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Immigration in the American Tradition has played a large role in American History from the first English settlers of Pennsylvania to the modern day fears that accompany the arrival of new immigrant groups. People's fears are based on differences in religious, cultural, and social beliefs, as well as economic and national security concerns. The documents within the unit illustrate different xenophobic organizations and laws.

In 1727, the English residents of Pennsylvania wrote a Memorial against Non-English Immigrants to Parliament in an attempt to limit or ban newly arriving German immigrants. The list of concerns and worries are similar to the ideas expressed in the Certificate announcing the results of California's vote on Chinese Immigration Act in 1879. Both documents address the concerns of the "native" population that the increasing number of immigrants will change the racial or ethnic balance of the population, create unique foreign communities, and overall disrupt the status quo.

The last document is a series of letters between members of the Iwata family who were placed in an Internment Camp during World War II, out of fear of a vast internal Japanese uprising. The letters illustrate the Iwata family’s belief that the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Americans will ease or eliminate their pain and separation during the war. These different perspectives provide an insight to America's immigration debate.

Big Ideas

Perspective on Events

US History

Essential Questions

  • How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?

  • What role does analysis have in historical construction?


  • Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.

  • Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.

  • Textual evidence and material artifacts are central to understanding United States history.


  • Analyze primary sources for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time and place in United States history.

  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, political, and social relations for a specific time and place.

  • Summarize how conflict and compromise in the history of Pennsylvania and the United States impact contemporary society.

Background Material for Teacher

The unit and lesson plan are a part of Preserving American Freedom, which presents and interprets fifty of the treasured documents within the vast catalog of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In this project, documents are digitized with transcriptions and annotations, as well as with other user-friendly elements, that will help both teachers and students to better understand the materials in the lesson.

The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia has several essays on various people, events, and organizations that played a role in the history of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the United States.

End of Unit Assessment

A variety of traditional assessment styles can be applied to these readings. Traditional assessments can include a variety of quizzes (multiple choice or fill in), an essay, or a short paper drawing comparisons between the three documents. Primary sources may also be incorporated into a larger paper, student presentation, or class discussion led by student based questions. An alternative for those students who are unfamiliar with primary sources may be assessing notes taken during the reading to be used later as an open-notebook quiz.


Plans in this Unit

Immigration in the American Tradition, 1727 to 1942

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Core Standards




The Freedom Teacher Fellow was funded through a Bank of America grant for the digital history project Preserving American Freedom.

About the Author

This unit was created by David Reader, HSP's Freedom Teacher Fellow in the summer of 2012.  David is a social studies teacher at Camden Catholic High School.


Unit Plan

Irish Immigration

Unit Plan

German Immigration

Unit Plan

Japanese American Internment

Unit Plan

Italian Immigrants in Pennsylvania

Blog Post

Teaching about Immigration

Attention Teachers!

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