In my research about immigration and the concept of “assimilation”, I came across Josiah Strong (1847-1916), who was a Congregationalist minister from Ohio. He is an example of a leader in the “Social Gospel” movement who was, interestingly enough, also an early anti-immigrant advocate and and early developer of Anglo-Saxon supremacist theology. I think Strong is a fascinating character, in that he helps to show how interconnected anti-immigration thinking is with broader, and more serious xenophobia.
A friend of Theodore Roosevelt, Strong published material vigorously and was a skilful propagandist with incredible influence. Strong had widespread support and, for example, his writings were featured in American Baptist and Southern Baptist publications.
Strong’s book Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis was not only an influential critique of immigration and urbanization, it also was a document which influential in the ongoing development of the ideology of “Anglo-Saxon supremacy”.
Strong held that the Anglo-Saxons have a destiny which involves possessing commanding influence over the world as the representatives of “the purest Christianity.” He believed that God was preparing the Anglo-Saxons, centered in America, to be the “die with which to stamp the nations”, and that God was also preparing the nations “to receive our impress.” The race, in Strong’s mind, was “destined to disposess many weaker races, assimilate others, and mold the remainder, until in a very true and important sense it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind.” Using America as its base, he saw the race as moving out, southward and eastward, in a grand competition of races, a “survival of the fittest.” “Beyond a peradventure, the West is to dominate the East,” Strong said in another article.
It should be noted here, however, that he did not see the Anglo-Saxon’s role as destructive, he vigorously claimed that the assimilation which the Anglo-Saxon race would impose was “for their good.” He seems to have believed that the assimilation he proposed was “benevolent.”
Strong also saw cities as a threat to civilization. Why were they a threat? Cities attracted immigrants. And immigrants, he alleged, attract alcohol, Catholicism, materialism, socialism, and other things that he saw as wicked. Strong was highly critical of those who believed that Roman Catholics could be loyal Americans. He asserted that they were “Catholics first and citizens afterwards” and believed that Catholics were an inherent threat to American democratic institutions, especially in the Western territories.
Strong believed that America’s safety required that “strange populations” of immigrants be assimilated. He also believed that immigration must be severely restricted. He supposed that the more immigrants there are, the harder assimilation becomes. He suggested that widespread immigration would be more likely to “foreignize” American than “Americanize” the immigrants.
I would not pretend that every anti-immigration advocate or every person who insists immigrants should assimilate significantly agrees with every position that Josiah Strong took. That said, it is instructive to review the historical background and examine some of the historical precursors to modern day thinking on the issues. For, many of these ideologies are interconnected. If we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it.
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