Racism, Immigrants, and Political Reform

The theme of the ninety-third annual convention of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) was “The United States and the Wider World.” Both that theme and the way the OAH’s public protest against racism shaped the St. Louis convention prompt us to reconsider the overarching narrative within which United States history is ordinarily presented. This essay argues that it is misleading to present our country’s history as the progressive fulfillment of democratic ideals, and it emphasizes the significance of the global context, especially of slavery and immigration, for the development of the country’s economic, political, and intellectual life. The question of how and within what limits collective human action has shaped history informs all aspects of this discussion.

The OAH, St. Louis, and the Adam’s Mark

Scarcely three months before the OAH convention was scheduled to open at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, members of the OAH learned that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the United States Department of Justice, and the state of Florida had filed suit against the hotel chain for discrimination against and special surveillance of African American patrons in Daytona Beach. We also learned that an appeals court had previously found that testimony concerning employment discrimination at the St. Louis hotel, in the court’s words, “supported a finding of outrageous conduct and an award of punitive damages.”[1]

The executive board’s decision to move all official convention business out of the hotel was based on the principle that the OAH could not fulfill its mission of encouraging the open exchange of the varied points of view and theoretical orientations found among its members if it met under circumstances that made any members feel unwelcome or unwilling to participate because of racial discrimination. The enthusiastic support of historians in St. Louis, the city’s Board of Aldermen, and the administration of St. Louis University made it possible to hold a very successful convention at other locations within the city under these difficult circumstances. Moreover, the combined impact of these efforts helped make history: During the week before the convention the Adam’s Mark management agreed to a consent decree providing for non-discriminatory policies to be monitored by Project Equality of Kansas City, Missouri, and for payment of monetary relief totaling $8 million.[2]

The Mississippi Valley Historical Association, precursor of the OAH, addressed this question half a century ago. When New Orleans was designated the site for its 1952 convention, segregation was still unequivocally the law in that city. African American members, few as they then were, could attend sessions at convention hotels, but they could not sleep, dine, or socialize there. President Merle Curti informed the executive committee a year in advance of the scheduled meeting that he refused to deliver his scheduled presidential address in such a setting. He proposed to move the forthcoming convention to Chicago.

In marked contrast to the executive board’s unanimity facing the St. Louis decision, in 1951 an adamant minority of officers angrily resisted the proposal to move, though they were not successful. The battle over segregated facilities continued for another two years, culminating in a referendum, which was phrased to evade the question of whether black members could reside at a convention hotel, and which revealed a sharply divided membership. The executive committee then settled the issue by voting to accept no invitations for convention facilities unless sponsors guaranteed that there would be no discrimination in meals or housing. The hotel under discussion at that time was in Topeka, Kansas. One month later the United States Supreme Court handed down its historic decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.[3]

Many members of the OAH at the beginning of the twenty-first century were not only offended by the conduct attributed to the Adam’s Mark chain by the Department of Justice and the NAACP but also taken aback by the realization that such discrimination was still with us at the beginning of a new century, and thirty-five years after Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The experience of this struggle reminds us of previous periods of retrogression in the basic liberties of peoples of color, and it bears directly on the “wider world” theme of the St. Louis convention. Placing United States history in a context defined by a worldwide capitalist economy enables us to grasp the human consequences of two decisive elements of global economic interactions: North American slavery and the vast migration to the United States of people from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Struggling to improve their own lives, often quite consciously within that world context, working people have left their own distinctive stamp on social and political life in the United States and on contests over the meaning of American nationality, which continue to unfold in our own time. Both the contributions of working people to the cause of political reform and the many defeats their efforts have suffered can best be understood by placing them in global context. As we consider those subjects, we can find guidance in the words of the late C. Vann Woodward.

America has a history. It is only that the tragic aspects and ironic implications of that history have been obscured by the national legend of success and victory and by the perpetuation of infant illusions of innocence and virtue. . . . But she [America] desperately needs criticism from historians of her own who can penetrate the legend without destroying the ideal, who can dispel the illusion of pretended virtue without denying the genuine virtues.[4]


We are well aware that the hopes of freedom and of equal citizenship awakened in African American hearts during the 1780s and the 1860s were subsequently dashed. The decades following the revolutionary declaration that “All men are created equal,” especially the 1790s, witnessed the renewal and expansion of slavery in the South, the enactment of the first federal fugitive slave law, and the exclusion of African Americans from industrial employment and from citizenship rights that accompanied the excruciatingly protracted demise of slavery in most of the North. Pennsylvania’s supreme court made the limits of emancipation clear in 1837 when it ruled black men no longer eligible to vote in that state and explained: “no colored race was party to our social compact.”[5]

Similarly, the last decades of the nineteenth century were marked by a steady retreat from Reconstruction’s promise of racial equality. In 1870, when President Ulysses S. Grant announced the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, he took the then unusual step of adding his own commentary to the proclamation. Noting that only thirteen years earlier Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of the Supreme Court had asserted what he called the “fixed and universal principle in the civilized portion of the white race . . . that black men had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” Grant called the federal voting rights amendment “a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free Government to the present day.”[6]

By that time, however, many of those northern whites who, like the Nation’s famous editor Edwin L. Godkin, applauded “the absolute civil and political equality of the colored man under our institutions and government” also protested that the articulation by former slaves, as well as by white workers, of “special interests and aims” was leading “ambitious politicians into follies of which the worst exploits of the great political deceivers of the present day afford but a very imperfect idea.” Only four years after Grant’s stirring proclamation, the Liberal Republican James Shepherd Pike published an influential denunciation of South Carolina’s Republican regime, under the title The Prostrate State. The book argued that to permit propertyless black voters, not properly educated in the principles of personal conduct and free-market economics, to control the tax policies and expenditures of a state was to frighten off investment and hobble economic growth. To secure a successful free-market economy, wrote Pike, it was necessary for the federal government to end its support of the few remaining Republican regimes in the South and to cultivate instead an entrepreneurial spirit in the ranks of the old southern plantation and political elite. Only then would a rising tide lift all boats.[7]

Between 1873 and 1883 the Republican-controlled Supreme Court gradually but relentlessly narrowed the capacity of the federal government to protect the political and social rights of African Americans by rulings that reserved to state governments the authority to enforce the privileges and immunities of citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, it argued, had prohibited a state from “denying to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws,” but the amendment did not “add any thing to the rights which one citizen has under the Constitution against another.” The citizen must look to the state government for protection against actions by other citizens that prevent him or her from assembling or voting or that lead to his or her murder or false imprisonment.[8]

The decisive formulation of this doctrine appeared in Justice Joseph P. Bradley’s opinion striking down the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Observing the long history of racial discrimination against free African Americans as guiding precedent and reasserting the argument that the federal government has no jurisdiction over social relations among citizens, Justice Bradley identified the “fundamental rights which are the essence of civil freedom” as the rights “to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to inherit, purchase, lease, sell and convey property.” In words reminiscent of Godkin and Pike, Bradley explained,

When a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen are protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.[9]

The line of argument pursued by Godkin, Pike, and Bradley situated the end of federal protection of the civil and political rights of African Americans consistently within the framework of the defense of entrepreneurial independence from such legislation as, to them, represented the “special interests and aims” of propertyless voters. It also has a familiar ring for those who are attuned to the political and judicial discourse of our own time. Curbing federal authority, celebrating private arrangements, especially those of the marketplace, and casting a hostile eye upon what is called the awarding of special privileges to victims of past discrimination have all returned as guiding principles of public policy.[10]

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore has shown how North Carolina, which had remained a beacon of racial progress (at least for black business and professional people) even after the early demise of its Republican regime, reversed course with terrifying speed at the end of the 1890s. Her account in Gender and Jim Crow provides an ominous warning to those who assume that once ensconced in law, civil rights can never be taken away. It took less than half a decade for North Carolina’s governing Populist-Republican coalition to be replaced by a white supremacist regime, the city government of Wilmington to be overthrown violently, and the state to join the rest of the South in disfranchising black voters and imposing systematic legal segregation. By 1921 Carter G. Woodson could observe, “The citizenship of the Negro in this country is a fiction.”[11]

The struggles that brought down the structure of legal segregation between the 1940s and the 1960s provide one of the most important and influential episodes in our country’s history of genuine improvement in social life brought about by persistent and diverse grass-roots efforts. Nevertheless, celebrating past victories for human liberation has all too often provided a means for denigrating subsequent attempts at further progress. Remembering the ways in which earlier African American struggles for emancipation were cut short provides an important warning against allowing the history of progress in civil rights to serve as a justification for inaction in our own times.

