America has been called a nation of immigrants. However, many Americans reacted negatively to the mass immigrations of the 1840s and 1850s. Who immigrated during this time period and what factors concerning their presence provoked American hostility?
There were three major groups of immigrants during the 1840’s and 1850’s: the Irish, the Germans and the Chinese. Not everyone was hostile to the new immigrants (especially at first when they saw the immigrants as a way to fill up the expansion to the west or as cheap and reliable labor). The first wave if Irish immigrants were seeking relief from the potato famine in Ireland from 1845 to 1850. The impoverished Irish tended to settle where other Irish immigrants were living, and where they could find work; in the big cities in the eastern part of the U.S. There they faced inadequate living and working circumstances and often discrimination. The German immigrants settled further west and established farming communities where they were not as discriminated against. The Chinese faced harsh discrimination as they competed with non-Chinese for the gold in California.
There were three main reasons for the antagonism and resentment of the Irish and German immigrants. Religion played a big part since all of the Irish and many of the Germans were Roman Catholic (Irish and German Immigration, n.d.) and the United States was a Protestant country. In addition, as with many things, part of the hostility was political. The Democratic platform was based on the common man, and many of the immigrants joined the Democratic Party, swelling its ranks. As time went on, many non-Irish or non-German Americans had their jobs threatened or even lost as the immigrants were willing to work for low wages in order to survive which lead to hostility and sometimes violence.
Irish and German Immigration, (n.d.). Retrieved March 2012 from http://www.ushistory.org/us/25f.asp