immigration restrictionist movement of the early 20th century. It was a fashionable idea among the nation’s aristocrats, and even considered “progressive.”

Okrent’s primary villains were not the only ones who supported immigration restriction at the time. The idea was immensely popular within the labor movement. Unions saw immigrants as scabs who took their jobs for lower pay. Restriction also enjoyed wide popularity throughout the general American population. However, it did elicit powerful opposition towards it. Any time a restriction came before Congress, it would be defeated despite receiving overwhelming support from lawmakers.

Okrent upholds Jews as his heroes in the fight against restriction. The author notes that plenty of Anglo businessmen and lawmakers opposed restriction because it interfered with profits and was somehow “un-American.” For instance, President Grover Cleveland vetoed a literacy test for immigrants because he saw it as a “radical departure from national policy” and claimed the nation wants foreigners to “share in the blessings of American citizenship.” Okrent even acknowledges that many Southern lawmakers were initially opposed to immigration restriction because they favored cheap labor and viewed the new immigrants as superior to blacks.

You can buy Greg Johnson’s Here’s the Thing here.

But these figures are not the protagonists. It’s primarily wealthy German Jews who financed campaigns against immigration restrictions and excoriated eugenics. The notorious Franz Boas, of course, is one of Okrent’s heroes. The author even champions Boas’ discredited theory that America changed the cranial shape of immigrants. Boas pops up throughout the book to vituperate against immigration restrictionists, “racism,” and nature over nurture arguments. Other esteemed Jews in Okrent’s book include German businessman Albert Ballin, who made a fortune transporting immigrants to the New World, banker Jacob Schiff, who financed efforts to resettle Jews in America; “conservative” lawyer Louis Marshall, who led the American Jewish Committee; and Illinois congressman Adolph Sabath, who continually fought restrictionist legislation. The German Jewish community was not enthusiastic about the waves of shtetl Jews coming from the East, but they eventually came to see efforts to restrict them and other immigrants as threats to themselves. They were a rival elite to WASP restrictionists, and both sides saw immigration as a battle for power.

German Jews held their noses and sided with shtetl Jews against native Americans. Without their efforts — which included writing personal letters to presidents and creating advocacy groups like the Liberal League — restrictionist legislation would have passed much earlier than it did.

Jewish advocates and wealthy businessmen were not the only obstacles to restrictionist legislation. Both Republicans and Democrats were leery of passing it over the fear it would alienate ethnic voters. It explains why Cleveland, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson all vetoed a literacy test for immigrants. Even Teddy Roosevelt, who was a friend to restrictionists and endorsed their ideas, was reluctant to sign such legislation. The problem with democracy is that many of its leaders will care more about votes than good policy. The immigration debate continues to illustrate this depressing fact.

The literacy test finally became law in 1917, due largely to war fever. President Wilson vetoed it again, but his action was overridden by Congress. The problem was the bill was too little and too late. Literacy rates were improving in the areas of Europe restrictionists wanted excluded and a refugee exemption was added to the bill that would allow many to skirt the law’s regulations. Immigration restrictionists knew that the fight was not over and more was needed to protect the historic American nation.

It should be noted that the immigration fight primarily concerned European immigration. There was near-universal support for the exclusion of Asian and other non-white immigration. Wilson, for instance, resolutely opposed “Oriental coolieism” while defending immigration from Europe. While the majority of these European immigrants would count as white, their culture and traditions were radically different from that of Anglo-Americans. It was an ethnicity-based argument in favor of restriction.

The aftermath of World War I proved a boon to restrictionists. Left-wing terrorism carried out by recent immigrants scarred the nation. Millions of Americans feared the specter of Bolshevism and wanted the gates shut to the rest of the world. Leftist agitation finally persuaded many businessmen that other things may trump their petty economic interests and it may be time to restrict immigration. Restrictionists were also gifted with presidents who backed their laws. Both Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge supported immigration restrictions. Harding campaigned on the slogan “America First” and Coolidge publicly declared America was founded by Nordic stock. “America must be kept American,” Coolidge said in his first Annual Message to Congress. “For this purpose it is necessary to continue a policy of restricted immigration.” These two Republicans would sign legislation that would close the gates to foreign hordes for decades to come.

The first major legislation to pass was in 1921. The Emergency Immigration Act placed a maximum cap on immigration at 355,000 per year and instituted national quotas. The number of slots per country was set at three percent of the number of people from that nation who were in the U.S. by 1910. The three percent rule dramatically cut immigration from Poland, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece. However, the bill was only temporary. A more permanent bill was put forward three years later.