The International Context

Both this discussion of previous periods of retrogression in civil rights and the events surrounding our convention bear directly on the theme of the program: “The United States and the Wider World.”

W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1906: “The Negro problem in America is but a local phase of a world problem.” The world problem he had in mind was the consolidation of European and United States empires, all of which placed peoples of European ancestry in positions of domination over those Du Bois called “the darker . . . races in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.”[12] The domination of the globe by people of European origins had expanded steadily and undergone many changes during the preceding four hundred years. Those changes had brought with them corresponding transformations in the meanings of the human relationships we call race, which many papers at this convention have set out to clarify.

European states extended their power after 1500 by creating an international economy based on merchant capital, armed might, and fierce competition among themselves. Merchant capital financed the overseas shipment of commodities that had been produced by traditional relations of production in very diverse societies around the world. In this way European powers wove a mercantile web connecting many different preexisting social orders. But the same mercantile expansion also promoted a transatlantic commerce in slaves and in commodities that were cultivated and processed for export by slaves. The slave economies of the New World did not simply link together existing societies. On the contrary, they evicted or exterminated native populations and settled the land with plantations producing sugar, tobacco, rice, indigo, and cotton for use across the Atlantic Ocean. Like the later rise of industrial capitalism, plantation slavery generated a new social order.[13]

That transformation lies at the heart of United States history. During the 1950s and 1960s, economic historians oriented toward quantitative methods, most notably the future Nobel Prize winner Douglass C. North, demonstrated that the plantation economy generated well over half of United States exports before 1850, as well as the lion’s share of the foreign exchange and investment capital used to finance the country’s initial industrial growth. After 1810 the United States had more slaves than any other country in the world. Between independence and the Civil War, at least 125,000 new slaves were imported from Africa (counting only those who arrived legally), while more than a million slaves were moved from seaboard states to the booming region that stretched from southwestern Georgia to east Texas.[14]

Ira Berlin has argued that both the nature of slavery and the meanings imputed to race changed significantly between the 1620s and the 1820s and that they also varied from one region of the North American continent to another. There were “societies with slaves” in which chattel slaves were but one among diverse subordinate classes, some with members of European and Native American origin, but where slaves did not play a decisive role in wealth accumulation, for example, in the Chesapeake region before the 1660s or in the lower Mississippi Valley between 1730s and the 1780s. Quite different, he argues, were the “slave societies,” such as both of those regions later represented. There the development of plantation economies and planters’ acquisition of political dominance meant that “slavery stood at the center of economic production, and the master-slave relationship provided a model for all social relations.”[15]

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, C. L. R. James, Eric Williams, and W. E. B. Du Bois reminded historians of labor and of immigration that African and African American slaves were actors of decisive importance in labor and immigration history. Plantation slaves were migrants, but their experience of migration was defined by the shattering brutality of the middle passage and by the fact that they came as property and that their descendants were destined to be the property of others. Just as the slaves’ labors provided the foundation for colonial and antebellum economic growth, so defense and elaboration of their status as property provided a central element of the young nation’s legal and constitutional framework.[16]

To put it bluntly, then, we must beware of starting our labor history courses with the strikes and the St. Louis commune of 1877 and of framing our histories of immigration exclusively with Frank Thistlethwaite’s justly influential model of the 35 million Europeans who reached the United States after 1820. Long before the mills of Lowell were erected or Irish immigrants dug canals or artisans were converted into wage laborers, large concentrations of black propertyless workers were immigrants from across the Atlantic or children of immigrants, toiled at fixed tasks under close supervision, and produced commodities sold for their masters’ profits.[17]

It is also important, however, not only to incorporate slavery into our histories of immigration and labor but also to exercise care when we do so. The wide geographical areas from which slaves were drawn in Africa and the ways slaves were transshipped from ports of arrival in the New World rendered impossible anything resembling the chain migration patterns so characteristic of European and Asian immigrants. African Americans forged their identity as a nation in America where their lives were dominated by chattel slavery, even if not all were slaves. The European-dominated world economy was the matrix for African American life in yet other ways. Men and women of African ancestry who migrated voluntarily to the United States have played major roles in shaping African American political movements from colonial times onward, but especially during the twentieth century. Their stories constitute a much-neglected part of immigration history, for which the Thistlethwaite model provides little guidance.[18]

Moreover, the Atlantic economy, largely built around the slave trade and around commodities generated by slave labor, also nurtured a network of black, white, and brown maritime workers—wage laborers, slaves, tavern and shopkeepers, and artisans—that Paul Gilroy, Marcus Rediker, and Peter Linebaugh have shown us was saturated with rebellious and communitarian ideas very different from the teachings of John Locke. Just as many individuals who toiled on and around oceangoing vessels had direct encounters with Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and North and South America, so their way of thinking about the black experience burst the conceptual confines of any one empire or nation-state.[19]

Consider but one familiar example: that of David Walker, whose mother was a slave and whose father a free black man in North Carolina and who came to Boston in the 1820s, where he was an agent for Freedom’s Journal. Walker opened a slopshop (selling used and repaired clothing for sailors). It was from that shop that he distributed his Appeal . . . To the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in particular, and very expressly, to Those of the United States of America, often by sewing copies in the pockets and lining of jackets so that seamen might carry them to distant ports. Walker exemplified the diasporic vision that Robin D. G. Kelley has ably explored in his study of the writings of African American historians from the early nineteenth century to the present. Walker called on free blacks not only to seek “higher attainments than wielding the razor and cleaning boots and shoes” but also to deal with the “forever immovable fact, that your full glory and happiness, as well as those of all other coloured people under Heaven, shall never be fully consummated, but with the entire emancipation of your enslaved brethren all over the world.”[20]

This Pan-African vision of liberation coexisted with historic claims to the American soil and to the most inspiring parts of the American political and religious heritage, not only in the vigorous debates among African Americans but also within Walker’s own thinking. He denounced colonizers, who would deport free blacks. He reproduced the unequivocal assertion of Bishop Richard Allen of the African Methodist Episcopal church:

See the thousands of foreigners emigrating to America every year: and if there be ground sufficient for them to cultivate, and bread for them to eat, why would they wish to send the first tillers of the land away? . . . This land which we have watered with our tears and our blood, is now our mother country, and we are well satisfied to stay where wisdom abounds and the gospel is free.[21]

The diasporic vision, the claim to citizenship, and the entitlement to the soil all surfaced vigorously when African Americans took action en masse during the Revolution and the Civil War. Their concerted flights from plantations, their negotiations with masters concerning terms of employment, and their wrangling for liberation with British, colonial, and, later, Union military forces have provided a healthy reminder to historians of the United States that effective political action can take forms other than voting.[22] Their voices projected political ideas that were richly informed by the controversies then raging among warring groups of whites but that also assumed a distinctive direction of their own. Among them were the anonymous leaflets found on the streets of New Orleans in 1865, signed only “A colored man.” After describing the official war aims of the Union and of the Confederacy, one leaflet went on to ask, “what is the colored men fighting for”? Its answer was: “for our rights and liberty we care nothing about the union we heave been in it Slaves over two hundred and fifty years.” In a dazzling inversion of the political discourse then pronounced in Washington, the author concluded:

we are the Blackest and bravest race the president says there is a wide Difference Between the black Race and the white race But we Say that white corn and yellow will mix by the taussels but the black and white Race must mix by the roots as they are so well mixed and has no taussels—freedom and liberty is the word with the Collered people[23]

