It is difficult today to recapture the iconoclasm signaled by Oscar Handlin’s opening words to his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Uprooted more than fifty years ago: “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”
Congress passed a bill sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, with support from the Immigration Restriction League, requiring a literacy test for immigrants, though President Grover Cleveland later vetoed the bill in 1897.
President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed a Congressional bill restricting Chinese immigration on the basis that it violated the 1868 Burlingame Treaty, which provided for unrestricted Chinese immigration into the United States.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the nation’s first law to ban immigration by race or nationality. The act, which was renewed and enforced until 1943, banned Chinese immigration for ten years and prohibited Chinese from becoming citizens.