The Immigration Act of 1924 further reduced America’s maximum annual immigration intake to 160,000 and based its national quotas on the 1890 census, further reducing the flow of Southern and Eastern Europeans. The law remained virtually unchanged until the 1950s and was only fully reversed by the infamous Immigration Act of 1965. The bill was a triumph for the restrictionist cause and represented a high point for assertive ethnonationalism in the US. Immigration restriction was still widely supported for several years after. Americans refused to be pressured into taking refugees from Europe at the onset of World War II, and the war did little to persuade native Americans to give up their birthright.

But the rise of Nazism did much to quell elite enthusiasm for eugenics and racialism. Many of the villains in Okrent’s book, such as Edward A. Ross, repudiated their past views in the 1930s largely in response to the Third Reich. Eugenics associations lost prominent members and its spokesmen were eager to put distance between themselves and the Nazis. Many of these groups shuttered in the 30s and 40s. After the war, nearly all of the old immigration restrictionists were either dead or retired. There was no new blood to replace them. The first cracks within restrictionist sentiment occurred during the war when we lifted Chinese exclusion as a reward to our ally, Chiang Kai-shek. More cracks would soon follow until the whole past consensus crumbled.

The book doesn’t delve too deeply into how the restrictionists’ legacy was overturned in the years of World War II. It does strongly imply as to why this occurred. The taint of Nazism discredited eugenics and racial thought in America. The nation no longer saw itself as a people but as an idea hostile to Communism and fascism. The new elite consensus proclaimed that anyone can be an American so long as you loved equality and freedom. The new elite was quite different as well. No longer were we led by WASP patricians who saw themselves as the stewards of the historic American nation. Our new elites were the children and grandchildren of Ellis Islanders, molded in the ideas and fashions of the WASPs’ Jewish rivals. They saw our nation as the land of immigrants, not of Anglo-Saxons.

Okrent alludes to this replacement. Many of the restrictionists and eugenicists never had kids. Many of the ones who did saw their children and grandchildren marry Jews. The old elite couldn’t guard its own gates.

The book concludes with a screed blaming America’s immigration laws for the Holocaust. It delivers the final blow for Okrent’s contempt for our nation seeking to preserve itself.

The Guarded Gate still provides instructive insight into our nation’s past and how the Right can fight our country in the present. We unfortunately lack the WASP patricians of the 1920s and it’s unlikely that the presidents of preeminent universities will endorse our ideas. Moreover, white America now includes many of the descendants of those immigrants the restrictionists wanted to keep out. It’s unwise to attempt a revival of early 20th-century WASP nativism when you’re more likely to find Italian Catholics within our ranks than old-stock Episcopalians.

Madison Grant and his compatriots prove that our ideas are not “un-American” or totally alien to our country. They are as American as apple pie. We need a new elite to articulate a vision that upholds our ancestral heritage and honors the legacy of those brave settlers who disembarked from the Mayflower.

A nation that doesn’t remember its roots is bound to die. We will know we live in a real country again when the Mayflower’s anniversary is more important than Martin Luther King Day and Juneteenth.

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  1. Alexandra O.
    Posted December 17, 2020 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Another book to add to my reading list and library of books for future readers. It really helps to know what our detractors really think about us and the origin and depth of the ammunition they use against us.

  2. Right_On
    Posted December 17, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Re “eugenics and race science are pseudoscience” :
    Whenever the MSM mentions these subjects they ALWAYS say “the now-discredited science of . . . ” eugenics or racial theory. But they never say why they are discredited.
    I think most liberals assume the reason is obvious : everybody’s fave villains, the Nazis, adopted those sciences. By that logic, we could say : “the now-discredited science of rocket propulsion”.

    • Alpha2
      Posted December 21, 2020 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      To be honest, many theories of the racialist from the early 20th century really were without any substance. Like Grant’s division of Europeans in 3 sub-races (nordic, alpin and mediterranean).
      But the new “racial science” is corroborated by numerous genetic studies. Racial theorists from before the 1950s didn’t have the tools to study racial differences.

  3. KatS
    Posted December 17, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    “Moreover, white America now includes many of the descendants of those immigrants the restrictionists wanted to keep out. It’s unwise to attempt a revival of early 20th-century WASP nativism when you’re more likely to find Italian Catholics within our ranks than old-stock Episcopalians.”