Local, National, and International

The anonymous author of that eloquent broadside reminds us of a second way the setting of our convention bears on the theme “The United States and the Wider World.” Side by side with the legacy of slavery in the shaping of American history stands the convergence of peoples from many different climes and cultures. The meaning we impute to that convergence of peoples has been fashioned by recurrent conflicts over who is, or can be, an American. Those controversies have not focused only on African Americans. Moreover, the opposing sides in those conflicts have been influenced not only by events in the United States, as John Higham has demonstrated so well, but also by developments in the migrants’ countries of origin and by the rise and demise of world empires.[24]

To understand the lives and struggles of working people, the power relationships they have both reproduced and challenged, and the varied identities they have manifested, we must learn to think on three interconnected levels: local, national, and global. The local setting is where men and women have pursued their personal goals in familiar contexts, identified friend and foe through everyday encounters, and forged, or failed to forge, collective action. This is why the best social history of the last generation (often to the exasperation of its critics) has concentrated research on particular localities. It is there that we can best scrutinize the panorama of economic relations and how identities “happen” amid historical change and conflict. But many practitioners of local studies have failed to confront the challenge of using their research to illuminate, and not to evade, the roles of the nation-state and of international economic relations in shaping local experience.[25]

The nation-state synthesis has long provided the favorite domain of historians, and for good reasons. State power and political mobilizations have played definitive roles in shaping the meaning of nationality, race, and class. As E. J. Hobsbawm has argued, nineteenth-century “national movements were expected to be movements for national unification or expansion,” and they flourished in an epoch of international free-trade liberalism. America’s “Manifest Destiny” was surely no exception. Consider Susan Lee Johnson’s splendid study of the southern goldfields during the California gold rush. It reveals not only the variety of peoples who encountered each other there (Yankees, southern whites, African Americans, Mexicans, Chileans, French, Miwoks, Yokuts, and Chinese—both Puntis and Hakkas) but also the decisive importance of Anglo-American domination of the machinery of state—primitive as it might have been—in defining ethnic hierarchies and economic opportunities and in assigning citizenship.[26]

All across the land between the 1830s and the 1850s, the convergence of unprecedented levels of immigration from Europe, conflicts over the geographic boundaries of chattel slavery, the annexation of half the territory of the Mexican republic, and the mobilization of mass electoral participation by national parties infused election campaigns with two conflicting definitions of American nationality. Democrats championed citizenship for anyone in the white race and exclusively for the white race within an expanding geographical domain and uninhibited global commerce, as well as a strictly secular and limited government that would leave property rights (including those in black slaves) and also religious practices and schools free of state direction but benefiting from state support. The unequivocal rejoinder came from the Know-Nothings and their American Republican precursors, who would have excluded aliens from public office, compelled all immigrants to live twenty-one years in republican America before they were eligible to join the body politic, nurtured the national economy, required lay ownership of all church properties, and provided public schooling for all, “subject to no sect” but with moral instruction informed by classroom use of the Bible.[27]

The victory of Union armies on the battlefields of the Civil War and the wartime struggles of the slaves, which effectively rendered impossible any compromise restoring the Union with slavery intact, enabled (indeed, compelled) the Republicans to enact a new national identity synthesis. It bestowed citizenship on “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” and in 1870 legislation extended naturalization privileges “to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent,” while providing penalties for voting by unnaturalized immigrants and pointedly not authorizing naturalization of Chinese. Congress rejected a proposal that it simply remove all references to race found in the existing Naturalization Act of 1790.[28] In short, the social and geographic boundaries defining the American nation were matters of political contestation so fierce as to be resolved only by prodigious bloodshed.

It is when we direct our imaginations toward the global level, however, that the distinctive character of the United States experience in inventing and reinventing ethnicity comes most clearly into focus. Although many other countries have received immigrants, the United States stands almost alone in defining itself as a “country of immigrants.” It did not do so at the governmental and academic levels of discourse, however, until well into the twentieth century.

Ever since Frank Thistlethwaite delivered his magisterial 1960 paper on European population movements, historians have been forced to shift their focus from immigration to migration. Thistlethwaite reminded us that the overseas emigration of Europeans was an offshoot of a much larger movement of peoples within that continent, that two out of five Europeans who crossed the Atlantic did not go to the United States, and that a rising portion of those who did enter the United States before 1924 left again to return home. Among Italians, the largest national group of newcomers arriving in the United States after 1900, fully 60 percent returned to Italy. As Donna R. Gabaccia has phrased the argument: “Migrants became Italian Americans during years when state policy restricted their migrations as undesirable.” The process of forming their new identity involved interaction among people from many different locales in southern Italy, the Anglo-American power structure, other immigrant neighbors, and subordinated peoples of color.[29]

Here was a case illustrating the conception of ethnicity advanced in 1992 by Kathleen Neils Conzen and her colleagues: “a process of construction or invention which incorporates, adapts, and amplifies preexisting communal solidarities, cultural attributes, and historical memories”—a process that is continually re-created in response to developments both in the United States and in the country of origin.[30] We need to focus our attention on those transnational interactions, as men and women shaped them in many local settings.

Moreover, a perspective that includes the wider world reminds us that patterns of migration as well as international flows of commodities and of capital have been fashioned as much by the imposing power of Gatling guns and dreadnoughts as by new techniques of production and communication and consumer demand. The destinations of migrants were determined by the shipping lanes, commodity needs, and legislation of industrializing powers. That is especially evident if we shift our attention away from Thistlethwaite’s influential European paradigm and consider migration across the Pacific Ocean and within the Western Hemisphere. While 55 million Europeans migrated toward temperate zones between 1820 and 1920, a second broad current of transoceanic migrants, estimated by different historians at between 2 and 10 million people, moved primarily through equatorial zones. As Sidney Mintz pointed out in his great study of sugar and capitalism: “the link between sweated, tropical colonial labor and nonwhite labor was preserved, largely undisturbed by the end of slavery.”[31]

That link proved especially important in the history of the far western states, of Alaska, and of Hawaii. By the 1870s a quarter of the work force of California was Chinese, and over the ensuing half century Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos came to dominate Hawaii’s labor and political struggles. Starting with the act of 1882 banning entry of Chinese laborers, however, the doors admitting Asians to the mainland were systematically shut. The observation of the sociologist Nigel Harris that one hundred years ago “passports, visas, residence and work permits were not required” for travelers crossing international boundaries would have sounded like a cruel joke to Asians approaching the North American continent.[32]

Much of the best recent writing on immigration history has focused on the transnational networks fashioned by kinsfolk and neighbors that have escorted migrants to their destinations and nurtured a vast array of fraternal organizations, parishes, gymnastic clubs, newspapers, shops, and commemorations. Not only have those networks sheltered effective alternatives to the dominant institutions of the United States, they have also harbored political leaders whose activities encompassed the old country as well as the new. Thomas Masaryk, José Marti, Katayama Sen, Marcus Garvey, Ricardo Flores Magón, and many others come to mind. Exiled Irish revolutionaries of 1798, such as William James MacNeven, William Sampson, and John Binns, threw themselves into Jeffersonian politics from the moment of their arrival, without ever forgetting the Old Sod. Central to the history of Missouri is the role of German forty-eighters in promoting antislavery politics and providing a crucial military force to combat the state’s secession—all as part and parcel of their continuing battle for a unified German republic. It has only been a few years since Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide generated similar political excitement in Haitian communities across the Northeast.[33]

