Mass Immigration and it's impact on US Society and Politics

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  • Created by: Lily
  • Created on: 28-04-13 17:26

History of Immigration

  • English pilgrims founded the US in 1620 at Plymouth Rock
  • "Golden Door" - immigration was free without restriction untill 1882
  • Ellis Island
  • Statue of Liberty - gift to the American people to celebrate the Declaration Of Independence.
  • Transcontinental Railway brought in labours from everywhere to help build it.
  • The Gold Rush of the Old West brought in many people seeking fortune
  • Homesteader Act of the Old West helped people find new lives
  • By 1890 there were already 9 million foregin-borns
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  • Place of Birth - Population (millions)
  • Europe               8.10
  • Asia                    0.01
  • Latin America    0.02
  • Canada              0.90
  • TOTAL =             9.03
  • Time Period - Number of European immigrants
  • 1880-1889      5,248,568
  • 1890-1899      3,694,294
  • 1900-1909      8,202,388
  • 1910-1919      6,347,380
  • Time period - Number of Italian immigrants
  • 1871-1880     55,759
  • 1881-1890     307,326
  • 1891-1900     655,899
  • 1901-1910     1,927,102
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-With European populations risings and a growth in urbanisation, traditional lifestyles were facing disruption. Many found the agriculture in America very close to their lifestyles at home. Although some settled in the cities they found it easier to change.


-The growth of nationalism & pan-slavism saw many Jewish facing persecution and attacks. Many ethnic groups were also facing persecution and they felt they could sustain their cultural identity elsewhere. In Euope there was also a growing intolerance of socialists and anarchists.


-Irish = potato famine. Chloera outbreak, collapse in fruit & wine market in 1880's Italy. Crop failure & decline in currant market in Greece. Many immigrants had the intention of returning home, the money they earnt was sent home to families or saved to establish a business.

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ECONOMIC - "land of opportunity". Economic expansion meant a large demand for labour, especially unskilled. Pitiable pay rates in America were small fortunes to immigrants.

EMPLOYMENT - Contract labour: workers had to agree to work for a company at a fixed price and period of time (legal untill 1885). American companies sent agents to recruit cheap labour and conduct widespread advertising. Many immigrants arriving had their passage paid in advance.

POLITICAL FREEDOM - Many Europeans denied the vote. Declaration of Independence "all men are created equal". Statue of Liberty - come forth those "yearning to breathe free". 

FAMILY - Many families followed early pioneers from their extended family. Cousins in the States would often pay the passage to be joined by relatives.

TRANSPORTATION - Sail to steam. Railroads.

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IMPACT - Development of distinct ethnic neighbourh

Many immigrants did not get beyond the cities. Many lacked the capital to begin a life in agricultural and the attraction of wages in industry/similar people quickly dragged them into the immigration system.

Influential figures (often Italian/Greek) from ethnic groups took it upon themselves to arrange entire lives for the immigrants, from housing to employment to voting.

As a result, and because many were joing friends/family, ceratin nationalities dominated certain areas.

  • Irish = Boston
  • Czechs & Poles = Chicago
  • Italians = Brooklyn, NY.
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IMPACT - Economic

Immigrants often came to the US in desperate search of employment opportunities. Coming from rural backgrounds they had little idea about employments laws or working rights.

As immigration was used to "fill the factories" with their unskilled labour, their uneducation was easily exploited through cheap labour and shipment to mid-west cities. This contast supply of cheap labour was a "life saver" for the economy and it is hard to imagine how it would have grown without it.

1910 - 1/3 of the population of the 12 largest cities were immigrants and another 1/3 were their children.

However, this cheap labour led to tensions between immigrants and local workers as they were seen as "threatening job opportunites" and "depressing wage levels". This was prominent in the working class.

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IMPACT - Political

Immigrants had very little/no knowledge of politics and tended to vote in the same way as the cities they settled in. As they lived in ethnic neighbourhoods, they could easily be dominated and exploited.

City bosses provided a network of support in return for votes. E.g Tammany Hall (meet & greet, set up jobs & housing).

DEMOCRATS - Favoured by immigrants (partly due to the Republicans & Prohibiton). The combination of white southerners/western farmers/urban immigrants helped them to fight back after the civil war.


  • Destruction of the Jeffersonian Ideal (individual exercising his right to vote).
  • Foregin loyalties to the Pope & Catholicism - easily swayed.
  • May not vote for patriotic ideas.
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IMPACT - Racial tension & Discrimination

Immigrants were used as "scapegoats" for the ills of society. By segregating themselves they became easier targets.

Labour violence often erupted from immigrants slums and the growth of anarchy/socialism was blamed on European influences

Led to a more corrupt, violent and unpleasent society

  • 1891 - 11 Italians lynched in New Orleans
  • 1915 - Reformation of the KKK in Georgia
  • 1887 America Protective Association - countered the impact of Catholics/immigrants
  • 1905 Asiatic Exclusion League - limit the number of Japanese working for low wage

However evidence of discrimnation of immigrants is scarce highlighting how the vast majority of immigrants seem to have settled quickly and effectively into the American nation.

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Early Immigration Legislation

  • 1797 - Staten Island Hospital to quarantine contagious immigrants - ships inspected and immigrants charged 50% tax to cover the cost. Burnt down in 1855.
  • 1819 - Captains List of passengers to custom houses.
  • 1824 - New York state Captains Bond of $300 for each passenger
  • 1855 Castle Gardens, NY is Emigrant Landing Depot, food, info, potential employers. (set up to protect the immigrants)
  • 1882 - Chinese Exclusion Act - Passengers who were "convicts, idiots, lunatics or unable to take care of themselves" were not permitted to land - Federal Government took responsibility.
  • 1891 - Office of the Superintendent of Immigration created
  • 1892 - Ellis Island Inspection Station established (often called "heartbreak island")
  • 1910 - Angel Island Inspection Station established (Giant sieves)
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Ellis Island

  • 80% of immigrants passed both the medical & immigrantion inspection first time
  • 20% of those detained for further inspection were eventually excluded
  • Most immigrants to pass through Ellis Island in one day was 11747 in April 1907
  • Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island to enter the USA.
  • In WW2 Ellis Island was used as a detention centre for aliens and suspected spies
  • Closed down in 1954
  • National Monument in 1965
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