Sunday, July 28, 2019

Immigration to the United States to 1860

Immigration and Race in America, Part III

By Wayne Lutton

[Previously: Part I: “Immigration and Race in America”; and

Part II: “Colonial Settlement in America, 1607-1783.”]

From 1790 to the outbreak of the War Between the States, the popu-lation of the United States grew from around 3 million to 27.5 million. During this seventy-year period, immigration totaled no more than 4.25 million. The very high birthrate of American natives accounted for almost all the increase. In 1790 the U.S. Congress enacted the nation’s first Naturalization Act, which confined U.S. citizenship to “free white persons.” The act was renewed in 1795.

Until the 1820s, the federal government took no active interest in immigration and did not even bother to collect statistics on the topic. Ports of entry and states collected data from ship arrivals and cus-tomhouses. In 1903 the federal Bureau of Statistics issued a report, Immigration into the United States, stating that “The best estimates of the total immigration into the United States prior to the official count put the total number of arrivals at not to exceed 250,000 in the entire period between 1776 and 1820.” Nearly all of the average of ten thousand annual arrivals was English and Scotch.

The Napoleonic Wars, with the Orders in Council, the Embargo Acts, and the interruption of cross-Atlantic commerce, stimulated the growth of industry in the United States. After the War of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the British tried to dump goods on the American market at cut prices. The U.S. responded by protecting infant industries with a series of protective tariffs. “Free trade” arguments not¬withstanding, there is no question that these tariffs permitted the new American manufactures to establish a firm foundation.

The new industries, in turn, stimulated a demand for hourly-wage workers, especially skilled laborers. This sort of work was not attractive to many native Americans, who tended to be independent farmers, merchants, and craftsmen. Factory owners found it increas¬ingly difficult to find hired hands willing to work in someone else’s factory. By the mid-1820s, word went out to western Europe that there were opportunities for foreign artisans and general factory laborers in the United States.

Along with manufacturing, the Erie Canal was completed and others were started. The first railroads were authorized. Vast numbers of people moved westward. According to the federal government, which began compiling immigration statistics in the 1820s, in the fifteen months ending December 31, 1832, there were over 60,000 arrivals. In 1842, 104,565 immigrants were counted, the first time the hundred thousand mark was reached.

The major sources of immigrants remained parts of Scotland, England, Ireland, and Germany.

Scottish immigration was sparked by the displacement of agricul¬ture by shepherding for the expanding woolen industry at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Perthshire, Argyllshire, and Invernesshire experienced sharp reductions in population, as thousands of farmers moved to North America.

The southern English counties of Kent, Hampshire, Somerset, and Surrey underwent a similar loss of agricultural workers to North America. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, agricultural prices fell. British “free trade” advocates welcomed imported food, rather than continue to pay for homegrown produce. Unable to make a living, farmers emigrated to the United States and Canada.

Aside from Presbyterian Ulstermen, Irish emigration was prompted by the failure of the anti-British revolts led by the United Irishmen in 1798 and 1803. Thomas Emmet, whose brother Robert Emmet led the 1803 uprising, came to New York, practiced law, and was eventually elected state attorney general. The Emmets, like many of the other Irish refugees of this time, were Protestants.

At the time of the first failure of the potato crop, Ireland was one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with the population growing from 2,845,932 in 1785 to 8,295,061 in 1845. Benevolent societies in Ireland and England assisted Irish peasants to come to the United States. They tended to congregate in cities, where women became domestic servants and the men day laborers, working as ditch diggers and laying the railroads. An estimated 1.5 million southern Irish came to the U.S. between 1846 and 1860 and became the nucleus of the Roman Catholic Church.

Over one million Germans, especially from north German states, emigrated to the U.S. after the failure of the liberal revolutions of 1848. Some settled in what was then the American West, such as the cities of Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Many others became prosperous farmers. A fourth of them were Roman Catholic adherents.

Opposition to mass immigration emerged at this time for many of the same reasons that immigration is opposed today.

A number of European governments paid the fare for convicts to come to the United States. By the mid-1830s, the situation was so serious that several large American cities, including Boston, New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans, attempted to halt the practice. In 1837, the city of New York determined that three-fourths of the residents of the municipal almshouse were foreign nationals. A report to the mayor stated, “In fact, our public charities are principally for the benefit of foreigners.” The U.S. Senate held hearings on this problem in 1845-46. As late as the mid-1880s, thousands of Irish paupers were shipped to the U.S. and Canada, with their passage paid for by the government and the Tuke Emigration Society (started by a banker who wanted to rid the country of surplus citizens).

Not unlike conditions today in areas especially hard hit by immi¬gration, the alien welfare burden was often serious. The census of 1850 revealed that, during the previous year, of 134,972 paupers supported by the public, over half (68,538) were of foreign birth. Of the foreign-born population of the United States in 1850, at least one of every thirty-three was a pauper, while only one in three hundred of the native population was a public charge.

Starting in the early 1840s, another argument raised against a mass influx of immigrants was that many of them worked for less money than natives and thus drove down wage scales. Once Irish immigration swelled post-1846, day labor wages on the east coast undoubtedly stagnated.

The Irish and Germans who came here in the late 1840s to mid-1850s were racially allied to the American people. By and large, they assimilated easily.


Anonymous said...

"Opposition to mass immigration emerged at this time for many of the same reasons that immigration is opposed today."


Anonymous said...

"The Irish and Germans who came here in the late 1840s to mid-1850s were racially allied to the American people. By and large, they assimilated easily."

Germans make the best Americans. Undeniably so.