Passage: "Immigration"

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1st Passage: “Immigration”

The Age of Industry brought tremendous change to America. Perhaps the greatest impact of industrialization on the growing nation was urbanization and immigration.

As large farms and improved technology displaced the small farmer, a new demand grew for labor in the American economy. Factories spread rapidly across the nation, but they did not spread evenly. Most were concentrated in urban areas, particularly in the Northeast, around the Great Lakes, and on the West Coast.

And so the American workforce began to migrate from the countryside to the city. Abroad, millions arrived leaving poverty and turmoil; seeking new opportunities and a desire to fulfill the American Dream.

Almost every city in America is home to a Chinatown. This street scene is from New York City's Chinatown
Immigration was nothing new to America. But from1880-1920, “new” immigrants come in large numbers from 2 distinct regions: 1. Southern and Eastern Europe and 2. Asia.

The New European Immigrants included Greek, Italian, Polish, Serb, Russian, and others. The vast majority were Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. However, due to persecution, many Jewish immigrants sought freedom in America. Very few newcomers spoke any English, and large numbers were illiterate in their native tongues. None of these groups hailed from democratic regimes. The American form of government was as foreign as its culture. Many were processed in Elis Island New York.

The New Immigrants from Asia were mainly Japanese and Chinese settlers relocated to the American West Coast. None of these groups were predominantly Protestant. Like their Western counterparts arriving at Ellis Island, very few newcomers spoke any English, and knew little of the American culture, values and government. The main processing center for these immigrants was located at Angel Island, San Francisco.

Looking for work in factories, many immigrants moved to American cities, establishing urban enclaves such as Chinatown, Greektown, or Little Italy. Populations exploded overnight as immigrants were forced to live in cramped slum areas known as tenements.

anti-immigrant cartoon
Political cartoons sometimes played on Americans' fears of immigrants. This one, which appeared in a 1896 edition of the Ram's Horn, depicts an immigrant carrying his baggage of poverty, disease, anarchy and sabbath desecration, approaching Uncle Sam.

Not all Americans welcomed the new immigrants with open arms. While factory owners greeted the rush of cheap labor with zeal, laborers often treated their new competition with hostility. Many religious leaders were awestruck at the increase of non-Protestant believers. Racial purists feared the genetic outcome of the eventual pooling of these new bloods. Other were concerned with the ideas they brought labeling many anarchists, socialists, and criminals.

Gradually, these "nativists" lobbied successfully to restrict the flow of immigration. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring this ethnic group in its entirety. Twenty-five years later, Japanese immigration was restricted by executive agreement, with the Gentleman’s Agreement. These two Asian groups were the only ethnicities to be completely excluded from America. Because of the demand for labor in the East by the industrialists, Europeans were allowed to come in record number up to 1924.

During the Industrial age, American diversity mushroomed. Each immigrant brought pieces of an old culture and made contributions to a new one. In the end, America had been truly transformed, becoming the melting pot we see today.

Source: Excerpts from

2nd Passage: “City Problems and the Political Machine”

During the Gilded Age, the constant flux of immigrants brought a number of predictable problems to towns and cities, such as disease, sanitation issues, and crime. Because of massive overcrowding, disease was widespread. Cholera and yellow-fever epidemics swept through the slums on a regular basis. Tuberculosis was a huge killer. Infants suffered the most. Almost 25% of babies born in late-19th century cities died before reaching the age of one.

Although public sewers were improving, disposing of human waste was increasingly a problem. People used private cesspools, which overflowed with a long, hard rain. Old sewage pipes dumped the waste directly into the rivers or bays. These rivers were often the very same used as water sources.

Trash collection had not yet been systemized. Trash was dumped in the streets or in the waterways. Better sewers, water purification, and trash removal were some of the most pressing problems for city leadership. As the 20th century dawned, many improvements were made, but the cities were far from sanitary.

Just as depressing was the crime rate in American cities at the turn of the century. Youths who dreaded a life of monotonous factory work sometimes roamed the streets in gangs. Vices such as gambling, prostitution, and alcoholism were widespread.

Gangs of New York

To cope with the city's problems, government officials had a limited resources and personnel. To bring order out of the chaos of the nation's cities, many political bosses emerged engaging in corrupt deals if they could increase their power bases. The people and institutions the bosses controlled were called the political machine.

To maintain power, a boss had to keep his constituents happy. Most political bosses appealed to the newest, most desperate part of the growing populace — the immigrants. By offering patronage, or support by a leader, bosses would provide relief kitchens to receive votes. Individuals who were leaders in local neighborhoods were sometimes rewarded city jobs in return for the loyalty of their constituents.

In order to guarantee electoral success, Machines engaged in voter fraud. Political bosses arranged to have voter lists expanded to include many phony names. In one district a four-year-old child was registered to vote. In another, a dog's name appeared on the polling lists. Members of the machine would "vote early and often," traveling from polling place to polling place to place illegal votes. One district in New York one time reported more votes than it had residents.

thomas nast

Thomas Nast was a cartoonist for Harper's Weekly Magazine. His cartoons condemning the corrupt regime of Boss Tweed helped end the era of machine politics at Tammany Hall.

Bosses knew how to benefit from big business, and did so by rewarding business leaders with lucrative contracts for construction of factories or public works, in exchange for kickbacks and graft. These industries would then pump large sums into keeping the political machine in office. It seemed simple: "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." However, bringing diverse interests together in a city as large as New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago required hours of legwork and great political skill.

Not content with engaging in these morally questionable business activities, Bosses found new ways of enriching themselves. As contracts were awarded to legal business entities, they were likewise awarded to illegal gambling and prostitution rings. Often profits from these unlawful enterprises lined the pockets of city officials. Public tax money and bribes from the business sector increased the bank accounts of these corrupt leaders.

Far from being the answer to the problems of cities, Political Machines grew out of a desperate desire of the people. Some services were offered but a huge price for society. By the turn of the century, groups of reformers, calling themselves progressives, emerged on to the scene with a mission to clean up the cities and end the rule of the bosses.

Source: Excerpts from

Passage Items

1st Passage

  1. Compare and contrast the experiences of the two groups of “new” Immigrants, Asian and European, in America during the Gilded Age. Be sure to examine their cultural experiences, destinations, living conditions, employment, and the reaction of natives to their arrival.

2nd Passage

  1. List 3 major problems of city life during the turn of the century.

  2. Describe the different ways political machines held on to political power using the democratic institutions of the United States.

  3. Describe the different ways political machines made money.

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