Immigration

Immigration to the United States

The pace of immigration accelerated in the 1840s and 1850s, as people from Europe sought land, freedom, opportunity, and jobs in the United States.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the patterns of immigration into the United States during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Immigration to the United States from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and other parts of western Europe increased beginning in the 1830s.
  • Most immigrants were attracted by the cheap farmland available in the United States; some immigrants were artisans and skilled factory workers attracted by the first stage of industrialization.
  • Many Irish immigrants became unskilled workers on infrastructure projects and in factories; many German immigrants became farmers and craftsmen.
  • The California gold rush of 1849 rapidly expanded the population of the new territory, attracting thousands of immigrants from Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe.
  • Between 1841 and 1850, immigration nearly tripled, totaling 1,713,000 immigrants.
  • As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay.

Key Terms

  • infrastructure: The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society.
  • industrialization: A process of social and economic change whereby a human society is transformed through manufacturing and advances in technology, particularly with the development of large-scale energy and metallurgy production.

Immigration in the Nineteenth Century

There was relatively little immigration into the United States from 1770 to 1830. Large-scale immigration resumed in the 1830s from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and other parts of western Europe, and the pace of immigration accelerated in the 1840s and 1850s. Most immigrants were attracted by the cheap farmland available in the United States; some immigrants were artisans and skilled factory workers attracted by the first stage of industrialization. Poor economic conditions in Europe drove many people to seek land, freedom, opportunity, and jobs in the new nation of America.

Immigration from Europe

Many new members of the working class came from the ranks of these immigrants, who brought new foods, customs, and religions. The Roman Catholic population of the United States, fairly small before this period, began to swell with the arrival of the Irish and the Germans. Many people immigrated from Ireland to work on infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads and settled in urban areas. Many Irish went to the emerging textile mill towns of the Northeast, while others became longshoremen in the growing Atlantic and Gulf port cities. About half of the immigrants from Germany headed to farms, especially in the Midwest and Texas, while the other half became craftsmen in urban areas.

Between 1841 and 1850, immigration nearly tripled, totaling 1,713,000 immigrants. The great potato famine in Ireland (1845–1849) drove the Irish to the United States in large numbers; they emigrated directly from their homeland to escape poverty and death. The failed Irish revolutions of 1848 brought many intellectuals and activists to exile in the United States.

The California Gold Rush

By 1848, thousands of California’s residents had gone north to the gold fields with visions of wealth, and in 1849, thousands of people from around the world followed them, marking the beginning of the gold rush. The California gold rush rapidly expanded the population of the new territory, attracting thousands of immigrants from Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe; it also prompted concerns about immigration, especially from China.

Foreigners were generally disliked, especially those from South America. The most discriminated against, however, were the thousands of Chinese immigrants. Eager to earn money to send to their families in Hong Kong and southern China, they quickly earned a reputation as frugal and hard workers who routinely took over diggings others had abandoned as worthless and worked them until every scrap of gold had been found. Many American miners, often spendthrifts, resented their presence and discriminated against them, believing the Chinese, who represented about 8 percent of the nearly 300,000 who arrived, were depriving them of the opportunity to make a living.

In 1850, California imposed a tax on foreign miners, and in 1858, it prohibited all immigration from China. Those Chinese who remained in the face of the growing hostility were often beaten and killed, and some Westerners made a sport of cutting off Chinese men’s queues, the long braids of hair worn down their backs. In 1882, Congress took up the power to restrict immigration by banning the further immigration of Chinese.

A drawing depicting five Chinese men panning for gold

Chinese gold miners in California: One impetus for immigration was the gold rush of 1849, which brought to California thousands of immigrants from Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe.

Immigration and Worker Exploitation

As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. As a result, many wage workers in the North were largely hostile to immigration. In Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, the daughters of New England farmers encountered competition from the daughters of Irish farmers suffering the effects of the potato famine; these immigrant women were more likely to be exploited by employers, working for far less money and enduring worse conditions than native-born women. Male German and Irish immigrants also competed with native-born men. Germans, many of whom were skilled workers, took jobs in furniture making. The Irish provided a ready source of unskilled labor needed to lay railroad tracks and dig canals. American men with families to support grudgingly accepted low wages in order to keep their jobs. As work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe.

Irish Immigration

A second wave of Irish Catholic immigration began in the 1840s following the potato famine in Ireland.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the waves of Irish immigration into the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The first wave of Irish immigration, which occurred before the American Revolution, consisted mostly of Protestants from Ulster who settled in the American interior. Descendants of this first wave called themselves “Scotch-Irish.”
  • A second wave of Irish Catholic immigration began in the 1840s following the potato famine in Ireland. By 1890, two of every five Irish-born people were living abroad.
  • Most of the new Irish Catholic immigrants worked as unskilled laborers. In the Northeast, they worked in textile mills in emerging industrial cities. In the interior of the country, they worked on infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads.
  • Native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new Irish arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay; the resulting job competition caused widespread discrimination against Irish immigrants.

