University of Vermont: History Review vol. 6, December 1994

Boundaries of Restriction: The Dillingham Commission

By John M. Lund

In the early 1900s immigration increasingly came under the scrutiny of Progressive reformers. Progressives prided themselves on their applications of emerging social sciences and scientific management techniques, believing that through science, societa l ills could be cured. Adhering to the doctrine of pragmatism, which held that the meaning and truth of all concepts and phenomena were determined by their practical consequences, Progressives launched studies on pressing contemporary issues including tru sts, prostitution, and immigration. It fell to Vermont Republican Senator William Paul Dillingham to conduct the Progressive examination of the movement of people to American shores.

Dillingham achieved eminence as the leading Progressive-era legislative spokesman for restriction. While not an originator of new ideas, his habits of mind, holding rural ways of life, property ownership, literacy, and Anglo-Saxon Protestantism sacrosa nct, coalesced with the fear that immigration threatened to transform the republic into a non-Protestant nation of cities breeding disease, poverty, and crime. In the Senate, Dillingham spearheaded restriction as chairman of the Senate Committee on Immigr ation from 1903 and 1911 and chairman of the Dillingham Commission, a joint House-Senate Immigration Commission from 1907 to 1911. The commission's investigation--the most exhaustive study of immigration in American history--originated in response to call s to curtail immigration from Japan and southern and eastern Europe.

The sheer number of new arrivals generated demands for restriction. The total arriving in 1903, 857,046, surpassed all previous years and by 1905 the number of immigrants exceeded one million.[1] This upward spiral showed no signs of ending.[2] A flurr y of widely-read newspaper editorials, magazine articles, and books alerted readers to the perceived dangers of this influx. Anti-immigrant hyperbole, including Massachusetts Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge's "Efforts to Restrict Undesirable Immigrat ion," sociologist Guy Halifax's "The Immigrant Scourge," and Immigration Restriction League spokesman Prescott Hall's "Selection of Immigration," captivated the Progressive imagination by emphasizing the undesirability of southern and eastern Europeans.[3 ] Their arguments fueled the fear inherent in the demand for greater restriction and persuaded many to put aside the ideal of America as an asylum for the oppressed.

President Theodore Roosevelt, mindful of public opinion, responded in messages to Congress. Roosevelt declared in 1904 that only the "right kind" of immigrant could ensure the health of the nation and in 1905 expanded upon those remarks.[4] Here, he ap plied the rhetoric used to differentiate between "good" and "bad" trusts to the "right" and "wrong" sort of immigrant. The President implored Congress to limit the "wrong" type and to develop a method to induce immigrants to settle "the land and keep them out away from the congested tenement-house districts of the great cities." Roosevelt suggested funneling rural workers through inspection centers at principal European ports of debarkation. He advised against discriminating on the basis of national-origi n or religious beliefs, instructing both Houses to judge immigrants on the "individual quality of the individual man."[5] This call for action spurred Dillingham to propose amendments to the 1903 immigration act.

In February 1906, the Senate Committee on Immigration, chaired by Dillingham, voted to increase the head tax from two to five dollars and to restrict immigrants perceived as the cause of social problems. Amendments included the restriction of "unaccomp anied children under 17 years of age," women and girls deemed likely to become prostitutes, and the "physically defective."[6 ] Theories of hereditary mental deficiency advanced by psychologists and eugenicists found expression in the committee's proposal to bar "imbeciles" and the "feeble-minded."[7 ] Finally, and largely at Dillingham's insistence, an amendment called for a Division of Information, to be set up under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Immigration, to extol the virtues of rural living and induce immigrants to settle as farmers.[8]

In May Dillingham reported the bill on the Senate floor where support for restriction led to the inclusion of a literacy requirement denying entrance to immigrants over 16 "physically capable of reading but [who] could not read the English language or some other language."[9] To encourage an immigration of families, the literacy test exempted the wife, children under the age of 18, parents, and grandparents of an accepted immigrant. On May 23 the bill passed the Senate.

The House took up the bill in late June. Reflecting a less adamant restrictionist sentiment than the Senate, the House voted to lower the head tax from five to three dollars and exempt immigrants motivated by political or religious persecution from the literacy test.[10] In keeping with the Progressive penchant for investigative commissions to attack societal problems, another provision called for the creation of a commission to study immigration and find alternatives to literacy tests.[11]

A conference committee, chaired by Dillingham to reconcile the House and Senate versions, agreed to the list of undesirable classes, deleted the literacy test, compromised on a four-dollar head tax, and mandated steamship lines to provide increased per -capita passenger space. Of greater long-term significance, the conferees adopted the House amendment for a joint House-Senate investigative commission.[12] Pivotal to the immediate fate of the bill, however, was a provision providing for executive author ity to counter the "yellow menace" by barring Japanese laborers, a move in deference to anti-Japanese impulses that had flared in California. The press touted the provision as the "Coolie Measure" and dubbed the entire proposal the "Japanese Immigration B ill."[13]

Fervent anti-Japanese sentiment surrounded the conference bill when Dillingham reported it back to the Senate in February 1907. Zealous restrictionists among the Republican leadership, including Senators Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, John C. Spoon er of Wisconsin, William B. Allison of Iowa, and Lodge pressed for a reading without debate. When Democratic Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina asked Dillingham if he was "especially anxious" for immediate adoption, he responded that he would "pre fer to have action taken upon it," but when Spooner proposed suspending the rules by calling for an immediate vote, Dillingham dissented.[14]

Lodge was frustrated by Dillingham's action. On February 13, he wrote to his close friend Roosevelt, suggesting to the President,

I think if you could see Dillingham and urge the necessity of taking up the report the very first thing tomorrow and pressing it to a vote it would do good. He is absolutely all right but I want him to feel the necessity of immediate action on account of the Jap cause.[15]

