Category Archives: immigration

The Melting Pot: a Failed Metaphor

“. . .The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State. No religious Establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mahommedan, if he will come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the Constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so please him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institution. The fruits are visible in the universal contentment which everywhere prevails. Christians are broken up into various sects, but we have no persecution, no stake or rack—no compulsion or force, not furious or bigoted zeal; but each and all move on in their select sphere, and worship the Great Creator according to their own forms and ceremonies. The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid . . . and the Aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it . . . .”

President John Tyler
July 10, 1843 (1)

American cultural anthropology and sociology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries present some interesting challenges to the matter of religious, ethnic, racial, and cultural immigration into the landscape of the American experiment in liberty. The competing theories of Henry Platt Fairchild (2) (popularly described as Melting Pot borrowed from Fredrick Turner who applied his idea uniquely to the American west in the late 19th century) and Horace M. Kallen (3) (popularly described as ‘Cultural Symphony’) did battle in the early 20th century. Fairchild, primarily in his book Immigration, argued for the complete assimilation of the newcomer into the ‘native American’ ideal (by which he meant the idealized American/European). Whatever differences (i.e. cultural, morphological, religious, etc) the immigrant brought to America must be assimilated into the homogeneous cultural identity of what Fairchild thought to be a ‘national type’ as quickly as possible. Fairchild’s work was popularized in a 1908 play ‘The Melting Pot’ by Israel Zangwill. The theme of the play can be captured in a single line from the play “Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, your fifty languages, and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to – these are fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.” (4 & 5). Fairchild’s melting pot was reoriented by Edward Ross (‘The Old World in the New,’ 1914), a ‘progressive’ university sociologist of his day. Ross challenged and rejected the notion of non-European immigration. According to him, non-Europeans were “sub-common people of obviously low mentality who really belonged in animal skins, beside wattled huts . . . Ross was appalled by their ‘sugar-loaf heads, moon-faces, slit mouths, lantern jaws, and goose-bill noses.’ Jews he singled out as puny and sissified, the saddest possible contrast to the type of the American pioneer.” (6)

Rejecting Ross’s extension of Fairchild’s work, Horace M. Kallen, a former colleague of Ross’s at the University of Wisconsin and later on faculty at Harvard University, published an essay in the Nation (February 1915) titled ‘Democracy versus the Melting Pot.’(7)  Kallen gave his thesis the name ‘Cultural Pluralism.’ His basic theory is composed of three essential parts: 1) he denied there was any unique, archetypal American; there was no collective identity into which immigrants must seek transformation. America, in his theory, was a political state containing a great diversity of distinct nationalities, religious, cultural traditions, ethnicities, etc, 2) these distinct aspects of the human community should be allowed to perpetuate themselves indefinitely, 3) because of 1 & 2, governmental policy should be guided by two distinct concepts: unison and harmony. Unison would be limited to basic patterns of social/governmental/economic functions—e.g. language, government structure, monetary policy, etc as examples of unison policy. Of much greater interest to Kallen was harmony (which gave Kallen’s theory the popular name ‘Cultural Symphony Theory’). For him, this was the brilliance of the American experiment. In matters of opinion “Its form would be that of the federal republic; its substance a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfections of men according to their kind . . . each nationality (religion, culture, etc) would have for its emotional and involuntary life its . . . own individual and inevitable esthetic forms . . . Thus, American civilization may come to mean the perfection of the cooperative harmonies . . . a multiplicity in a unity, an orchestration of mankind” (8). Kallen offers a brilliant understanding of the Founders’ imagination in using e pluribus unum as a national motto; holding of equal value both the many and the one.

As often happens in history, unforeseen circumstances influence outcomes. While we might imagine Kallen’s theory of a grand cultural symphony creating a rich and vibrant American culture capturing the imagination of the American people, circumstances in Europe and the world leading to World War I created an environment of social and political fear fostering an atmosphere of anxiety and xenophobia. (9) Fairchild’s Melting Pot augmented by Ross’s xenophobia became the prevailing metaphor and, sadly, the political context for immigration policy and American self-awareness in the ensuing decades.  Kallen’s Cultural Symphony almost completely disappeared by 1924. To this day, the Melting Pot is the collective mental paradigm for immigration and cultural assimilation into the America landscape. The inherent fear of and limitations to diversity contained in the Melting Pot theory, whether consciously or unconsciously engaged, continue to inhibit broad intercultural comfort, trust, or cooperation.

