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Immigration Archives - State Legislation of Immigration Abandoned

Although the national Government did not assume control of immigration until 1882, Congress in 1864 passed a law to encourage immigration. This law, which was repealed in 1868, represents the only attempt of the Government to promote immigration by direct legislation, altho the States have frequently made such attempts.

In his annual message to the first session of the Thirty-seventh Congress, President Lincoln favored a scheme of the Territories for encouraging immigration, and in a subsequent message, December 8, 1863, he strongly recommended national legislation of the same nature. The bill which was the outcome of this message, and which became a law July 4, 1864, provided for the appointment by the President of a Commissioner of Immigration, to be under the direction of the Department of State.

All contracts that should be made in foreign countries by emigrants to the United States whereby immigrants pledged the wages of their labor for a term not exceeding twelve months to repay the expenses of emigration, should be held to be valid in law, and might be enforced in the courts of the United States, or by the several States and Territories, and no such contract could in any way be considered as creating a condition of slavery or servitude.

An immigration office was to be established in New York City, in charge of a superintendent of immigration, who was charged with arranging for the transportation of immigrants to their final destination and protecting them from imposition and fraud.

Following the enactment of the law of 1864, several companies were established to deal in immigrant contract labor, but they were not satisfied with the law and wanted its scope enlarged. In 1866 the House of Representatives passed a bill amending the act of 1864, the principal provision being to increase the number of commissioners of immigration, the additional commissioners to be stationed in several cities along the Atlantic coast. The Senate, however, did not agree to the amendment.

During the ensuing years a strong sentiment developed against the importation of contract labor. A movement was also started with the object of protecting immigrants within the country, and of securing the proper regulation of immigrant voters.

The discussion during the next ten years is chiefly important in revealing the inadequacy of State control of immigration, and the development of a movement for national control. In 1876 a decision of the Supreme Court practically left no other alternative but national regulation.

Jeremiah W. Jenks, Ph.D., LL.D. and W. Jett Lauck, A.B., "State Legislation Abandoned" In The Immigration Problem, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1912, P. 300-302.

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