Tucker Carlson’s Cries about ImmigrantsRoundup
tags: immigration, Nativism, Tucker Carlson, Samuel Morse
Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University and the author of The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation and The Princeton Guide to Historical Research.
Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson gained notoriety for ranting recently that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate of voters now casting ballots with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.” “That’s not democracy,” he told his viewers. “It’s cheating.” As Frank Bruni of the New York Times noted, Carlson’s tirade “became its own news story, making him more of an actor in our national drama than a chronicler of it.”
We’ve been here before. Starting in the 1830s, amid a wave of Irish Catholic immigration, Protestant nativists — including newspaper editors, the pundits of their day — issued similar warnings. New citizens, they claimed, would blindly follow religious or political leaders, rather than casting ballots as properly independent thinkers. Their efforts did little to reduce immigration, especially once the Great Hunger forced more than 1 million people to leave Ireland for the United States to avoid starvation. But their xenophobia sparked deadly riots and political polarization, leaving a legacy of distrust that would take decades to heal.
The nation’s first great nativist troll was Samuel F.B. Morse. Best known for his invention of the magnetic telegraph, Morse spent much of the 1830s railing against Catholics. Although his political career ended in a dismal fourth-place showing in a New York City mayoral race, he helped inspire a nativist movement that stretched from Boston to New Orleans. As the economy slipped into a depression after 1837, native-born workers found it all the more appealing to blame immigrants for their problems.
Antebellum nativists repeated a few core arguments that will sound familiar to 21st-century readers. They disparaged immigrants as “foreign paupers, and the refuse population of Europe,” who would make the United States “the general alms house of Europe.” They warned that men hungry for work would drive down wages for the native-born. They accused Irish immigrants of violence, drunkenness and criminality.
In the most striking foreshadowing of Carlson’s tirade, nativists charged that newly naturalized citizens, even after five years’ residence, were incapable of independent thought and would resort to bloc voting. As a Philadelphia editor put it, “We find foreign citizens — or if they like the phrase better — adopted citizens, moving in a solid mass to the aid of this or that party, as their passions or their interests direct them, and alike courted by both.” Worse still, the nativists claimed, some unnaturalized immigrants voted illegally. They warned of “alarming inroads that have been made and that now threaten the foundation of our republican form of government, by the frequent and outrageous frauds committed at the various elections by foreigners, through the instrumentality of truckling and corrupt politicians with the ballot box.”
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