Key Terms

  • potato famine: A period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852.
  • unskilled labor: Of a person or workforce: not having specific technical training.

Early Irish Immigrants

Protestant Irish immigrants from Ulster had been coming to British North America since the 1700s, and many had settled in the upland areas of the American interior. They participated in the American Revolution in large numbers and were a well-established community by the 1840s, when a second wave of Irish immigration began. At that time, descendants of the first wave of Irish immigration began to refer to themselves as “Scotch-Irish” to distinguish themselves from the newly arrived immigrants.

The Potato Famine

The Irish potato famine (1845–1849) destroyed much of the potato crop in Ireland and sent the entire country into starvation. Many emigrated to America in order to escape poverty and death. These new Irish immigrants were primarily Catholic, and most became unskilled workers who settled in urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest such as Boston, New York, and Chicago. Many Irish went to the emerging textile- mill towns of the Northeast; some also migrated to the interior of America to work on large-scale infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads.

The engraving depicts a family of seven waving forlornly at a ship sailing in the distance.

Emigrants leaving Ireland: Irish immigration begin in the mid-eighteenth century and intensified during the great potato famine of 1845–1849.

By 1840, emigration had become a massive, relentless, and efficiently managed national enterprise. Including those who moved to Britain, between 9 and 10 million Irish people emigrated after 1700. The total flow was more than the population at its historical peak in the 1830s of 8.5 million. From 1830 to 1914, almost 5 million Irish traveled to the United States alone. In 1890, two of every five Irish-born people were living abroad. By the 2000s, an estimated 80 million people worldwide claimed some Irish descent; among them are 50 million Americans who claim “Irish” as their primary ethnicity.

The graph shows the population of Europe versus the population of Ireland from 1740 to 2000. Over that time period, the population of Europe rose steadily from about 175 million to about 725 million. The population, of Ireland, on the other hand, rose from about 2.75 million in 1740 to about 8.25 million in 1840, but then dropped off dramatically, reaching a low of about 4 million in 1940. After 1940, the population started rising again, and was about 5.5 million in 2000.

Graph of total population of Ireland: This graph shows the sharp decline in population in Ireland beginning in 1840. By 1855, almost 2 million Irish had emigrated.

Discrimination and Assimilation

As Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. In Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, the daughters of New England farmers encountered competition from the daughters of Irish farmers suffering the effects of the potato famine; these immigrant women were more easily exploited by employers, working for far less money and enduring worse conditions than native-born women. Male Irish immigrants also competed with native-born men. The Irish provided a ready source of unskilled labor needed to lay railroad tracks and dig canals. American men with families to support grudgingly accepted low wages in order to keep their jobs.

As work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe. The resulting job competition caused a general hostility toward Irish immigrants. Nineteenth-century Protestant American “nativist” discrimination against Irish Catholics reached a peak in the mid-1850s, when the Know-Nothing Party tried to oust Catholics from public office. Much of the opposition came from Irish Protestants, as in the 1831 riots in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the 1830s, riots for control of job sites broke out in rural areas between Irish and local American work teams competing for construction jobs. After 1860, many Irish sang songs about “NINA signs” reading, “Help wanted—no Irish need apply.”

Effects on American Culture

The Irish had a huge impact on America as a whole. Even today, many major cities in the United States retain a substantial Irish American community. Massachusetts mill towns such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Pawtucket attracted many Irish women in particular. The anthracite-coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania saw a massive influx of Irish during this time period; conditions in the mines eventually gave rise to groups and secret societies such as the Molly Maguires. As they assimilated, Irish Americans contributed to U.S. culture in a wide variety of fields, such as the fine and performing arts, film, literature, politics, sports, and religion.

German Immigration

Between 1820 and World War I, many German political refugees came to America following a series of German revolutions.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the political significance of German immigration in mid-nineteenth century America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The largest flow of German immigration to America occurred between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans immigrated to the United States. Roughly half of German immigrants settled in cities and became skilled workers and entrepreneurs, while the other half established large farms in the Midwest.
  • In the mid-nineteenth century, German immigrants formed the largest incoming group to America.
  • Cities such as Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis attracted large German populations, and many cities had neighborhoods named in reference to this German heritage.
  • Sentiment among German Americans was largely antislavery, and hundreds of thousands of German Americans volunteered to fight for the Union in the American Civil War.