The next day Dillingham, apparently responding to presidential pressure, moved for an immediate vote only to encounter strong objections. Tillman alleged that Dillingham and the conferees were attempting to alter American immigration policy "to suit th emselves and to the suit the special interest which seems to influence and control things here."[16] Faced with opposition, Dillingham set two days for the Senate to debate, after which the bill passed, 45 to 24, with 21 not voting.[17] Opposition in the House was overcome after a heated debate and on February 18 the bill passed 193 to 101.[18]

President Roosevelt signed the bill on February 20. On the same day, he utilized the authority granted to him by the act to approve the exclusion of Japanese immigrant laborers.[19] The provision providing for the commission stipulated that it consist of nine members; three Senators, three Congressmen, and three individuals to be appointed by the president.[20] The bi-partisan commission formed in the following weeks. By February 22, Republican Senators Dillingham, Lodge, and Democratic Senator Asbury C. Latimer of South Carolina, who was replaced in 1908 by Democratic Senator Leroy Percy of Mississippi, had been appointed.[21] Republican Representatives Benjamin F. Howell of New Jersey, William S. Bennett of New York and Democratic Representative John L. Burnett of Alabama were selected from the House. Roosevelt appointed Charles P. Neill from the Department of Labor, California Commissioner of Immigration William R. Wheeler, and political economy professor Jeremiah Jenks of Cornell University.[22]

Jenks brought vast experience to the commission. A Progressive academic "highly regarded" by Roosevelt, he had prepared the research agenda for the federal Industrial Commission and the War Department's examination of Asian economies.[23] The emphasis Jenks placed on the economic dimension of immigration shaped the design and organization of the commission's work. Ultimately, his involvement led him to write a college textbook entitled The Immigration Problem.[24]

The nine members convened in April 1907 in Washington, D.C., elected Dillingham chairman, and proceeded to select staff members. Dillingham, Lodge, and Howell appointed their personal secretaries.[25] Dillingham's appointee William W. Husband of Vermon t was to be chief secretary. An ardent restrictionist, Husband had worked since 1903 as Dillingham's personal secretary and secretary of the Senate Committee on Immigration[26] Dillingham relied on Husband's expertise at statistical analysis and knowledge of Progressive science and Husband advised Dillingham on potential methods of restriction.[27]

The commissioners considered two research plans. One proposed consolidating immigration data from 1820 to 1907 into a single format and holding public hearings to assess public opinion. The second, advanced by Jenks, would consolidate immigration stati stics and simultaneously collect economic and sociological data on how and where immigrants lived and worked. The commission adopted the latter proposal. Commissioners, social scientists, and a host of agents would conduct studies throughout Europe and th e United States.[28]

As chairman, Dillingham authorized the time and place of all commission meetings and all expenditures under $500. To oversee larger expenditures, he appointed a five member executive committee over which he presided. Dillingham also selected and served ex-officio on more than a dozen sub-committees that undertook the commission's investigations. In short, Dillingham exercised extensive authority over the direction and expenditures of the project.[29]

On May 18, three months after the commission's inception, Senators Dillingham and Latimer, the three House members, and Commissioner Wheeler set sail aboard the S.S. Canopic from Boston to Italy.[30] Their investigation of European immigration took on the trappings of a grand tour. Each commissioner was afforded a private stateroom and some traveled with their wives and families.[31] Secretaries, immigrant inspectors, and stenographers rounded out their entourage. On May 30, the party arrived in Naples , the major port of Italian debarkation.[32]

The first phase of research centered on recording the number of emigrants and collecting data on their personal characteristics at major ports in Italy and Sicily. In mid-June, the commission assembled in Rome where Dillingham delegated similar studies of immigration stations throughout Europe. Dillingham and Wheeler would investigate Austria-Hungary and Russia; Latimer and Burnett, Northern Italy, France, and Germany; Howell and Bennett, Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor, and the Balkan States. Later that su mmer, Dillingham authorized Howell to travel to England, Ireland and Scotland and other commissioners to Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In August the tour ended in London after which the commissioners sailed from Liverpool on the White Star Liner S. S. Cedric, arriving in New York in early September.[33] Although the S.S. Cedric carried immigrants the commissioners did not conduct research during the return voyage.[34]

Despite the considerable travel throughout northern and western Europe, the commission limited its analysis to emigrants from Italy, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Greece. This study of southern and eastern Europeans concluded that they migrated from "co untry districts, and smaller cities or villages, and [was] composed largely of peasantry and unskilled laboring classes."[35] The examination emphasized rates of illiteracy based on "the possibility that the literacy of immigrants may be an important fact or in the future immigration policy of the United States."[36] The commission also recorded the number of those who had returned from the United States and the ratio of unskilled workers among immigrants.

After the tour of Europe, the commission produced a directory of immigrant groups which utilized a system of racial classifications that minimized political definitions of nationality.[37] According to Dillingham, the directory based its division of im migrants by language, a practice initiated by the Bureau of Immigration in 1899.[38] Yet, the commission went beyond linguistic distinctions and incorporated the then-current theories of race advanced by social scientists by arranging "mankind into five g reat divisions" based upon "physical qualities such as color, hair, and shape of head" and "psychic" disposition.[39] These codifications were interpreted by the commission to denote that linguistic and cultural variations signified distinctive racial dif ferences between the people of northwestern Europe and those of southern and eastern Europe.

