thumbnail of Politics in the twentieth century; Ellis Island to Capitol Hill
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
The National Association of educational broadcasters welcomes you to Ellis Island to Capitol Hill an examination of the role of the immigrant family in present day American politics. One in a series of discussion programs titled politics in the 20th century produced and transcribed by the Community Education Project at San Bernardino Valley College. First you'll hear Samuel Lubell political analyst journalist and authors baking for mystery in New York and calculating some of the forces that are remaking the American political scene. Next you'll hear a group of four experts and scholars picking up the discussion and the Department of Government seminar room at Pomona College in Claremont California. The group will be led by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles and will have as its regular members Dr. Frank Lee sociologist University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee MacDonald a political scientist from own a college. We have as our special guest today Dr. Leonard Blum head of the Department of Social allergy and Anthropology University of California Los Angeles. And I hear a Samual of ELO as recorded in New York in the winter of
1910 Congress received a special report on immigration. It was the longest report ever submitted by a government investigating body up to that time. Buried in these forty two volumes was at least one table of figures which was to prove strangely prophetic for our time. This table showed that a majority of the children in the schools of our leading cities had fallen borne fathers in some cities more than two out of three school children were the sons and daughters of emigrants viewed in today's perspective. It is clear that those figures forecast a major political upheaval some time between 1930 and 1940. So 18 million immigrants had poured into the country between 1900 and 1910. No matter what else happens the growing up of the children of these 13 million immigrants was bound to exert a leveling toll on American society. As it
was the depression struck when most of them had barely entered the adult world and IT shop and all their memories of childhood handicaps and childhood discriminations. The really revolutionary surge behind the New Deal lay in just this coupling of the Depression with the rise of a new generation which had been malnourished on the congestion of our cities and the abuses of industrial as Franklin Roosevelt did not stop this revolt of the urban masses. The election returns show that Al Smith in 1928. Had already broken the Republican hold on our bigger cities. But it was during the Roosevelt years that the heavy birth rates of these immigrant elements hatched out this front of the votes which kept reelecting Roosevelt and which transformed the Democrats into the nation's majority party. What happened could be summed up in one phrase. They all minorities became
the new political majority in the country. Irish Jews Poles Czechs Scandinavians Italians Greeks the elements differed from place to place. But in every city the children and grandchildren of the one time immigrant groups were drawn into the Democratic fold along with Negroes hillbillies and poor whites who had come up from the south into the city. Will the simultaneous Coming of Age of these former underdog groups the whole nature of American politics was change. It is the rise of these urban masses for example which makes the civil rights issues so explosive politically. It also transformed the nature of machine politics dooming the old style political boss. Each minority group has its large families grew at a voting age and developed its own leadership began to press its demands for an ever increasing share of political recognition.
The Irish political bosses who had managed most of the big city machines for solong soon found themselves everywhere on the defensive. Much like the wearied rulers of the British Empire before the rising national the elements they once ruled Tammany Hall for example had been considered as Irish by tradition as sent packing since 1947 though it has been run by it Hello Americans. The Kelly Nash dynasty in Chicago was toppled a year in 1949 a coalition of this event Irish Americans and Polish-Americans terminated the 32 year rule of Frank A. Over Jersey City. Many aspects of this rise of these hyphenated American groups could be explored but it is my own feeling that this whole prodigious drama can best be viewed as part of one of the epic population movements in
all history namely the upsurge out of the slums towards the middle class which just swept all of our cities over the last 50 years. As I have tried to show this migration has really marked the rebirth of the old front here in a new urban setting just as our westward expansion was mocked by the study progression through successive frontiers zones. So the climbing masses these pavement pioneers have pushed from one neighborhood to the next with each neighborhood representing a higher rung on the social and economic ladder. And a further advance in their Americanization. And as they climbed these masses what transformed by the time the heights of middle class status had been scaled. The immigrant generation which had begun the trek. Had died off. Or had become grandparents doing duty as babysitters and a new native
born generation had come into its own. At first this march of the masses was considered by many persons as a radical almost insurrectionary development. But as events are shown this march of the masses has actually strengthened the middle class nature of American society. Far from confirming the old moxie and prophecies of class warfare their emergence as mocked an almost complete refutation of what Tom Ochs wrote one of the feature of this new Urban Frontier should be noted. It has been a powerful force in nationalizing the basis of American politics with every year one finds that the same economic groups tend increasingly to vote alike no matter what part of the country they live in. All are caught up in this same social and economic migration. In time I believe this movement will make both the Democrats