Transnational networks were clearly evident during the strike wave of the mid-1880s, which labor historians have called the Great Upheaval, when workers fielded 180 local labor parties. The best-known such effort, Henry George’s campaign for mayor of New York City in 1886, shows what can be learned from the scrutiny of immigrants’ political action during the nineteenth century. The campaign was initiated by 175 local labor unions, which were enraged by police and judicial attacks against union strikes and boycotts. Nevertheless, as the “tailgate campaign” unfolded in working-class districts, it addressed much more than just the freedom to form unions. Campaign rhetoric focused (in the words of the insurgents’ declaration of principles) on “the promotion of the health, comfort, education and recreation of [the city’s] people” and the need for accessible mass transportation—issues that were later paramount for urban reformers of the Progressive Era.[34]

Henry George’s economic theory offered an explanation of the shambles in which free-market growth left urban conditions while permitting the rich to buy their way out of the attendant squalor. This emphasis explains the appeal of the campaign to working-class women, who made themselves very visible in political mass meetings. In fact, George’s secretary Louis Post later recalled that the thirty-four thousand signatures of male registered voters delivered to George by the unions to persuade him to run had been gathered mostly by women, who could not vote.[35]

The massive involvement of first-generation Irish and German immigrants in the campaign also produced a dramatic public schism in New York’s Catholic parishes. The Reverend Edward McGlynn found in George’s ideas a formula for bringing social life under the guidance of the Christian gospel and also for committing American Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to a common cause of social justice on this earth. Monsignor Thomas J. Preston, vicar-general of the New York Catholic archdiocese, proclaimed, on the contrary, that the church was “opposed to the candidacy of Mr. George,” whose teachings “would prove the ruin of the workingmen he professes to befriend.” When Archbishop Michael J. Corrigan removed McGlynn from his parish and later had him excommunicated, so many Catholic immigrants took to the streets in protest that the Cuban exile José Martí wrote: “Nothing happening today in the United States can compare in transcendence and interest to the struggle developing between the authorities of the Catholic Church and the Catholic people of New York.”[36]

George’s campaign attracted the support of many black New Yorkers, most notably Timothy Thomas Fortune, editor of the city’s major African American newspaper, the New York Age. Indeed, Fortune drew on George’s economic theory to single out “the false system which makes the landlord possible” as the fatal flaw in the postwar Republican program for Reconstruction. He summoned black and white laborers to stand together against their common oppressors.[37]

Similarly, the Irish Land League, fighting for tenant rights in the Irish countryside and in New York’s tenements, often portrayed its battle as part of a worldwide struggle of oppressed peoples to defend their own access to the land against wealthy and often foreign monopolists. League partisans denounced the “human vultures” who were seizing the land of Native Americans in violation of treaty obligations, and they found kindred souls among Mexicans fighting for their land against bonanza ranches in the New Mexico territory, the métis of Manitoba battling under the leadership of Louis Riel against the whites overrunning their homeland, and peoples being colonized around the world. The 1879 founding meeting of the Land League in Connaught put its world view this way:

From the China towers of Pekin to the round towers of Ireland, from the cabins of Connemara to the kraals of Kaffirland, from the wattled homes of the isles of Polynesia to the wigwams of North America, the cry is: “Down with invaders! Down with tyrants!” Every man to have his own land—every man to have his own home![38]

New York’s immigrant-based urban reform movement disintegrated soon after the 1886 elections, with socialists and single taxers battling each other and both sides narrowing their immediate demands to trade-union questions (in effect, abandoning the immigrant women and voters who had urged them on). But the vision of government’s proper role in correcting the failures and inequities of a market economy waxed even more influential in immigrant politics after 1900—in campaigns for municipal services, in the growing influence of socialism, and in the prominence of Protestant immigrants in local activities of the Bull Moose Republicans.[39]

The years 1916 to 1922 produced a strike wave that was far larger and longer lasting than that of the 1880s, though it has received much less attention from historians. Recent immigrants participated in strikes and unions on an unprecedented scale, while they were bombarded with conflicting ideological appeals from immigrant nationalists, government agencies cultivating patriotism toward the United States, business leaders promoting company loyalty, labor organizers advocating an “American style” of trade unionism, revolutionaries teaching class consciousness, and families urging them to send help or to come back home. The ravages of war in their countries of origin encouraged the belief that only social revolution could restore peace. High levels of employment stimulated by the war and revolutionary upheavals around the world whetted the appetites of working men and women for a better life. The eight-hour day emerged as the favorite embodiment of those aspirations.[40]

At no other time since independence had there been such distance between official and popular discourse. True, immigrant workers freely borrowed phrases and symbols from all the rhetoric that whirled about them. But they blended those phrases and symbols in ways that would confound historians who hunt for neat dichotomies or straightforward progress toward assimilation or modernization. Strikers often marched behind American flags, grouped by nationality, while singing “The International.”[41]

They left us a rich record of their own words in many languages. They picked ideas from the ideology of citizenship, rights, and national self-determination, and they mixed that vocabulary with the language of class consciousness, of solidarity, of internationalism. They blended apocalyptic visions with clearly articulated trade-union demands. Through it all, an idyllic image of life on the land, back home, provided an irrepressible counterpoint.[42]

The soaring hopes expressed in that working-class discourse were decisively crushed during the immediate postwar years. Immigrants’ thoughts then turned inward toward home, family, and respect among neighbors, leaving intensely politicized minorities in their midst, who staked their hopes on revolutions abroad. Moreover, they now found the language of American nationality turned against them. During the war, testified Rose and Grace Santora of Lawrence, Massachusetts, the “bosses then called all the Italians ‘American people.’ Now they are ‘foreigners.'”[43]

Who Is an American?

The easy entry into the United States and other countries that people with European forebears had enjoyed for almost a century ended abruptly after 1918. In the words of Nigel Harris: “the world became fenced.” While Congress recruited academic experts to help it determine what peoples were acceptable and in what numbers, the Ku Klux Klan rose briefly to become a formidable force in northern urban politics, claiming to defend the country’s schools, government, and social conduct against the foreign Catholic menace.[44]

Militant affirmation of the country’s Anglo-Saxon character both antedated and survived the meteoric rise and decline of the second Ku Klux Klan. Patriotic societies and flag-centered commemorations had sprouted up in the early 1890s, in reaction to labor’s Great Upheaval and also to the solicitation of immigrant votes by William McKinley and other eminent Republicans.[45] They flourished during and after World War I and survived to galvanize opponents of the New Deal.

The Immigration Act of 1924 authorized a board of scholars to determine the proportion of each European nationality, not among recent immigrants, but “in the national blood” by enumerating the “national and linguistic stocks” found in 1790. The purpose of the exercise, which enjoyed the imprimatur of the American Council of Learned Societies, was to preserve American institutions by “continuing the blood of the United States in its present mixture.” As Dr. Harry H. Laughlin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington testified in 1928, “The preservation of national institutions depends principally upon the conservation of the race which builds them.”[46]

The bizarre scholarly effort of the Quota Board to trace the nation’s bloodlines enjoyed ardent support within the faculties of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton universities, but it generated such angry quarrels among filiopietistic societies of British, Scandinavian, and German ancestry over who got here first as to jeopardize the prospects of Republican candidates for Congress, inducing President Calvin Coolidge and candidate Herbert Hoover to back away from legislating quotas and to place future control of immigration in the hands of the executive branch. The fierce identity politics of the 1920s also inspired leaders of ethnic groups ranked as undesirable by Congress to denounce the Anglo-Saxon bias of history textbooks and to demand in vain the inclusion of illustrious figures from their own nationalities in the pantheon of American history. Although a handful of midwestern historians, including George M. Stephenson, Theodore Blegen, and Carl Wittke, laid the foundations of scholarly study of immigration history, they were studiously ignored by the leading authorities of our profession.[47]