    That line toward the end is important. Recently, someone told me the story of the 1966 black “Hough riots” in Cleveland (near Case U). As the rampage drew closer and closer to “Little Italy,” armed and determined Italians climbed to the roof and bell tower of their local church, prepared to preserve and defend their community. Any colored rioters who set foot there would have tasted Genoan justice. We’ve needed people like that for a long time.

    • Mike Ricci
      Posted December 17, 2020 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Genoan justice? Doubtful. Italian Americans are mostly from the Mezzogiorno.

      • KatS
        Posted December 18, 2020 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        The Problematic Statue that “Little Italy” continues to defend as one of its own sure is.

    • Drew Fraser
      Posted December 17, 2020 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      What exactly would be wrong with the regeneration of a transnational WASP patriciate grounded in a renewed ethnopatriotic movement embracing the whole of the Anglo-Saxon/British diaspora?

      American WASPs, even more so than Jews, are well-placed geopolitically to join forces with their co-ethnics, both “at home” in the British Isles and abroad in the old white British dominions all around the world.

      Outside the USA , there are already moves afoot to capitalize on Brexit by creating an implicitly WASP alliance, known as CANZUK, allowing freedom of movement, free trade, and coordinated foreign policy and constitutional dialogue between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

      Two-and-a-half centuries ago, WASPs created the USA out of a collection of well-established British colonies. It was the responsibility of American WASPs then to act as faithful stewards of their constitutional republic. If that, once-proudly Anglo-Saxon republic has sunk into public corruption and demographic decay, American WASPs owe it to themselves as well as to their “fellow-whites” to take the lead in fixing it!

      One hopes that, in pursuing such a project of ethnoreligious regeneration, American WASPs, will be able to count on the support of their now equally-embryonic CANZUK cousins as they are all plunged into open competition with powerful ethnic rivals. We must all recover the self-confidence to govern our ancestral homelands, whether or not we are united under a common Crown.

      • Canadianer
        Posted December 18, 2020 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Few people can identify a WASP. A Saxon is a very particular British identity. Can anyone in England identify who is and is not a Saxon? Most could not even identify someone of British identity of ANY tribal identity in the diaspora. British South Africans mixed with French Huegenots and Dutch. In North America Brits mixed with many other European groups and many people think are WASP are not. Trump is German and Biden is Irish Catholic. The reason people call us white is because we mostly descended from several founder populations. Delusions of WASP identity are just that — delusions.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted December 19, 2020 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      A heartwarming Christmas message from an ex-mob boss. “When we celebrate the birth of our Lord…” No PC bullshit for this guy. Not the sort of guy the PC crowd is likely to harass, either. Also, casual mention that his father was one of 19 children and his mother one of 20. How many children did those exclusionary WASPs? Is the Italian mob more based than the WASPs who wanted to keep them out?

      • KatS
        Posted December 20, 2020 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Thank you — it was both warming and a nice change of pace. Hallmark Christmas can get somewhat dull after a while.

  4. Robert Stuart
    Posted December 17, 2020 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Despite his obnoxious editorializing about the evils of immigration restriction Okrent has written an important book from the standpoint of addressing a fascinating topic: how for the last time a major cohort of America’s elite rallied for White ethnic self defense and emerged victorious. His book also answers how this elite consensus unraveled so quickly, how we went from defending White America to surrendering it with 20 years. The latter half of the book shows how some of the very people who were adamant that immigration of non Northwestern European people into America posed a racial threat to this country began to get cold feet once Hitler came to power. When push came to shove they couldn’t stand the heat when forced to defend their beliefs when their full implications were apparent. By no means all of them gave up the ghost, but enough of them did that we can see why as a society we collapsed morally and were no longer able to stay resolute in demanding the primacy of our racial inheritance.

  5. Antidote
    Posted December 18, 2020 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    1789 “to ourselves and our posterity..” The Founding Fathers
    2009 “Murica is muh proposition nation!” Barack Hussein Obama

  6. Anthony Kimball
    Posted December 18, 2020 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    A people unwilling to fight (and by “fight” I mean physically) to preserve their racial heritage and integrity and to do whatever it takes to keep their nation free from foreign refuse is a people deserving of extinction. End of story.

    • Captain John Charity Spring MA
      Posted December 30, 2020 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      I don’t really see how Biden can keep together the white history and brown tide by slapping a mask on it for 100 days and call it patriotism. It’s not going to work. The left want a racial coup de grace and remnant of ordinary white guys lending their vote to the Democratic Party want dollars and transactional benefits.

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