1915 December 7

President Wilson Gives Inflammatory Anti-Immigration Speech


President Woodrow Wilson gave an inflammatory speech against immigration in his third annual Message to Congress on this day. “Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out,” he declared. Wilson’s speech helped to set the stage for anti-immigrant hysteria during World War I and the Red Scare. During the patriotic hysteria of World War I, which included massive violations of civil liberties against opponents of the war, radical labor unions, immigrants, and German Americans, Wilson never publicly issued a call for tolerance.

The anti-immigrant passions that Wilson helped provoke later resulted in the restrictive and discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924, passed on May 26, 1924. The law implemented a “national origins” formula for determining how many people from each country would be admitted every year, which discriminated against eastern and southern Europeans. A non-discriminatory immigration act was finally passed and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on October 3, 1965.

Wilson’s rhetoric also whipped up the massive repression of dissent that occurred in World War I. In his famous address to Congress asking for a declaration of war on April 2, 1917, Wilson warned of a “stern hand of repression” in the face of dissent. And repression soon followed. See the raid on the Socialist Party headquarters on September 5, 1917; the suppression of the anti-war magazine, The Masses, on July 7, 1917; and the government raid on the offices of the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) on August 30, 1918, in which all the organization’s documents were seized.

President Wilson: There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it effective for their vindictive purposes to strike at them, and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue. Their number is not great as compared with the whole number of those sturdy hosts by which our nation has been enriched in recent generations out of virile foreign stock; but it is great enough to have brought deep disgrace upon us and to have made it necessary that we should promptly make use of processes of law by which we may be purged of their corrupt distempers. America never witnessed anything like this before.”

Read the full speech: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=29556

For Wilson’s record on civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

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