By the mid-1930s, however, the escalating influence of the urban working class in industrial and political life placed the discursive link between constitutional government and the “national blood” under siege. Between 1930 and 1934 the United States, under both Republican and Democratic administrations (despite their important differences), responded to the depression with much the same turn toward autarky as was evident elsewhere in the world: raising tariffs, leaving the gold standard, repatriating more than 365,000 Mexican immigrants, and deporting unprecedented numbers of Europeans, while several states restricted relief and public works employment to citizens. By the middle of the decade, however, important features of American political life differed remarkably from the national coalitions or open dictatorships prevalent in Europe. Party rivalries for office remained intense here, right-wing nationalism, however vigorous, was confined to the role of opposition, and official policy encouraged workers of all races in manufacturing and mining to unionize. The determination of Germany and Italy to redraw the map of Europe and Africa and of Japan to supplant European empires with a “new order in Greater East Asia,” cast a pall of impending war over the entire decade.[48]

Many species of right-wing nationalism continued to make themselves well heard. The abiding appeal of Anglo-Saxon hegemony was evident in the immense popularity of Kenneth L. Roberts’s novels deploring the American break with England in 1776. Far more virulent, but no less visible, was the rise of the German-American Bund and Italian, Croat, and Ukrainian fascist organizations, which espoused the national causes of their homelands while repudiating laissez-faire liberalism, and of the Christian Front, which solidified a vociferous anti-Semitic united front by 1938–1940. Nevertheless, a left-liberal alliance rooted in urban politics and the industrial union movement successfully reshaped the political agenda in Washington and in most industrial states and nurtured a rival form of popular patriotism that was linked to the causes of social reform at home and, as E. J. Hobsbawm has written, “emerged in the context of an international ideological civil war.” A 57 percent increase in the presidential electorate between 1924 and 1936 had been generated primarily by the coming of age of immigrants’ children and the naturalization of their parents. Voting patterns in the country’s urban industrial centers congealed more clearly along class lines than ever before in the country’s history. Amid the welter of what Michael Denning has aptly called “the competing populist rhetorics of the time,” the new voters and the new unions inspired an outpouring of literary and artistic creativity rooted in working-class struggles and championing worldwide resistance to fascism.[49]

New Deal supporters nurtured a conception of “American” more capacious than that which prevailed in the Ivy League, though cleansed of the subversive challenge expressed by the strikers of 1919. Earl Robinson’s “Ballad for Americans,” which became instantly famous when Paul Robeson sang it on network radio in November 1939, epitomized this new sense of nationality. After he had narrated the role of ordinary people in national triumphs from the Revolution to the defeat of slavery, Robeson responded to insistent demands from the chorus to tell who he was with a long list of men’s and women’s mundane occupations and concluding: “All of them. I am the et ceteras. And the and so forths that do the work.” That evoked the hostile response, “What are you trying to give us? Are you an American?” Robeson’s reply earned instant and lasting fame:

Am I an American? I’m just an Irish, Negro, Jewish, Italian, French, and English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Polish, Scotch, Hungarian, Litvak, Swedish, Finnish, Canadian, Greek and Turk, and Czech and double Czech American.[50]

Barbara D. Savage has enriched our understanding of the impact of immigrants on New Deal political and cultural life by studying network radio broadcasts promoted by the Roosevelt administration, such as the twenty-four-episode series Americans All, Immigrants All. As Savage wrote, “The show worked to fortify a sense of American patriotism among immigrants who for the first time heard the national government embracing and claiming them as valued and valuable citizens and attempting to erase the negative connotation attached to the word ‘immigrant.'” Scriptwriters who placed a story of immigrants’ toil, success, and contributions to the nation at the core of American patriotism borrowed heavily from labor movement rhetoric going back to the Civil War. Their image of America was a locus of battle—battle over belonging and battle over political and economic goals—not a set of established beliefs, rooted in the country’s historic “mixture of blood,” to which newcomers had to adapt.[51]

The New Deal’s capacious image of America, which linked patriotism to the cause of social reform, had been evoked by millions of new urban voters and by a militant labor movement committed to transforming industrial and political life. By the end of the 1940s, however, representatives of the new white urban voting blocs were committed primarily to preserving their earlier gains, legislative restraints and political purges had sharply curtailed the militancy and aspirations of the union movement and minimized its allure for reform-minded intellectuals, while both major parties made containment of Communism their major proclaimed objective. In that context the New Deal reinvention of America could be melded into the conservative conception of a glorious national legacy to be defended against a foreign menace, and it was.[52]

In fact, the Republican party had offered a preview of this Fortress America image at the party’s 1940 convention in Philadelphia. The first three days were devoted to patriotic prayers, pageants, and songs, dramatizing the legacy of 1776, which only a Republican victory at the polls could redeem from the Democrats’ effort to impose on the country a third term for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The president had, in the introductory words of Harold Stassen, hobbled industry “by bureaucratic interference and dreamy-eyed governmental delays at every turn while the army and navy plead in vain for the release of restrictions so they can speed up defense” and had exposed the United States to a “fifth column of traitors.” In that context there was even a place for an ecstatically received performance of the “Ballad for Americans” (to be sure, without Paul Robeson as soloist).[53]

Although the image of the United States as a “nation of nations” had been born of working people’s struggles for social reform, the conservative consensus embraced it as a way of denigrating any further efforts to expand the scope of social welfare legislation, economic planning, and organized labor’s influence. Moreover, even the writers of New Deal radio programs had declined to deal with the country’s history of racial oppression. By dint of vigorous efforts, African American intellectuals did succeed in including “The Negro” as a final show of the series Americans All, Immigrants All, but African Americans’ demand for inclusion had been met by squeezing their history into the mold of immigrant progress. In much the same way, the New Deal provided economic gains for all working people but left the edifice of segregation standing, not only in the South but also in northern cities controlled by the new urban political coalitions. Similarly, as Barbara Savage wrote, the bitter history of exclusion of, and discrimination against, Asian Americans “made a celebratory history a particularly dishonest, artificial, and flawed construction.” The enslavement of Africans had long been a fundamental feature of the economic and political order through which Europeans sought to fulfill their dreams, and even in the New Deal era, precious few people of European descent disputed the exclusion of Asians from our shores. But, as Ernest Renan wrote in 1882: “Forgetfulness and, I would say, even historical falsehoods are an essential factor in the formation of a nation, and so it is that the progress of historical studies is often a danger for the spirit of nationality.”[54]

That is why it has been incumbent upon us to pursue rigorous historical research and in the same spirit to act together to thwart any resurgence of racist exclusion in our own day and age. The struggles of migrants of every clime and complexion have transformed American life in every generation within limits set by that age. They remind us that capitalist economic development has relentlessly created social formations from which popular struggles have sprung and subsequently wiped those formations off the face of the earth, usually leaving the goals for which working people acted at best only partially realized, but never leaving society and politics unchanged. They also remind us that not everything about our present “global economy” is without precedent.

Our own small part in making history links us to this legacy of popular action in the recurrent reinvention of our nation. But as we historians investigate yesterday’s confrontations we must beware the traps laid by the myth of American success and innocence on one flank and by flag-waving celebration of causes with which we associate ourselves on the other. If our profession is to flourish in the present and help us all forge a better future, we must draw upon the contributions of all that rich variety of men and women that our country has known. Our collective investigation of America’s past must not only be characterized by careful attention to each other’s work but also be informed by honest, painstaking research and by conceptual frameworks that encompass and integrate struggle and change at the local, national, and global levels.


David Montgomery is Farnam Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. This article is an expanded version of the presidential address delivered to the convention of the Organization of American Historians in St. Louis on March 31, 2000.

I am deeply indebted to James R. Barrett, Barbara J. Fields, and John Higham for their comments on and criticisms of an earlier version.

1 “Justice Department Files Lawsuit against Adam’s Mark Hotel Chain,” press release, Dec. 16, 1999, United States v. hbe Corporation (M. D. Fla. 1999), http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/caselist.htm; Equal Employment Opportunities Commission v. hbe Corporation, 135 F. 3d 543 (8th Cir. 1998), section V B, point 38.

