Americanization programs

Definition: Amorphous movements that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries in response to the influx of non-English-speaking immigrants

Significance: At the turn of the twentieth century, non-English-speaking immigrants flooded American shores, setting off a wave of nativistic fears. In order to combat rising nativism, reformers constructed a number of programs aimed at absorbing immigrants into American civic life.

Americanization programs

Patriotic poster issued during World War I to promote the idea of Americanization. (Library of Congress)

During the decades following the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), demands for the creation of a national culture emerged in response to increasing concerns that new non-English-speaking immigrants, if left to their own devices, would erode the moral and economic fabric of the United States. The assassination of PresidentWilliam McKinley in 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist son of a Polish immigrant, fueled fears of radicalism on the part of immigrants and galvanized the efforts of many Americans to assimilate immigrants in order to moderate their radicalism. Under the guise of combating neglect and exploitation, Progressives embraced the notion of Americanization and developed programs to promote immigrant acculturation.

Settlement House Movement

Emerging social science programs in universities during the early twentieth century played a key role in fostering immigrant integration into American society. Progressive reformers believed that immigrants could be converted into valued American citizens. Settlement house programs in large cities offered immigrants respites from the crowded, dirty tenements as well as places to learn. This and other initiatives, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), provided health services, vocational training, and civics and English classes.

Other efforts focused on motherhood as a key to assimilation. The domestic science movement published information and research on diet, nutrition, health and cleanliness. Programs sought to limit the sizes of families on the premise that unrestricted population growth ought to be abandoned in modern industrial societies. Many of these programs aimed at giving immigrant women tools to work outside their homes as housemaids, seamstresses, and laundresses.

Employer Programs

Many industrialists designed worker education programs to influence the behavior of their immigrant workers and to reduce the growing problem of labor turnover. For example, in 1913, Ford Motor Company instituted what it called its "Five Dollar a Day” program. To receive that level of wages, workers had to be certified by Ford’s sociological department that they were thrifty, sober, and diligent. The emerging theories of scientific management assisted industries by creating a structure of strict organization of production combined with pay incentives. Other companies opened libraries and offered classes aimed at fostering acceptance of American ways, as defined by the employers. Management argued that speaking English was fundamental to unifying the workforce and creating industrial prosperity. 

Company medical staffs taught oral and physical hygiene in both the workplace and the home. They also offered married women instruction on household finances and child care. One railroad company used a boxcar converted to reflect its image of the model American home to transport Americanization instructors. The state of California created a Commission of Immigration and Housing to investigate work and living conditions and to teach English and good health practices to immigrants. The state commission recruited religious leaders, social workers, and government bureaucrats to design and implement Americanization programs.

Education Programs


During the late nineteenth century, many efforts to Americanize adult immigrants did not provide the desired results. Employers and reformers recognized that they might reach immigrant parents more effectively through their children, reasoning that children were potentially easier to shape into responsible citizens. Accordingly, companies established kindergarten programs for the children of its immigrant workers, while progressives shifted their focus to creating a system of compulsory public education. Schools in urban settings became vehicles for maintaining social order and inculcating American values. The schools afforded vocational training and English-language classes, taught the value of good citizenship and respect for authority, and provided programs in health and grooming. By the 1890’s, most states with increasing immigrant populations had passed laws mandating compulsory schooling from the ages of eight to fourteen. Historian Richard Hofstadter noted that the intent of public education was to forge a nation, make it literate, and foster civic competence.

Patriotic Education Programs

Progressives were convinced of the need to mold immigrants into "100 percent Americans” and to create a national culture to promote loyalty to American civic ideals. Many patriotic expressions that Americans would embrace during the twenty-first century were developed in response to fears that non-English-speaking immigrants would erode the national identity. For example, the schoolhouse flag movement required public schools to fly the American flag and conduct daily flag-salute ceremonies. In 1891, Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance to promote national unity and civic patriotism by honoring the American flag.

Public education emphasized the importance of civic service and duty to country. Patriotic programs emphasized the sacrifices made by past citizens to preserve the union. Laws were passed requiring public schools to observe President Abraham Lincoln’s and President George Washington’s birthdays, and to participate in Memorial Day and Flag Day activities. The invention of the idea of Betsy Ross as maker of the first American flag, patriotic pageants, pictures of national heroes, and teaching of citizenship were all part of the public school Americanization programs.

Progressive teachers advanced ideas of civic patriotism, while Theodore Roosevelt and members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) advanced programs of martial patriotism. Martial patriotism was infused with heroic images of soldiers, wars, and the honor of dying for one’s country. Stories of military adventures written for schoolchildren abounded. Symbols of soldiers and war cropped up in public parks, newspapers, and literature across the nation.

Linda Upham-Bornstein

Further Reading

Bodnar, John. The Transplanted. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Major work on the experience of immigrants in transitioning to American capitalism.

Fitzpatrick, Ellen. Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Examination of the lives of four progressive women who played a crucial role in the establishment of settlement houses and social reform.

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Significant scholarly study of the history of nativism in America.

O’Leary, Cecilia Elizabeth. To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. Important work on the construction of American patriotic culture and the struggle to solidify a distinctly American identity.

Sánchez, George J. Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Examination of programs in California designed to assimilate Mexican immigrants.

See also: Anglo-conformity; Assimilation theories; Citizenship; Education; English-only and official English movements; History of immigration after 1891; Hull-House; Nativism; Progressivism; Settlement houses.

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Bellingham incident

The Event: Racially and economically motivated riot and expulsion directed against Sikh laborers

Date: September, 1907

Location: Bellingham, Washington

Significance: During the first decade of the twentieth century, Asian Indian immigrants, most of whom practiced the Sikh faith, working in the United States met organized discrimination and even violence.

Asian Indians began to leave India around 1900 to earn money for their families in India and for the independence movement of India against Great Britain. Most were men and identified as members of the Sikh faith. Between 1900 and 1905, several hundred immigrated to the United States and British Columbia, Canada. Since Sikhs often understood English and were hard workers, some Canadian employers began to promote Sikh immigration. In 1907, more than two thousand Asian Indian men arrived in Canada, most of them Sikhs. More than one thousand Asian Indians immigrated to the United States in 1907, hundreds of whom were Sikh laborers crossing the border from Canada. Just south of the border, the town of Bellingham in Washington State had about 250 Asian Indian immigrants, mostly Sikh, working in its lumber mills by September, 1907.

