Law, Liberty, & Lincoln:
Honest Abe’s Immigration Act

ICYMI: President Lincoln’s Act
to Encourage Immigration


President Lincoln passed The Act to Encourage Immigration, July 4, 1864—the first, last, and only major law in American history to encourage immigration. Approved on July 4, 1864, the act was ultimately repealed. The repeal of The Act to Encourage Immigration could not, however, remove the effect it had upon immigration.

According to Time.com, “The Act, in 8 sections, authorized the President, by and with the consent of the Senate, to appoint a Commissioner of Immigration for a term of 4 years at $2,500/year; and a subordinate Superintendent in New York at $2,000/year. Section 2 provided that emigrants pledge their wages for no more than 12 months to cover their transportation here, but barred “any contract contravening the Constitution of the United States, or creating in any way the relation of slavery or servitude.” (Basically, it said immigrants could have other people pay to bring them here, but those people couldn’t treat them like slaves and only take the money the new immigrants earned for one year – after that the immigrants were free to do whatever they wanted).

Section 3 exempted all immigrants arriving after the passage of the act from compulsory military service unless the immigrant voluntarily renounced under oath his allegiances to the country of his birth, and declared his intention of becoming a citizen of the United States.   That promise (called a waiver) was a big deal at the time, since the military was drafting many American men into service to fight in the civil war!



1) Since there are many active debates about immigration these days yet this historical fact revolves around an act thaw was ultimately repealed, do you think this bit of history should be taught in classrooms? On one hand, it is a way to tie the past to the present which could help to bring history lessons home for students like you.  On the other hand, the fact that the act was repealed takes away from its relevancy.  

2) Do an online search for ‘American Immigration During the Civil War’, and then report back: What people and cultures may have been encouraged to emigrate to the United States as a result of Lincoln’s order? 

3) Using your response to #2, answer this: How did the effect of Lincoln’s order shape the world we live in today? In other words, what about our daily American lives might be traced back to this specific order of President Lincolns?   

Be sure to provide full explanations for each of your answers. For more details, you can read the article this piece was sourced from here:

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