The directory expounded undesirable qualities of southern and eastern Europeans. Slavs possessed a fanaticism "in religion, carelessness as to the business virtues of punctuality and often honesty, [and were prone to] periods of besotted drunkenness [a nd] unexpected cruelty."[40] The classification of Jews emphasized facial characteristics to denote race, a propensity to live in cities, non-Aryan ancestry, and, incorporating the Shylock stereotype, "millions in wealth."[41] Sharp divisions divided sout hern and northern Italians. Southern Italians, depicted as illiterate, poverty stricken and dependent on charity, embodied "excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative, impracticable [qualities and had] little adaptability to highly organized society" while northerners were "patient, practical and ... capable of great progress in political and social organizations."[42] Nevertheless, Catholicism separated all Italians from Protestant America. In contrast, Scandinavians "the purest type"--99 percent Protestan t with the lowest rate of illiteracy--made "ideal farmers and ... Americanize more rapidly than other peoples."[43] Dillingham, who had selected Swedes over other nationalities to repopulate abandoned hill-town farms in Vermont as governor of the state fr om 1888 to 1890, declared that "the proportion of Scandinavian immigrants, who make admirable citizens, is lower than formerly."[44]

Two commission studies initiated in 1907 recast immigration statistics to emphasize racial typecastings over other categories.[45] One consolidated immigration figures from 1820 to 1899 stressing racial composition based on aggregate data of country of origin. The study compiled figures of the Commissioner General since 1899, assembling data on country of origin, sex, age, literacy, and occupation. The commission further divided each of these categories state and year.[46]

From these figures the commission observed a shift in country of origin and interpreted the change in terms of race. In 1895, 54.7 percent of arrivals came from northern and western Europe and 43.2 percent from southern and eastern Europe. These number s reversed in 1896 with 57 percent coming from southern and eastern Europe and 40 percent from northern Europe. By correlating rates of illiteracy with national-origin and race, the commission claimed the highest frequency among the Portuguese, 68.2 perce nt, and the lowest, 4 percent, among Scandinavians.[47]

The other statistical analysis charted the demographic growth of cities by analyzing the distribution and racial composition of immigrants in rural and urban areas from 1850 to 1900.[48] Using regional boundaries of the United States established by the 1900 census, the study also assembled information on the increases of foreign-born each decade as well as data on age, voting, citizenship, and literacy. The commission declared that prior to 1890 most immigrants had come from northern and western Europe and had settled the predominantly rural northern mid-west. Since 1890, a majority arrived from southern and eastern Europe and settled the urban northeastern seaboard. The number of incoming Russians and Poles increased during the decade 1890 to 1900 fro m the previous decade by 200,000 while Italians increased by 100,000. During the same decade, 1890 to 1900, the number of Irish immigrants decreased by 250,000, as did Germans by 100,000 and English by 70,000. The greatest numerical increase occurred betw een 1880 and 1890 when the foreign-born population increased by 2,569,617 and a majority, 66.3 percent, populated cities.[49] Attributing the rise of the American city during the Progressive-era to a "conspicuous gain of southern and eastern Europeans," t he study contended that 74.4 percent of Russians, 62.2 percent of Italians and 60 percent of Poles settled in urban areas.[50]

The last of the 1907 investigations probed the "white-slave traffic," a subject Dillingham viewed as "the most pitiful and most revolting phase of the immigration question."[51] An elaborate network of agents posing as "procurers, importers, and pimps" infiltrated prostitution rings in twelve cities. In these urban centers (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Butte, Denver, Buffalo, Boston, and New Orleans), agents investigated the means and methods of inducing i mmigrants to prostitution. Another study, conducted concurrently, scrutinized the operation of over one hundred philanthropic immigrant-aid societies, a haven for newcomers who failed to meet relatives or friends upon arrival, and concluded that many immi grant societies sent women and girls unknowingly to "disorderly houses." The data was interpreted as evidence that "missionaries, representatives, and managers of philanthropic institutions in large cities, whose business and duty it is to give moral prot ection to young women" could not shield female immigrants from prostitution.[52] Results of both investigations, revealing high numbers of prostitutes, were submitted by Dillingham to Congress in December 1909. In response, Congress passed the Mann Act in 1910, making the transportation of women for immoral purposes across state lines a federal crime.

A dizzying array of studies, launched in 1908, dwarfed those conducted in 1907. The most interesting involved anthropological research directed by Columbia University Professor Franz Boas, himself a German-Jewish immigrant. In March, Boas submitted a p roposal to confirm scientifically the existence of physical and mental deficiencies of recent immigrants. Promoting the new science of anthropology, he asserted:

Instead of the tall, blond northwestern type of European, masses of people belonging to the east, central, and south European types are pouring into our country; and the question has justly been raised, whether this change of physical type will influen ce the marvelous power of amalgamation that our nation has exhibited for so long ... the development of modern anthropological methods makes it perfectly feasible to give a definite answer.[53]

Appealing for an appropriation of $19,510, Boas received only $6,000 for the study.[54]

Boas investigated immigrant communities in New York City to ascertain physical changes between foreign-born southern and eastern Europeans and their American-born children and to determine the effect of America's urban environment on recent arrivals. E xaminations did not include rural areas or other climates. Boas alleged that the diameter and shape of the head of his subjects underwent "far-reaching changes due to the transfer of people from European to American soil." Differences appeared in "the eas t European Hebrew, who has a very round head, [which] becomes more long-headed; the south Italian, who in Italy has an exceedingly long head, [which] becomes more short-headed." These findings led Boas to declare, "I believe that this factor is of conside rable importance in the development of differences between urban and rural populations" and "that the fundamental traits of the mind, which are closely correlated with the physical condition of the body ... are the more subject to far-reaching changes." S outhern and eastern Europeans experienced a decline in mental abilities due to diminished head size, which Boas attributed to the malnutrition of poverty-stricken tenement districts of urban areas.[55]

Initiated in 1908, the most sweeping project undertaken probed urban immigrant industrial labor. The commission targeted twenty-three industrialized states for examination and scrutinized dozens of industries ranging from boot and shoe manufacturing to slaughtering and meat packing. Hundreds of agents armed with standardized questionnaires, the primary investigative tool, posed questions to immigrant workers, immigrant families, employers, and local officials.[56]

Agents distributed over a million questionnaires in two hundred industrial centers to determine the personal habits and living conditions of immigrants. Each form solicited responses to questions of race, literacy, age, sex, country of birth, number of children, ability to speak English, and marital status. Agents questioned urban laborers on their economic condition by asking for data on annual earnings, source of income, and amount paid in rent. To ascertain living conditions agents recorded the numb er of boarders or lodgers in immigrant households, size of apartments, size of households (broken down the number of persons per apartment, room, and sleeping room), ownership of homes, and the number of those returning to Europe. From these studies the c ommission concluded that urban immigrant labor consisted of southern and eastern Europeans whose low wages, propertylessness, and illiteracy contrasted with American standards and whose frequent returns to Europe indicated an unwillingness to Americanize.

