National Quarantine Act

(1878)

In April 1878, Congress passed the National Quarantine Act, signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Its purpose was to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases into the United States from foreign ports. The act was passed largely in response to a yellow fever epidemic that had broken out in the Caribbean earlier that year. To flee the disease, thousands of immigrants, particularly Cubans, tried to enter the United States through New Orleans. The National Quarantine Act strengthened the authority of the Marine Hospital Service, working with the states, to quarantine ships carrying any infectious disease. In the years that followed, additional legislation was passed to prevent people with infectious diseases from entering the country: In 1879 Congress established a National Board of Health to set rules for quarantines. The Immigration Act of 1891 barred the entry of persons with “dangerous contagious disease.” And an 1893 quarantine act required a U.S. consul...

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Marine Hospital and quarantine grounds, Staten Island, New York (Library of Congress)

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