Closed Borders or Open Hearts

collage Lady Libert tears and welcome mat

Trump has essentially pulled up the welcome mat to tens of thousands of people seeking asylum, based solely on their religion. Clearly Trump just doesn’t like the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses that the Statue of Liberty beckons.

American history loves to celebrate our role as a land of asylum, humanity and opportunity for people across the globe. It’s a pillar of our cherished self-image as exceptional among nations.

It’s the American Way.

Whenever tragedy has struck Americans put out their hands in compassion and help.  This is indeed true of America but it is often not achieved without great resistance.


Steeped in fear some Americans have a habit of marking an entire people as predisposed to disloyalty and danger

History books often overlook or minimize the contrasting truth – that along with setting out a friendly welcome mat there has always been opposition, reluctance and setbacks to that warm hospitality.

That too is the American Way.

Not So Hospitable Times


“Dumping European Garbage ” Political cartoon 1890 Judge Magazine. Immigration laws passed between 1882 and 1929 that were among the most discriminatory in the world, regulating immigration by race.

A Nation of Immigrants

anti imigration-political cartoon Joseph Keppler

Anti Immigration Cartoon. “Looking Backwards” by Joseph Keppler appeared in Puck Magazine 1893. Credit: Courtesy of Michigan State University

In a nation of immigrants, many have been less than hospitable to the next generation of newcomers.

In this 1893 cartoon called “Looking Backwards,”  artist Joseph Keppler depicts American descendants of immigrants denying entry to the country’s next generation of newcomers.  The five wealthy men shown have shadows which portray their past lives as former immigrants or relatives of immigrants exposing the hypocrisy of denying the new immigrants a chance at the American dream which made them wealthy.

anti immigration political cartoon 1891

“Where The Blame Lies” by Grant Hamilton 1891 Judge Magazine. In the late 19th century these new waves of immigrants were different from previous immigrants who largely came from Western Europe. These new immigrants were from Eastern European countries that had a history of being either dictatorship or a socialist regime.

In this cartoon called “Where the Blame Lies” by Grant Hamilton, we see Uncle Sam looking disapprovingly at the recent arrivals of immigrants. Uncle Sam seems to believe  that the values of America would not be upheld by many of these new Eastern European  immigrants.

They were perceived as different both morally and politically and were a danger.

And we are seeing that today, bigly.

While many are protesting Trumps now blocked  illegal and immoral executive order temporarily banning immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, some Americans, panicked and paranoid,  have supported Trump. Citing the risk to national security, Trump has essentially pulled up the welcome mat to tens of thousands of people seeking asylum, based solely on their religion.

Though  the travel ban has been temporarily halted by a federal judge, the deep prejudices remain.

I Don’t Know Nuthing About Governin No Country

November 24, 2015

November 24, 2015 Political Cartoon Adam Zygus

The sloppy, chaotic roll-out of this unconstitutional Executive Order has pointed to the glaring inadequacies of an often no-nothing Trump administration

In truth Donald Trump wasn’t the first “know nothing” to capture America’s attention.

America has a long inglorious history of worrying that the character of our country was changing and that new immigrants posed a serious threat to the American way of life. Muslims are just the latest religious group of other unwanted immigrants that have included Catholics and Jews.

Mr. Trump, This Buds For You


We can get an odious whiff of the Know Nothing sentiment in Budweiser’s recent Superbowl commercial which is hard not to interpret as a subtle rebuke of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric.

The ad dramatizes the company’s founder Adolphus Busch’s arrival in the U.S. from Germany where as an unwanted immigrant the viewer witnesses firsthand the prejudice he endured after arriving here. “You’re not wanted here,” one man shouts.  “Go back home,” snarl another.

Like most immigrants young Busch left his home country for a better life in America. He had a dream (I want to brew beer) And he is categorically shunned by Americans as soon as he gets off the boat.

anti immigration-cartoon Irish and German

Political cartoon 1850 Irish and German anti-immigration cartoon. Nativism popular at the time, was a social and political movement that opposed immigration of Catholic and Irish , non Protestant and non-English speaking people.