Sadly, resistance to the Melting Pot encourages suspicion and flames up xenophobic fears. The President’s poorly planned and executed executive order on refugees and immigrants, born of fear and xenophobia, affirms the operative persistence and power of this inadequate Melting Pot metaphor. In contrast, the immediate and powerful response of the citizenry suggests Kallen’s work, a Cultural Symphony, describing a fearless cultural symphony may be gaining traction in these United States even if the original theory for this paradigm shift is yet unrecognized.  Kallen’s Cultural Symphony encouraging and celebrating diversity, multiculturalism, and pluralism provides a context for serious reconsideration of immigration and refugees policies. But the hard work is not done. Progress will require an informed and well differentiated citizenry to constructively embrace, engage, and advocate for the opportunity to discover new harmonies possible in intercultural, interethnic, interracial, interfaith, etc., relations, collaboration, cooperation, and dialogue. The reward of this hard work will be, to borrow again from Tyler’s letter, a continuation of our great and noble experiment, the fruit of which will be an even more perfect union, an even grander Cultural Symphony.

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1 John Tyler. A letter from President John Tyler to Joseph Simpson of Baltimore. The American Jewish Historical Society, New York City, New York.
2 Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth Century America [Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992], 50-51.
3 Ibid.
4 Gary Gerstle. American Crucible; Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century [Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 2001], 51.
5 C. Hirschman. America’s Melting Pot Policy Reconsidered, Annual Review of Sociology, 9 (1983), 397-423.
6 Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth Century America, [Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992], 50-51.
7 Ibid., 50-52.
8 Ibid., 52.
9 Ibid., 53.

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Filed under American history, Failed immigration blockade, history, Immigrant, immigration, Justice, Refugee, US History

A great and noble experiment

john-tylerOn July 3, 1843, Mr. Joseph Simpson of Baltimore, a US citizen and a member of the Jewish faith, wrote President John Tyler a letter complaining of General of the Army Winfield Scott, in full military regalia, participating is some sort of Christian religious event in Baltimore.   Mr. Simpson believed it was never the intention of the Founders to advantage any single religious confession over another, and the participation of General Scott and other officers in this Christian event in the official regalia of the US military may be misunderstood to suggest otherwise.  Mr. Simpson wrote President Tyler, believing it his duty to report to the President this violation of the great tradition of the United States and its Constitution.

On July 10, 1843, President Tyler responded.  Tyler expressed no knowledge of the event involving Scott, but suggested it must be him participating only as a private citizen.  To that end, Tyler assured Mr. Simpson Scott must “lay aside his sword and epaulets” and appear “as a distinguished citizen but in no other light . . .”  Tyler continues,

“. . . The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State.  No religious establishment by law exists among us.  The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment.  The offices of the Government are open alike to all.  No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible cored of faith.  The Mahomedan, if he will to come among us, would have the privilege guaranteed to them by the Constitution, to worship according to the Koran, and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him.  Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.  The fruits are visible in the universal contentment which everywhere prevails.  Christians are broken up into various sects, but we have no persecution, no stake or rack-no compulsion or force, no furious or bigoted zeal; but each and all move on in their selected sphere, and worship the Great Creator according to their own forms and ceremonies.  The Hebrew persecuted and down-trodden in other regions, takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid . . . he may worship God of his fathers after the manner that worship was conducted by Aaron . . . and the aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him.  Such is the great experiment which we have tried and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.  The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthly.  Minds should be free as the light or as the air.  While I remain connected with the Government, be assured, Sir, that so far as the Executive action is concerned, the guarantees of the Constitution in this great particular will know no diminution . . .”

 Even more interesting, Tyler, imagining permutations of Scott as a non-Christian, stated, “Was he a Hebrew and of the same tribe with yourself . . . (it) would in no manner affect him in his military character; nor would it make him obnoxious to the censure of the Government for so doing.”  Tyler is clear, a person’s religious, cultural, ethnic, etc. nature is of no consequence to a person’s full participation in the rights of citizenship in these United States.

