A discussion on Former president Theodore Roosevelt’s words regarding the assimilation of immigrants into American culture.
Lets find out what is true and what is not about his thoughts on migration.
Theodore Roosevelt was about to finish his first two-year term as governor of the state of New York when the Republican Party chose him as its candidate for vice president in the 1900 national election. The Republicans were victorious at the ballot box that year, but Roosevelt held the vice-presidency for less than a year before he was elevated to the White House upon the assassination of President William McKinley on 14 September 1901, thereby becoming the youngest person ever to hold the office of President of the United States. Roosevelt was elected to a full term as president in 1904, and among his many notable achievements was his selection as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for his part in the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
Although Roosevelt did not hold public office again after leaving the presidency in 1909 (his efforts to regain the White House as a third party candidate in 1912 proving unsuccessful), he remained active in the public political sphere. In the waning years of his life, as World War I raged in Europe and America entered the conflict on the side of the Allies, he frequently spoke of his belief that immigrants taking up residence in the U.S. should assimilate into American society as quickly as possible, learn the English language, eschew hyphenated national identities (e.g., “Italian-American”) and declare their primary national allegiance to the United States of America.
On 1 February 1916, for example, Roosevelt advocated measures for strengthening and ensuring the “loyalty” of American immigrants:
Theodore Roosevelt, speaking at a luncheon given yesterday by Mrs. Vincent Astor for the National Americanization Committee in the Astor Court Building, declared that one of the reasons why many German-Americans have shown greater love for their native land that for their adopted country is that the German system demands greater loyalty than is demanded in this country, and a greater contribution to the common welfare. “And all of you know I am free from a taint of neutrality,” he added, “so I can say this without suspicion.”
The encouragement of better housing conditions and a compulsion to learn the English language, Colonel Roosevelt said, would help the process of Americanization.
“We cannot make the Americanization movement a success,” Colonel Roosevelt said, “unless we approach it from the economic standpoint. It is true that governmentally Germany is an autocracy. But there has been a great deal more industrial freedom there than many of our old industrial communities. The German Government says we expect you to work out good results, to get together with the laborer, and yourselves decide what you are going to pay to the doctors who are to pass upon the health of the employees, and the amount of damages any employee merits. The Government insists upon a great amount of self-government by the people themselves.
“I feel that by insistence upon proper housing conditions we shall indirectly approach this. I want to see the immigrant know that he has got to spend a certain amount of his money in decent housing; that he will not be allowed to live on $2.50 per month board basis.
“Let us say to the immigrant not that we hope he will learn English, but that he has got to learn it. Let the immigrant who does not learn it go back. He has got to consider the interest of the United States or he should not stay here. He must be made to see that his opportunities in this country depend upon his knowing English and observing American standards. The employer cannot be permitted to regard him only as an industrial asset.
“We must in every way possible encourage the immigrant to rise, help him up, give him a chance to help himself. If we try to carry him he may well prove not well worth carrying. We must in turn insist upon his showing the same standard of fealty to this country and to join with us in raising the level of our common American citizenship.
“If I could I would have the kind of restriction which would not allow any immigrant to come here unless I was content that his grandchildren would be fellow-citizens of my grandchildren. They will not be so if he lives in a boarding house at $2.50 per month with ten other boarders and contracts tuberculosis and contributes to the next generation a body of citizens inferior not only morally and spiritually but also physically.”1