New Immigrants

Essential Question

Explain the reasons for the rise of immigration in the North and how it changed America?

New Immigrants

In the mid-1800s, large numbers of immigrants crossed the Atlantic Ocean to begin new lives in the United States. More than 4 million of them settled in the United States between 1840 and 1860, most from Europe. More than 3 million of these immigrants arrived from Ireland and Germany. Many of them were fleeing economic or political troubles in their native countries.

The Irish

Most immigrants from the British Isles during that period were Irish. The Irish had a long history of oppression by the British and in the mid-1840s, potato blight, a disease that causes rot in potatoes, left many families in Ireland with little food. More than a million Irish people died of starvation and disease. Even more fled to the United States.

Most Irish immigrants were very poor. Many settled in cities in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. They worked at unskilled jobs in the cities or on building canals and railroads. They primarily worked in factories for low wages making them the primary labour source in the North. Irish women often worked as domestic servants for wealthy families, laboring 16 or more hours per day. In 1849 a Boston health committee reported that low wages forced most Irish immigrants to live in poor housing.

Many Americans did not like the changes in their communities as large irish populations settles in their comminty. The anti-Irish sentiment was really high for a number of reasons: Irish were poor and slums developed in cities; people blamed the Irish for crime, disease, alcohol abuse, etc. Irish were Catholic; most Americans were Protestant and claimed Catholics could not be trusted because they would be more loyal to the Pope than to the U.S. government (to this day, the U.S. has only had two Catholic president). before Catholic immigrants arrived, most Americans were Protestants. Conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Europe caused American Protestants to mistrust Catholic immigrants.

Still, many immigrants enjoyed a new feeling of equality. Patrick Dunny wrote home to his family about this situation.

"People that cuts a great dash [style] at home ... think it strange [in the United States] for the humble class of people to get as much respect as themselves."

-Patrick Dunny,quoted in Who Built America? by Bruce Levine et al.

Activity 1: Were the Irish considered “white” in 19th-century America?

In groups of 4, you will receive 4 pieces of evidence. Answer the guiding questions about each piece of evidence and as a group discuss and fill out the chart to decide: Were the Irish considered white in 19th century America?

SHEG-Were the Irish considered “white” in the 19 thcentury-Student Version.pdf

Discussion Questions

  • Were the Irish considered “white” in the 19th century?

  • What evidence supports the argument that they were considered white? What evidence supports the argument that they were not considered white?


Many Germans also came to the United States during this time. In 1848 some Germans had staged a revolution against harsh rule. Some educated Germans fled to the United States to escape persecution caused by their political activities. Most German immigrants, however, were working class, and they came for economic reasons. The United States seemed to offer both greater economic opportunity and more freedom from government control.

While most Irish immigrants were Catholics, German immigrant groups included Catholics, Jews, and Protestants. German immigrants were more likely than the Irish to become farmers and live in rural areas. They moved to midwestern states where more land was available. Unlike the Irish, a high percentage of German immigrants arrived in the United States with money. Despite their funds and skills, German immigrants often were forced to take low-paying jobs. Many German immigrants worked as tailors, seamstresses, bricklayers, servants, clerks, cabinetmakers, bakers, and food merchants.

Anti-Immigration Movements

Industrialization and the waves of people from Europe greatly changed the American labor force. Yet a great deal of native-born Americans feared losing their jobs to immigrants who might work for lower wages. Some felt implicitly threatened by the new immigrants' cultures and religions. For example,

Those Americans and others who opposed immigration were called nativists. In the 1840s and 1850s some nativists became politically active. An 1844 election flyer gave Americans this warning.

"Look at the .. . thieves and vagabonds [tramps] roaming our streets ... monopolizing [taking] the business which properly belongs to our own native and true-born citizens. 11

-Election flyer, quoted in Who Built America? by Bruce Levine et al.

In 1849 nativists founded a political organization, the Know-Nothing Party, that supported measures making it difficult for foreigners to become citizens or hold office. Its members wanted to keep Catholics and immigrants out of public office. They also wanted to require immigrants to live in the United States for 21 years before becoming citizens. Know-Nothing politicians had some success getting elected during the 1850s. Later, disagreements over the issue of slavery . caused the party to fall apart.

Activity 1: Primary Source - "A Day Among The Swedes at Pine Lake"

First, scan the document and identify any words you do not know or are uncomfortable with. Then, define them in the right-hand column titled "Vocab." If you know all the words, pick the least comfortable ones; do not leave it blank. Then carefully read the background and primary source excerpts. Last, answer the text-dependent questions and highlight any textual evidence with the correct color.

Primary Source-A Day Among The Swedes at Pine Lake

Discussion Questions

  • From where did most immigrants come from?

  • Why did large numbers of immigrants come from Ireland and Germany?

  • How might newcomers from different cultural backgrounds affect a region?

  • How did people respond to the new immigrants?

Changes in Cities

The Industrial Revolution led to the creation of many new jobs in American cities. These city jobs drew immigrants from many nations as well as migrants from rural parts of the United States. The Transportation Revolution helped connect cities and made it easier for people to move to them. As a result of these two trends, American cities grew rapidly during the mid-1800s. Cities in the northeastern and Middle Atlantic states grew the most. By the mid-1800s, three-quarters of the country's manufacturing jobs were in these areas.

American cities in the mid-1800s faced many challenges due to rapid growth. Because public and private transportation was limited, city residents had to live near their workplaces. In addition, there was a lack of safe housing. Many city dwellers, particularly immigrants, could afford to live only in tenements-poorly designed apartment buildings that housed large numbers of people. These structures were often dirty, overcrowded, and unsafe.

Public services were also poor. The majority of cities did not have clean water, public health regulations, or healthful ways to get rid of garbage and human waste. Under these conditions, diseases spread easily, and epidemics were common. In 1832 and 1849, for example, New York City suffered cholera epidemics that killed thousands.

City life held other dangers. As urban areas grew, they became centers. of criminal activity. Most cities-including New York, Boston, and Philadelphia-had no permanent or organized force to fight crime. Instead, they relied on volunteer night watches, which offered little protection.

Fire was another constant and serious danger in crowded cities. There was little organized fire protection. Most cities were served by volunteer fire companies. Firefighters used hand pumps and buckets to put out fires. In addition, there were not enough sanitation workers and road maintenance crews. These shortages and flaws caused health and safety problems for many city residents.

Activity 3: Why did new immigrants came to America and what effects and reactions happened because of this shift in America's population?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities