The Land of Opportunity vs. Nativism

In the late 1800s, thousands of immigrants came to the United States in the hopes of capitalizing on the opportunities available in the still growing nation. Some parts of the nation, especially new states in the west, aggressively marketed themselves to the new arrivals in the hopes of growing their populations and economies. Other communities became increasingly wary of immigration and advocated the ideals of nativism and protectionism to build support for legislation to limit new immigrant populations. 

Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 

The student will:

  • analyze newspaper articles, illustration, and political cartoons to determine different perspectives on immigration.
  • compare and contrast information from the sources to determine how and why attitudes on immigration varied.
  • integrate information from the sources to write a reflection on how the different attitudes on immigration would have been perceived by new arrivals to the country. 
Essential and guiding questions: 

How was America presented as a land of opportunity to immigrants? How did feelings of nativism and protectionism shape conversations on immigration? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Using the Immigration in America primary source set, have students construct a timeline and discuss how attitudes toward immigration have changed over time.

  • Have your students compare more recent newspaper articles on immigration policy to the articles they read in class.
  • What common themes are presented? How has the public discourse changed?

If you have students who are immigrants or who have family members who are immigrants, you might ask them to share their own experiences with the class. 

Helpful Hints


  • Graphic organizer
  • Primary source analysis worksheet