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nativism,in anthropology, social movement that proclaims the return to power of the natives of a colonized area and the resurgence of native culture, along with the decline of the colonizers. The term has also been used to refer to a widespread attitude in a society of a rejection of alien persons or culture. Nativism occurs within almost all areas of nonindustrial culture known to anthropologists. One of the earliest careful studies of nativism was that of James Mooney (1896), who studied the Ghost Dance among Native Americans of the W United States. In 1943, Ralph Linton published a brief paper on nativistic movements that served to establish the phenomenon as a special topic in anthropological studies of culture change.
See A. Wallace, The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (1972) and J. Higham, Strangers in the Land (1988).
Nativism is dedicated to the proposition that the United States was founded to serve only white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Nativism is a defensive, often violent, reaction to unrestricted immigration. In the United States, nativism is an intense form of nationalism that expresses itself in xenophobia (fear of foreigners), anti-Catholicism, and belief in white Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacy.
In 1848, after a series of European revolutions had rocked the Old World, approximately three million immigrants arrived in the United States. Negative reaction to the influx was intensified among the postcolonial Protestant majority on the East Coast because many of the new arrivals happened to be from Roman Catholic countries.
Secret societies, such as the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, organized by Charles B. Allen in 1849, had memberships of “Godfearing Protestants,” who were dedicated to ensuring that native-born, non-Catholic Americans would receive preferential treatment in all avenues of social and political society. Members of such secret groups became known as the “Know-Nothings” because none of them would admit knowing anything about the clandestine societies. The Nativists gained strength and some degree of respectability when they went public in 1854 and established the American Party. The new political group was strongly anti-Irish-Catholic and worked for legislation that would require twenty-one years of waiting time before anyone could become a U.S. citizen. The American Party lost its influence when former president Millard Fillmore, the party’s presidential candidate in the election of 1856, was soundly defeated.