A mere fifty five years after the ratification of the Constitution, President Tyler, describes not only the separation of church and state, an essential construction of our noble experiment, but he also provides insight into the expectation of cultural and ethnic diversity as a true and present reality of the great and noble experiment undertaken by our Founders.  In the time of the Founders, in the time of Tyler, and in our time, religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity was and remains a core value upheld and protected by our great and noble experiment.  As Tyler wrote, “Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.”  Any action by any branch of the US government intended to alter or diminish this spirit of toleration is inconsistent and antithetical to the intent of the Founders.  Tragically, we find ourselves living in a time when some actively encourage and support ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, LGBTQ, and racial intolerance.  It is left to us, those who embrace the great and noble experiment of our Founders, to resist this assault on the values and aspirations of our Constitution and our nation.  In this season of Thanksgiving, a holiday of our nation, I give thanks for the vision of our Founders and the vision of diversity and toleration they imagined, however flawed and limited in their own time.  Perhaps it is left to us, the future, to protect and perfect more completely the fullness of their imaginations.

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My country, right or wrong . . .

Carl Schurz, who became, in the US, an attorney, writer for the New York Tribune, editor-in-chief of the Detroit carl schurzPost, Minister (Ambassador) to Spain under President Lincoln, a Union General in the Civil War, co-editor and co-owner of the Westliche Post in St. Louis, United States Senator from Missouri, 1869-1875 (only 5 years after he became a citizen), Secretary of the Interior under President Hayes, contributor to Harper’s Weekly, editor of the New York Evening Post, was a fugitive from German justice when he arrived in America in 1852.

One of his most famous statements was made while serving as US Senator from Missouri.   In response to this comment of uncritical American hegemony by Senator Decatur of Wisconsin, “My country, right or wrong,” Senator Schurz declared, “The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too, my country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right” (2/26/1872).

Later, writing in Harper’s Weekly in an article titled “About Patriotism” (4/16/1898), he wrote, “The man who in times of popular excitement boldly and unflinchingly resists hot-tempered clamor for an unnecessary war, and thus exposes himself to the opprobrious imputation of a lack of patriotism or of courage, to the end of saving his country from a great calamity, is, as to loving and faithfully serving his country, at least as good a patriot as the hero of the most daring feat of arms, and a far better one than those who, with an ostentatious pretense of superior patriotism, cry for war before it is needed, especially if then they let others do the fighting.”  He ended this essay with this warning, “. . . when the rush of events frequently makes the needs of the government especially pressing, that the tribe of unscrupulous speculators bent upon cheating and robbing the public find most fruitful opportunities.  They will always be seen and heard among the noisiest of ‘patriots,’ in whose opinion no preparation is large enough, no action too quick and no measure too far-reaching. In the name of ‘patriotism’ they will insist that all those safeguards in the government machinery which are to prevent fraud and theft be swept away as antiquated ‘red-tapeism’ that obstructs the necessary vigor and promptness of action. In the name of ‘patriotism’ they will seek to foist into places of trust and responsibility patriots of their own stripe to help them in their rascally game. In the name of ‘patriotism’ they will strive to discredit and break down public men who have remained sufficiently cool to guard the public interest, as ‘not patriotic enough.’ And this tribe of sharks and harpies will be lustily aided by the disreputable politicians who discover in the general disturbance a new chance for themselves, and who expect the loudest kind of war patriotism to lift them into popular favor and public place, trusting that everything will be forgiven to the ‘patriot’ who is most vociferous in denouncing the enemy and most fiercely proclaiming that the war must not cease until the last fighting foe has bitten the dust. This is the class of ‘Patriots’ well fitted by old Dr. Samuel Johnson’s robust saying, that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ And those who ‘love their country and mean to serve it faithfully’ must not forget that true patriotism, while in time of war it has to fight the foreign enemy abroad, has to fight with equal vigilance and vigor false patriotism at home. For unless it do so with effect, the range and power of corrupt and degrading influences in our political life will be fearfully enlarged, and the progress of honest, safe and orderly methods of government may be set back for an indefinite period.

Speaking at the Anti-Imperialism Conference in Chicago in October of 1899, he re-used his famous statement when he said, “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They (the American people) will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country — when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.'”

Just let this marinade in your mind for a while.

 

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