Prejudices against Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants along theWest Coast were strong by 1907, and the Asian Indian workers in Bellingham became targets, too. Movements against Chinese immigrants during the nineteenth century were driven by white workers’ racism and fear of economic competition with the newcomers. These movements expanded into broad anti-Asian agitation during the twentieth century. In 1905 in San Francisco, the Asiatic Exclusion League formed to block Asian immigrants, particularly those from China and Japan. In Bellingham, the league had eight hundred members by 1907. While the radical Industrial Workers of the World criticized anti- Asian hostility, most unions supported it.OnLabor Day, September 2, 1907, hundreds of union advocates marched in Bellingham against the Sikh immigrants. Calling the Sikhs "Hindus” (falsely believing that Asian Indians all practiced the Hindu religion), marchers demanded that mill owners fire all "Hindus” immediately.

Sikh workers reported for work on September 3, but that night roving vigilantes targeted Sikh residences. The next evening, September 4, a mob of 150 men and boys formed and surged through Bellingham, assaulting some Sikhs and forcing others from bunkhouses and mills into the basement of Bellingham’s city hall.Upto five hundred participants eventually joined in the coercive roundup. Police officers cooperated, claiming that this calmed the vigilantes and reduced violence.

On September 5, with up to two hundred Sikhs held captive, Bellingham’s mayor claimed that the city could protect anyone who wished to stay in Bellingham. However, the obvious failure of the police to stop the previous night’s coercion convinced Sikh laborers not to trust the mayor. A Sikh spokesman stated that all "Hindus” would leave Bellingham by September 7. Approximately half went to Canada and half to California.

No attackers were brought to trial, and most white people in Bellingham apparently supported the expulsion, combining racism with economic fears to justify their approval. A few falsely claimed that Sikh men deserved expulsion because they insulted white women, but most argued that by accepting lower pay and inferior housing, immigrant Asian Indians undercut unions’ efforts to improve economic benefits for white laborers. Waves of anti-Sikh, anti-Asian Indian protests spread from Bellingham north to Alaska and Canada, and south to towns inWashington State and California. Asian Indian immigrants would not return to Bellingham for many decades after the 1907 expulsion. Immigration from India and other parts of Asia to the United States was stopped entirely during the 1920’s, but by the early twenty-first century Bellingham was a more welcoming home for Asian Indian immigrants and recognized the one hundredth anniversary of the Bellingham incident with apologies and commemorations against all anti-immigrant discrimination.

Beth Kraig

Further Reading

Allerfeldt, Kristofer. Race, Radicalism, Religion, and Restriction: Immigration in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1924. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Lee, Erika. "Hemispheric Orientalism and the 1907 Pacific Coast Race Riots.” Amerasia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007): 19-47.

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Anti-Japanese movement; Asian Indian immigrants; Asiatic Exclusion League; Economic consequences of immigration; Employment; Industrial Workers of the World; Labor unions; Washington State.

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Bracero program

Date: 1942 to 1964

Location: Southwestern states

The Event: Cooperative international program through which the United States imported large numbers of Mexican workers—mainly farmworkers—on a temporary basis

Date: 1942-1964

Significance: Initiated because of farm labor shortages caused by American entry into World War II, the bracero program brought Mexican workers to replace American workers dislocated by the war. The program was intended to be temporary, but a growing dependence of American farms on Mexican labor kept it going for nearly two decades after the war ended.

Bracero program

Bracero workers registering at the Hidalgo, Texas, labor center in 1959. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Mexican immigration has historically fluctuated with changing social and economic conditions in both the United States and Mexico. During periods of social unrest, violent uprisings, or bad economic times in Mexico—such as the Mexican Revolution— immigration increased. When the U.S. economy has been in decline, Mexican immigration has decreased. Whatever the circumstances, however, Mexico has long been a source of cheap temporary labor for the United States. Indeed, until the establishment of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924, the border between the United States and Mexico was virtually unsupervised. Citizens of both countries crossed it as they pleased, and farmers in the American Southwest recruited seasonal workers from Mexico without government interference or supervision. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, Mexican workers played an important role in keeping American agriculture productive. The bracero program of the 1940’s was essentially a more formal and more tightly supervised international agreement to provide an adequate labor force during and after World War II. However, despite the contributions the program made to American agriculture and to the Mexican economy, it had many vocal critics in both countries.

U.S.-Mexican Relations

Relations between the Mexico and the United States have never been intimate. Since the time of the 1846-1848 Mexican War, which ended with Mexico losing half its territory to the United States, relations have been strained. Added to this initial source of conflict was the large-scale "repatriation” of Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the Great Depression during the early 1930’s, when Mexican workers were indiscriminately rounded up from their workplaces and off the streets on which they lived and summarily sent back to Mexico. Meanwhile, the nationalization by Mexico of its petroleum industry, which resulted in the seizure of property that had been owned by American companies during the 1930’s, caused a festering legal dispute between the United States and Mexico.

In addition to these international events involving governments, there was the personal ongoing problem of racist antipathy against Mexicans that was prevalent throughout the American Southwest. A common saying that expressed Mexican feelings toward the United States at that time was "Poor Mexico, so far from God but so close to the United States.” Mexicans were generally considered "nonwhites,” forced to live in segregated barrios, and limited to employment in low-level jobs. Nevertheless, the prospect of finding better wages in the United States than those in Mexico has always drawn Mexicans north of the border. Consequently, even the state of Texas, which Mexicans have generally considered the most discriminatory of U.S. states, has been one of the most popular destinations for Mexican immigrants.

Negotiating the Agreement

Before the United States entered World War II at the end of 1941, some Americans were concerned that if their country entered the war, there would again be a need, as there had been during World War I, for foreign workers. Farmers were especially concerned, and they pressured the federal government to make preparations to ensure an adequate farm labor supply in case of entry into the war. When the U.S. government approached the Mexican government about providing workers, its leaders were initially uninterested. This was partly due to the strained relations between the countries that had existed for some time. However, the situation changed after Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States quickly declared war on Japan and Germany, and Mexico, which until then had been neutral, followed suit by declaring war against the Axis. The Mexican government then saw providing workers for the United States as a tangible means of actively contributing to the Allied war effort.

