Nativism is a reaction against immigrants. Earlier inhabitants of an area or a country sometimes develop a dislike or fear of immigrants.
Nativism and racism are similar. In both cases, a strong dislike or hatred arises on the part of one group against another group. With racism, however, one race dislikes another race. With nativism, people of the same race may dislike each other.
Nativism has been a major theme in United States history. Some of the original colonists of British North America despised people who had different religious faiths than themselves. Beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, many white Americans developed nativist sentiments towards Irish immigrants. Several reasons existed for this dislike, including the fact most Irish immigrants were Roman Catholics, the inaccurate stereotype that Irish people were heavy drinkers, and the fact that many Irish immigrants were very poor and willing to work for less money than native-born Americans, thus causing some American employers to hire Irish workers over native Americans. During World War II, a fear of Japanese Americans developed, prompting the United States government to place Japanese Americans in internment camps. In the early twenty-first century a strong dislike of people of Middle Eastern descent arose, principally because of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
In Ohio, nativist sentiment also existed. Many Ohioans opposed the Irish and the Japanese Americans, but the best example of nativism in Ohio occurred during World War I. During World War I, the United States and its allies were fighting against Germany and its allies in Europe. As a result, anti-German sentiment developed in Ohio and across the nation during 1917 and 1918. Being anti-German became a way of showing patriotism for the American war effort, but many Ohioans began to target German Americans in their zeal to promote patriotism.
The Ohio government promoted some anti-German activities, such as Ohio’s Americanization Committee. Governor James M. Cox originally created the Americanization Committee to promote American values and the teaching of the English language to immigrants who wanted to become American citizens. Raymond Moley, a professor at Western Reserve College, was the chair of the committee. Members of the committee were soon influenced by anti-German sentiment and began to enlarge their responsibilities to include censorship of German literature. Committee members sometimes recommended removing “pro-German” books from libraries during the war. The committee also published a list of “approved books” that were not considered to be “pro-German.”
Towns like Cincinnati, which had a number of streets with German names, chose to rename them during the war. The community of New Berlin changed its name to North Canton to show its patriotism. The state legislature passed the Ake Law, which banned the teaching of the German language in all schools below the eighth grade. Anyone who was suspected of being sympathetic to the German cause was treated badly by fellow Ohioans. Because there was a significant German-American population living in Ohio during World War I, nativism was a serious problem. Many Ohioans assumed that people of German descent, conscientious objectors, and those who were not in favor of the war were traitors, even if there was no evidence to support those assumptions.