Immigration to America Immigration 1790 to 1849

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Immigration to America Immigration 1790 to 1849 Bad times in Europe drove people out; land, relatives freedom, opportunity and jobs in America lured them in

Immigration = 6000 people a year on average French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars…1792 to 1814 severely limited immigration from Europe The War of 1812 (1812-1814) with Britain again prevented any significant immigration By 1808, Congress had banned the importation of slaves, slowing that human traffic to a trickle. After 1820, immigration increased…for 1st time, federal records kept; including ship passenger lists

1820 = 8,385 1830 = 23,322 (143,000 total immigrating during the intervening decade) 1831-1840 = 599,000 total (207,000 Irish,152,000 Germans, 76,000 British, & 46,000 French) 1841 to 1850 = exploded to 1,713,000 total immigrants (781,000 Irish; Potatoe famine)

GB diverted some of this traffic to help settle Canada, offered bargain fares @ 15 shillings vs. normal 5 pounds (100 shillings) for transit to Canada. 1000s of poor Irish took advantage of this offer…headed to Canada on "coffin ships" ….then walking across the border/taking intercoastal freighters to nearest major U.S. city i.e. Boston or New York.

Bad potato crops/failed revolutions struck the heart of Europe in 1848; (435,000 Germans, 267,000 British, and 77,000 French immigrants)

1848; Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends Mexican War…extends U.S. citizenship to 64,000 Mexican residents 1849; California Gold Rush = Mexican, South American, Chinese, Australian, and European immigration 1850: 1st U.S. census: foreign-born U.S. pop. reached minimum around 1815; 100,000 (1.4%) of pop. By 1815, most of the immigrants who arrived before the American Revolution had died, and there had been almost no new immigration….nearly all population growth up to 1830 was by internal increase; (98.5%) drops to 90% by 1850….also, 1st significant Catholic immigration started mid 1840s; shifting pop. from 95% to 90% by 1850.

Immigration 1850 to 1930

1850-1930 = 5 million Germans (especially between 1881 and 1885) 1820-1930 = 3.5 million British, 4.5 million Irish….pre-1840s: Irish Presbyterians/Scots-Irish…post-1840: Catholics

1850s; Irish immigration opposed by Nativist/Know Nothing movement; New York regarded as hostile to American values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854–56, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery, most often joining the Republican Party by the time of the 1860 presidential election.

Between 1840 and 1930, about 900,000 French Canadians left Quebec to immigrate to the United States and settle, mainly in New England. Considering that the population of Quebec was only 892,061 in 1851, this was a massive exodus. 13.6 million Americans claimed to have French ancestry in the 1980 census. A large proportion of them have ancestors who emigrated from French Canada, since immigration from France has been very low during the entire history of the United States. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The 1910s marked the high point of Italian immigration to the United States. Over two million Italians immigrated in those years, with a total of 5.3 million between 1820 and 1980. About a third returned to Italy, after working an average of five years in the U.S.

About 1.5 million Swedes and Norwegians immigrated to the United States within this period, due to opportunity in America and poverty and religious oppression in united Sweden-Norway. This accounted for around 20% of the total population of the kingdom at that time. They settled mainly in the Midwest, especially Minnesota and the Dakotas. Danes had comparably low immigration rates due to a better economy; after 1900 many Danish immigrants were Mormon converts who moved to Utah.

Over two million Eastern Europeans, mainly Catholics and Jews, immigrated between 1880 and 1924. People of Polish ancestry are the largest Eastern European ancestry group in the United States. Immigration of Eastern Orthodox ethnic groups was much lower.

Lebanese and Syrian immigrants started to settle in large numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The vast majority of the immigrants from Lebanon and Syria were Christians, but smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims also settled. Many lived in New York City and Boston. In the 1920s and 1930s, a large number of these immigrants set out west, with Detroit getting a large number of Middle Eastern immigrants, as well as many Midwestern areas where the Arabs worked as farmers.

The Dillingham Commission was instituted by the United States Congress in 1907 to investigate the effects of immigration on the country. The Commission's analysis of American immigration during the previous three decades led it to conclude that the major source of immigration had shifted from northern and western Europeans to southern and eastern Europeans. It was, however, apt to generalizations about these regional groups that were subjective and failed to differentiate between distinct cultural attributes

The Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.

From 1880 to 1924, around two million Jews moved to the United States, mostly seeking better opportunity in America and fleeing the pogroms of the Russian Empire. After 1933 Jews who tried to flee Nazi Germany were often denied access to the United States, highlighted by the event of the S.S. St. Louis. Immigration restrictions laws passed in the 1920s tried to achieve four goals: reduce drastically the number of unskilled immigrants; favor uniting of families by giving preferences to relatives; keeping the ethnic distribution stable by allocating quotas to various ethnic groups; with no quotas initially set for Mexico and Latin America because of the ongoing Mexican Revolution. In 1900, when the U.S. population was 76 million, there were about 500,000 Hispanics.[29]

New immigration was a term from the late 1880s that came from the influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe (areas that previously didn't have large numbers of immigrants) into the United States. Some Americans feared that the new to life in their new land. This raised the issue of whether the U.S. was still a "melting pot," or if it had just become a "dumping ground," and many Americans subsequently became unhappy with this development.

Americans’ preference of old immigration rather than new immigration reflected a sudden rise in conservatism. Immigration, although always being a part of American culture, swelled during the 19th century, coinciding with the rise of urban America. Before the “flood” which occurred in the 1870s was a period called “old” immigration. Old immigrants were mostly from Western Europe, especially Britain, Germany, Ireland and Scandinavia. Since most of them, with the exception of the Irish, had Anglo-Saxon or Protestant backgrounds, they were quickly incorporated into American society, welcomed into the "asylum of liberty." However, beginning in 1870, “new” immigration began, with large numbers of people arriving from eastern and southern Europe as well as Asia, Russia, Italy, and Japan. Not only were these peoples’ language and culture less like that of America, they looked different. They were predominantly Jewish and Catholic, which sparked tensions. The unfortunate circumstances that the new immigrants arrived in made their image even worse. They came to the new urban America, where disease, overcrowding and crime festered. As a result, relations became openly hostile, with many Americans becoming anti-immigrant, fearing the customs, religion, and poverty of the new immigrants, considering them less desirable than old immigrants. In reality, this perceived difference did not exist; the new immigrants, although seeming different, brought the same sort of values as old ones did. Statistically, they did not commit any more crime or contribute to any more of the misfortunes as any previous immigrant generation.

In 1924, quotas were set for European immigrants so that no more than 2% of the 1890 immigrant stocks were allowed into America. In addition, Congress passed a literacy act in 1917 to curb the influx of low-skilled immigrants from entering the country.

By the 1920s, the United States had relatively large populations of many European immigrants spread out over 150 years who had joined the original British descendants majority in America. The foreign born population in the U.S. has never exceeded 15% since before 1675 and has never been a land of immigrant majorities since then. Americans of European ancestry have always been and remain in the majority.

Population and Foreign Born 1790 to 1849
Census Population, Immigrants per Decade




Foreign Born

















200,000 -2





800,000 -2






The Mexican Revolution of 1911-1929 killed an estimated one million Mexicans [7] and drove at least a million refugees temporarily into the U.S. Many returned in the 1920s or 1930s. The recorded immigration was 219,000 from 1910-1920 and 459,000 from 1920 to 1930. Because of the porous border and the poor or non-existent records from this time period, the real numbers are undoubtedly higher. This recorded number of Mexican immigrants drops to only 23,000 from the decade of 1930 to 1940. Indeed 100,000s returned during the Great Depression either voluntarily or with some U.S. persuasion.
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