Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment or perpetuation of such individuals or their culture.
Nativism typically means opposition to immigration or efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and it is assumed that they cannot be assimilated. Opposition to immigration is common in many countries because of issues of national, cultural or religious identity. The phenomenon has been studied especially in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, as well as Europe in recent years. Thus nativism has become a general term for 'opposition to immigration' based on fears that the immigrants will distort or spoil existing cultural values. This may be expressed through criticism of multiculturalism.
In situations where the nativistic movement exists inside of dominant culture it tends to be associated with xenophobic and assimilationist projects. At the other end of the spectrum, in situations where immigrants greatly outnumber the original inhabitants or where contact forces economic and cultural change, nativistic movements can allow cultural survival. In Russia the Slavophiles and Pochvennichestvo movements. Among North American Indians important nativist movements include 1762 Neolin, 1808 Tenskwatawa, 1889 Wovoka and the broader renewal prophecy movements.
In scholarly studies "nativism" is a standard technical term. However, in public political discourse "nativist" is a term of opprobrium usually used by the opposition, and rarely by nativists themselves (they call themselves "patriots."). Anti-immigration is a more neutral term that may be used to characterize opponents of immigration.
In the United States, anti-immigration views have a long history. For a while Benjamin Franklin was hostile to Germans in colonial Pennsylvania. In 1798 the Alien and Sedition Acts limited the ability of immigrants, especially radicals from France and Ireland, to gain full political rights, and they became a major political issue in the 1800 election.
Nativism gained its name from the "Native American" parties. It impacted politics in mid-19th century United States because of the large inflows of immigrants from cultures that were markedly different from the existing American culture. Thus, nativists objected primarily to Irish Roman Catholics because of their loyalty to the Pope and also because of their supposed rejection of republicanism as an American ideal.
Nativist movements included the Know Nothing or American Party of the 1850s, the Immigration Restriction League of the 1890s, the anti-Asian movements in the West, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the "Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907" by which Japan's government stopped emigration to the U.S. Labor unions were strong supporters of Chinese exclusion and limits on immigration, because of fears that they would lower wages and make it harder to organize unions.
Nativist outbursts occurred in the Northeast from the 1830s to the 1850s, primarily in response to a surge of Irish Catholic immigration. In 1836, Samuel F. B. Morse ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City on a Nativist ticket, receiving 1,496 votes. In New York City, an Order of United Americans was founded as a nativist fraternity, following the Philadelphia Nativist Riots of the preceding spring and summer, in December, 1844.
In 1849–50 Charles B. Allen founded a secret nativist society called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner in New York City. In order to join the Order, a man had to be twenty-one, a Protestant, a believer in God, and willing to obey without question the dictates of the order. Members of the Order became known as the Know Nothings (a label applied to them because if asked they said they "know nothing about" the secret society).
The Nativists went public in 1854 when they formed the 'American Party', which was especially hostile to Catholics and campaigned for laws to require longer wait time between immigration and naturalization. (The laws never passed.) It was at this time that the term "nativist" first appears, opponents denounced them as "bigoted nativists." Former President Millard Fillmore ran on the American Party ticket for the Presidency in 1856. The American Party also included many ex-Whigs who ignored nativism, and included (in the South) a few Catholics whose families had long lived in America. Conversely, much of the opposition to Catholics came from Protestant Irish immigrants and German Lutheran immigrants who were not native at all and can hardly be called "nativists."
This form of nationalism is often identified with xenophobia and anti-Catholic sentiment (anti-Papism). In the 1840s, small scale riots between Catholics and nativists took place in several American cities. In Philadelphia in 1844, for example, a series of nativist assaults on Catholic churches and community centers resulted in the loss of lives and the professionalization of the police force. Nativist sentiment experienced a revival in the 1890s, led by Protestant Irish immigrants hostile to Catholic immigration.
From the 1840s to 1920 German Americans were distrusted because of their separatist social structure, their opposition to prohibition, their attachment to their native tongue over English, and their neutrality in World War I.
The Bennett Law caused a political uproar in Wisconsin in 1890, as the state government passed a law that threatened to close down hundreds of German-language elementary schools. Catholic and Lutheran Germans rallied to defeat the incumbent Republican Governor, William D. Hoard, the leader of the nativists. Hoard attacked German-American culture and religion:
In 1917-1918, a wave of nativist sentiment attacked German American culture in the United States, Canada and Australia. There was little violence, but many places and streets had their names changed (The city of "Berlin" in Ontario was renamed "Kitchener" after a British hero), churches switched to English for their services, and German Americans were forced to buy war bonds to show their patriotism.  In Australia thousands of Germans were put into concentration camps.
