"Indignation at the Vatican," The New York Times, February 17, 1914


Rep. John L. Burnett, ca. 1885
Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History

The flood of immigrants entering America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to strong opposition from Americans who feared that immigrants would introduce radicalism, socialism, anarchy, or even violent revolution into American politics. Beginning in 1896, supporters of immigration restriction proposed that a literacy test would be the best means of selecting "desirable" immigrants from those who would be potential burdens on their new communities - the mentally ill, the uneducated, and the physically handicapped. American Catholics almost unanimously opposed the literacy test, fearing that it was aimed at limiting Catholic immigration and rejecting it as an unsound measure of an immigrant's potential for good citizenship. In 1914, the literacy test was again proposed, this time by Representative John L. Burnett (D-Alabama), the chairman of the House Committee on Immigration, and was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. This article from The New York Times reports on the Vatican's reaction to the "Burnett bill."


"Indignation at the Vatican"


As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:

  • Why did the Vatican oppose the Burnett bill?
  • Which nationalities, according to the article, would be most affected by the bill? What percentage of these immigrants would the literacy test exclude?
  • Who else, besides the Pope, opposed the Burnett bill?