Anti-Immigration Attitudes

Anti-Immigration Attitudes

In this lesson, students will analyze political cartoons about immigration from the late 1800's. This period saw one of the largest waves of immigration in US history, due in part to the advent of the new steam-powered ships, which made it cheaper and easier to immigrate to the US than ever before. Other factors included the famine in Ireland, which began in 1845, as well as surplus European labor due to farming improvements. During this peak of migration, over 25 million new immigrants came to America. Many American citizens felt that these immigrants were a threat to their jobs and to the stability of the nation. Some people created political groups dedicated to stopping or slowing immigration. Through these cartoons, students will understand the reaction of many American citizens toward this wave of immigration will see how different races and nationalities were depicted at the time.

Essential Questions

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?
What does it mean to be a United States citizen, and what is your role in the history of the world?
What role does analysis have in historical construction?


Students will be able to
1. analyze political cartoons by observing details and discussing the symbolism used to convey the message of the cartoon
2. understand some reasons why American citizens were opposed to new immigrants in the 19th century by analyzing political cartoons of that era

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1. If students don’t have background knowledge about 19th century immigration, give a brief lecture about it. Explain the reasons behind immigration in the later part of the 19th century and the anti-immigrant politics that responded to this.
2. Hand out the Immigration Politcal Cartoon Analysis Worksheet and explain what it is asking them to do. Go over any terms that might be unfamiliar and explain the process of analyzing a political cartoon. Use the cartoon "Extremes Meet" as an example, and analyze it together as a class.

Observation Phase: Remember to record observations

 • What objects do you see?
 • Write down the cartoon caption (if there is one).
 • Locate words or phrases and decipher meaning.

Reflection Phase: Remember to record observations.

• Symbolism and metaphors: A symbol in a cartoon is an image that is created to mean some other thing, person, idea, etc. A metaphor uses an analogy to describe one thing as similar to something completely different.

 • Irony/Satire: Form of humor that is especially appropriate for political cartoons because it mocks the direct meaning of the image and represents a contradiction to that meaning.

• Stereotype: Oversimplification of a particular group. How are the characters or items shown in the cartoon represented? Which images are large and which are small?

• Exaggeration: A distortion of an object that enhances and highlights the aspect that the author would like to become dominant to the viewer.

Question Phase: Remember to record observations.

• What is the message of the political cartoon?

• What is the author trying to tell the audience? Knowing the background knowledge of this time period, does the message surprise you?

3. Hand out the cartoons in a packet or display them on a projector individually.
4. Have students work in groups to analyze the cartoons and fill out the worksheet.
5. When the students are done, go over each cartoon as a class. Ask students guiding questions (see suggested questions below) to check for understanding.
6. Ask students how they think the 19th century attitudes about immigration are similar or different to current attitudes about immigration. 


Chinese Exclusion Act: A U.S. law signed on May 6, 1882 that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers.
Cholera: a dangerous infection that can be highly contagious
Emigrant: a person who leaves their own country in order to move permanently to another country