> Visual History

« Back to Visual History

This cartoon (circa 1915) is an anxious response to the large number of immigrants and free blacks that had transformed the ethnic landscape of the United States in the decades following the end of the Civil War. While democracy was fine for Anglo-Americans, or "Nordics" as they defined themselves, this caricature of "Our Defective Jury System" presents a picture of immigrants and blacks as innately incapable of exercising the rights of citizenship. Underneath the humor, lay a core of hate and violence.

As this cartoon was published, a virulent anti-immigrant movement was on the march, eventually leading to the closing of immigration to most foreigners (Italians, Jews, Slavs, Japanese, et al) when the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 was passed by the U.S. Congress. Simultaneously, Jim Crow laws and a reign of white terror, ensured that African-American citizens were not represented on juries (or in voting booths) throughout much of the country.

In all cases, people whose labors had helped transform America into a global powerhouse, had the door closed in their faces when they looked for their piece of the "American Dream" that they had helped to build.

To what extent does the present-day anti-immigrant commotion smack of the same kind national duplicity?