Mexico still had certain reservations about entering a cooperative program with the United States. American racism against its people was a concern, as was the size of its own labor force at a time Mexico itself was attempting to modernize and industrialize. Another consideration was how the stability of families would be affected if only male workers were allowed to migrate to the United States under the new program. Apart from those concerns, the Mexican government wanted to address four major issues before making an agreement:

  • Mexican workers were not to serve in the U.S. military
  • Mexican workers were not to be subjected to discrimination on or off the job
  • Mexican workers were to be guaranteed transportation to and from their destinations, decent living conditions in the United States, and repatriation at the end of their contract periods, in accordance with Mexican labor laws
  • Mexican workers were not to be used to replace American domestic servants or to reduce wage levels

After its concerns were addressed in the negotiations with the U.S. government, the Mexican government considered the benefits that would accrue from a labor agreement. These included providing jobs for poor unemployed men, who might otherwise cause social unrest in Mexico; the acquisition of new skills and knowledge by workers that might later benefit Mexico when the workers returned home; and the infusion of U.S. dollars into the Mexican economy from the remittances workers sent to their families from the United States. For its part, the United States stood to gain workers who would replace American farmworkers who entered military service or left rural areas for better-paying jobs in cities as the war economy expanded.

Establishment of the Bracero Program

The final agreement that established the bracero program was reached on August 4, 1942, the date on which the program officially went into effect. The agreement acknowledged the sovereignty of Mexico and stated that either government could terminate the program unilaterally by notifying the other party ninety days in advance. The program was to provide the United States with both agricultural and nonagricultural workers.

Although both Mexico and the United States would benefit from the program, the program had many opponents in both countries. American labor unions were among the most vocal opponents. Their leaders argued that there was no significant labor shortage in the United States and thus no justification for a large and continuing influx of immigrant workers. Unions and their members were also convinced that a large influx of migrant workers would depress American wages. Texas growers were also opposed to the final agreement because it promised to make a drastic change in the way they had been accustomed to hiring Mexican workers. Texas growers were among the most prominent supporters of importing Mexican farmworkers, but they did not like the government oversight and guarantees of the bracero program.

Violations of the Agreement

Another reason that many Americans were upset by the bracero agreement was that it gave guarantees to Mexican workers that domestic workers did not enjoy. In practice, however, many provisions of the program were not honored. Among the many violations and abuses reported were charges that American growers made Mexican workers pay for food, lodging, tools, and blankets they were supposed to receive without charge. Growers were also accused of requiring workers to perform tasks beyond those specified in their contracts. Under the terms of the original agreement, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was the principal federal government agency responsible for the importation of foreign labor. Aware of the criticisms of the agreement, the FSA attempted to secure better living conditions and pass legislation favorable to American workers, such as those guaranteed to foreign workers.

Violations of the agreement also occurred through the actions of the U.S. government itself. On April 20, 1943, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 45. Its section 5 could be interpreted as allowing the commissioner of immigration and naturalization, with the approval of the U.S. attorney general, to import Mexican workers without the permission of the Mexican government. For example, in 1948 and 1954, the U.S. government would open the Mexican border to admit thousands of undocumented workers to satisfy the urgent demands of American growers who wanted more and cheaper labor. Meanwhile, the FSA was replaced by the more grower-friendly War Food Administration’s Office of Labor to oversee the bracero program. Another serious violation occurred when the wartime bracero workers returned home to find that the 10 percent of their wages that had been withheld had disappeared. It is unknown who was responsible for this violation.

Because of the history of Texas racism against Mexicans and the frequent abuses of workers practiced by Texas growers, the Mexican government refused to allow its citizens to work in Texas under the bracero program. This turn of events contributed to an increase in the number of undocumented workers who were allowed to cross the border into Texas, where they worked without government oversight or written contracts. In further violation of the agreement that stipulated that only single or unaccompanied men be employed, Texas growers employed men, women, and children. The wages they paid to these undocumented workers were also well below the levels specified by the bracero agreement. In 1947-1948, for example, average incomes for undocumented Mexican workers were less than ten dollars per week.

Both the U.S. and Mexican governments were aware of these violations. In an attempt to correct the problem, an agreement was reached whereby undocumented immigrant workers would be returned to Mexico, where they were to be given physical examinations, fingerprinted and photographed, and provided with identification cards. Each worker would then be given a written work agreement indicating where they would work and the conditions of their employment. They then were returned to the United States, where again they were to be given physical exams, fingerprinted, photographed, and given identification cards that would make them legal immigrants. Meanwhile, the governors of Texas attempted to improve working conditions in their state, and Mexico finally agreed to let workers go there in 1947.

Renewal of the Bracero Program

The original U.S.-Mexican agreement was to end the bracero program in 1947; however, there were numerous extensions. Although most of the braceros worked in agriculture, some did not. For example, from 1942 to 1946, more than 100,000 Mexicans worked for American railroads.

While most of the program’s conditions and guarantees were the same for both agricultural and nonagricultural workers, some differences applied. For example, wages were higher for railroad workers, who were allowed to engage in collective bargaining and join unions, although unions were generally reluctant to accept them. The use of these nonagricultural braceros to work in the United States stopped after the war ended. However, the agricultural agreement was renewed on February 21, 1948. A significant change was made in this new agreement, whereby growers, rather than the U.S. government, would be the employers of record. This agreement was renewed again in 1951, during the Korean War.

President Harry S. Truman was sufficiently concerned with the bracero program to establish a commission to study problems connected with it in 1950. However, his commission’s recommendations for reforms in the program were ignored by Congress because the program as it was already constituted was popular with growers, and keeping Mexican farmlabor cheap helped keep food prices down for consumers. A decade later, President John F. Kennedy moved to terminate the program. Congress nevertheless extended the program an additional year, but it finally ended in 1964. Overall, the program lasted for twenty-two years and was extended or renewed eight times. Braceros were employed in approximately thirty states with most working in California, Texas and Arizona.

Philip E. Lampe

Further Reading

  • Bustamante, Jorge, Clark Reynolds, and Raul Hinojosa Ojeda. U.S.-Mexico Relations: Labor Market Interdependence. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. Broad survey of the dependence of American agriculture on immigrant Mexican workers.
  • Copp, Nelson Gage. "Wetbacks” and Braceros: Mexican Migrant Laborers and American Immigration Policy, 1930-1960. San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1971. Provides detailed accounts of emigration and immigration policies affecting migrant agricultural workers from Mexico.
  • Craig, Richard B. The Bracero Program: Interest Groups and Foreign Policy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971. Discusses the political agreement between the United States and Mexico regarding migrant laborers.
  • Galarza, Ernesto. Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McNally & Loftin, West, 1978. Discusses the treatment of braceros and the effects of the bracero program in California.
  • Gamboa, Erasmo. Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942-1947. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Detailed history of the life, conditions, and social policy affecting migrant workers fromMexico in Oregon and Washington State.
  • Gonzalez, Gilbert G. Guest Workers or Colonized Labor? Mexican Labor Migration to the United States. Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm, 2005. Study of the state of Mexican labor immigration to the United States into the early twenty-first century.
  • Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. General history of the problem of illegal immigration in the United States that includes a chapter covering Operation Wetback and the bracero program.
  • Valdes, Dennis Nodin. Al Norte: Agricultural Workers in the Great Lakes Region, 1917-1970. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Penetrating discussion of the Mexican migration to and settlement in the upper Midwest regions.