Key Terms

  • entrepreneur: A person who organizes and operates a business venture and assumes much of the associated risk.
  • brewing: The production of alcoholic beverages, such as beer, by fermentation.

Immigration from Germany

The largest flow of German immigration to America occurred between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans immigrated to the United States. From 1840 to 1880, they were the largest group of immigrants to the United States. Following the Revolutions of 1848 in Germany, a wave of political refugees fled to America who became known as “Forty-Eighters.” They included professionals, journalists, and politicians. Prominent Forty-Eighters included Carl Schurz and Henry Villard.

Location of German Communities

The cities of Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Baltimore were favored destinations of German immigrants. Many communities acquired distinctive names suggesting their heritage, such as the “Over-the-Rhine” district in Cincinnati and the “German Village” in Columbus, Ohio. Milwaukee was once known as “the German Athens,” and radical Germans trained in politics in the old country dominated the city’s Socialists. Skilled workers produced many crafts, while entrepreneurs created the beer brewing industry; the most famous brands included Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, and Blatz.

While roughly half of German immigrants settled in cities, the other half established farms in the Midwest. From Ohio to the Plains states, a heavy presence of German heritage persists in rural areas today. Few Germans settled in the Deep South, apart from some in New Orleans.

image

German population in America, 1872

This map shows the large number of German Americans in the United States and their concentration in the northern region of the country.

Politics and Role in Society

Sentiment among German Americans was largely antislavery, especially among Forty-Eighters. Hundreds of thousands of German Americans volunteered to fight for the Union in the American Civil War, making them the largest immigrant group to participate. Although only one in four Germans fought in all-German regiments, they created the public image of the German soldier.

Relatively few German Americans held office, but the men voted after they became citizens. In general during the Third Party System (1850s–1890s), the Protestants and Jews leaned toward the new Republican Party and the Catholics were strongly Democratic. When prohibition was on the ballot, the Germans voted solidly against it. In the late nineteenth century, many Germans in cities were socialists, and Germans played a significant role in the labor-union movement.

The Germans worked hard to maintain and cultivate their language, especially through newspapers and classes in elementary and high schools. German Americans in many cities, such as Milwaukee, brought their strong support of education, establishing German-language schools and teacher-training seminaries (Töchter-Institut) to prepare students and teachers in German-language training. By the late nineteenth century, the Germania Publishing Company—a publisher of books, magazines, and newspapers in German—was established in Milwaukee.

“Germania” was the common term for German-American neighborhoods and their organizations. Deutschtum was the term for transplanted German nationalism, both culturally and politically. Between 1875 and 1915, the German-American population in the United States doubled, and many of its members worked hard to maintain their culture. German was used in local schools and churches, while numerous Vereine—associations dedicated to literature, humor, gymnastics, and singing—sprang up in German-American communities. German Americans tended to support the German government’s actions, and, even after the United States entered World War I, they often voted for antidraft and antiwar candidates. Deutschtum in the United States disintegrated after 1918.

Nativism

Nativism was an anti-immigration movement that favored those descended from the inhabitants of the original thirteen colonies.

Learning Objectives

Describe anti-immigrant sentiment in mid-nineteenth century America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Nativists believed they were the true “Native” Americans, despite their being descended from immigrants themselves.
  • In response to the waves of immigration in the mid-nineteenth century, Nativists created political parties and tried to limit the rights of immigrants. One Nativist organization, the “Order of the Star Spangled Banner,” became known as the “Know-Nothings.”
  • Much Nativist sentiment was focused on Irish Americans, but German and Chinese immigrants came under attack as well.

Key Terms

  • Know-Nothings: A movement by the Nativist American political faction of the 1850s characterized by political xenophobia, anti-Catholic sentiment, and occasional bouts of violence against the groups members opposed.
  • American Party: A political party active in Connecticut in the early nineteenth century.
  • Order of the Star Spangled Banner: An oath-bound secret society in New York City created in 1849 by Charles Allen to protest the rise of Irish, Roman Catholic, and German immigration into the United States.

Anti-Immigration Sentiments

The large numbers of immigrants that came from dramatically different cultures during the middle of the nineteenth century sparked a number of anti-immigration movements. The largest of these movements was nativism, which took its name from the “Native American” parties. In this context, “native” did not mean indigenous or American Indian, but rather those descended from the inhabitants of the original British thirteen colonies. Nativists objected primarily to Irish Roman Catholics because of their loyalty to the Pope and because of their supposed rejection of the American ideal of republicanism. Nativism’s prejudice was not exclusive to Irish Catholics, however: German and Chinese immigrants also came under attack during the second half of the nineteenth century.