The commission sought to document the culpability of southern and eastern Europeans for the Panic of 1907 and their accountability "for many of the social and political problems" by distributed different forms to employers and local officials. Here, qu estions ranged from race of employees, the number of immigrants employed, the number of native whites employed, characteristics of recent immigrants and the "effect of competition of recent immigrants upon native Americans and older immigrant employees."[ 57] The responses invariably depicted southern and eastern Europeans as unskilled industrial workers who brought down wages, crowded out both native whites and northern and western European immigrants, and triggered economic crises.

The studies of industries revealed the existence of numerous immigrant-run banks where immigrant laborers deposited their earnings and conducted transactions between Europe and America. After examining one hundred of these "nondescript, unchartered ins titutions, owned and operated by immigrants," the commission charged that they existed only "where immigrants from southern and eastern Europe are gathered in any significant numbers."[58] Focusing on the race of bankers, the study claimed that after exam ining 147 institutions, 47 were controlled by Italians and 15 by Jews.[59] The commission reasoned that "racial ties," ignorance, and illiteracy caused immigrants to patronize these institutions. The study assailed the banks for siphoning large amounts of money from the nation and contended that in 1907 a total of $141,047,381.92 had been sent to Europe.[60]

Analysis of the impact of immigration on industry extended beyond the eastern United States and a substantial investigation focused on industries in Hawaii, the Pacific Coast, and the Rocky Mountain states. In these areas, the commission viewed immigra tion as less of a problem because of the absence of large numbers of southern and eastern Europeans, who formed only 2.6 percent of the population, and because of the exclusion of Asians already in force.[61] Therefore, inquiries centered on the impact of earlier Japanese, Korean, and East Indian immigrants on railroads in the western states and the sugar industry in Hawaii. Investigations focusing on agriculture sought to verify the popular perception that only immigrants from northern and western Europe became rural, independent freeholders. To corroborate this view, the commission cited 1900 census data asserting that a majority of northern Europeans had taken up farming and that this disqualified them from study. The limited examination collected data on "races which come from southern and eastern Europe and the Japanese." Canvassing areas practically devoid of these immigrant groups led the commission to contend that they constituted "nonagricultural races."[62]

A study conducted in 1908 examined the living conditions of immigrants residing in tenement-districts of eastern cities. Proceeding on the assumption that the "congestion of immigrants in large cities has been ... one of the most unfavorable features o f modern immigration," the commission investigated the slums of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Milwaukee.[63] Again relying on questionnaires, the inquiry reached into 10,206 households where agents interviewed 51,006 ind ividuals. From the responses the commission extracted several general conclusions. Southern and eastern Europeans constituted the largest "race in congested districts." Forty-eight out of every one hundred immigrants had arrived within the past ten years while twenty-one out of one hundred arrived within five years. Poverty and decadence in cities resulted from the inexperience of recent arrivals with urban conditions. Low rates of property ownership further exacerbated the differences between urban and r ural life. In New York City, the most crowded urban area in the nation, only one family out of two hundred owned a home while an average of twenty-six out of every one hundred households rented space to others.[64]

To analyze assimilation of immigrant children in cities, a survey conducted during the 1908-1909 school year canvassed over two million students, teachers, and parents. The commission divided these studies between public and parochial schools as well a s grade-schools, high-schools, colleges, and universities. Grade-school and high-school students responded to questions of race, gender, sex, and age. Teachers supplied their race, the grade they taught, their place of birth, sex, the number of years in r esidence if foreign-born, and years in teaching. Reflecting the Anglo-Saxon and Victorian ideal of the family, the survey also questioned teachers on the country of birth of their fathers, the race of their fathers, and directed that "all fathers born in the United States are classified as white, Negro, Indian, Chinese, Hindu, Japanese or Korean." In the fall of 1908, similar surveys polled students at eighty-five colleges and universities.

Between January and February of 1909 so-called "intensive studies" focused on grade-school students "as an effort to ascertain some of the causes of retardation or backwardness and the relation to the races."[65] The investigation involved nine impover ished urban areas. In each of these locations, in the cities of Baltimore, Bay City, Boston, Buffalo, Cedar Rapids, Chelsea, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, agents recorded the regularity of student attendance and class standing. Defining retardation as being behind in class and studies, the study claimed the highest rates existed among Polish Hebrews, at 66.9 percent, followed by South Italians at 63.6 percent. Not surprisingly, the commission asserted that northern and western Europeans, particularl y British students, had the lowest proportion of retardation as defined by the commission.[66]

Another research project explored the correlation between immigration and crime. The inquiry combined census information from 1900 and data from 2,206 convictions by the New York City criminal court session from October 1908 to June 1909. The figures i ndicated an increase in crime, especially incidents of personal violence and infractions against public policy, defined as "disorderly conduct, drunkenness, vagrancy, violation of corporate ordinances and many offenses incident to city life." Furthermore, the commission imputed "that immigration has somewhat increased offenses against chastity." Though the study found the "determination of racial influences almost impossible," the commission nonetheless attributed higher crime rates to southern and easter n Europeans.[67] Several studies analyzing violations of existing immigration laws recorded rates of infractions against statutes barring "alien seamen and stowaways," "contract labor and induced and assisted immigration," and "the Greek padrone system in the United States." Most violators were identified as southern and eastern Europeans.[68]

In December 1908, the commission circulated questionnaires to charity societies in forty-three cities to determine the amount of aid given to immigrants. Each form posed questions of race, citizenship, ability to speak English, and "political condition " to immigrants seeking charity. When data revealed large numbers of northern and western Europeans seeking aid "the slips were returned to societies for further information or for corrections." By compiling data from the corrected questionnaires and cens us information on charity from the years 1850 to 1908, the commission identified southern and eastern European immigrants as the largest group receiving charity.[69]