See also: El Paso incident; Farm and migrant workers; Guest-worker programs; Immigration Act of 1943; Latinos and immigrants; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Mexican deportations of 1931; Mexican immigrants; Operation Wetback; United FarmWorkers; World War II.

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California gold rush

The California gold rush was a defining moment in the history of westward migration in the United States. It was also an important period in U.S. immigration history.

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Captive Thai workers

Thai laborers were forced to toil in a makeshift garment factory in a Los Angeles suburb for more than six years until the operation was busted.

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Chicano movement

Similar to other movements of this period promoting civil rights, the Chicano movement made society aware of the injustices suffered by Mexican Americans in the United States and spurred social change.

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Chinese boycott of 1905

The boycott signified the emergence of modern Chinese nationalism and the importance of immigration in Sino-American relations.

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Civil Rights movement

The U.S. government’s policies regarding immigration have historically reflected prevailing racial and cultural biases held by Americans with the most power. 

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U.S. Civil War

The Event: Large-scale war fought between the Northern states of the Union and eleven Southern slaveholding states of the Confederacy that declared their secession from the United States

Date: 1861-1865

Location: Principally in the southern United States

Significance: Immigrants played leading roles in the Civil War and the reconstruction of the South. Apart from slavery, few issues were as important in Civil War America as immigrants and immigration policy. Immigrant settlement patterns in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century demonstrated an ever-deepening division between the North and the South that would soon explode into open war.

Federal troops firing on draft rioters in New York City. (Gay Brothers)

Fromthe founding of the United States through the first quarter of the nineteenth century, white American culture was generally homogenous; most whites were Protestant and could trace their ancestry to Great Britain. The slaves and free blacks in America were notable exceptions, but isolated pockets of non-British and/or non-Protestant whites were also scattered throughout America. The latter included French and Spanish in Louisiana and Florida, Germans in Pennsylvania and parts of the Carolinas, and the descendants of Dutch settlers in New York.

Several of the Founders, including Thomas Jefferson, were ambivalent about immigration and argued that it should be limited to those who were culturally and politically similar to native-born Americans. By the 1850’s, however, most immigrants were either non-English speaking or non- Protestant. Local reactions were sometimes extreme. During the 1840’s and 1850’s, anti-immigrant riots occurred in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Louisville, and St. Louis. In the same decades, antipathy toward immigrants led to the development of the Know-Nothing Party, whose dominant plank was the restriction of immigration.

Immigrants on the Eve of the Civil War

Despite the prejudice and violence, immigration increased more than 500 percent from 1845 until 1855, with about three million immigrants coming to the United States. Almost 90 percent settled in the North or the West, where either jobs or cheap land, or both, were plentiful. German and Hungarian farmers tended to settle in the central and upper Midwest. By 1860, more than 1.25 million Americans of German descent lived in the United States.

Unskilled and semiskilled immigrants from Ireland, Wales, and Italy settled in urban or industrialized areas in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England. These immigrants, particularly the Irish, often found themselves competing against nativeborn white Americans and free blacks for lowpaying jobs. The million Irish immigrants who came to America were survivors of the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) and could be both tenacious and incredibly brutal, as events in 1862-1863 would show.

From 1830 until 1860, relatively few immigrants settled in the South. The southern political elite opposed homesteading and government spending for infrastructure, such as canal or railroad construction. Further, there was less capital invested in industrial development in the South, thus fewer factory jobs for immigrants. Despite these facts, there were some immigrant communities in the South, especially in the cities. Historian David Gleeson points out that the population of Savannah, Memphis, and New Orleans ranged from 20 to 25 percent Irish. Besides the Irish, New Orleans had an economically strong community of free black immigrants from Haiti.

The vast numbers of immigrants who flooded into the North and West during the nineteenth century provided evidence of a vibrant, blended economy of small farms and urban centers with brisk entrepreneurial and industrial sectors. Far fewer immigrants settled in the South, where the single-crop farming economy was strong, but where job creation was less rapid, and where slave labor limited employment opportunities for unskilled laborers. During the CivilWar, immigrants provided a source of manpower for the North but proved troublesome as the war dragged on. Finally, after the war, northern and southern politicians contended over immigration policy in their efforts to reconstruct the South.

Immigrants in Uniform

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, America’s standing army consisted of about seventeen thousand troops, stationed mostly along the western frontier. Many of these soldiers resigned to serve in the Confederate armed forces. To expand the northern army and to build the southern one, each national government depended upon militia troops raised by the states.

Fortunately for the states, there were literally hundreds of various semiprofessional military organizations connected haphazardly with various local governments. In the North, many of these had an ethnic flavor. When war broke out, these drilling societies and irregular companies, native-born or immigrant, were usually integrated into various state militias.

Confederate and Union Territories During Civil War

Immigrants could find themselves enrolled in a predominantly ethnic unit in another way. In 1861, most states encouraged local recruiting, allowing hundreds of men from small towns and counties to formtheir own companies and elect their own officers. Where large immigrant communities existed, new militia companies were predominantly foreign born. For example, the Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry consisted almost entirely of German immigrants, many with previous military experience in Germany. The unit’s officers followed German military practices and issued commands in German. Similar units were raised in Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and New York. In all, about 200,000 German immigrants served in the Union forces.

About 140,000 Irish-born soldiers served in the Union forces, with about one-third serving in New York State forces. The Army of the Potomac’s famous Irish Brigade was made of a number of predominantly Irish units: the 63d, 69th, and 88th New York, the 28th Massachusetts, and the 116th Pennsylvania. Other famous Irish units included the Irish Legion: the 155th, 164th, 170th, and 180th New York, and the Hibernian Guards, a company of the 8th Ohio Volunteers.

New York’s units were especially multicultural. One polyglot regiment from New York—the Garibaldi Guards—consisted of roughly three hundred Germans, three hundred Hungarians, one hundred Swiss, one hundred Italians, one hundred French, and one hundred combined Spanish and Portuguese.

Although immigrants also served in the Confederate forces, there were almost no distinctive immigrant units. Immigration patterns before the war explain this difference. Far fewer immigrants lived in the South, and their communities were smaller. A community of a few dozen families could hardly be expected to furnish the hundred volunteers necessary to forma company. In addition, some of the larger immigrant communities—such as the free black immigrants from Haiti in New Orleans— did not volunteer for the Confederacy.

