“A Certificate of Moral Character”: Rosewater and Rosicky on Immigration

Between 1856 and World War I, over fifty thousand Czechs came to Nebraska, attracted by a steady stream of advertisements in Czech-language newspapers and magazines published here. Edward Rosewater (1841-1906) and John Rosicky (1845-1910), early Omaha newspapermen, originally came from Bohemia and used their publications to make Nebraska’s possibilities known to their countrymen. In 1871 Rosewater founded both the Omaha Bee and the weekly Pokrok Zapadu (The Progress of the West), the first Czech-language newspaper in Omaha. Rosicky acquired the Pokrok Zapadu in 1877 and later established several other Czech publications.

By 1891 the two men had differing views on how to discourage “undesirable immigration.” Rosewater’s Omaha Daily Bee on August 20, 1891, published a letter from Rosicky explaining his position: “To the Editor of THE BEE: In THE SUNDAY BEE you comment favorably upon the suggestion of the secretary of the Now York state board of charities, to keep the undesirable immigration out of our country by demanding from the immigrants a certificate of moral character, approved by our consuls. You think the plan practicable.

“In that I beg leave to differ with you and think the suggestion not alone impracticable, but rather tending to keep out ‘desirable’ immigrants without preventing the coming of the undesirable. . . . A very large number of very desirable immigrants, young men who leave the old countries to avoid the long and tedious military service, who come without leave of their respective governments, being in the prime of life and growing up here to manhood and appreciation of American institutions would then be barred out altogether, because they would never get the consent of their governments to immigration and could not get any such certificate.

“On the other hand, the ‘undesirable’ emigrants would in all probability find no difficulty in obtaining a favorable certificate, . . . Take, for instance, the much persecuted Russian Jews. . . . Now, sir, do you think that the Russian authorities would have any scruples about giving those people a favorable certificate for the purpose of emigration? I don’t. I believe they would be only too willing to part with them, and wish them God-speed.

“These proposed certificates would have to originate with the municipalities, or municipal authorities . . . . The approval of the consul would not amount to anything. He could not ride all over the country and presumably inquire into the case of every emigrant; he would only simply legalize or acknowledge the signature of the official issuing the certificate; that is all we could expect of him. How that could prevent undesirable immigration I am at a loss to know.”


John Rosicky. From Rose Rosicky’s A History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska (Omaha, 1929)


Edward Rosewater. NSHS RG2411.PH0-4772-2


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