Nativism, in general, refers to a policy or belief that protects or favors the interest of the native population of a country over the interests of immigrants. In the United States, greatest nativist sentiment coincided with the great waves of 19th-century European immigration on the East Coast and, to a lesser extent, with the arrival of Chinese immigrants on the West Coast.
Nineteenth-century nativism in the United States contained a strong anti-Catholic strain, since many of the newly arrived immigrants hailed from predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Although both religion and ethnicity helped identify targets of nativist bias, its motivations were often economic. The large waves of immigrants, many of whom were skilled tradesman, provided a large pool of inexpensive labor that threatened the well-being of native artisans and other workers.
The most prominent American nativist organization of the 19th century was the Know-Nothing party, which flourished originally in the 1840s and experienced a revival in the 1880s. The Ku Klux Klan was also notable for its nativist sentiment.
The late 20th century witnessed a revival of nativism, particularly in Western Europe and in parts of the United States. Following the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the collapse of the economies of many Eastern European nations, workers from those countries emigrated to the West. Western European nations also experienced an influx of Asian immigrants, and the United States became home to many immigrants from Latin America. Consequently, France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, among others, imposed stricter immigration laws and controls on migrant labor.
Bibliography: Higham, John, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925 (1988); Michaels, Walter B., Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1997); Perea, Juan F., ed., Imigrants Out! The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the United States (1996).