Few immigrants were motivated to enlist by the political rhetoric of either the North or the South. In fact, as historians Richard F. Welch and Susannah U. Bruce point out, immigrants were more often moved to enlist by economic need or loyalty to neighbors, family, and friends who were themselves enlisting. Some Irish immigrants enlisted for military experience, hoping eventually to drive the English out of Ireland. Other immigrants weremotivated by fellow expatriates who personally appealed to them to enlist. In 1861-1863, the famous Irish general Thomas Francis Meagher was sent on many recruiting trips throughout New York to exhort Irish volunteers to enlist.

Immigrants on the Home Front

As the war developed, northern strategy demanded ever-increasing numbers of soldiers, yet the U.S. government was faced with increasing public disillusionment over the prosecution of the war, its casualties and costs.

In 1862, northern efforts to win the war were fruitless, marked by increasingly costly campaigns that failed to defeat the Confederacy. Public frustrations with repeated military disasters were intensified by the press. In 1861, many northern newspapers ran hawkish editorials demanding victory at all costs. By 1862, these were replaced by dovish pleading for peace at any price.

In light of defeatism in the press and military disasters in the field, voluntary enlistments plummeted. As a result, individual states in the North resorted to drafts to meet their federal quotas. As one might expect, these worsened an already sour public mood. Immigrant communities throughout the North expressed their frustrations violently. In 1862, there were antidraft riots in four states, including immigrant areas in the coalfields of Pennsylvania and the German American farming communities ofWisconsin. In each case, federal troops had to be sent in to quell the violence.

With lessons unlearned, the U.S. government in 1863 issued a new national draft, which provoked the worst outbreak of civil disorder in the country with the exception of the CivilWar itself. For three days, a largely Irish working-class mob plundered New York City, looting, burning, attacking police and city officials, and killing any black person it could find.

The New York City riot demonstrated the intensity of Irish immigrant anger over related issues: anger over the Emancipation Proclamation of January, 1863, which seemed to demonstrate perceived favoritism toward black people, as well as fear that the newly liberated slaves would flood the North and increase the economic pressure on the Irish. In short, the Irish of New York City—who competed with free black people for the lowest-paying industrial jobs, and who had themselves experienced extensive prejudice—believed that they were being forced to die so that others could be free to come North and take their jobs. Historian RichardWelch points out, in fact, that this had happened as late as June, 1862, when black workers were hired as "scab” laborers during a shipyard workers’ strike.

Eventually, the riot was suppressed, and even the most militant immigrants learned that federal draft laws did not target them. In fact, far more of the rural, native-born poor were forced into service than their urban immigrant counterparts.

As one might expect, urban industrial workers were often exempted for economic reasons. The structural challenge faced by the federal government from1861 until 1865 was to expand the economy while replacing the vast numbers of experienced farmers and workers who were now in uniform. To meet this challenge, the federal government introduced new legislation to promote increased immigration to meet the demands of the wartime economy. In 1862-1863, Congress passed a homestead law and a law allowing immigration for the purposes of labor contracts. Previous versions of these bills had been proposed before the Civil War but had always been blocked by legislators in the South. As a result of these laws, immigration surged once again, with subsequent railroad expansion, as well as increased production of food, textiles, clothing, and military technologies.

The War’s Aftermath

Prewar settlement patterns led to the northern and western immigrant communities that sometimes caused chaos in the North, yet which also contributed enormous numbers of soldiers to win the war. After the war, the status of certain immigrant groups increased tremendously in both the North and the South. Immigrants were perceived as a crucial element in various competing strategies for economic recovery in the South.

Northern politicians who loathed the prewar planter aristocracy and feared their return to power passed the Southern Homestead Act of 1866 with the goal of breaking up the larger plantations into small family farms that could be parceled out to new immigrants. Ironically, southern politicians also hoped for increased immigration of northern or western European immigrants. They hoped to increase immigration to the South in order to flood the labor market and drive down wages in the South, thereby bringing the newly liberated slaves once more into economic subservience.

With this goal in mind, most southern states founded commissions to market the region to prospective European immigrants. Although pursued vigorously, these efforts were usually unsuccessful. Of the three million immigrants who came to America from 1865 to 1873, almost none settled in the South. Some historians contend that these efforts failed because they were founded on the unrealistic belief that immigrants would passively accept the sort of living conditions and treatment that slaves had been forced to endure. In 1866, an Alabama planter persuaded a group of thirty Swedish immigrants to settle on his plantation. He fed, housed, and clothed them as he had formerly provided for his slaves. Nevertheles, they all quit within a week.

Michael R. Meyers

Further Reading

Anbinder, Tyler. "Which Poor Man’s Fight? Immigrants and the Federal Conscription of 1863.” CivilWar History 52, no. 4 (2006): 344-372. Study of conscription records demonstrating that immigrant groups were not unfairly targeted by federal draft laws in 1863. 

Bruce, Susannah U. The Harp and the Eagle: Irish- American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861- 1865. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Recounts the motives and exploits of Irish immigrants during the war. 

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New York: Perennial, 1989. Oneof the best studies of the politics of the era. 

Gleeson, David T. The Irish in the South, 1815-1877. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. One of the few modern studies of southern immigrants. 

Kamphoefner, Walter, and Wolfgang Helbich, eds. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. Translated by Susan Carter Vogel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Presents the views of German immigrants on the war. 

McPherson, James. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Although not specifically about immigrants, perhaps the best single-volume history of the war. 

Silverman, Jason H., and Susan R. Silverman. Immigration in the American South, 1864-1895. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Account of southern efforts to market the region to prospective immigrants. 

Welch, Richard F. "The Green and the Blue.” Civil WarTimes, October, 2006, 22-30.Ashort account of the Irish Fenian movement and the war. 

Woodworth, Steven E. "The Other Rock.” Civil War Times, October, 2003, 44-56. An article on the exploits of a German unit during the war. 

See also: Abolitionist movement; African Americans and immigrants; European immigrants; German immigrants; History of immigration, 1783- 1891; Homestead Act of 1862; Irish immigrants; Military conscription; New York City.

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CLOTILDE slave ship

The case of the Clotilde marks the end of successful slave trading by American vessels and is notable both for the evasion of U.S. Navy patrols attempting to interdict such voyages and the eventual failure of the federal government to successfully prosecute those responsible.

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El Paso incident

The complicity of agents of the U.S. government to contravene an agreement with Mexico by allowing Mexican farmworkers to enter the United States was another black mark in the administration of the bracero programs that damaged U.S.- Mexican relations.

