Immigration to the United States



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Immigration in the 1800s

Objective: Students will analyze factors contributing to immigration in the mid 19th century.




  1. Read the selection. Answer the questions below based on the reading.


Immigration to the United States
Immigration—the movement of people into a country—to the US increased dramatically between 1840 and 1860. American manufactures welcomed the tide of immigrants, many of whom were willing to work for long hours and for low pay.
Newcomers from Ireland

The largest group of immigrants to the US at this time traveled across the Atlantic from Ireland. Between 1846 and 1860, more than 1.5 million Irish immigrants arrived in the country, settling mostly in the North East.

The Irish migration to the US was brought on by a terrible potato famine. A famine is an extreme shortage of food. Potatoes were the mainstay of the Irish diet, eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When a devastating blight, or disease, destroyed Irish potato crops in the 1840s, starvation struck the country. More than one million people died.

Although most of the immigrants had been farmers in Ireland, they were too poor to buy land in the US. For this reason many Irish immigrants took low paying factory jobs in northern cities. The men who came from Ireland worked in factories and performed manual labor such as digging ditches and working on the railroads. The women, who made up about half of the immigrants, became servants and factory workers. By 1850 one-third of all workers in Boston were Irish.


German Immigrants

The second largest group of immigrants in the US between 1820 and 1860 came from Germany. Some sought work and opportunity. Others had left their homes because of the failure of a democratic revolution in Germany in 1848.

Between 1848 and 1860 more than 1 million German immigrants—mostly men—settled in the US. Many arrived with enough money to buy farms or open their own businesses. They prospered in many parts of the country, founding their own communities and self help organizations. Some German immigrants settled in New York and Pennsylvania, but many moved to the Midwest and western territories.

Impact of Immigration

The immigrants who came to the US between 1820 and 1860 changed the character of the country. These people brought their languages, customs, religions, and ways of life with them. Various features soon filtered into American culture.

Before the early 1800s, the majority of immigrants to America had been either Protestants from Great Britain or Africans brought forcibly to America as slaves. At the time, the country had relatively few Catholics, and most of these lived around Baltimore, New Orleans, or St. Augustine. Most of the Irish immigrants and about a half of the German immigrants were Roman Catholics.

Many Catholic immigrants settled in cities of the Northeast. The church gave the newcomers more than a source of spiritual guidance. It also provided a center for the community life of the immigrants.

The Germany immigrants brought their language as well as their religion. When they settled, they lived in their own communities, founded German-language publications, and established musical societies.

Immigrants Face Prejudice

In the 1830s and 1840s, anti-immigrant feelings rose. Some Americans feared that immigrants were changing the character of the US too much.

People opposed to immigration were known as nativists because they felt that immigration threatened the future of the “native”—American-born citizens. Some nativists accused immigrants of taking jobs from “real” Americans and were angry that immigrants would work for lower wages. Others accused the newcomers of bringing crime and disease to American cities. Immigrants who live in crowded slums served as likely targets of this kind of prejudice.
A New Political Party

The nativists formed secret anti-Catholic societies, and in the 1850s they joined for form a new political party: The American Party. Because members of the nativist groups often answered questions about their organization with the statement “I know nothing,” their party came to be known as the Know-Nothing Party.

The Know-Nothings urged Americans to fight the “alien menace.” They called for stricter citizenship laws—extending the immigrants’ waiting period for citizenship from 5 to 14 years—and wanted to ban foreign-born citizens from holding office. In 1856 the Know Nothings supported former president Millard Fillmore as their presidential candidate. He lost to the Democratic candidate James Buchanan.

In the mid-1850s the Know-Nothing movement split into a Northern branch and Southern Branch over the question of slavery. At this time slavery was also dividing Northern and Southern states of the nation.





    1. What major groups immigrated to America in the mid 19th century?



    1. What push factors existed that caused the immigrants to leave their native countries?



    1. What pull factors existed that caused the immigrants to come to America?



    1. What differences existed between Irish and German immigrants?



    1. What problems did immigrants face in the United States?



II: Read the selection below. As you read, underline the factors that might lead to immigration.
Bridget had lived on a farm in Ireland for her whole life. She wanted to marry a good Irishman and raise a family, continuing her family’s tradition of farming. She survived the Irish Potato Blight, but lost both parents and most of her brothers and sisters to starvation. Her one surviving brother, Patrick, managed to get one ticket on a ship bound for America. He promised to send money as soon as he could. He didn’t think that this would take long, as he had heard that there were many, many jobs available in the cities of America. Meanwhile, Bridget resorted to begging on the streets until a soup kitchen was set up in a town near her home.

She eventually began to get her life on track. She married, and with her husband, Seamus, rented some land to farm. Patrick sent money when he could, which helped them to pay their rent. They were beginning to raise a family when disaster struck again. The British landlord who owned the land her family rented decided to evict all of his tenants to create one large farm. Soldiers came in and tore down her house with almost no warning, giving her only a few minutes to rescue some of their belongings.



Bridget and Seamus talked about what they could do next. There was no land left to rent in their area. They remembered all of the letters they had received from Patrick. He wrote of the endless opportunities for jobs in America and of the freedom available to all, regardless of their social class in Ireland. He also wrote that there was no official religion in America, so Irish Catholics were free to practice their religion without interference. Seamus and Bridget decided that they had no hope of improving their life in Ireland. They wanted a better life for themselves, but more importantly, wanted their child to have more opportunities. They decided that the only thing they could do would be to leave their beloved Ireland and try to start over in America.
III. Categorize each of the factors underlined in Activity A as push factors or pull factors. On the chart below, record each of the factors in the appropriate column.


Push factors for immigration

Pull factors for immigration








IV. Using information from the reading and what you have learned in class, respond to the following prompt.
Do you think that push factors or pull factors have more impact on an immigrant’s decision to immigrate? Explain with specific details.
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