and the Republicans truly national parties. This was Mr. Samuel Lubell recording in his study in New York. Now let's continue our discussion of the role of the immigrant family in present day American politics. As we join our scholars and their guest in Room Six Department of Government at the moment college here is Dr. Nixon thank you. And we have with us for our discussion today our regular panel participants Dr. frankly of the Department of Sociology and the University of California Riverside. Dr. Lee MacDonald of the Department of the government of Dimona College in Claremont California. And Dr. Leonard broom as our special guest. He is professor of sociology at the University of California in Los Angeles. We just heard Mr. Lew Bell's analysis of the place of the various nationality groups in the American political scene today in which he has suggested that though we had an immigration in the early part of the 20th century from
Europe that these various groups from Europe had become minority groups in the American political scene but they had been wielded together into a new political majority during the course of the New Deal. And that in the period of the 30s and 40s they have moved up in the economic and social structure of American society so that today they no longer constitute a significant ethnic groups which they had been in the earlier period. And in fact there are economic movement up the scale into a middle class society now provides a basis for a realignment in the American political scene. Gentlemen I wonder how this particular analysis of the place of the various nationality elements of the American political scene strikes you. Dr. McDonald How do you how are you impressed by this analysis. It seems to me Mr. Nixon there is something of an enigma in Bill's analysis of the possible impact of the future of the
American parties growing out of the changing role of immigrant groups. You suggest there is a breakdown of ethnic class consciousness which will lead us into truly national parties. Now why will this occur presumably because ethnic consciousness will give way to class consciousness and we will have two class parties but the same ethnic minorities are moving also into a great middle class enlarging the middle class indeed. How do you get class parties was everybody in the middle class I think this is the question who is left for the lower class party presumably the Democratic Party the negroes what other groups I think this is a question which he certainly leaves an answer. Mr Lee with your questions do you see as important to Mr. LaBella as raised. I'm a little bit concerned by his lack of precision in stating that the civil rights issue has become so explosive politically. I wonder exactly what he means here.
For example on the one hand he could mean that these so-called hyphenated Americans as they have planned the social ladder have become increasingly conservative and are now resisting the advances of other minority groups up the social ladder. Or he could mean that they are still unsatisfied with their present status in society and are constantly asked for example with the Italians and that he's demanding new power and the American political setup. Dr Broome Ah you've had some experience in the study of various ethnic minorities in this country. What would you say is the legitimacy of Mr. Bell's analysis. Well I think the bill rather overstates the case. We did have important immigrations of groups largely from southern and eastern Europe in the decades immediately following the turn of the century. These populations came to the urban areas as
did important groups from rural and small town areas in the United States. Together these populations comprised the new urban population rather than a minority is the Bell talks about and together they did come to hold a balance of political power. The 1930 situation was comprised by an interesting series of historical accidents one as a bell indicates the minority's came to a voting age. They came to voting age during a period of serious depression at a time when they were of largely
lower class membership. This is the important dynamic. LUBELL describes but the dynamic which is rapidly diminishing in the American political scene. You say they came to voting age do you mean that they actually arrived at the age of 21 and could then vote or do you really mean that they became politically significant sections of our life at that time and if this is the case what was the intervening process between their actual settlement here and their rise to positions of political prominence. Well actually I suppose they came to voting age both literally and figuratively because many immigrants children of immigrants particularly. Arrived at the voting age about the beginning of the Roosevelt regime the process
is a very old one in American history. An immigrant group enters the country at the bottom of the socio economic ladder. Slowly and painfully makes a place for itself in the American economy whereupon it looks about itself and discovers that it not only has a toehold in the economy but it has a hand hold on. Political Organization our great cities have often been described as the locations for a series of replacements of one minority immigrant group. By the next one each one displacing and pushing upward its predecessor. And although that's an
oversimplification it's pretty close to the mark. Nobel talks as though this were a process which had taken place in the past but these groups have now moved up and out of the slum areas and consequently their ethnic background is becoming insignificant as a basis for their political participation. Would you say that this is really the case or are there new groups coming in going through this process all over again. Well I would say that continuing on from where Dr. Brawne has started that this is a continuing process and this comes back to the question which I originally raised. For example if we take a look at the race riots which have occurred in our northern cities in recent years we find that one of the major white elements which I've been involved here have been the second and third generation immigrant groups in Cicero for example a city which has a very large Polish population we had one of the most disastrous race riots in recent years. Now what may have
happened here is that the Polish peoples are living there the other minority groups ethnic groups as well having improved their social and economic status to a certain point become in secured to the extent that they are afraid of falling back down the social ladder and therefore as they are approached both residentially and in other ways by other minority groups they tend to reject them and to push them back. Now this has happened of course in this instance with respect to the negroes that also happened with respect in other areas to the Mexican-Americans and to the Puerto Ricans although it might be pointed out here that all three of these groups here are popularly considered racial groups. On the other hand however we have this other question. As to whether or not these ethnic groups are not still seeking a place for themselves on the ladder and here we have the situation which exist to a very large extent for example in the east with respect to the Italian population where they are just now on the verge of success of demanding and attaining really