2 “Justice Department Settles Lawsuit against the Adam’s Mark Chain,” press release, March 21, 2000, http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2000/March/134cr.htm; David Montgomery, “We Met in St. Louis,” OAH Newsletter, 28 (May 2000), 1, 10.

3 Ray Allen Billington, “From Association to Organization: The OAH in the Bad Old Days,” Journal of American History, 65 (June 1978), 78–83; Thomas D. Clark, “Our Roots Flourished in the Valley,” ibid., 93–97; Howard K. Beale to Thomas D. Clark, Feb. 2, 1954 (in David Montgomery’s possession). I am extremely grateful to professors William Preston and Gerda Ray for bringing the articles to my attention and making Beale’s letter available to me. See also Howard K. Beale, “The Professional Historian: His Theory and His Practice,” Pacific Historical Review, 12 (Aug. 1953), 227–55. I am grateful to Professor John Higham for bringing this article to my attention.

4 C. Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History (1960; Baton Rouge, 1968), 209–10.

5 Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, Mass., 1998); Sylvia R. Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton, 1991); David B. Davis, “Significance of Excluding Slavery from the Old Northwest in 1787,” Indiana Magazine of History, 84 (March 1988), 75–89; Leon F. Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790–1860 (Chicago, 1961); Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, 1985); Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720–1840 (Cambridge, Mass., 1988); W. Jeffrey Bolster, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, Mass., 1997); David R. Roediger, Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London, 1991); Hobbes v. Fogg, 6 Watts 553 at 558 (1837).

6 James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789–1897 (10 vols., Washington, 1897), VII, 55–56.

7 Edwin L. Godkin, “Classes in Politics,” Nation, June 27, 1867, pp. 519–20; James Shepherd Pike, The Prostrate State: South Carolina Under Negro Government (New York, 1874). On Pike’s work, see Nancy Cohen, “Problem of Democracy in the Age of Capital: Reconstructing American Liberalism, 1865–1890” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1995), 150–57. This line of argument is central to the interpretation of the Bourbon Redeemers in C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge, 1951), and C. Vann Woodward, Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction (Garden City, 1956). See also Scott Reynolds Nelson, Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill, 1999), 163–82.

8 United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 555 (1876).

9 The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 22, 25 (1883).

10 J. Morgan Kousser, Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (Chapel Hill, 1999). Neither the courts nor Congress has ever overturned the 1883 Civil Rights decision, according to Jack M. Balkin, a professor of constitutional law at Yale University. The civil rights laws of the 1960s used the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution as their basis, taking advantage of the expansion of federal power to regulate economic activity that the Supreme Court had authorized in the 1930s. New York Times, May 17, 2000, p. A23.

11 Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill, 1996). For Carter G. Woodson’s statement, see Robin D. G. Kelley, “‘But a Local Phase of a World Problem’: Black History’s Global Vision, 1883–1950,” Journal of American History, 86 (Dec. 1999), 1049. C. Vann Woodward, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (New York, 1938). See also J. Morgan Kousser, Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South (New Haven, 1974); Neil R. McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow (Urbana, 1989); and Rayford W. Logan, Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877–1901 (New York, 1954). Works that dispute Woodward by emphasizing the continuity of segregation and of political leadership in the post–Civil War South include Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865–1890 (Urbana, 1980); and Jonathan M. Wiener, Social Origins of the New South: Alabama, 1860–1885 (Baton Rouge, 1978).

12 Kelley, “‘But a Local Phase of a World Problem,'” 1054; W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (1903; Greenwich, 1961), 23.

13 Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, trans. Sian Reynolds (3 vols., New York, 1984), III; C. L. R. James, Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York, 1963); Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York, 1985); Eugene D. Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism (New York, 1983).

14 Douglass C. North, Economic Growth of the United States, 1790–1860 (New York, 1966), 62–96, 189–213; Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston, 1974); William N. Parker, ed., Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, 1960); George Rogers Taylor, Transportation Revolution (New York, 1951). Internal slave trade figures are from Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 308, 344, 359.

15 Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 8.

16 Ibid., 103; James, Black Jacobins; Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, 1944); W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880 (New York, 1935).

17 For the classic formulation of this argument, see James, Black Jacobins, 392. On the St. Louis commune, see David T. Burbank, Reign of the Rabble: The St. Louis General Strike of 1877 (New York, 1966); Philip S. Foner, Great Labor Uprising of 1877 (New York, 1977), 157–87; and J. A. Dacus, Annals of the Great Strikes in the United States (Chicago, 1877), 352–405. Frank Thistlethwaite, “Migration from Europe Overseas in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” XI. Congrès international des sciences historiques: Rapports (Eleventh International Congress of Historical Sciences: Reports) (Stockholm, 1960), 32–60.

18 Berlin, Many Thousands Gone, 99–105. See also Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York, 1978); Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1974); Michael A. Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill, 1998); and Sterling Stuckey, Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America (New York, 1987). Cf. Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974). Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America (London, 1998).

19 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass., 1993); Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750 (New York, 1987), 201–53; Peter Linebaugh, A Dish with One Spoon: The American Experience of Slavery and the Commons in the Transformation of Three Officers of the English Crown into Freedom Fighters for the United Irish (Toledo, 1999).

20 Kelley, “‘But a Local Phase of a World Problem'”; David Walker, Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, To the Coloured Citizens of the World, But in particular, and very expressly, to Those of the United States of America, ed. Charles M. Wiltse (New York, 1965), 29, xiv.

21 Walker, Appeal, 57–58. Cf. Bayley Wyat, A Freedman’s Speech (Philadelphia, 1867), quoted in Eric Foner, Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (Baton Rouge, 1983), 56. For the argument that black writers did not link their history and hopes to the United States, see Kelley, “‘But a Local Phase of a World Problem,'” 1048.

22 Frey, Water from the Rock, 50–66, 108–205; Ira Berlin et al., eds., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, series 1, vol. I: The Destruction of Slavery (New York, 1985); Ira Berlin et al., Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War (New York, 1992).

23 Ira Berlin et al., eds., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, series 2: The Black Military Experience (New York, 1982), 155, 157.

24 John Higham, “From Process to Structure: Formulations of American Immigration History,” in American Immigrants and Their Generations: Studies and Commentaries on the Hansen Thesis after Fifty Years, ed. Peter Kivisto and Dag Blanck (Urbana, 1990); David Montgomery, “Nationalism, American Patriotism, and Class Consciousness among Immigrant Workers in the United States in the Epoch of World War I,” in “Struggle a Hard Battle”: Essays on Working-Class Immigrants, ed. Dirk Hoerder (DeKalb, 1986), 327–51; David Montgomery, “Empire, Race, and Working-Class Mobilizations,” in Racializing Class, Classifying Race: Labour and Difference in Britain, the USA, and Africa, ed. Peter Alexander and Rick Halpern (London, 1999), 1–31.

25 For examples of local studies that have encompassed national and international dimensions, see Iver Bernstein, New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York, 1990); Herbert G. Gutman, Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class, ed. Ira Berlin (New York, 1987); Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (New York, 1986); Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley, 1971); Karen Sawislak, Smoldering City: Chicagoans and the Great Fire, 1871–1874 (Chicago, 1995); and Julie Saville, The Work of Reconstruction: From Slave Labor to Wage Labor in South Carolina, 1860–1870 (New York, 1994).

26 E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (New York, 1990), 25, 29, 33; Susan Lee Johnson, Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush (New York, 2000).

27 Jean Baker, Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Ithaca, 1983); Tyler Gregory Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know-Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York, 1992); Daniel W. Howe, Political Culture of American Whigs (Chicago, 1979); R. Laurence Moore, “Bible Reading and Nonsectarian Schooling: The Failure of Religious Instruction in Nineteenth-Century Public Education,” Journal of American History, 86 (March 2000), 1581–99; David Montgomery, “The Shuttle and the Cross: Weavers and Artisans in the Kensington Riots of 1844,” Journal of Social History, 5 (Spring 1972), 411–46. For a lucid presentation of the Know-Nothing position, see Anna Ella Carroll, The Great American Battle; or, The Contest between Christianity and Political Romanism (New York, 1856). On the role of political parties in reinventing nationality and race, see Andrew Gyory, Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chapel Hill, 1998).