Dillingham's attention to the mentally unfit, illustrated by his long-standing support for a Vermont state asylum, led to a study of immigrants and insanity.[70] The inquiry gathered information on insanity among immigrants from 1890 to 1909 by referen cing census data and records of asylums in New York City such as Bellevue Hospital. The highest rates existed among Irish and Germans, yet, the commission dismissed them "owing to the character of the institutions and the small number of persons considere d" and judged that "these data, of course, are of little or no importance."[71] Continuing the effort to identify undesirable individual qualities of southern and eastern Europeans, the commission therefore speculated that "Italians commonly try to keep t he insane in their homes," and that madness was more prevalent in civilized countries than among the "more backward races."[72]

Other projects examined the occupational mobility of immigrant laborers, immigrant birth rates, and steerage conditions. Southern and eastern Europeans constituted a higher proportion of industrial laborers over successive generations than native white s, a circumstance that was "more pronounced in the city than in the country."[73] The sociological probe of birth rates among urbandwelling immigrants and rural Americans, a project facilitated by data gathered in the census of 1900, declared the highest rates existed among first-generation Poles and the lowest among English. The research led to the assessment that "the percentage of woman bearing no children is much higher among native white."[74] The investigation of steerage conditions aboard trans-Atl antic steamers alleged that steamship captains allowed overcrowding which reduced the health and safety of passengers.[75]

In 1909, Congress redirected the proceeds of the head tax, the source of the commission's appropriations, to the Treasury Department and instructed the commission to submit its findings to Congress by March 1, 1910. By January 1910, after a total expen se of $783,000, the bulk of the commission's data had not yet been compiled.[76] At Dillingham's request, Congress appropriated an additional $125,000, extending the project for another year.[77]

Ultimately, the commission's studies, printed in 1911 and raising the cost to nearly one million dollars, filled forty-two volumes of Senate reports. A final volume, an index, was never printed. Thirty-six of the volumes contained detailed statistical and sociological material. Two volumes of abstracts selectively highlighted negative individual characteristics attributed to southern and eastern Europeans. The remaining volumes provided a history of immigration legislation, statements of organizations and societies involved in immigration, and a survey of the approach of other nations to immigration.

On December 1, 1910, while other commissioners convened in Washington, Dillingham appeared before the North American Civic League for Immigrants in Boston to advocate restriction of southern and eastern European immigrants and to assimilate those alrea dy in the country.[78] Citing the commission's findings, he appealed for greater efforts towards Americanizing immigrants to fit the rural ideal. "All these immigrants need help. They need to be interested in American institutions, and it can only be done through a society of this nature, and by the cooperation of churches, societies, and individuals by team work."[79]

The next day Dillingham returned to Washington, where he and the other commissioners drafted final statements. Finally, on January 24, 1911, nearly four years after the commission's inception, Dillingham submitted conclusions providing scientific, stat istical, and economic confirmation that rural Anglo-Saxon America was threatened by hordes of new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe who populated teeming cities.[80]

The commission identified 1882 as a watershed year when southern and eastern Europeans began arriving in large numbers. More importantly, this year signified the beginning of unprecedented numbers of immigrants incompatible with the American way of lif e. To emphasize this change, the commission advanced the idea that recent arrivals from southern and eastern Europe constituted a "new immigration" while those from northern and western Europe, the Anglo-Saxon stock, composed an "old immigration."[81]

The commission stressed the lack of property ownership among new immigrants, fearing a large and growing urban proletariat constituted the greatest threat to the nation. Guided by Dillingham's beliefs, the conclusions declared that the "old immigration ... was essentially one of permanent settlers".[82] Juxtaposed to them, the propertyless, charity-seeking new arrivals threatened to unravel and transform American civilization. The commission pointed to its studies indicating that at least 40 percent of the "new immigration" consisted of transients, "birds of passage," who returned to Europe and had no intention of becoming American citizens. The commission found their rate of transience to be "sufficiently common to warrant referring to it as a charact eristic of them as a class." Furthermore, "economic necessity" had not motivated southern and eastern Europeans to emigrate; their migration had been artificially induced by steamship company "propaganda."[83]

The conclusions alleged that the most acute social and economic problems of the early twentieth century resulted from the "new immigration." Data at variance with this thesis, including figures on insanity and charity, were explained away or omitted. R ates of disease and criminality were higher among Italians. Immigrant banks drained money from the nation. A majority of the new arrivals, 75 percent, were unskilled single males contributing to propertylessness and urban blight. Nearly 35 percent were il literate. In contrast, illiterates formed 3 percent of the "old immigration." New immigrants were forming a burgeoning, uneducated proletariat. In 1910 over 2.5 million immigrants who could legally become citizens had taken no steps to do so. The new immi grant, the commission surmised, could not be assimilated, lowered the American standard of living and diluted the Anglo-Saxon stock. In short, the new immigrant demonstrated an irreversible inferiority.[84]

The conclusions informed the recommendations of the commission. With only Bennett dissenting, the commission advocated that the United States restrict the entry of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe while keeping the gates of the country open to northern and western Europeans. Congress should appropriate adequate funding to enforce existing laws including the exclusion of Asians, enact legislation to discourage sending money abroad, and establish statutes to secure rural immigrant settlements. Dillingham personally advocated laws to attract agricultural laborers.[85]

The final report echoed previously advocated forms of restriction. Authenticated by Progressive science and justified "by economic, moral, and social considerations," literacy tests headed the commission's list of solutions to the "immigration question ."[86] The second recommendation, quotas, proposed to limit "the number of each race arriving each year to a certain percentage."[87] Other recommendations, which had previously been advocated by Dillingham, included barring unskilled workers without wive s, increasing entry fees, and designing a head tax which would favor men with families.