decisive political power and where they have been in recent years successful in taking over from their old enemies the Irish for example who have predominately controlled Eastern politics and now you're suggesting that in fact these various groups are frequently in conflict with each other in the same area. What kind of a problem does this present to the politician who is trying to get in an awful acted and then the last has various ethnic groups to appeal to when these groups are in conflict with each other. Do I think a scientist have a view on this. I think this certainly does have implications for party strategy and National Party strategy at that. As you have these groups moving into suburban areas conscious of increased economic status there is a tendency to switch affiliations from a party that has commanded their allegiance in the past a party that is often a den of side with eastern city machines namely the Democratic Party or the party which has often been regarded as representing upper income groups namely the
Republican Party. And this is true whether or not the actual income puts them in one class or another. The suburban areas are noted not only for the new Republican strength but also for perhaps political apathy not apathy that is always measurable in terms of non voting but in terms of voting for the wrong reasons namely because it's respectable to go to the polls a kind of group ritual. This may be also a reflection of the issue of character of politics in the nineteen fifties when you have a depression. People are naturally worked up and respond to political appeals Likewise when you have a war. But in a period without depression and without war you see these appeals to respectability especially among. The immigrant groups or the persons with immigrant parents
being especially affected. Dr. broom do you see any other social logical factors which would shape the political role which these groups might be playing. Yes I observe the political strategist often treats real groups which may not be real at all but certainly in the case of the European minorities in the first decades of the century and in the great cities of the Eastern Seaboard they were dealing with groups which were real and had a territorial existence characteristically minority groups from Europe tended to settle in fairly cohesive territorial units as Dr. Lee has already indicated. These territorial units these segregated areas made it possible to
mobilize voting blocs of Italians of Irish of Jews and now in later years of. Negroes and Puerto Ricans However there's an interesting exception to this. On the Pacific coast where we have very substantial populations of Mexican origin the groups have not been well organized or well mobilized politically and this is due to the nature of the settlement of our Mexican-American populations. Mexican-Americans in California for example tend to be settled in segregated neighborhoods to be sure but not large blocks of area rather small enclaves. These
are are hard for the Mexican leader to mobilize into effective political units into effective voting blocks. Now slowly Mexicans on the West Coast are coming of age politically but more slowly I observe than did any of the important groups of European origin on the East Coast. Would you say then that the looking at these European minorities as significant political blocs is geared essentially to their residential pattern rather than to the fact that on political issues they were responding to them as Italians or Poles or Germans are Irish or whatever the group could be. Well it's a tough one to answer but it seems to me that the European minorities have
behaved as distinctive interest groups only in rather exceptional instances particularly in those instances involving their national ties. That is the Irish to the Irish Free State. The Italians and Germans to the nationalist developments in Europe the Jews currently perhaps to the Israeli state but for effective. Day to day political organization in the Americans seem to fear a degree of residential segregation a residential cohesiveness seems to be pretty important. And as these groups move up the social ladder there
are possibilities of mobilizing them into effective aerial units of cost declines. I'm wondering if this suggests then that when politicians think in terms of these various ethnic groups they do so because any particular constituency in majority of the population does have a background of being at. Heritage from Italy or from Germany or from one of these other countries and that if a politician ignored this background he would be fronting something in the face of the public. Whereas if he runs candidates who are also of the same kind of background then he has in a sense of eliminated the question of nationality origin as a significant political issue and it is something which both parties use. They will both run Italians in an Italian district or Poles in a Polish district and in this respect then make the question of nationality background in significance so
far as actual voting behavior is concerned. In the car in the party conflict and the allegiance to one part of the other then falls upon other kinds of issues such as economic status. Their view of one of the national policies were aid or hinder their particular climb up the economic ladder and not particularly a question of which Michel ethnic interest group position and by the same token it's only where you lack burning deep economic issues that an ethnic candidate will win support that he might not otherwise have because then it's an added fillip to the campaign of one party or the other. I would merely point out on that score that while this is generally true on the national level that I think we still have a residue of carry over from the old I think identification by themselves and therefore a continuance of this type of bloc voting on a law. Will state level. Well it seems to me that from my discussions so far there are several points where perhaps you would introduce important qualifications to the kind of statement that Mr Bell has initially made.
