Panel 4 Emancipation Today: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Amanda Sherman, Managing Editor for Business and Production for the Government Law Review

 Lincoln & Immigration:  Angela Alexander, Instructor of History and Humanities, York Technical College 

           Instructor Alexander began discussing the nativist movement of the mid-1800s.  This group, whose motto was “America for the Americans” believed that no foreign-born citizens should govern in America.  The voice of the anti-nativist at this time was much softer, although it may not have been less popular.  Instructor Alexander said that Lincoln saw each ethnic group as distinct; he had a unique conception of those who were not born in America.  In the instructor’s words, “Lincoln treated people as people.”  In her presentation, Instructor Alexander detailed President Lincoln’s encounters with several minority groups as a depiction of Lincoln’s conception of non-natives.

           The group that Lincoln was most in contact with was the Germans, which was the most common immigrant group in Illinois in his day.  Lincoln owned a German language newspaper in Springfield, and also worked and corresponded with many Germans.  In a letter, circa 1858, Lincoln wrote, “Our fellow German citizens, ever true to liberty . . . not for special classes of men, but for all men.  True to the union and the constitution as the best means to advance that liberty.”[1]

           Additionally, Lincoln wanted to ensure that Germans could read his speeches in their own language.  Although, Instructor Alexander says this was politically advantageous for Lincoln, it was mutually beneficial to the Germans.  Germans and others were to be judged by their individual merit and not their nativity.  The instructor went on to detail Lincoln’s encounters with the Jewish and Irish population.  She spoke of Lincoln’s handling of General Ulysses S. Grant’s denial of orders to pay permits for Jewish individuals in 1862 as a demonstration of his ability to divorce himself from certain political or social pressures in order to do what he felt was necessary.

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