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Anniversaries and Immigration Policy

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Regional anniversary committees took advantage of the opportunities available from the USPOD’s commemorative stamp program to legitimize their interpretation of the past and to insure that the founding stories of their ancestors were included in the broader story of America’s origins. Stamps represented European settlements and trans-Atlantic journeys with images of ships and family groups of white Protestant settlers. Appeals to Congressmen for stamps, and even for coins, emphasized the positive contributions each group and their descendants have made to the character and strength of the United States.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The timing of these stamps and the language used to justify recognition also spoke directly to the contemporary fights over immigration. Legislation in 1921 and 1924 established eugenically-minded quotas developed by Congress to shape the racial biology of future American citizens. The Quota Act of 1921 limited the numbers of immigrants to three percent of that nationality’s presence in the 1910 US census which drastically reduced the number of southern and eastern Europeans entering the United States. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 further limited quotas and completely eliminated immigration from all regions in Asia.1

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Support of these restrictive laws was equally-strong across political parties in Congress, with only a few Congressmen speaking out in opposition. Some spoke loudly in favor of restrictions including Ellison DuRant Smith. He believed that selective criteria and limited quotas would help the US to thrive. “Without offense, but with regard to the salvation of our own, let us shut the door and assimilate what we have, and let us breed pure American citizens and develop our own American resources.” 2. At a time when defining who was an American and who wasn’t changed, regional anniversary celebrations commemorated on stamps reinforced the idea that the United States was founded by white Western European Protestants. Stamps contributed to the ongoing ways that the US government defined Americanness and constructed official founding stories. Starting in 1925, Sesquicentennial celebrations of Revolutionary War battles moved discussions of colonial founding origins into dialogues about the who fought to create the United States as an independent nation.


  1. 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
  2. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998), 91–117. Asians were not legally eligible for citizenship because the federal court system did not define any Asian as white, making them ineligible for naturalization. 

  3. 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Ellison DuRant Smith April 9, 1924 Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1924)  

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/revisions/shaping-national-identity-with-commemoratives-in-1920s-1930s/anniversaries-and-immigration-policy/