As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers also found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. This job competition resulted in increased hostility toward immigrants; as work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe.

Nativist outbursts occurred in the Northeast from the 1830s to the 1850s, primarily in response to a surge of Irish Catholic immigration. In 1836, Samuel F.B. Morse ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City on a Nativist ticket, receiving only 1,496 votes. Following the Philadelphia Nativist riots in the spring and summer of 1844, the Order of United Americans, a Nativist fraternity, was founded in New York City.

The Know-Nothings

By 1850, Charles B. Allen had founded a Nativist society called the “Order of the Star Spangled Banner” in New York City. In order to join the Order, a man had to be 21 years of age, a Protestant, a believer in God, and willing to obey without question the dictates of the Order. Members became known as the “Know-Nothings” because, if asked in public, they claimed to know nothing about the secret society. The anti-Catholic Know-Nothings wanted to extend the amount of time it took immigrants to become citizens and voters; they also wanted to prevent foreign-born people from ever holding public office.

The original text of the Know Nothing Party's platform. The text in the image is unreadable.

The Know-Nothings: The Know-Nothing Party’s platform included the repeal of all naturalization laws and a prohibition against immigrants holding public office.

The American Party

The Nativists went public in 1854 when they formed the American Party, which was especially hostile to the immigration of Irish Catholics and campaigned for laws to require longer wait time between immigration and naturalization. The laws never passed. It was at this time that the term “nativist” first appeared; opponents denounced them as “bigoted nativists.” In the 1854 elections, Nativists won control of state governments in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and California. They won elections in Maryland and Kentucky and took 45 percent of the vote in five other states. In 1856, Millard Fillmore was the American Party candidate for president and trumpeted anti-immigrant themes. Nativism caused much splintering in the political landscape

Immigrant Labor

Many of the economic gains in the United States during the nineteenth century were made possible by immigrant labor.

Learning Objectives

Describe the contribution immigration made to economic growth in nineteenth-century America

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Immigration provided the population growth necessary for the booming American economy of the nineteenth century.
  • Many immigrants came to the United States specifically for job opportunities that promised a better life.
  • Immigrant communities were attracted to a wide range of jobs: Irish immigrants largely became factory workers and laborers, while German immigrants became skilled craftsmen, entrepreneurs, and farmers.
  • The California gold rush of 1849 provided another reason for thousands of immigrants seeking opportunities to come to the United States.

Key Terms

  • unskilled labor: Of a person or workforce: not having technical training.
  • infrastructure: The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society.

Immigrant Labor

Immigrants of the nineteenth century flocked to urban destinations, making up the bulk of the U.S. industrial labor pool. These new sources of labor profoundly influenced the emergence of the steel, coal, automobile, textile, and garment industries, increasing production and enabling the United States to leap into the front ranks of the world’s economies.

Many of the population and economic gains during the nineteenth century were made possible by immigration, as hundreds of thousands of people came from Europe, China, and Latin America seeking the job opportunities and the perceived prospect of a better life in America. Different immigrant groups tended to drift toward different occupations, depending on their background. The Irish provided mostly unskilled labor in factories, textile mills, and large infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads. Many Irish went to the emerging textile mill towns of the Northeast, while others became longshoremen in the growing Atlantic and Gulf port cities. Roughly half of the immigrants from Germany went to farms, especially in the Midwest and Texas, while the other half became craftsmen and entrepreneurs in urban areas.

image

Poster by the Houston and Texas Railroad advertising land for immigrants: Many immigrants were attracted to the United States by the availability of cheap farmland. In particular, large numbers of German immigrants became farmers in the United States.

The California Gold Rush

In 1849, the California gold rush brought in more than 100,000 would-be miners from the eastern United States, Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe. California became a state in 1850 with a population of about 90,000. Many of the immigrants who came for the gold rush also stayed to work on large infrastructure projects such as the railroads.

Exploitation and Discrimination

As German and Irish immigrants poured into the United States in the decades preceding the Civil War, native-born laborers found themselves competing for jobs with new arrivals who were more likely to work longer hours for less pay. In Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, the daughters of New England farmers encountered competition from the daughters of Irish farmers suffering the effects of the potato famine; these immigrant women were willing to work for far less and endure worse conditions than native-born women. Male German and Irish immigrants also competed with native-born men. Germans, many of whom were skilled workers, took jobs in furniture making. The Irish provided a ready source of unskilled labor needed to lay railroad tracks and dig canals.

American men with families to support grudgingly accepted low wages in order to keep their jobs. As work became increasingly deskilled, no worker was irreplaceable, and no one’s job was safe. The resulting competition over jobs led to increased hostility from many native-born Americans toward immigrants during the nineteenth century.