Arriving in 1857 it was at a time when the anti-immigrant Know Nothing political party had risen in response to an influx of unwanted immigrants, empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants. Though the Know Nothing party largely disbanded after the 1856 presidential elections, their anti-immigration platform endured for many years and helped make religious differences into political issues.

Reflecting a Steve Bannon-like “nativist” sentiment, the party (popular from 1840-1850’s) promised to “purify” American politics by limiting or ending the influence of Irish and Catholics.

Like today it was a period of great division. Increases in immigration to the US from cultures and countries considered by some more “exotic” than previous waves that had arrived from England, Protestant Germany, and Scandinavia caused grave concern.


1882 Political Cartoon. Rising negativity from American to the Chinese led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882



The early Chinese immigrants in the mid-1800s were hemmed in by intense racial hatred and fears ( the dreaded yellow peril) by language barriers and by stringent immigration laws that kept their families in China

On the west coast influxes of Chinese and Japanese found new homes and work. Millions arrived in the East from Ireland and Italy mostly Catholics, who elicited great suspicion.

People were worried that the character of their country was changing.

Although the Know Nothings didn’t last long as a political party, their brand of racist, anti-immigration policy seems as relevant today.


Abraham Lincoln 1858

It’s worth reading what one future Republican President said in reaction to the Know Nothing party. In a letter to Joshua Speed dated August 1855, Abraham Lincoln wrote:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of Negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except Negroes.”

When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

You Might Also Enjoy:

I Married A Refugee

American Nativism- Nothing New


© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017.

























  1. Love this imagistic essay! Very iconic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Art History blog

  3. Pierre Lagacé

    My great-father emigrated to the U.S. in early 1860s. A few of his children were born there. He then came back to Canada where my grandfather was born in 1888. The family left for good in 1889 or 1890. Stanislas Lagacé, who changed his name to Dennis Lagassee, lived the rest of his life in Bristol, Connecticut. He died in 1927.

    My grandfather returned to Quebec around 1907. I could have been an American but destiny had decided otherwise. I would have learned a lot about American history. Thanks to you I am learning a lot. Thanks again for Envisioning the American Dream Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pierre Lagacé

    As a footnote…
    Canada also had the same attitude towards immigrants. Now we seem more opened, but that’s just an illusion I think.

    Strangely what is happening in the U.S and all over the world is slowly happening in Canada. The mistrust against politicians, which I believe is the roots of what we see happening now in the world, with the media gladly playing along reporting it for ratings and profit, how people can react almost immediately spreading news, fake news, alternative facts… This is the perfect recipe for a complete breakdown of our modern civilization in my own humble opinion Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That saddens me to learn that the erosions we are witnessing around the globe are beginning to infect Canada too, which I have always perceived as being a very inclusive society. Like you, I fear for us and I fear for the next generation

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Pierre Lagacé

    As a grandfather I fear for my grandchildren.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sally, it is so very refreshing to read a blogger like yourself that has a true grasp and grip on our history… even our less-than stellar history! When a people can admit their own mistakes and horrors — ala modern Germans post-WW2 for allowing the Nazis to decimate their nation and millions of other nations & families — and not just boast of their glories and victories via propaganda, it says A LOT about those people’s integrity and their leaders! If all we and the world hear and read is non-stop pride, perfection, and arrogance, as many a cliché goes… ‘When it looks and sounds TOO good to be true, it most often is false’ — even grossly fabricated. Swallowing too much of one thing at face-value begins to sour and stink — then the nearest toilet MUST be found! 😛

    Charles Darwin once wrote:

    …ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved…

    This isn’t at all advocacy for the Socratic proverb, “the more you know the more you realize how little you know” but instead that true knowledge (both altruistic and horrific) leads us to productive humility and the more you know BROADLY, the more you recognize science and reasoning can go forward, trouncing ignorance and more importantly manufactured ignorance.

    Excellent post Sally! Thank you for this poignant reminder. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I was just watching this one before I happened upon your latest post.

    Liked by 1 person

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