28 Edward McPherson, Political History of the United States of America during the Period of Reconstruction (Washington, 1875), 618–19; Gyory, Closing the Gate, 50–53; Naturalization Act of 1790, ch. 3, 1 Stat. 103 (1790). Although the best discussions of the naturalization act appear in writings on Asian Americans and white racism, congressional debates reveal that the primary concern of the authors of the law was to impede fraudulent or speedy naturalization by European immigrants. Postmodernist theories minimize conflicts and dialectical development within the dominant discourse; see, for example, an otherwise insightful work: Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass., 1998), 39–43.

29 Thistlethwaite, “Migration from Europe Overseas”; Donna Gabaccia, “The ‘Yellow Peril’ and the ‘Chinese of Europe’: Global Perspectives on Race and Labor, 1815–1930,” in Migration, Migration History, History: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives, ed. Jan Lucassen and Leo Lucassen (New York, 1997), 177–96; Rudolph J. Vecoli, “Foreword,” in Marie Hall Ets, Rosa: The Life of an Italian Immigrant (Minneapolis, 1970), viii. Similar calculations of return rates can be found in David Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865–1925 (New York, 1987), 74. Donna R. Gabaccia, “Is Everywhere Nowhere? Nomads, Nations, and the Immigrant Paradigm of United States History,” Journal of American History, 86 (Dec. 1999), 1132.

30 Kathleen Neils Conzen et al., “The Invention of Ethnicity: A Perspective from the U.S.A.,” Journal of American Ethnic History, 12 (Fall 1992), 5.

31 Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 71; David Northrup, Indentured Labor in the Age of Imperialism, 1834–1922 (New York, 1995), 8–9, 56–61, tables A.1 and A.2; Stanley L. Engerman, “Servants to Slaves to Servants: Contract Labour and European Expansion,” in Colonialism and Migration: Indentured Labour before and after Slavery, ed. P. C. Emmer (The Hague, 1986), 263–94; Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (London, 1974).

32 Chinese Exclusion Act of May 6, 1882, 22 Stat. 58 (1882); Nigel Harris, The New Untouchables: Immigration and the New World Worker (London, 1995), 6; Eleanor C. Nordyke, The Peopling of Hawaii (Honolulu, 1977); Sucheng Chan, ed., Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America. 1882–1943 (Philadelphia, 1991); Ronald T. Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York, 1990); Lucie Cheng and Edna Bonacich, eds., Labor Immigration under Capitalism: Asian Workers in the United States before World War II (Berkeley, 1984).

33 On transoceanic networks, see Michael Hanagan, “Labor History and the New Migration History: A Review Essay,” International Labor and Working-Class History, 54 (Fall 1998), 57–79; Donna R. Gabaccia, “Worker Internationalism and Italian Labor Migration, 1870–1919,” ibid., 45 (Spring 1994), 63–79; Alejandro Portes, ed., The Economic Sociology of Immigration: Essays on Networks, Ethnicity, and Entrepreneurship (New York, 1995); Monika Glettler, Pittsburg-Wien-Budapest: Programm und Praxis der Nationalitätenpolitik bei der Auswanderung der ungarischen Slowaken nach Amerika um 1900 (Pittsburgh-Vienna-Budapest: The program and practice of nationality policy concerning the emigration of Hungarian Slovaks to America around 1900) (Vienna, 1980); and Madeline Yuan-yin Hsu, “‘Living Abroad and Faring Well’: Migration and Transnationalism in Taishan County, Guandong, 1904–1939” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1996). On Irish exiles of 1798, see Victor R. Greene, American Immigrant Leaders, 1800–1910: Marginality and Identity (Baltimore, 1987), 21–29; and John Binns, Recollections of the Life of John Binns: Twenty-Nine Years in Europe and Fifty-Three in the United States (Philadelphia, 1854). On Germans, see Bruce Levine, The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War (Urbana, 1992); Walter D. Kamphoefner, “St. Louis Germans and the Republican Party, 1818–1860,” Mid-America, 57 (April 1975), 69–88; and Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854–1865 (Boston, 1955), 129–81.

34 Leon Fink, Workingmen’s Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics (Urbana, 1983); Peter A. Speek, The Singletax and the Labor Movement (Madison, 1917), 68; David Scobey, “Boycotting the Politics Factory: Labor Radicalism and the New York City Mayoral Election of 1884,” Radical History Review (no. 28–30, 1984), 280–326. Melvin G. Holli’s distinction between social reformers and structural reformers among Progressives is helpful in situating Henry George historically. Melvin G. Holli, The American Mayor: The Best and the Worst Big-City Leaders (University Park, 1999), 59–61.

35 Henry George, Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth. A Remedy (1885; New York, 1935); Henry George, Social Problems (London, 1931). On the prominence of women in the campaign, see Louis F. Post, The Prophet of San Francisco: Personal Memories and Interpretations of Henry George (New York, 1930), 73, 86.

36 Stephen Bell, Rebel, Priest, and Prophet: A Biography of Dr. Edward McGlynn (New York, 1937); Manuel S. “Jeff” Shanaberger, “Edward McGlynn: A Missionary Priest and His Social Gospel,” U.S. Catholic Historian, 13 (Summer 1995), 23–47. For Thomas J. Preston’s statement, see Speek, Singletax and the Labor Movement, 85. The argument that George’s program would hurt workers had been a central theme of Abram S. Hewitt’s campaign for mayor. See Henry George Jr., The Life of Henry George (New York, 1900), 473. José Martí, “El cisma de los Catolicos de New York” (The schism of the New York Catholics), in Martí y la Iglesia Catolica (Antologias Cubanas) (Martí and the Catholic church, Cuban anthologies) (Havana, n.d.), 31. My translation from the Spanish original: “Nada de lo que sucede hoy en los Estados Unidos es comparable en trascendencia e interés, a la lucha empeñada entre las autoridades de la Iglesia Católica y el pueblo católico de New York.”

37 Timothy Thomas Fortune, Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South (New York, 1884), 34–35, 174.

38 For the Land League’s statement, see Theodore W. Moody, Davitt and Irish Revolution, 1846–82 (New York, 1981), 289. See two editorials by Patrick Ford denouncing United States wars against the Sioux, Irish World, Sept. 23, 1876, p. 2. Robert J. Rosenbaum, Mexicano Resistance in the Southwest: “The Sacred Right of Self-Preservation” (Austin, 1981), 99–139. For Louis Riel’s poem expressing his hopes for Irish American support, see Thomas Flanagan, Louis “David” Riel: Prophet of the New World (Toronto, 1996), 114. After the failure of Riel’s 1885 insurrection, however, two Fenians to whom he had proposed joint armed action in 1878 declared to the press that they had laughed at his proposal. Ibid., 108. The Land League of Homestead, Pennsylvania, welcomed into its ranks the first Poles to work in the mill in 1882 according to Paul Krause, The Battle for Homestead 1880–1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel (Pittsburgh, 1992), 221–22. Arif Dirlik has insightfully called place consciousness the “radical other” of global capitalism; see Grace Lee Boggs, “A Question of Place,” Monthly Review, 52 (June 2000), 19.