The Dillingham Commission reports constituted the most extensive study of American immigration ever attempted and the apogee of Progressive-era scientific investigations. A composite of the distinctive American mixture of nativism, the commission unite d the racist sentiment inherent in Jim Crow and The White Man's Burden and linked them to anti-immigrant impulses. The commission glorified the immigration of the early nineteenth century, perceiving northern and western Europeans as the great tide of Ang lo-Saxons who formed the backbone of rural America.

Consumed by xenophobia in the wake of the commission's findings, Dillingham introduced numerous bills calling for sweeping immigration restrictions in the following sessions of Congress. In keeping with Dillingham's fear that immigrant illiteracy was a contagion that menaced the nation, the first measure he introduced, in January 1912, called for literacy tests as well as increased federal authority to exclude and deport undesirables. While Congress passed an amended version of the measure, President T aft vetoed it and the House failed to override the veto.[88]

Undeterred by the defeat of his literacy test, Dillingham reverted to the second recommendation of the commission, national-origin quotas. Introduced in June 1913, Dillingham's proposal, the first of its kind in American history, called for limiting im migration to 10 percent of the number of nationalities in residence according to the 1910 census. While the quotas encouraged the immigration of northern and western Europeans, Dillingham predicted that the numbers arriving from southern and eastern Europ e would be checked. No action was taken on the bill.[89]

While numbers arriving at American shores sharply declined during the First World War Dillingham continued to spearhead the drive to enact literacy tests. Although President Wilson vetoed a 1915 literacy test bill that Dillingham sponsored, his efforts garnered widespread support as the nation focused on the war effort and Anglo-Saxon attitudes and mores were regarded as evidence of patriotism. One hundred percent Americanism became the rallying cry and hyphenated Americans became increasingly suspect. Differing immigrant customs, languages, and appearances stood out as the epitome of un-Americanism and a threat to national security. In January 1917, Dillingham shepherded a House bill calling for literacy tests successfully through the Senate. Again, W ilson vetoed the measure. Now, however, the super-patriotism of aroused by the war propelled sentiment in favor of the test and Congress overrode the veto.[90]

After the war, anti-German hysteria was redirected against the Soviet Union and the anti-Red campaign of 1919 and 1920, generated by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, aggressively sought to remove the "alien radical."[91] Illustrating the climate of in tolerance, Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer's raids on immigrant communities led to the deportation of thousands suspected of radicalism. In the early 1920s, with Dillingham now in his twilight years, debates over immigration restriction renewed as many p erceived that literacy tests failed to sufficiently limit southern and eastern Europeans, the carriers of the contagion of radicalism. Moreover, fears that an urban nation was rapidly supplanting an agrarian republic were confirmed by the 1920 census indi cating that for the first time in American history greater numbers lived in cities than in rural areas.[92]

In December 1920, Dillingham rejuvenated his proposal for national-origin quotas by introducing a bill to limit immigration to 3 percent of the number of each nationality in residence in 1910. Dillingham presented his bill as a temporary one year measu re to curtail the resumption of immigration to pre-war levels and to avert the possibility of an oversupply of labor to America's post-war depressed industries. Indeed, the possibility of a return to pre-war numbers led Dillingham to assert that an immigr ation emergency "was now at hand."[93] In May 1921, Dillingham's quotas passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress.[94]

While a triumph for Dillingham and American nativists, the quotas reversed American immigration policy. America no longer welcomed "huddled masses yearning to breath free."[95] Instead Progressive-era concepts of race expounded in the Dillingham Commis sion's contention that national-origin predetermined the ability to assimilate, had been incorporated into law. Dillingham lived to see the renewal of his system of quotas in 1922. After his death in 1923, quotas reduced to 2 percent of the nationality re sident in 1890. Dillingham sowed a pattern of restriction based on the Immigration Commission's findings that took root as an American immigration policy that endured until 1968.



1) Statistical Abstracts of the United States (Washington, DC: GPO, 1908), 66-67.

2) The number per year continued to increase with 1,100,735 arriving in 1906 and an unprecedented 1,285,349 in 1907; 18,000 arrived within a twenty-four hour period on March 28. "U.S. Immigration and Customs Officials Overtaxed by Arrival of 18,000 Pas sengers in NYC in Past 24 Hrs," New York Times, 28 March 1907, p. 10, col. 4. In 1908 and 1909 immigration dropped significantly due to an industrial depression which began in March 1907. Statistical Abstracts of the United States (Washington, DC: GPO, 19 09).

3) Guy Raymond Halifax, "The Immigrant Scourge," Overland Monthly 63 (January 1904): 65-69; Prescott Hall, "Selection of Immigration," American Academy of Political and Social Science Annals 24 (1904): 169-184; Henry Cabot Lodge, "Efforts to Restrict U ndesirable Immigration," Century Magazine (January 1904): 466-469.

4) Cong. Rec., 58th Cong., 3rd Sess., 6 December 1904, 39, pt. 1, 17.

5) Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 3rd Sess., 5 December 1905, 40, pt. 1, 101.

6) Senate Committee on Immigration, Immigration of Aliens to the United States, 59th Cong., 1st Sess., 1906, S. Rept. 2186, Serial 4905, 4.

7) The Progressive psychologist Henry Herbert Goddard was the leading expert on feeble-mindedness and in 1906 headed the New Jersey Home for Education and Care of Feeble-Minded Children. See Henry Herbert Goddard, The Kallikak Family: A Study in the He redity of Feeble-Mindedness (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912); see also his Feeble-Mindedness, Its Causes and Consequences (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914).

8) Senate Committee on Immigration, Immigration of Aliens to the United States, 59th Cong., 1st Sess., 1906, S. Rept. 2186, Serial 4906, 10.

9)Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 1st Sess., 23 May 1906, 40, pt. 8, 7298.

10)Opposition in the House was led by New York City Congressman Lucuis Littauer. The proposal to exempt those suffering religious and political persecution was referred to as the Littauer amendment. Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 2nd Sess., 25 June 1906, 40, pt. 10, 9164.