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Eugenics movement

The eugenics movement had a significant influence on U.S. immigration policy. Politicians, reformers, and civic leaders imbued with a sense of Americanism and scientific justification enacted laws to limit immigration to what they regarded as “desirable” types.

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European revolutions of 1848

Europe’s revolutions of 1848 did not fulfill their goals for most participants and, as a result, many participants and supporters felt that the future in their European homelands was particularly bleak.

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Exeter incident

This racially motivated attack on Filipino farmworkers was one of the first of several similar attacks in central California’s agricultural centers.

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Fenian movement

The Fenians began a secular nationalistic revolutionary tradition in Ireland that aimed at freeing Ireland from British control.

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Florida illegal immigration suit

Although the Florida lawsuit was eventually dismissed, the case was important because it represented the first time a state sued the federal government for costs associated with illegal immigrants.

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Freedom Airlift

The airlift of hundreds of thousands of Cuban migrants to the United States increased the size and political strength of the Cuban American community while furthering the Cold War foreign policy goals of the United States.

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GOLDEN VENTURE groundingThe Golden Venture incident raised public awareness of the fact that during the 1990’s thousands of Chinese immigrants were entering the United States without legal documentation.

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González case

González caseWhat may have been the world’s most closely watched custody battle became a cause célèbre that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, strained U.S.-Cuba relations, and had future political repercussions.

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Great Depression

Great DepressionImmigration was a thorny issue during the Depression. Legislation was already in place barring certain ethnic groups from entering the United States, and immigration remained restricted during the era owing to economic factors.

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Great Irish Famine

Great Irish FamineOne of the single-most influential events in U.S. immigration history, Ireland’s great potato famine induced a massive wave of Irish emigration to Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, where Irish immigrants quickly became the nation’s second-largest ethnic group.

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Haitian boat people

Haitian boat peopleDefining the Haitian boat people as economic rather than political refugees allowed the United States to refuse asylum to thousands of Haitians and raised serious questions about human rights standards and treatment of refugees in the United States.

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The Event: Systematic attempt by Germany’s Nazi regime to exterminate European Jews

Date: Late 1930’s to mid-1940’s

Location: German-occupied European countries

Significance: During World War II and the years leading up to it, European Jews were the principal victims of German chancellor Adolf Hitler’s genocidal policies. Many fled eastern and western Europe, attempting to enter the United States.

Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis arriving in Belgium in June, 1939

Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis arriving in Belgium in June, 1939, after they were turned away from Cuba. More than one-quarter of the refugees eventually died in the Holocaust. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Between 1933, which saw the Nazis’ rise to power, and Germany’s 1945 surrender that ended World War II, more than 345,000 Jews emigrated from Germany and Austria. Many of them initially fled to countries that were later occupied by Germany, and these Jews subsequently left again or were murdered. Although about 85,000 Jewish refugees reached the United States between March, 1938, and September, 1939, far greater numbers were seeking refuge. However, when U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, the United States was preoccupied with the challenges of the Great Depression—high unemployment and widespread social disillusionment—which contributed to public resistance to any relaxation of immigration quotas. Another factor in opposing specifically Jewish immigration was anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish sentiment was on the rise during the 1920’s; it increased dramatically during the early 1930’s and reached its peak in America during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

Failed Attempts to Help the Jews

In 1939, the United States refused to admit more than 900 refugees who had sailed from Hamburg, Germany, on the SS St. Louis. After being turned away from Cuba, the ship appeared off the coast of Florida. After the United States denied it permission to land, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium each accepted some of the passengers as refugees. Of the ship’s 908 passengers, 254 are known to have died in the Holocaust. The event was widely publicized.

News of the true extent of the Holocaust began to reach the United States only in 1941—the year in the United States entered World War II. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of State placed even stricter limits on immigration due to national security concerns. The threat of enemy subversion during the war was a legitimate concern, but the State Department exaggerated the problem and used it as a reason for cutting in half the already small immigration quotas. In 1943, 400 Jewish rabbis marched on Washington, D.C., to draw attention to what was happening to Holocaust victims. Only a handful of politicians met with the marchers, but one of them, Senator William Warren Barbour of New Jersey, proposed legislation that would have permitted 100,000 Holocaust refugees to enter the United States temporarily. Barbour’s bill failed to pass, and another, similar bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Samuel Dickstein of New York, also failed to pass.

In 1944, President Roosevelt, pressured by government officials and the American Jewish community, took action. He established the War Refugee Board to facilitate the rescue of refugees in imminent danger. The American Joint Distribution Committee and the World Jewish Congress worked with the board to help rescue many thousands of Jews in Hungary, Romania, and other European nations. However, government funding for the board was so small that 91 percent of its work was funded by American Jewish organizations. The board conducted a monthlong campaign to persuade Roosevelt to offer temporary shelter to large numbers of refugees, but it yielded only one result. In the spring of that year, Roosevelt established Fort Ontario, New York, as a free port for refugees. However, only a few thousand were allowed to enter, and these were people from liberated countries who were under no immediate threat of deportation to Germany. Roosevelt’s response to Holocaust immigration was strongly influenced by political concerns. During an era of strong antiimmigration sentiment, any move to increase immigration might well have cost him votes in elections.

Change in Immigration Policies

Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor as president of the United States from 1945 to 1953, favored an immigration policy that was liberal toward displaced persons, but Congress failed to act on his proposals. On December 22, 1945, Truman issued an executive order, called the Truman Directive, requiring that existing immigration quotas be designated for displaced persons. Although total U.S. immigration figures did not increase, many more displaced persons were admitted to the United States. Between the end of 1945 and early 1947, about 22,950 displaced persons entered the United States under the new Truman Directive. About 16,000 of these refugees were Jewish.

Before existing immigration quotas could be increased, congressional action was necessary. Pressured intensely by lobbying on the part of the American Jewish community, Congress passed legislation in 1948 to admit about 400,000 displaced persons to the United States. Nearly 80,000 of those who arrived, or about 20 percent, were Jewish. Other immigrants included Christians from eastern Europe and the Baltic nations who had worked as forced laborers under the Nazi regime. American entry laws favored agricultural workers to such a degree, however, that Truman found the new law discriminatory to Jews, few of whom were agricultural workers. By the 1950’s, Congress amended the law, but by that time most of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe had entered the new state of Israel, which was established on May 14, 1948.

Thanks in large part to the influx of Jews during and after the Holocaust, the United States emerged as the largest and most culturally innovative Jewish center in the world after World War II. Smaller centers of Jewish population worldwide soon turned to the vigorous Jewish establishments in the United States for help and support. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, Jews in the United States had risen to leadership positions in government, the media, entertainment, popular culture, business, labor relations, law, and the arts.