39 On immigrants and municipal socialism, see Donald Pienkos, “Politics, Religion, and Change in Polish Milwaukee, 1900–1930,” in Politics and the Immigrant, ed. George E. Pozzetta (New York, 1991), 178–209; Sally M. Miller, Victor Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism, 1910–1920 (Westport, 1973); Cecelia F. Bucki, “The Pursuit of Political Power: Class, Ethnicity, and Municipal Politics in Interwar Bridgeport, 1915–1936” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1991); and Mary Cygan, “Political and Cultural Leadership in an Immigrant Community: Polish-American Socialism, 1880–1950” (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1989). On the less well studied immigrant participants in progressive Democratic and Republican urban politics, see Thomas M. Henderson, “Immigrant Politician: Salvatore Cotillo, Progressive Ethnic,” International Migration Review, 16 (Spring 1979), 81–102; A. William Hoglund, Finnish Immigrants in America, 1880–1920 (Madison, 1960), 114–18; Gwendolyn Mink, Old Labor and New Immigrants in American Political Development: Union, Party, and State, 1875–1920 (Ithaca, 1986), 226–27; Thomas Bell, Out of This Furnace (Pittsburgh, 1976), 187–90; and Thomas Kessner, Fiorello La Guardia and the Rise of Modern New York (New York, 1989).

40 P. K. Edwards, Strikes in the United States, 1881–1974 (New York, 1981), 12–29; Montgomery, Fall of the House of Labor, 320–464; David Montgomery, “New Tendencies in Union Struggles in Europe and the United States, 1916–1922,” in Work, Community, and Power: The Experience of Labor in Europe and America, 1900–1925, ed. James E. Cronin and Carmen Sirianni (Philadelphia, 1983), 88–116; Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism, 125–29; James R. Barrett, “Americanization from the Bottom Up: Immigration and the Remaking of the Working Class in the United States, 1880–1930,” Journal of American History, 79 (Dec. 1992), 996–1020; Ferdinando Fasce, Una famiglia a stelle e strisce: Grande Guerra e cultura d’impresa in America (A family under the stars and stripes: World War I and company culture in America) (Bologna, 1993); Gary Cross, A Quest for Time: The Reduction of Work in Britain and France, 1840–1940 (Berkeley, 1984), 129–49.

41 Montgomery, “Nationalism, American Patriotism, and Class Consciousness,” 327–51; James R. Barrett, Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicago’s Packinghouse Workers, 1894–1922 (Urbana, 1987), 188–239; David J. Goldberg, A Tale of Three Cities: Labor Organization and Protest in Paterson, Passaic, and Lawrence, 1916–1921 (New Brunswick, 1998); James Gray Pope, “Labor’s Constitution of Freedom,” Yale Law Journal, 106 (Jan. 1997), 941–1031; David A. Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southwestern West Virginia Miners, 1880–1922 (Urbana, 1981), 236–52.

42 Montgomery, “Nationalism, American Patriotism, and Class Consciousness”; Steve Fraser, Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor (New York, 1991), 114–45; Fasce, Una famiglia a stelle e strisce, 127–222; Elizabeth McKillen, Chicago Labor and the Quest for a Democratic Diplomacy, 1914–1924 (Ithaca, 1995).

43 Rose Santora and Grace Santora, statement concerning Wood Mill of the American Woolen Company, April 24, 1919, box 8, Anthony Capraro Papers (Immigration History Research Center, St. Paul, Minnesota).

44 Harris, New Untouchables, 86; John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (New York, 1963), 164–330; Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 (New York, 1967); Kathleen M. Blee, Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (Berkeley, 1991).

45 Stuart McConnell, “Reading the Flag: A Reconsideration of the Patriotic Cults of the 1890s,” in Bonds of Affection: Americans Define Their Patriotism, ed. John Bodnar (Princeton, 1996), 102–19.

46 U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, American History in Terms of Human Migration . . . Statement of Dr. Harry H. Laughlin, 70 Cong., 1 sess., March 7, 1928, p. 5; American Council of Learned Societies, “Report of the Committee on Linguistic and National Stocks in the Population of the United States,” in American Historical Association, Annual Report for the Year 1931 (3 vols., Washington, 1932), I, 103–441; Mae M. Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924,” Journal of American History, 86 (June 1999), 67–92. I am indebted to Martha Ophir for her Yale University senior essay: Martha Ophir, “Searching for Americanism: The National Origins Controversy, 1924–1949,” 1992 (in Montgomery’s possession).

47 Ophir, “Searching for Americanism”; Rudolph J. Vecoli, “‘Over the Years I Have Encountered the Hazards and Rewards That Await the Historian of Immigration’: George Malcolm Stephenson and the Swedish American Community,” in Migration och mångfald: Essäer om Kulturkontakt och Minoritetsfrågor, ed. Harald Runblom (Migration and diversity: Essays on cultural contact and minority questions) (Uppsala, 1999), 171–88. For a discussion of ethnic conflicts over history textbooks, see Jonathan Zimmerman, “‘Each “Race” Could Have Its Heroes Sung’: Ethnicity and the History Wars in the 1920s,” Journal of American History, 87 (June 2000), 92–111.

48 Eric J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 (New York, 1996), 85–141; Michael A. Bernstein, The Great Depression: Delayed Recovery and Economic Change in America, 1929–1939 (New York, 1987), 184–206; Ellis W. Hawley, The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence (Princeton, 1966); Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (Albuquerque, 1995); Camille Guerin-Gonzales, Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900–1939 (New Brunswick, 1994), 78–109; Holly Marie Allen, “Fallen Women and Forgotten Men: Gendered Conceptions of Community, Home, and Nation, 1932–1945” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1997), 183; David Montgomery, “Labor and the Political Leadership of New Deal America,” International Review of Social History, 39 (Dec. 1994), 335–60.

49 Kenneth L. Roberts, Oliver Wiswell (New York, 1940); Warren I. Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984), 161–71; Warren I. Susman, “The Thirties,” in The Development of an American Culture, ed. Stanley Coben and Lorman Ratner (Englewood Cliffs, 1970), 179–218; Philip Jenkins, Hoods and Shirts: The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania, 1925–1950 (Chapel Hill, 1997); Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism, 146; Richard Oestreicher, “Urban Working-Class Political Behavior and Theories of American Electoral Politics, 1870–1940,” Journal of American History, 74 (March 1988), 1257–86; Louis Adamic, My America, 1928–1938 (New York, 1938); Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1996), 126; Fraser, Labor Will Rule, 259–440.

50 Earl Robinson and John La Touche, “Ballad for Americans,” program notes for First Concert, University of Minnesota Artists Course, Season 1940–1941 (in Montgomery’s possession), 3–4; Martin Bauml Duberman, Paul Robeson (New York, 1988), 236–40. For an analysis of the “Ballad for Americans,” see Denning, Cultural Front, 128–29. Cf. Susman, Culture as History, 205.

51 Barbara D. Savage, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938–1948 (Chapel Hill, 1999), 58.

52 Samuel Lubell, The Future of American Politics (New York, 1965), 26–88; Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (New York, 1962), 13–38; Nelson Lichtenstein, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of the American Labor Movement (New York, 1995), 271–345; Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–60 (Urbana, 1996); Thomas J. Sugrue, “Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940–1964,” Journal of American History, 82 (Sept. 1995), 551–78.

53 Official Report of the Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Republican National Convention (Washington, 1940), 53–143. On Harold Stassen’s own 1938 election campaign, see Hyman Berman, “Political Antisemitism in Minnesota during the Great Depression,” Jewish Social Studies, 38 (Summer–Fall 1976), 247–64.

54 Savage, Broadcasting Freedom, 37–45, 32. For perceptive studies of Chinese American struggles to share in the New Deal, see Renqiu Yu, To Save China, to Save Ourselves: The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York (Philadelphia, 1993); and Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (Berkeley, 1995), 178–222. Cf. Lon Kurashige, “The Problem of Biculturalism: Japanese American Identity and Festival before World War II,” Journal of American History, 86 (March 2000), 1632–54. Ernest Renan, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation? (What is a nation?) (Paris, 1882), 7–8. My translation of “L’oubli et je dirai même l’erreur historique, sont un facteur de la formation d’une nation et c’est ainsi que le progrès des études historiques est souvent pour la nationalité un danger.”