Culturist Immigration Policy: It’s “Who We Are”

by John K. Press (January 2016)

President Obama and the United States Congress are now fighting over whether or not to restrict the Syrian refugees the President wants to bring into the nation. To those who wish to differentiate between religions or cultural groups in immigration policy, Obama said, “That’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are.”

Yet, prior to 1965, our immigration policy history had always been culturist. Our policies assumed we have a particular traditional majority culture – a Protestant one – and a right as well as a duty to protect and promote it. This article will describe our culturist immigration policy history in order to help us to understand the nature of our traditional culturist reasoning and policies. Not incidentally, it will also challenge Obama’s characterization of “who we are.”

I am not, for now, saying these culturist policies are right or wrong. My point is, rather, Obama’s saying our tradition does not sanction religious or cultural discrimination is just plain not true. American has long been described as a Puritan nation. And, the Puritans were strict culturists: they fiercely protected their culture.  

The Federalist Papers were essential in passing our Constitution and so in founding the United States. In a famous passage, The Federalist Papers claimed that it was natural we should become a nation because were are, “a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.”[1] This very strongly counters Obama’s multicultural / globalist idea that America is founded upon love of diversity and open borders. Rather than un-American, valuing our homogeneity and the resulting unity were at the heart of our founding.

Just after the Constitution was adopted, Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790. This law limited naturalization to immigrants who were “free white persons of good character.” A question, “Was this racist or culturist?” It was definitely racist. But I would argue that the reasoning was largely culturist. When the Act was amended in 1795 and 1798, the change focused on adding proof of good character. At the time, apart from Blacks and Indians, the population was overwhelmingly White. It was assumed that only Whites could be citizens. The focus was, as the Federalist Papers argued, on fitting in to our culture.


Next, I wish to look at the Chinese exclusion act of 1882. Was this racist? Yes. It discriminated against Chinese. But it was also culturist. The Act was upheld by the Supreme Court in Chae Chan Ping versus the US, because the Chinese were “residing apart by themselves, and adhering to the customs and usages of their own country.” This is a culturist consideration. Interestingly, the Supreme Court also noted that diversity was causing a lot of rioting between the Chinese and Whites. Without noting whose fault the riots were, the Supreme Court argued that citizens’ right to domestic peace was more important than foreigners desire to move to the US. Avoiding such rioting, the court held, was “essential to the peace of the community on the Pacific coast and possibly to the preservation of our civilization there.”[3] 

Two decades later, the Immigration Act of 1903 made immigrants excludable on political grounds for the first time by excluding anarchists. At the time, radicals were terrorizing the nation. In the infamous Haymarket Affair of 1886, a bomb killed seven people and injured over sixty. And, in 1901, an anarchist assassinated President William McKinley. The 1903 Act excluded potential immigrants because they might adhere to a destabilizing philosophy. Obama’s saying excluding those who might do us harm is ‘Un-American’ is not true. Taking such precautions is a tradition. 

A series of laws between the 1903 Immigration Act and the 1924 Johnson Reed Immigration Act, kept the exclusion against anarchists and introduced new grounds for restricting immigration. Among these were: Illiteracy, ill health, and the likelihood to become a public charge, (to go on welfare). We have long used our immigration laws to protect our population and maintain cultural standards. We have long considered whether or not immigrants would add to or detract from our cultural and physical health. This is not irrational. It demonstrates caring for our nation.

The 1965 Act brought in the multicultural ethos that we have no core culture. It did this by removing our traditional Eurocentric immigration policies in favor of a global diversity model. If you wish to know what is American, I would argue, you would look at the expanse of our history, from the Puritans until 1965. People prior to this time were not un-American. Eisenhower and Franklin define America. They are at least as American as Ted Kennedy.

Now President Obama might admit, that America used to be culturist. But, he might then argue, American history has taught us to have more and more tolerance. In the past we were culturist and unenlightened and now we’re multicultural, globalist and enlightened. But, this arrogant, progressive argument assumes that the Puritans, Founding Fathers, Supreme Court and Eisenhower were all less aware of social realities and dynamics than present day Americans. By insulting our Founding Fathers, this argument lowers our national self–esteem. 

As a culturist, I say our culturist history is the key to our having been united, safe and prosperous. Our tradition of culturism is the reason we are the United States of America and not the Divided States of America. The Americans who came before us were smart to be culturist. As terrorist upon terrorist acts show, multiculturalism’s ignoring of cultural diversity and cultural dynamics is not intelligent. Ignoring culture in policy makes poor policy because cultural diversity is real. To continue to succeed, America must take pride in our culturist heritage. We must limit immigration and return to our tradition of culturist education by promoting assimilation.

[1] Jay, John, Hamilton, Alexandar, Madison, James, The Federalist Papers, (New York: Pocket Books, 2004), 9

[2] Franklin, Benjamin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1755).

[3] U.S. Supreme Court, The Chinese Exclusion Case, 130 U.S. 581 (1889), The Chinese Exclusion Case, No. 1448, Argued March 28-29, 1889, Decided May 13, 1889, 130 U.S. 581



John K. Press, Ph.D., teaches at a university in South Korea. He is the author of the book, Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future. More information can be found at


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