Sheila Golburgh Johnson

Further Reading

  • Abzug, Robert H. America Views the Holocaust, 1933 to 1945: A Brief Documentary History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. This book tries to shed light on such grave questions as what Americans knew about the Holocaust and how they responded as it unfolded. 
  • Breitman, Richard, and Alan M. Kraut. American Refugee Policies and European Jewry, 1933-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Carefully documented study that argues that U.S. policy regarding the Holocaust was the product of preexisting restrictive immigration laws and the attitude of U.S. State Department leaders who were committed to a narrow defense of American interests. 
  • Novick, Peter. The Holocaust in American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Historical overview of American attitudes toward the Holocaust. A highly controversial book that argues against misuses of Holocaust history and tries to show how contemporary consciousness was formed by political conditions. 
  • Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon, 1984. Contends that British and American political leaders turned down many proposals that could have saved European Jews from death in German concentration camps. 
  • _______. Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968. Study of the obstacles that the U.S. Congress erected to prevent the immigration of Jews during the Holocaust. 

See also: American Jewish Committee; Angloconformity; Anti-Semitism; Center for Immigration Studies; Congress, U.S.; Films; German immigrants; Jewish immigrants; Quota systems; Refugee Relief Act of 1953; Refugees; World War II.

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History of immigration, 1620-1783

Significance: Immigration from Europe and Africa to America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries created the population that existed at the time the United States came into existence. The groups that made up this original population contributed greatly to the events and traditions that would shape the nation throughout its history.

Late nineteenth century depiction of Peter Minuit negotiating with Algonquian Indians to purchase the island of Manhattan in 1626

Late nineteenth century depiction of Peter Minuit negotiating with Algonquian Indians to purchase the island of Manhattan in 1626. (Francis R. Niglutsch)

The colonies that became the United States were founded as British outposts, and most of the European immigrants to those colonies were fromGreat Britain. However, the early British settlers came as distinct groups to different geographic areas. In addition, early American immigrants included people from other places in northern Europe, as well as involuntary immigrants from Africa.

Early English Immigration to New England, 1620-1642

Jamestown, in Virginia, was founded in 1607 and is generally regarded as the first permanent English settlement in North America. However, the 1620 establishment of Plymouth Bay Colony in Massachusetts by the religious immigrants known as the Pilgrims may be regarded as the beginning of large-scale migration from Europe to the territory that would eventually become the United States. The Pilgrims came from English dissenters against the Church of England, known as Separatists, who believed that they should separate themselves from the state Church entirely. In order to follow their separate faith without persecution from English authorities, communities of Separatists went into exile in Holland. However, it was difficult for the English religious refugees to find any work other than in the hardest and lowest-paying occupations, and their economic situations were often precarious. Also, the intensely religious exiles were suspicious of Dutch culture, and they worried about their children losing their English customs. Their leaders managed to get England’s King James I to agree to allow them to resettle in America, and they obtained support fromfinancial speculators in the London Virginia Company in return for granting the company a large portion of the crops to be produced in the New World.

On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, with 102 emigrants, forty-one of whom were Separatists. Two months later, they arrived at Cape Cod in modern Massachusetts. After tense encounters with Native Americans, they resettled at Plymouth Bay in December. They had a difficult struggle to establish themselves, but eventually, with new arrivals, the colony at Plymouth became one of the bases of the new American population.

An even greater contribution to the American population, in sheer numbers, began with the Puritans, who believed in purifying the established church, a decade after the voyage of the Mayflower. In 1630, seventeen ships left England for America. The most famous of these was the Arabella, on which the Puritan leader John Winthrop sailed. Mainly stemming from the area of East Anglia in England, the Puritans left during a time when ArchbishopWilliam Laud was attempting to eliminate Puritan influences from the Church of England and King Charles I was attempting to rule without calling Parliament into session. The decade of the 1630’s, leading up to the English Civil War (1642-1651), was a time of economic depression, as well as a period in which the Puritans were out of favor in the English church and state.

The Mayflower

The Mayflower. (R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

The years 1630 to 1640 are known as the Great Migration. The largely Puritan immigrants from England settled in New England, north of the settlement at Plymouth Bay, in a stretch of land known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The major centers of the new colony were the eastern coastal Massachusetts towns of Boston and Salem. During the Great Migration, an estimated two hundred ships reportedly carrying approximately 20,000 people arrived in Massachusetts. Although migration to New England dropped dramatically after the Great Migration, the descendants of the people who entered Massachusetts in those years settled much of the northeastern region of the United States and later spread westward throughout the country.

English Settlement in Virginia, 1642-1675

In the South, the tiny Virginia colony that had barely maintained its existence during the years that Massachusetts became a center of European settlement began to expand rapidly just as the Great Migration ended in the North. In 1642, only 8,000 colonists lived in Virginia. At the beginning of that year, SirWilliam Berkeley became governor of Virginia, a post he would hold until 1676. Berkeley began a campaign to draw some of England’s elite to Virginia. This campaign was assisted by the rise of the Puritans to power and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Many of the future leaders that Virginia provided to the United States and to the Confederacy were descendants of these aristocratic immigrants.

The largest portion of Virginia’s early immigration, though, came from the humblest section of the English population. About three-quarters of the new arrivals inVirginia during the middle to late seventeenth century came as indentured servants, people bound to serve masters without wages for specified periods of time for the price of their passage. The early immigration patterns of Virginia, then, made it a highly unequal society from the very beginning. By 1660,Virginia had a population of about 30,000 people. Neighboring Maryland, also populated largely by indentured servants, held about 4,000 in that year.

Quaker Immigration, 1675-1725

The Society of Friends, popularly known as the Quakers, is a Christian religious group that emphasizes the inward experience of faith and the equality of people. It was founded during the midseventeenth century, and the Quakers’ rejection of social hierarchy led to their persecution in England. Soon after the denomination was established, Quaker immigrants were arriving in America. In 1675, large-scale migration began when the first ship of Quaker passengers reached Salem in West Jersey. Other ships followed, docking in Delaware Bay.

The number of Quakers arriving in the Delaware Valley was so great that by 1750 they made up the third-largest religious denomination in the American colonies. Their growth had been assisted by Quaker leaderWilliam Penn’s efforts to create a Quaker region in America to which members of the faith in England would be encouraged to relocate. In 1681, he managed to obtain a charter from King Charles II for 45,000 square miles, which the king dubbed Pennsylvania. In 1682, Penn arrived in his colony on the shipWelcome. Under his leadership, Pennsylvania drew not only Quaker immigrants but also members of other persecuted religious groups attracted by the policy of religious toleration.