One would be that the New Deal certainly involves a much broader appeal than merely the mobilization of various former minority groups into a majority and that in fact is something of an accident of history that the groups that were brought into that majority happened to have had European heritage. Secondly that the ethnic groups in our political scene exist as much by virtue of the settlement pattern. The residential pattern whereby these people became a part of the American life and not just because they were attached to or their families came from one country in Europe or another. And thirdly that the significance of this ethnic background is greater with respect to issues involving foreign policy which can. Where America's relationship to the country of former origin is involved and is perhaps a list significant in terms of local and national
political issues. I'm wondering if there are other positions or questions on this that perhaps we haven't touched on that we ought to be cognizant of. Dr. MacDonald. Well Mr. LaBella mentions the downfall of the eastern city bosses Pendergast curly and so forth. At the end of World War Two and suggest this is the result of the rise in status of immigrant groups but it should also be pointed out that this represents the triumph of the welfare state in American lives as long as the national government can provide welfare services that formerly local bosses provided the allegiance will swing away from those bosses and of course the welfare state is the result of a very complex set of circumstances. Dr. Lee do you have further comments I would make this comment which is only partially related to the subject of hyphenated Americans today. First I would raise the question as to what will be the future changes in our present voting patterns. As the baby crop of the late 40s and the present time
reaches voting age in the 60s and 70s and secondly and related to this what voting changes may arise within these ethnic groups themselves as they continue to improve their social and economic status. Dr Broome other further observations that you think we should look at. I just like to reiterate the question raised by Dr MacDonald earlier in the program. Lugo tells us that the Democrats and Republicans are going to become truly national goodies. He hasn't told us along what lines these national parties are going to be drawn. Thank you Dr. Bloom our guest from the University of California Los Angeles. And thank you our regular participants Dr. McDonald and Dr. Lee for helping to examine this question of the place or the various European minority groups in this country in our current political scene.
You have been listening to Ellis Island to Capitol Hill and examination of the role of the immigrant family in present day American politics. One in a series of discussion programs titled politics in the 20th century. First we heard from Samuel Lubell political analyst journalist and author as recorded in his study in New York. And then across the country to room six in the Department of Government at promoting college for a discussion of bluebells analysis conducted by Dr. Charles Nixon political scientist University of California Los Angeles. Dr. Frank Lee sociologist University of California Riverside and Dr. Lee MacDonald political scientist. But Mona college there a special guest today was Dr. Leonard Blum head of the Department of Social allergy and Anthropology University of California Los Angeles. This program was produced and transcribed by the community education project of San Bernardino Valley College under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is to be an APB Radio Network.
Politics in the twentieth century
Ellis Island to Capitol Hill
Producing Organization
San Bernardino Valley College
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-qj77z02t).
Episode Description
This program, "Ellis Island to Capitol Hill," examines the impact that immigrant families have on American politics.
Series Description
This series consists of moderated panel discussions on American political affairs in the mid-20th century. It features Samuel Lubell, Professor Charles Nixon and others.
Broadcast Date
Politics and Government
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Panelist: Lee, Frank
Panelist: McDonald, Lee Cameron
Panelist: Broom, Leonard
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Lubell, Samuel
Speaker: Nixon, Charles
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-8-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:07
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Politics in the twentieth century; Ellis Island to Capitol Hill,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
MLA: “Politics in the twentieth century; Ellis Island to Capitol Hill.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Politics in the twentieth century; Ellis Island to Capitol Hill. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from