11) Republican Representative Charles Henry Grosvenor of Ohio introduced the amendment for a commission. Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 1st Sess., 25 June 1906, 40, pt. 10, 9166. Literacy tests were the primary method advocated by restrictionists. Maldwyn All en Jones, American Immigration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 260. Two other federal investigations of immigration were conducted in 1891 and 1892. Oscar Handlin, Race and Nationality in American Life (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1948), 98.

12) Roosevelt favored the creation of an immigration commission. "I would want a commission which would enable me--in all probability not until my successor has been elected--to put before the Congress a plan which would amount to a definite solution o f this immigration business." Roosevelt to Joseph Gurney Cannon, 12 January 1907, in Elting E. Morison, ed., The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt Vol. 5 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 550.

13) On October 11, 1906, the San Francisco school board passed a resolution segregating all Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans into an Oriental public school, an action that caused a storm of protest by the Japanese. New York Times, 12 October 1906-24 Febr uary 1907.

14) Dillingham had the bill printed in the Congressional Record. Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 2nd Sess., 13 February 1907, 41, pt. 4, 2809.

15) Henry Cabot Lodge, ed.,Selections From the Correspondence of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge 1884-1918 (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1925), 274.

16) Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 2nd Sess., 14 February 1907, 41, pt. 3, 2941.

17) Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 2nd Sess., 16 February 1907, 41, pt. 4, 3099.

18) Cong. Rec., 59th Cong., 2nd Sess., 18 February 1907, 41, pt. 4, 3220-32.

19) The bill allowed Roosevelt to formalize the Gentleman's Agreement with Japan in 1907-1908 whereby the Japanese voluntarily limited issuing passports to workers. Students, travelers and businessmen were exempted.

20) Statutes at Large 34 (1907): 909.

21) Senator Latimer replaced Democratic Senator Anselm McLaurin of Mississippi after he declined the appointment in March of 1907. Senator Latimer died in 1908.

22) For reference to the Roosevelt appointees see Barbara Miller Solomon, Ancestors and Immigrants: A Changing New England Tradition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), 197-198. For an account of commissioner Neill see John Lombardi, Labor's V oice in the Cabinet: A History of the Department of Labor From Its Origin to 1921 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), 117, 167.

23) Solomon, 198; Handlin, 101; see also Henry Pratt Fairchild, "The Literacy Test and Its Making," Quarterly Journal of Economics 17 (May 1917): 447; Rowland T. Berthoff, "Southern Attitudes Toward Immigration," Journal of Southern History 17 (August 1951): 352.

24) Jeremiah W. Jenks and W. Jett Lauck, The Immigration Problem (New York: Hill and Wang, 1912).

25) Lodge appointed Morton E. Crane of Massachusetts, an outspoken restrictionist, as secretary and disbursing officer. Howell's secretary, C.S. Atkinson of New Jersey, was appointed clerk for the House. Fred C. Croxton of the United States Bureau of L abor was elected chief statistician. "Minutes of the Immigration Commission," 1907, vol. 2, William Walter Husband Collection, Chicago Historical Society, 5-7.

26) Catherine Cate Coblentz, "William Walter Husband: Second Assistant Secretary of Labor," The Vermonter 30, no. 7 (1925): 93-94.

27) Husband was a member of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, American Statistical Association, and the American Economic Association. Prentiss Cutler Dodge, Encyclopedia, Vermont Biography (Burlington Ullery Publishing Co., 1912), 241.

28) Staff members worked in Washington combining statistical material with new data collected from the studies. "Minutes of the Meetings of the Immigration Commission," 1907, 1-5. The nature of the studies closely followed the subjects in Prescott F. H all's Immigration and Its Effects Upon the United States (New York: Henry Holt, 1906).

29) "Minutes of the Immigration Commission," 1907, 18-21.

30) The tour of Europe was conceived during the first meetings of the commission. William Paul Dillingham, letter to I.D. Dana, 7 May 1907, William P. Dillingham Papers, Special Collections, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont.

31) "Minutes of the Immigration Commission," 1907, 12; see also "5 Members of the U.S. Immigration Commission Discuss Findings Gathered on Europe and Asia Minor Tour," New York Times, 7 September 1907, p. 11, col. 7.

32) Immigration Commission, Emigration Conditions in Europe (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 3. At Naples they were greeted by King Emmanuel. New York Times, 7 September 1907, p. 11, col. 7.

33) Immigration Commission, Emigration Conditions, 6.

34) New York Times, 7 September 1907, 11:7.

35) Immigration Commission, Emigration Conditions, 21.

36) Immigration Commission,Emigration Conditions, 31.

37) Immigration Commission Dictionary of Race and Peoples (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 3.

38) "Minutes of the Immigration Commission," 1907, 55. Prior to 1899, the Bureau of Immigration had listed immigrants on the basis of country of birth. After that year the Bureau used the following linguistic designations;

la) vic: Bohemian, Moravian, Bulgarian, Servian, Montenegrin, Croatian, Slovenian, Dalmatian, Bosnian, Herzegovinian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak.

be) ric:Greek, Italian (south) Portuguese, Spanish, Syrian.

eu) tonic:Dutch, Flemish, English, Finnish, German, Scandinavian.

el) tic:French, Irish, Italian (north), Scotch, Welsh.

th) ers:African (black), Armenian, Magyar, Turkish

39) Imigration Commission,Dictionary of Race and Peoples, 6, 82, 129; see also Mark H. Haller, Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1963).

40) Immigration Commission, Dictionary of Race and Peoples, 129.

41) Immigration Commission, Dictionary of Race and Peoples, 73-74.

42) Immigration Commission, Dictionary of Races and Peoples, 82-83.

43) Immigration Commission, Dictionary of Race and Peoples, 120.

44) "U.S. Senator Dillingham On Tour of Europe," New York Times, 13 August, 1907, p. 13, col. 5. For an account of Governor DillinghamÕs selection of Swedish immigrants, see A.B. Valentine, Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Manufactu ring Interests of the State of Vermont (Rutland: Tuttle Company, 1890); see also Vermont Senate Journal 1888-1890.

