On 14 February 1913, President William Howard Taft returned, unsigned, an immigration bill that would have implemented, for the first time, a literacy requirement.
Previous federal legislation had aimed at excluding or deporting only select classes of “undesirables” (e.g., chronic alcoholics, “anarchists,” etc.). But by 1896, opponents of immigration realized they could restrict larger numbers by legislating a broader selection criteria, targeting anyone above the age of 16 who could not read or write any language (not just English).
President Cleveland vetoed that bill in 1897. Congress would not succeed in overriding Taft’s or Wilson’s similar vetoes until 1917.