(See also: World War I Anti-German Sentiment)
In the 1870s Irish American immigrants attacked Chinese immigrants in the western states, driving them out of smaller towns. Dennis Kearney led a mass movement in San Francisco in 1877 that threatened to harm railroad owners if they hired any people who were Chinese. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first of many nativist acts of Congress to limit the flow of immigrants into the U.S. The Chinese responded with false claims of American birth, enabling thousands to immigrate to California. Ironically, the exclusion of the Chinese caused the western railroads to begin importing Mexican railroad workers in greater numbers ("traqueros").
In the British Empire, traditions of anti-Catholicism in Britain led to fears that Catholics were a threat to the national (British) values. In Canada, the orange Order (of Irish Protestants) campaigned vigorously against the Catholics throughout the 19th century, often with violent confrontations. The Orange Order was much less influential in the U.S., especially after a major riot in New York City in 1871. Also in Canada, British nationalists opposed French Canadians from Quebec, who were expanding beyond Quebec. In Ontario (and other provinces), vigorous measures were attempted to prevent the establishment of French-language Catholic schools.
Fear of low-skilled immigrants flooding the labor market was an issue in the 1920s (focused on immigrants from Italy and Poland), and in the 2000s (focused on immigrants from Mexico and Central America).
Following the Mariel boatlift, a number of communities in the southeastern U.S. struggled to accommodate the sudden inflow of Cuban immigrants. The perception emerged that many Marielitos were mentally ill or criminals.
An immigration reductionism movement formed in the 1970s and continues to the present day. Prominent members often press for massive, sometimes total, reductions in immigration levels.
American nativist sentiment experienced a resurgence in the late 20th century, this time directed at illegal aliens, largely Mexican resulting in the passage of new penalties against illegal immigration in 1996.
Illegal immigration, principally from across the United States-Mexico border, is the more pressing concern for most immigration reductionists. Authors such as Samuel Huntington have also seen recent Hispanic immigration as creating a national identity crisis and presenting insurmountable problems for US social institutions.
Language was a political and an emotional issue as early as the 1750s, when Franklin complained briefly; he changed his mind and printed German materials. American nativists have promoted English and distrusted German and Spanish usage. English Only proponents in the late 19th century proposed an English Language Amendment (ELA), a Constitutional amendment making English the official language of the United States, but have won little political support.
Nativism was common in Canada (though the term originated in the U.S.). It took several forms. Hostility to the Chinese and other Asians was intense, and involved provincial laws that hindered immigration of Chinese and Japanese and blocked their economic mobility. In 1942 Japanese Canadians were forced into detention camps.
Throughout the 19th century, well into the 20th, the "Orange Orders" in Canada attacked and tried to politically defeat the Irish Catholics. The Ku Klux Klan spread in the mid-1920s from the U.S. to parts of Canada, especially Saskatchewan, where it helped topple the Liberal government. The Klan creed was, historian Martin Robin argues, in the mainstream of Protestant Canadian sentiment, for it was based on "Protestantism, separation of Church and State, pure patriotism, restrictive and selective immigration, one national public school, one flag and one language--English."
In World War I, Canadian naturalized citizens of German or Austrian origins were stripped of their right to vote, and tens of thousands of Ukrainians (who were born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were rounded up and put in concentration camps.
Hostility of native-born Canadians to competition from English immigrants in the early 20th century was expressed in signs that read, "No English Need Apply!" The resentment came because the immigrants identified more with England than with Canada.
Australia was intensely hostile to Chinese immigrants (thousands of whom came to the gold fields), and tried to block their entry until well after World War II. When the nation of Australia formed in 1901, the national policy became "White Australia", and quickly most of the Pacific Islanders were deported, while the remainder were forced out of the sugar fields where they had worked for decades.
During World War I, Australia put German citizens in concentration camps.
Hostility of native-born white Australians toward British and Irish immigrants in the late 19th century was manifested in a new party, the "Australian Natives' Association."
Nativism flourished in Taiwan in the 1970s as a reaction against the influx of mainland Chinese to the island after the Kuomintang's defeat in 1949. Nativists felt that the political influence of mainland Chinese was disproportionately large. The term is especially found in the field of literature, where nativist literature was more traditionally minded than the modernist literature written largely by mainland Chinese.
