A Look at Immigration Cartoons Through History

By Tonka Dobreva 03.15.2017 interact

The United States—often referred to as a “melting pot”—is a nation of immigrants. For hundreds of years, immigrant arrivals from all over the world have contributed to the rich fabric of our society. They helped build the country’s infrastructure and economy, and established its values and culture. But that doesn’t necessarily mean immigrants have always been welcome—to the contrary. As long as people of different nations, races and ethnicities have been arriving, there have been opponents in the United States fearing “otherness” and change. These fears have long been documented and reflected in anti-immigrant cartoons, some of which are meant to be satirical and some political propaganda. All of them seemingly, however, have been laced with racism. Here are a few examples from the Library of Congress.

Artist: Thomas Odham
Title: Volunteers for Texas. As You Were.
Published: 1846 by F &S Palmer

After the United States annexed Texas, many Irish immigrants enlisted to help defend the territory. This cartoon demonstrates a lingering anti-Irish immigrant sentiment, as it portrays them as bumbling and wildly under-qualified to wear the country’s uniform and fight in the Mexican War on the United States’ behalf. We see this in details such as the parasol where a weapon would normally be in hand of a “respectable” soldier.


Artist: F. Opper
Title: The “New Trans-Atlantic Hebrew Line.” For the Exclusive Use of “The Persecuted.”
Published: 1881 in Puck

To escape religious persecution in Europe and Russia, waves of Jewish immigrants traveled to the United States toward the end of the nineteenth Century, a scenario depicted in this cartoon. Notice the words “the persecuted,” in quotes, nodding to a rising anti-Semitic sentiment and lack of sympathy toward their plight. Shortly after this cartoon was published, an organization called The Immigration Restriction League founded in Boston, with chapters across the country, based upon the belief that Jewish people were racially inferior.


Artist:  Graetz, F. (Friedrich)
Title: A Trio That Must Go.
Published: 1883 in Puck

In 1882, President Chester Arthur signed The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers—effectively sanctioning the exclusion of groups based on ethnicity, and fueling racism of those already living in the United States. This print depicts a Chinese man along with an injured elephant representing the Republican Party and a woman/bell, communicating a sentiment that Chinese were not welcome in the country.




Artist: Raymond O. Evans
Title: The Americanese Wall – as Congressman [John Lawson] Burnett Would Build It.
Published: 1916 in Puck

This cartoon reveals growing anti-Asian immigrant sentiment in the United States in the early twentieth Century. It shows “Uncle Sam” behind a large wall lined with books. This is in reference to a bill sponsored by Congressman John Lawson—the Immigration Act—passed in 1917 barring immigrants from “any country not owned by the U.S. adjacent to the continent of Asia.” As part of the law, immigrants over 16 years old needed to pass a literacy test, pay a tax and submit to a medical examination, as those with physical or mental disabilities were not permitted. An irony perhaps to today’s “wall” is that Mexican laborers were often exempt from the literacy test due to demand by American employers.


  1. sander

    lol. If only trump saw these

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