English speaking America, outside of Maryland, was primarily founded on protestantism and often extreme forms and one of its characteristics is continual splintering. This is not so much freedom of thought but the creation of new despotisms. We must remember, that other than the favored sect, most others were forbidden in a particular colony. Massachusetts prescribing death for habitual papists (and it was carried out). Freedom of thought was only for those who had the same thoughts.
Arthur Schlesinger Sr. once said to Msgr. John Tracy Ellis,"I regard prejudice against your church [roman catholicism] as the deepest bias in the history of the American people." In 1837 the Unitarians (who splintered so far from their Congregationalist past that they were no longer Christian) had overcome the Congregationalists in Massachusetts for control of the legislature. State mandated public education began in Massachusetts in 1837. In New York City, the Public School Society, a corporation of protestant ministers, gained control of the common school fund in 1840. Prior to 1826 New York state payed for denominational schools. A common-core or non-sectarian christianity was going to be taught just when the poor and catholic Irish began to emigrate, public schools began. The mold was set. This common protestantism would hold until the disturbances of the 1960s and their fallout. A greater secular retreat from christian beliefs became a new guiding philosophy, but old religious prejudices were not lost. There is this overwhelming structure of school and state that demands allegiance and obeisance, it may change platform but it continues its methods. It is always modern, always current, always claiming to be liberating and progressive and always really oppressive.
Back to the 1840s, heavy Irish immigration began and would continue along with Germans. The American Party (the Know Nothings), previously the American Republican Party, arose as a nativist party. The Irish were reviled by the Yankees and public accommodation and education would belittle them and others who came after. Their catholicism especially disturbed. Protestant bibles alone were to be used and catholic views were to be decried and presented as wicked or worse. The reaction to these immigrants drove them to found their own schools for their salvation of dignity, so in these urban areas of immigration there is the alternative parochial school system which continues to today.
In New York City, Bishop John Hughes objected to the protestant public schools and attempted to get a share for catholic education, instead the Maclay Bill of 1842 forbid all religious instruction in public schools and made no money available for other schools..When the bill was passed, Hughes residence was attacked and catholic churches had to be guarded from mob violence. Such was the beginning of the parochial schools.
Certainly, irish born Hughes who knew, first hand, english anti-catholic rule, was familiar with the hedge schools. The penal laws in Ireland began in 1691, amongst other matters, they forbid catholic teaching and catholic teachers. So the irish began illegal hidden schools, which were the only catholic acceptable schools till 1832 in the old sod. Alternatives to the state were possible and in America they did not have to hide.
Still crouching 'neath the sheltering hedge,
Or stretched on mountain fern,
The teacher and his pupils met feloniously to learn.. -- John O'Hagan
Between 1880 and the start of WWI ten million immigrants came to America from Eastern Europe while Anglo-Saxons and Protestants were few, in addition there were Italians and Irish and Jews who also were not waspish. There were many northeastern states and regions of the middle west that had majority populations of foreign born or the children of foreign born. The taunt, “rum, romanism and rebellion” would be used and others.
Senator Morrill of Vermont (of land grant colleges) wanted to send them back. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1895 Massachusetts) proposed a literacy test for immigrants. Congress had passed the Chinese exclusion Act of 1882 to protect the other coast. These objectionable peoples created a response of anti-immigrant organizations, such as The American Protective Association (1887) and the Immigration Restriction League. Educators such as Ellwood Cubberley described the newcomers as “largely illiterate, docile, lacking in initiative, and almost wholly without the Anglo-Saxon conceptions of righteousness, liberty, law, order, public decency and government.”
It was often said by many Americans “let’s load up the boats to send them back and then sink them at sea.” And this quip would still be uttered two generations later.
Daughters of the American Revolution and other groups sought out to Americanize them. Textbooks would tell them patriotic stories of this superlative land and civics classes and citizenship classes (this included the adults also) would indoctrinate them in being good citizens.
The Spanish American War (1898) further showed this braggadocio. Teddy Roosevelt would make the world fear and respect anglo-saxon americanism in his election win (1904). A Chicago newspaperman, Finley Peter Dunne, would write in 1898 in the words of his Mr. Dooley, “An Anglo-Saxon, Hinnissy, is a German that’s forgot who was his parents.”
Educators Terman and Thorndike could show how inferior these new immigrants really were by testing. Proper tracks could facilitate them. So, in looking at immigration in the period between 1840 and 1975 we can say immigrants were considered an unwelcome bother that needed to be solved to protect America and “americanizing” the newcomers was the remedial solution.