The Italian emigration of modern times: Relations between Italy and the United States concerning emigration policy, diplomacy, and anti-immigrant sentiment, 1870--1927
In the late 1800s, the United States was the great destination of Italian emigrants. In North America, employers considered Italians industrious individuals, but held them in low esteem. Italian immigrants were seen as dangerous subversives, anarchists, cheap laborers who were always ready to accept jobs for lower wages. Indeed, numerous episodes of violence and even lynching of Italians occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. In most cases, the violence went unpunished by the local authorities. Such episodes of violence provoked a diplomatic controversy between Italy and the United States concerning treaty-guaranteed protection of foreign-born nationals on U.S. soil. The contention focused on the lack of jurisdiction by the federal government in the member states of the Union based on the separation of powers. The federal government took the position that there was no liability on its part for acts of mob violence, claiming that protection to aliens must be under the control of state governments. However, the federal government often found itself in an embarrassing position because of failure to comply with existing treaty obligations. The contention between Italy and the United States was never resolved in a satisfactory manner, except for payment of indemnities to the victims' families. However, long and patient diplomacy on the part of Italian representatives prompted the beginning of a movement in Congress for passage of a federal anti-lynching law aimed at protection of aliens who had treaty rights. Proposals submitted to Congress for a federal anti-lynching law were not successful because of constitutional issues, states' rights, and sectional prejudice. Italian diplomats protested vigorously the federal government's failure to comply with existing treaties. However, they adopted a realistic attitude of prudence and moderation, and made efforts to maintain good relations with the United States-- except for the case of New Orleans which provoked a serious diplomatic crisis and national pride, culminating in Rome's recall of its ambassador.