Dillingham Commission


Between 1907 and 1910 the Dillingham Commission, established by the U.S. government, completed a study whose findings reflected the popular opinion of many native-born Americans that new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were less desirable than earlier immigrants from western and northern Europe. The commission’s recommendation of a literacy test was not adopted at the time, but a bill embodying the restriction was finally passed over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto in 1917. The commission’s findings also served as the basis of additional restrictive immigration legislation in the 1920s.
An Immigration Act in 1907 codified and extended previous restrictive legislation and established a commission to evaluate U.S. immigration policy. Commission members from the Senate were Chairman William Paul Dillingham of Vermont (a Republican), Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts (Republican), and Asbury Latimer of South Carolina (Democrat); members from the House of Representatives were Benjamin F. Howell of New Jersey (Republican), William S. Bennet of New York (Republican), and John L. Burnett of Alabama (Democrat); and presidential appointees wereWilliam R. Wheeler, Jeremiah W. Jenks, and Charles P. Neill. On December 5, 1910, a two-volume summary of the commission’s findings was presented to Congress, and early in the following year, the massive 42- volume report was released. The commission’s study concluded that during the 1880s a fundamental change occurred in immigration to the United States. Most who had come under the “old” immigration “mingled freely with . . . native Americans,” and thus were assimilated. The new immigration that had begun around 1883 was marked by an increase in transient, unskilled laborers who flocked to urban enclaves where they resisted assimilation. Recommendations of the committee included
1. new immigration legislation should “look especially to the economic well-being of our people”
2. industry should not be promoted to the detriment of wage levels and conditions of employment
3. a five-year period of deportability for immigrants accused of serious crimes, and a three-year period of deportability for those who become public charges
4. continuation of restrictions on Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigration
5. further restrictions on unskilled immigrants
6. a literacy test as the best means of restricting immigration
Although there is much of value in the information and statistics gathered by the commission, its conclusions reflect the restrictionist bias of the committee members, who established an artificial dichotomy between “old” and “new” immigrants that obscured many variations from one ethnic group to another. The commission also failed to consider the effect of the recency of immigration, which clearly affected education, achievement, and rate of assimilation.

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