Regarding the Irish in Great Britain, Lucassen (2005) argues the deep religious divide between the Protestants and Catholics was at the core of the ongoing estrangement of the Irish in British society. In the case of the Poles in the mining districts of western Germany before 1914, it was nationalism (on both the German and the Polish sides), which kept Polish workers, who had established an associational structure approaching institutional completeness (churches, voluntary associations, press, even unions), separate from the host German society. Lucassen find that religiosity and nationalism were more fundamental in generating nativism and inter-group hostility than the labor antagonism. Once Italian workers in France had understood the benefit of unionism and French unions were willing to overcome their fear of Italians as scabs, integration was open for most Italian immigrants. The French state, always more of an immigration state than Prussia/Germany or historical Great Britain, fostered and supported family-based immigration and thus helped Italians on their immigration trajectory with minimal nativism. (Lucassen 2005)
Many observers see the post-1950s wave of immigration in Europe was fundamentally different from the pre-1914 patterns. They debate the role of cultural differences, ghettos, race, Muslim fundamentalism, poor education and poverty play in creating nativism among the hosts and a caste-type underclass, more similar to white-black tensions in the U.S. (Lucassen 2005) Algerian migration to France has generated nativism, characterized by the prominence of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front. (Lucassen 2005)
Anti-immigration sentiment is typically justified with one or more of the following arguments and claims about immigrants:
The claim that immigrants can "swamp" a local population is noted to be related to birth rate, relative to nationals. Historically this has actually happened, but with immigrants whose societies were more technologically advanced than native populations which constituted only small groups in sparsely populated areas, sometimes highly diminished in number by diseases (which might be equivalent to low birth rates) — English, French, German, and Irish immigration to North America, Han Chinese migration in western China, and Bantu migrations in Africa, etc. The opposite also happened whereby small groups managed to dominate and culturally change much larger groups. Such cases entail the Romans, Asian Bulgarians and Slavic populations dominating the natives of Thrace, the Mongols in China and India, and the barbarians such as the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, etc. over native Romanized populations, as well as the Turks in Anatolia. Usually, conquering barbarian forces were in the beginning foederati assisting the Romans. Opponents of immigration blame it for such problems as unemployment, crime, harm to the environment, and deteriorating public education.
Commentators also point out that the problems which are purportedly caused by immigrants equally exist amongst native-born populations as well, and that politicians often use immigration as a convenient scapegoat to distract the public from real social, political and economic problems.
Threats involving language, jobs, pay-scales, control of the government, control of borders (and fears of invasion), moral values, and loyalties to racial and ethnic groups, are involved in nativism, with the exact ingredients varying widely.
For example, economic competition and national security are currently (2006) at issue in the United States. However, it has been pointed out that the poor people who are most economically hurt by illegal immigrants are not usually those who are complaining about it.
While the distinguishing feature of nativism is the opposition between established inhabitants and recently arrived immigrants, the specifics of each situation creates different dynamics.
Often, there are economic tensions caused by the fact that the immigrants are often willing to work harder for less pay, or spend less (saving more and sending money to their home country). Often it is alleged the newcomers form violent gangs, or engage in illegal activities like drugs or prostitution. The allegation dates back to the Irish American canal gangs (1840s), Chinese gangs (tongs) in 1880s, Italian ("Mafia") (1890- present), and more recently to Russian and Hispanic gangs. The established inhabitants perceive an economic threat caused by lowered wage scales and lower standards of living.
Linguistic, religious, moral, racial/ethnic and cultural differences might be factors. While there was nativist sentiment in the late 19th century against Catholics from Eastern and Southern Europe, much of this sentiment had subsided by the 1950s as these immigrant groups assimilated into American society and culture. The nativism of the 1880s focused on Chinese. In 1890-1920 the focus was on European immigrants.
In some instances, national security concerns can stir up latent nativist tendencies that are not directly associated with economic competition. Examples of this are the sentiment against German Americans during both World Wars and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although the internment of Japanese Americans was not directly motivated by economic factors, many Californians took advantage of the situation to profit financially at the expense of the internees.
Despite the national trauma inflicted by the 9/11 attacks, there has been remarkably little nativist sentiment in the US targeted against immigrants from Islamic countries. This can largely be attributed to a vigorous campaign by governmental and civic leaders to discourage a backlash in response to the attacks. In Europe, however, there has been a considerable growth of anti-Islamic feeling after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent attacks in London and Madrid.