Patriotic Order of the Sons of America collection

Biographical and Historical Notes

The Patriotic Order of the Sons of America was organized in 1847. Like many other patriotic organizations that formed during the mid- and late-nineteenth century, the Sons of America aimed to secure for future generations a strong America, built on patriotism, strong education, and hard work. The members of these groups primarily consisted of white collar workers, small merchants, and skilled mechanics. By the 1880s, patriotic organizations such as the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America, the Sons of the American Revolution, and Daughters of the American Revolution had joined forces to support stronger anti-immigration laws. A strong feeling of nativism, a concern for job security, and perceived threats to the existing social order caused these patriotic organizations to lobby heavily for tougher immigration laws.

The national headquarters of the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America was located in Philadelphia. Prior to 1899 and the organization of the first local camp in Cheswold, Delawareans probably attended camps in Pennsylvania. By 1909, a total of 24 Delaware camps had been organized, including the State Camp of Delaware in September 1905. By 1910, the Delaware State Camp included a membership of 1,315. The Sons of America was organized into national, state, and local camps. Each camp was responsible for collecting memberships and weekly dues. The dues supported death benefits for members and their spouses, as well as temporary aid for illnesses and disabilities.

One of the organization's committees, the National Committee on Legislation, actively lobbied for the passage of stronger restrictions on immigration. The Committee favored incorporation of a literacy test with other exclusion methods which had passed earlier to limit immigrants and the "less desirable." In response to pressure from groups like the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America, organized labor, law enforcement agencies, and members of the scientific community, Congress passed the Howell Naturalization Act of 1906, an act which required some knowledge of English. In 1907, Congress established the Dillingham Immigration Commission to study immigration, increased the Head Tax (the amount each person had to pay before entering the country), and added groups such as people with tuberculosis and children unaccompanied by a parent to the exclusion list. Even with such strong support from groups like the Sons of America, the literacy test did not become law until 1917.

Scope and Contents

The Patriotic Order of the Sons of America collection consists of correspondence, annual meeting reports, printed flyers, and organizational documents dating from 1905-1910. Most items are dated and appear to have been collected by an unidentified member of the Patriotic Order of the Sons of America, Camp #16 in Cheswold, Delaware. This collection was a gift of Harold W. T. Purnell in 1963, but it is unknown if he originally compiled this collection.

The papers contain communications about the club's organization, finances, and the need for club membership to support various immigration laws, specifically the need for a literacy test restriction. Most of the material dates from 1905, when the local Delaware camp #16 and the Delaware State camp were formed, to 1907 and the passage of the 1906-07 immigration laws. Also included in the collection are a Delaware State Annual Meeting program from 1909 and a Delaware State Annual Meeting Secretary's report from 1910.

The material includes information from all organizational levels of the club--national, state, and local--as well as correspondence from the National Committee on Legislation. The collection lacks any information on club members except for an undated membership list from Camp #16 in Cheswold and the names of the officers which appear on state and national correspondence. The correspondence from the National Committee on Legislation conveys the organization's urgent desire for more restrictive immigration laws.