Why did the American Nativist groups oppose free, unrestricted immigrants in late 19th Century America?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rise of Nativism in late 19th Century America held a variety of causes.  The dislike towards free and unrestricted immigrants carried with it a social agenda.  At this point in American History, a fledgling notion of national identity had started to be formed.  The Nativists dislked those immigrants who ended up bringing some of their traditional customs with them.  In one of the first and distorted examples of the "melting pot," there was a cultural dislike that the Nativists held towards those coming from Europe into the new nation.  The Nativist dislike of the Irish Catholics was rooted in their distrust of the pope and of papal authority.  The Nativist dislike of the Germans came from the strong penchant for Germans in America to establish their own school and the manner in which the Germans "drank beer."  When Morse runs for New York City mayor on a Nativist platform and receives significant votes, it signals how the Nativist dislike or fear of "the other" resulted in their opposition to it.  Along these lines ended up reflecting an economic motive for their dislike.  As the fledgling nation was embracing capitalism, the perception of jobs being limited and resources being finite became something that drove the Nativist dislike of immigrants who came to America willing to do anything and work in any capacity for nominal compensation.  In this, the Nativists developed another reason to dislike free and unrestricted flows of immigration on material grounds as well as cultural ones.