The Sunday Magazine

Donald Trump and the "Know-Nothing" movement

Historian Eric Foner says Trump's anti-immigrant sentiment is a recurring strand of thought in America.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens during a news conference after speaking at the TD Convention Center, in Greenville, S.C. Trump calls for mass deportation of millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, as well as their American-born children. (Richard Shiro/Associated Press)

There are few words that stir the hearts of Americans more than the ones inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me"

The United States has long thought of itself as a land of opportunity that throws its doors open to the downtrodden and dispossessed in search of a better life. And those immigrants pursuing the American Dream have in turn built the country. But Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has become the mouthpiece for the many Americans who'd like to shut the door to Mexicans seeking opportunity in the U.S. - and who'd like to send the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living there back to Mexico.

Trump continues to outpoll his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination by a wide margin. The more outrageous or offensive his comments about Mexicans, women or his critics, the more his popularity grows. The Republican Party establishment views Trump as an embarrassment and an unelectable disaster in the making, but he has connected with disaffected branches of the GOP like no other candidate. In his xenophobia, bombast and unashamedly unpolished style, Trump also echoes nativist movements from the 19th Century, such as the Know-Nothing movement.

Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the America's pre-eminent historians, looks back at the anti-immigrant political movements of the 19th Century and The Donald's connection to them.