Scottish, Scotch-Irish, and English Immigration, 1715-1775

People from the north of England, Scotland, and northern Ireland made up much of the migration to the western frontier regions of the early American colonies, especially to the rugged mountainous areas. The northern Irish migrants were mainly Scotch-Irish, descendants of people from Scotland who had moved to Ireland in earlier centuries. Most of the Irish in America before the nineteenth century were actually Scotch-Irish.

Northern Irish migration peaked between the 1750’s and the early 1770’s, with an estimated 14,200 people from northern Ireland reaching America from 1750 to 1759, 21,200 from 1760 to 1769, and 13,200 in the half-decade leading up to the American Revolution. Most of the Scots migration took place from 1760 to 1775, when about 25,000 new arrivals came to the colonies. The counties of North England, bordering Scotland, experienced a series of crop failures that were especially severe in 1727, 1740, and 1770. Each of these crop failures resulted in famine that sent successive waves of immigrants to America. Together, the Scottish, Scotch-Irish, and North English immigrants probably made up 90 percent of the settlers in the back country of America. Arriving after the lands along the eastern coast had been taken, these hardy individuals made up the original American frontier folk.

Dutch, Swedish, and German Immigration, 1630-1783

The most significant groups of European immigrants to the colonies of North America before the revolution came from the northern lands of Holland, Germany, and Sweden. The Dutch attempted to found their first colony during the late 1620’s, when Dutch trading interests established the colony of New Netherland, with New Amsterdam as its capital. During the mid-seventeenth century, officials in Holland began actively encouraging migration to their colony, so that the population of New Netherland grew from about 2,000 people in 1648 to about 10,000 in 1660. Only about half of these were actually Dutch, though, and the rest consisted mainly of Belgians. In 1664, the British seized New Netherland and changed its name to New York. People with Dutch names and ancestry continued to make up a small but important part of the New York population, particularly among the elite of the area.

Swedes arrived on the northeastern coast in 1637 and founded a colony on Delaware Bay in 1638. Peter Minuit, a former director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland who had been born in the German state of Westphalia, led this initial Swedish settlement. New Sweden included areas of the modern states of New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware along the Delaware River. Tensions with New Netherland led to a Dutch takeover of New Sweden in 1654, but the Dutch continued to recognize the colony as a selfgoverning settlement of Swedes. In 1681, following the British takeover of all the northeastern lands, William Penn received a charter for Pennsylvania, ending the distinctly Swedish identity of the region.

By the time the United States won its independence, Germans made up the largest national origin group in the country, aside from the groups stemming from the British Isles. In the year 1683, Dutch and German people in religious minorities purchased land in Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, and founded Germantown. One of the largest migration waves from the lands of Germany began when Protestants from the Palatine area of Germany fled political disorder and economic hardship in their homeland in 1709. After making their way to Holland and then England, about 2,100 Palatine Germans reached America in 1710, settling mainly in New York.

During the early eighteenth century, other German colonists settled in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Massachusetts. Pennsylvania, though, became the main center of German settlement, in part because the Quaker tradition of the state offered religious tolerance to German Lutherans, Mennonites, Amish, and other religious movements. Probably about half the Germans who arrived in Pennsylvania between 1725 and the American Revolution came as redemptioners, who paid for their passage by working for a certain number of years. In all, an estimated 84,500 Germans reached the thirteen American colonies between 1700 and 1775. After the revolution, an estimated 5,000 German mercenary soldiers, mostly from the state of Hesse, who had been fighting for the British and been taken prisoner by the Americans, remained in the new country.

African Involuntary Immigration, 1640-1783

African immigration to North America dates back to the time of the first European arrivals. During the entire period of American colonial history, involuntary immigrants arrived as slaves from Africa, mainly West Africa. Between 1700 and 1775, an estimated 278,400 Africans reached the original thirteen colonies that became the United States.

Slave importation to the coastal states of the South grew rapidly during the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century because of the growth of the tobacco and rice economies. Imports of slaves to tobacco-growing Virginia reached 7,000 per decade for the 1670’s through the 1720’s and then nearly doubled to 13,500 per decade until the 1750’s. South Carolina, where rice had become an important crop, began importing slaves at about the same level as Virginia during the early eighteenth century and then increased to more than 20,000 during the 1720’s. While slave importation began to slow in Virginia during the later eighteenth century, it continued at about 17,000 per decade in South Carolina from the 1750’s to the 1790’s. By the time of the first U.S. Census in 1790, as a result of involuntary immigration and the increase of native-born slaves, people of African ancestry made up one-fifth of the American population.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Intended to trace the cultural contributions of different segments of British society to America, this book is also one of the best general works on the places of origin and settlement of people from Britain in America during the colonial period. 

Fogleman, Aaron Spencer. Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Excellent account of colonial German migration that divides its attention between the lands left behind in Europe, explaining why the Germans left, and the new world they found in America. It also contains informative tables on colonial immigration in general, as well as German immigration in particular. 

Moore, Susan Hardman. Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007. Through looking at the life histories of the approximately one-third of English immigrants to America from 1640 to 1660 who returned to England, this book looks at motives for both migration and return. 

Weaver, John C. The Great Land Rush and the Making of the ModernWorld, 1650-1900. Montreal: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2003. General work on how European colonization of other lands transformed world economy and society. 

See also: British immigrants; Canadian immigrants; Constitution, U.S.; German immigrants; History of immigration, 1783-1891; History of immigration after 1891; Massachusetts; Pilgrim and Puritan immigrants; Slave trade; Virginia.

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History of immigration, 1783-1891

History of immigration, 1783-1891The first century of American independence saw great population growth, particularly from the new immigration of Germans and Irish, as the federal government gradually developed a coherent national immigration policy.

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History of immigration after 1891

History of immigration after 1891The period from the end of the nineteenth century to the early twentyfirst saw the federal government taking control over immigration policy.

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Industrial Revolution

Industrial RevolutionThe demographic revolution that began in the Western world during the eighteenth century and accelerated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made it imperative to develop employment for the increasing numbers of people in the developing nations.

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Industrial Revolution: Changing Sources of Economic Growth

As late as the eighteenth century, the great bulk of people in Europe and North America were still supporting themselves and their families through their individual labor, mostly on farmlands.

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Industrial Revolution: Creation of Industrial America

After the mid-nineteenth century, the development of machine-powered mass-manufacturing techniques powered the American economy.

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