Irish Immigration Central Historical Question

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Irish Immigration

Central Historical Question: How did Americans view the Irish immigrants of the mid-19th century?

Document A: Thomas Nast Cartoon, 1876

  1. (Close Reading) The man in the “white” scale is supposed to be Irish. What is the message of this cartoon?

  1. (Sourcing) Thomas Nast, the cartoonist, drew for Harper’s Weekly. Based on this cartoon, what sort of people do you think read Harper’s Weekly?

Document B: Excerpt from a ‘Know-Nothing’ Newspaper, 1854


Providence, July 22, 1854

  1. They HATE our Republic, and are trying to overthrow it.

  2. They HATE the American Eagle, and it offends them beyond endurance to see it worn as an ornament by Americans.

  3. They HATE our Flag, as it manifest by their grossly insulting it.

  4. They HATE the liberty of conscience.

  5. They HATE the liberty of the Press.

  6. They HATE the liberty of speech.

  7. They HATE our Common School system.

  8. They HATE the Bible, and would blot it out of existence if they could!

  9. The Priests HATE married life, and yet by them is fulfilled the Scripture, to wit: 'more are the children of the desolate, than the children of the married wife.'

  10. They HATE Protestants, and are sworn to exterminate them from our country and the earth.

  11. They HATE the name of WASHINGTON, because he was a Republican and Protestant.

  12. They HATE all rulers that do not swear allegiance to the Pope of Rome.

  13. They HATE to be ruled by Americans, and say 'WE WILL NOT BE RULED BY THEM!'

  14. They HATE to support their own paupers and they are left to be supported by the tax paying Americans.

  15. They HATE, above all, the 'Know-Nothings,' who are determined to rid this country from their accursed power.


Source: The Know-Nothing and American Crusader, July 22, 1854.

  1. (Close reading) Why did the ‘Know-Nothings’ hate the Catholics so much? List at least four reasons.

  1. (Close reading) According to the ‘Know-Nothings’ could the Irish ever be true Americans? Why or why not?

Document C: Historian account

Irish-Americans workers also suffered an association with servile labor by virtue of their heralded, and at least sometimes practiced, use as substitutes for slaves within the South. Gangs of Irish immigrants worked ditching and draining plantations, building levees and sometimes clearing land because of the danger of death to valuable slave property (and, as one account put it, to mules) in such pursuits. Frederick Law Olmsted’s widely circulated accounts of the South quoted more than one Southerner who explained the use of Irish labor on the grounds that: “n-----s are worth too much to be risked here; if the Paddies (Irish) are knocked overboard . . . nobody loses anything.”

Irish youths were also likely to be found in the depleted ranks of indentured servants from the early national period through the Civil War. In that position they were sometimes called “Irish slaves” and more frequently “bound boys.” The degraded status of apprentices was sometimes little distinguishable from indenture by the 1840s and was likewise an increasingly Irish preserve. In New York City, Irish women comprised the largest group of prostitutes, or as they were sometimes called in the 1850s, “white slaves.”

Source: From David R. Roediger, Wages of Whiteness, 1991, p. 146.

  1. (Contextualization) Why were Irish used for difficult labor in the South?

  1. (Close reading) Based on this document, do you think the Irish were treated like slaves?

Document D: Cartoon in a Newspaper, 1883

  1. (Close reading) The angry woman in the cartoon is supposed to be Irish. Describe what she looks like and how she’s acting.

  1. (Contextualization) Based on this cartoon, what job do you think many Irish women had in the 1880s? What were some stereotypes about Irish women?

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