45) Immigration Commission, Statistical Review of Immigration to the United States 1820 to 1910 (Washington: GPO, 1911), 3. Immigration Commission, Distribution of Immigrants 1850-1900 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911). The commission referenced statistics from the Department of State from 1820 to 1874, the Bureau of Statistics from 1867 to 1895 and the Commissioner General of Immigration from 1895 to 1910.

46) For example, the number of Poles in Utah for the years 1899 to 1910 was 36. Statistical Review, 340. Occupations classified by race detailed numerous vocations including, for example, 13 Lithuanian bookbinders in Utah from 1899 to 1910. Statistical Review, 138.

47) Immigration Commission, Abstracts of Reports of the Immigration Commission (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 99.

48) Immigration Commission, Distribution of Immigrants 1850-1900, 409.

49) In 1900, cities were defined as areas with a population of 2,500 or more.

50) Immigration Commission, Distribution of Immigrants 1850-1900, 417-418, 420-426, 472.

51) Immigration Commission, Importation of Women for Immoral Purposes (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 57.

52) Immigration Commission, Immigrant Home and Aid Societies (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 210-322.

53) "Minutes of the Immigration Commission," 23 March 1908, Vol. 2, 36.

54) Dillingham consistently voted against this study. A majority of commissioners, however, approved and allocated funds for the study, demonstrating that the chairman did not have full control over the commission. "Minutes of the Immigration Commissio n," 8 May 1908, Vol. 2, 58. Boas was an early critic of race theory and "pointed out. . . that in an earlier period the Chinese or Egyptians could have argued that Anglo-Saxons" were inferior. Haller, 45; see also Alan M. Kraut, Silent Travelers: Germs, G enes, and the "Immigrant Menace (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 146.

55) Immigration Commission, Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 1-12; see also Kraut, 146.

56) Immigration Commission, Abstracts of the Reports of the Immigration Commission (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 285.

57) Immigration Commission, Abstracts of the Reports of the Immigration Commission, 288.

58) Immigration Commission, Immigrant Banks (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 11,13.

59) Immigration Commission, Immigrant Banks, 14.

60) Immigration Commission, Immigrant Banks, 23-24.

61) Immigration Commission, Japanese and Other Immigrant Races in the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain States (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 322.

62) Immigration Commission, Abstract of the Reports of the Immigration Commission , 3.

63) Immigration Commission, Immigrants in Cities: A Study of the Population of Selected Districts in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 3.

64) Immigrant Commission, Immigrants in Cities, 1-4.

65) Immigration Commission, Children of Immigrants in Schools (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 1-6.

66) Immigrant Commission, Children of Immigrants in Schools, 38-39.

67) Immigration Commission Immigration and Crime (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 1-7.

68) Immigrant Commission, Abstracts of Reports of the Immigration Commission, 350-469.

69) Immigration Commission, Immigrants as Charity Seekers (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 3-4.

70) See Vermont Senate Journal 1888-1890. Vermont had the highest per capita rate of insanity in the nation in 1850 and many attributed this condition to immigrants. See also T. D. Seymour Bassett, Urban Penetration of Rural Vermont, 1840-1880, vol. 2 (Ph.D. Diss., Harvard University, 1952), 357-60.

71) Immigration Commission, Immigrants and Insanity (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 239.

72) Immigration Commission, Immigrants and Insanity, 244, 251.

3I) mmigration Commission, Occupation of First and Second Generations of Immigrants in the United States (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 18.

74) Immigration Commission, Fecundity of Immigrant Women (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 737, 805, 810.

75) Immigration Commission, Steerage Conditions (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 1-6.

76) In January 1910, Dillingham reported to Congress that eighteen studies had been completed while the largest segment, those on industries, were the farthest from completion. Immigration Commission, Estimate of Appropriation for Continuing the Work o f Immigration Commission (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 2.

77) Immigration Commission, Estimate of Appropriation, 10.

78) Edward George Hartmann, The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), 88-91.

79) North American Civic League for Immigrants Annual Report 1910-1911, 25.

80) Handlin contends that these were submitted "within a half hour of the time when under the law, it must be filed" and points out that at the time they were submitted many reports had yet to be printed. Handlin, 100-101.

81) Immigration Commission, Brief Statement of the Conclusions and Recommendations of the Immigration Commission with Views of the Minority (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1911), 15.

82) Immigration Commission, Brief Statement, 16.

83) Immigration Commission, Brief Statement, 16.

84) Immigration Commission, Brief Statement, 15-35.

85) "Minutes of the Immigration Commission," vol. 2, 2 December 1910, 6.

86) Immigration Commission, Brief Statement, 48.

87) Immigration Commission, Brief Statement, 39. Historian John Higham writes that William Walter Husband "claimed to be the originator of the percentage idea." John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (New York: Athe neum, 1966), 393-394.

88) Cong. Rec., 62nd Cong., 3rd Sess., 19 February 1913, 49, pt. 4, 3429.

89) "U.S. Senator William Paul Dillingham Will Introduce Bill for Regulation of Immigration in U.S.," New York Times 2 June 1913, p. 2, col. 2; see also, "Plan of Sen. Dillingham, Statistics of Immigration," New York Times , 3 June 1913, p. 8, col. 4.

90) Henry Platt Fairchild, "The Literacy Test and Its Making," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 17 (May 1917): 459.

91) Edward George Hartmann, The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 216-217.

92) Cities were classified as centers with a population of 2,500 or more.

93) Senate Committee on Immigration, Emergency Immigration Legislation 67th Cong., 1st Sess., 1920, S. Rept. 17, Serial 17, 6.

94) In the Senate the measure passed 78 to 1 with 17 not voting and in the House by 216 to 33 with 120 not voting. Cong. Rec., 67th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 May 1921, 61, pt 1, 68, 1442-1443. Cong. Rec., 67th Cong., 1st Sess., 13 May 1921, 61, pt. 1, 1442-4 3.

95) Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus," The Poems of Emma Lazarus (New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1895), 202-203.

UVM History Review vol. 6, December 1994