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New Immigrants

In 1896, immigration had long been contentious in presidential politics. Before the Civil War, some native-born Americans feared Irish Catholic immigration would undermine democracy and Protestantism, and such fears still lurked (for example, some whites joined the American Protective Association in the 1890s). New anxieties arose about immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, including Italians, Poles, Hungarians, and Russian Jews. Most whites saw Asian immigrants as even more unassimilable, and far more racially different, than Europeans. Chinese immigration had been a hot-button issue in presidential campaigns of the 1880s; after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, renewed in 1892 and 1902, anti-Chinese agitation continued on the West Coast but to a lesser degree. Immigration was a minor issue in the Bryan-McKinley contest, but after 1900 nativist fears arose again, as thousands of immigrants packed the Eastern cities and as Japanese, along with Chinese, immigrants, arrived on the West Coast.

Critics blamed recent immigrants for causing crime, being "un-American" in their language, religion, and family lives, and for concentrating in cities where their votes were controlled by machines--a circumstance unavoidable for many immigrants who faced residential segregation and dire poverty. In the mainstream press, socialism, communism, and anarchism were widely depicted as "alien" political beliefs brought over from foreign soil. Labor organizers argued that large influxes of new workers undermined wages; indeed, industrialists and railroad magnates (such as Collis Huntington and Jay Gould) sought to import workers to de-stabilize unions and provide a large labor pool. Since business leaders tended to vote and contribute to the Republican party, Democrats tended to be more bitterly anti-immigration. The need to "Americanize" new arrivals became a goal for reformers in both parties after 1900.

The native white element of the population is 54.87 per cent, but it produces only 43.19 per cent of the white prisoners. The foreign white element... is only 32.93 per cent of the population, and yet it procuces 56.81 per cent of the white prisoners. ... How many of the murders committed by natives are due to the example and presence of the foreigners cannot be estimated, but it is doubtless no small proportion. —Sydney G. Fisher, Popular Science Monthly, in Public Opinion 1 October, 1896

In his speech at Chicago last night, Carl Schurz commended in highest terms the wisdom of the great civilized nations of Europe in adopting the gold standard and declared that "these nations have prospered." ... Mr. Schurz did not attempt to explain why it is, if the gold standard has made European countries prosperous, the poor of those countries have been seeking better homes where it was possible to rise from a state of abject poverty. America has been the haven of this large class until recent years, but now the gold standard has wrought its perfect work here, driving the boys from unprofitable farms to fill the ranks of the great army of the unemployed, which is constantly increased by immigrants from the "prosperous countries of civilized Europe." ... If Mr. Schurz has forgotten the cry of starvation that has been coming up from Ireland for 500 years; the distress of thousands in "Darkest England"; the half fed peasants in every gold standard country--if Mr. Schurz has forgotten the real conditions that confront the humble in "civilized Europe" the masses of immigrants have larger memories. They want no system perpetuated here that has driven them from their native land. —Raleigh News and Observer, 6 September 1896


The Tribune Almanac (New York Tribune, 1897)

  1. Italy: 68,060
  2. Russia: 45,137
  3. Ireland: 39,908
  4. Germany: 31,885
  5. Austria: 31,496
  6. Hungary: 30,898
  7. Sweden: 21,177
  8. England: 19,691
  9. Other countries: 8,888
  10. Norway: 8,855
  11. Finland: 6,308
  12. Cuba: 6,077
  13. Scotland: 3,468
  14. Portugal: 2,766
  15. Bohemia: 2,709
  16. Switzerland: 2,304
  17. Denmark: 3,167
  18. France: 2,463
  19. Netherlands: 1,583
  20. Wales: 1,570
  21. China: 1,445
  22. Belgium: 1,261
  23. Japan: 1,109
  24. Poland: 691
  25. Spain: 351

Total: 343,267


from an interview with Chinese-American voters in New York City, New York Journal, 4 October, 1896

China and America

Chinese for Bryan

Relations between the U.S. and China were strained by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1881, which halted most emigration from China. A Republican-led Congress had passed the bill, under heavy pressure from the party's West-Coast wing and from Democrats around the country, who argued that Chinese laborers undercut the wages of white men. The Exclusion Act allowed a few Chinese "merchants" to emigrate under special circumstances, and thus the issue did not completely go away. Labor advocates accused business leaders of seeking relaxations of the law, in order to recruit cheap labor for railroad construction and industry.

Chinese for Bryan


from New York Journal, 4 October, 1896

During the 1896 campaign, Chinese viceroy Li Hung Chang toured the United States. His trenchant comments on U.S. politics--and on Chinese exclusion--offered a counterpoint to the anti-Chinese cartoons printed in the campaign. The full text of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act is available on the Web from the background texts for the Public Broadcasting Series documentary, "The West."

There is no calamity more serious, more fatal to the welfare and happiness of almost the whole people, than a lowering of the atandard of comfort among the families of those who work with their hands. The efforts of all intelligent statesmen... have been directed to the elevation of that standard more than to any other object. 'The Chinamen lives a more simple life.' That is, he lives in a filthy, underground burrow to save rent; he lives on five cents a day or less, and he maintains no family. Therefore Li Hung Chang concluds 'the Irish hate the Chinese because they are the possessors of higher virtues.' ...The American people are not prepared to accept the doctrine that the nearer a man approaches a beaast of surden the higher his values." — San Francisco Examiner in Public Opinion, 17 September, 1896

What a cross-examiner Li Hung Chang would have made! He'll never know what he missed by not being born in America and graduated at the Harvard law school.—Boston Globe, 20 September 1896

Is it possible that the viceroy does not understand that the great pride of the American Nation is that it is a Nation of citizens, and that its immigrant is welcomed only so far as the newcomers partake of the sentimesnt and are found capable of appreciating what it means? The argument of Earl Li is in itself a strong plea in justification of the exculsion laws, for it is an exemplification of the very mainspring of those laws-- the fact that the Chinamen have no appreciation of the duties of American citizenship and care nothing for the privilege. —New Haven Palladium in Public Opinion, 17 September, 1896

In addition to declaring that 8 o'clock is late enough for evening dissipation, the Chinese viceroy thinks that no state dignitary is duty-bound to expose his person to inclement weather for the sake of carrying out a program. This heathen is giving our universal Yankee nation valuable points daily. —Boston Globe, 2 September 1896

Cartoons on this Site Concerning Immigration

  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud

On the Visit of Li Hung Chang

  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

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Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
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