Refugee Policies - The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries



The crisis of the 1790s set the tone for the next century. The United States would proclaim neutrality but permit refugees from foreign lands undergoing war or revolution to settle in the United States. In the 1820s, when the Greeks revolted against Turkish rule over Greece, most Americans sympathized with the Greek cause, and they willingly received a few Greek refugees in the United States. However, the official position of the United States was the new Monroe Doctrine (1823). President James Monroe declared that he expected European powers to refrain from ventures in the Western Hemisphere and not attempt to halt the revolutionary process there, and in return the United States would stay out of European affairs.

In 1831, Poles sought to overthrow Russian domination of their land. After exchanges of notes between the United States and Russia, the former remained neutral in the dispute and both powers agreed to a commercial treaty in 1833. However, important American citizens expressed their sympathy with the Poles and warmly welcomed several hundred Polish exiles who fled when the rebellion failed and raised money to assist in their settlement. Some Poles wanted Congress to grant them a tract of land in the West that was to become a new Poland in America. The legislators, while willing to permit the refugees to obtain land on the same terms as all others, rejected the scheme.

Revolutions broke out once more in Europe in 1848, and when they failed, thousands of refugees, chiefly Germans, fled to the United States. Once again, many Americans hailed the principles of the "forty-eighters" in their quest for constitutional government in their homelands, but officially the United States government elected to pursue a policy of neutrality. No case represents this position more than that of Hungarian Lajos Kossuth. While American officials proclaimed to the Austrians that they favored the principles of liberty anywhere, and sympathized with those Hungarians seeking independence from Austria, the United States did not intervene in the affairs of Hungary and Austria. When the Hungarian leader Kossuth arrived in the United States in 1852, he drew large crowds, but there was no chance that America would intervene in European affairs.

When the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, called the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, launched two attacks on Canada from the United States in 1866 and 1870, America was faced with a diplomatic crisis or embarrassment. As much as many Americans opposed English rule in Ireland, the government moved to halt these assaults, which seemed to many to have the flavor of a comic opera. Moreover, the United States was at peace with Great Britain, and American officials said that the Irish question was Britain's affair, not that of the United States.

In Latin America the United States pursued a different policy. Americans sympathized with the Cuban revolt against Spain that began in 1868 and lasted until the Spanish-American War (1898) ended Spanish rule. In the early years of the rebellion, when conditions deteriorated for the rebels, many sought asylum in the United States, where they settled in New York and Florida and began to organize again to overthrow Spanish control. American politicians demanded that Spain grant Cubans their independence. Relations between the United States and Spain deteriorated in the 1890s, and when the battleship Maine exploded in Havana's harbor, the cries for action led to a congressional declaration of war in 1898. As a result of the ensuing Spanish-American War, Cuba received independence but found itself closely tied to America.



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