Crowded Land of Liberty: Solving Americas Immigration Crisis
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So many of them became Texans, in fact, that in the state published a German edition of its laws. An American reporter visited a German farm in Texas in German brewers, bookbinders, butchers, musicians, and other craftspeople settled cohesively and proudly in cities from New York to New Orleans, St. Eouis to Cincinnati. In , , New York Germans supported twenty churches, fifty German-language schools, ten bookstores, five printing establishments, and a theater, in neighborhoods known collectively as Kleindeutschland little Germany. To contemporaries the Germans seemed a model minority, the Irish a problem minority—a kind of generalizing that would, in time, be transferred to other peoples.
The immigrants helped push the United States population from 4,, in to 32,, in There were exceptions to the geographical stereotypes-Dutch settlements in Arizona, a Swedish nucleus in Arkansas, a Chinese community in Mississippi—and Irishmen in Southern cities like Mobile and New Orleans, where they were employed on dangerous jobs like levee repair because they were more expendable than fifteen-hundred-dollar slaves.
American culture shaped itself around their presence. Religion was a conspicuous example.
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The Church of Rome in America was turned inside out by the Irish, whose sheer numbers overwhelmed the small groups of old-stock English and French Catholics from Maryland and Louisiana. The second, James Gibbons, an Irish boy from Baltimore. German and Swiss Catholic immigrants added to the melting-pot nature of their church in the United States before the Civil War—and the Poles and Italians were yet to come. German and Scandinavian Lutheran immigrants—free of state and ecclesiastical authorities—developed strong local leaders and new, secessionist bodies, like the German-dominated Missouri Synod and the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod.
Both of these were theologically conservative groups. Ethnic politics took root in immigrant-crowded city wards. Nowhere was it stronger than among the gregarious Irish, whose neighborhood saloons became political clubhouses. The Society of St. Tammany was an old-stock New York City association founded in to promote Jeffersonian ideas. Tammany was a younger brother of St. Patrick who emigrated to America for the purpose of taking a city contract to drive all Republican reptiles out of New York.
But the lower-class Irish in particular stung an American elite long steeped in anti-popery. Anti-immigrant feelings began to rise in the Os and focused especially on the Irish, who, like poor people before and after them, were denounced for not living better than they could afford. The handiest one in the Os was anti-Catholicism. In a Boston mob burned a convent.
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Ten years later there were riots in Philadelphia after a school board ruled that Catholic children might use the Douay version of the Bible in school. Its goal was to restrict admission and naturalization of foreigners, and among its adherents was Samuel F. Place your guards…. And first, shut your gates.
Know-Nothings had some brief success but little enduring impact. Their drive got strength from a generalized anxiety about the future of the country on the eve of the Civil War. How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. Three years later, on the Fourth of July, , in debating with Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln returned to the theme. What could the Fourth mean, he asked, to those who were not blood descendants of those who had fought in the Revolution?
Lincoln was unambiguous. There was no exclusively American race entitled to claim liberty by heredity. What held the nation together was an idea of equality that every newcomer could claim and defend by free choice. That concept was soon tested to the limit with Lincoln himself presiding over the fiery trial.
But it paved the way for another wave of economic growth and a new period of ingathering greater than any that had gone before. After the United States thundered toward industrial leadership with the speed and power of one of the great locomotives that were the handsomest embodiment of the age of steam.
That age peaked somewhere in the s. By the age of electricity and petroleum was in flower. The majority of Americans lived in supercities, their daily existence made possible by elaborate networks of power and gas lines, telephone wires, highways, bridges, tunnels, and rails. And the foreign-born were at the center of the whirlwind. Expansion coincided with, depended on, incorporated the greatest wave of migration yet. In the first fourteen years after the Civil War ended yearly immigration ranged from , in to , in , slumping during the hard times of —77, and rebounding to , in Then came the deluge: , in ; , in Seven times between and the half-million total was passed.
The million mark was hit in with 1,,—and exceeded six times between that year and The all-time peak came in 1,, All told, some 14,, arrived at the gates between and ; another 18,, followed between and Almost all of them came from Europe, a transoceanic transplantation unmatched in history.
Until most new arrivals were from familiar places: the British Isles, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, the Netherlands. But now it was the turn of southern and eastern Europe to swarm. Of the roughly 1,, in the record-setting intake, , were from Russia, which then included a goodly portion of Poland. Another , were from Italy.
There were modest numbers of Greeks and Portuguese. These new immigrants were palpably different. The immigration patterns had shifted with the course of modern European history. A rising demand for political independence in central Europe fed political turbulence. Russian nationalism spawned anti-Semitic outbursts and hard, impoverishing economic restrictions on Jews. Southern Italy was overwhelmed by agricultural poverty that was increased by policies of industrialization and modernization that favored the north.
Europe was full of hopeful seekers of streets paved with gold. And there were voices to entice them. The immigration bureaus of Western states distributed literature in several languages touting opportunities within their borders. Railroad companies with land grants wooed Russian and German farmers to come out and buy on long-term credit tracts on the Great Plains.
The Great Northern line- which James J. Hill built without land grants—offered fares as low as thirty-three dollars to any point on the tracks that ran from Minnesota to Oregon, plus sweet deals on acquiring and moving machinery, livestock, lumber, fencing. Steamship companies were in the hunt too. Modern technology had reduced the dreaded transatlantic passage to ten or twelve days instead of months. Steerage accommodations were far from clean or comfortable, but they cost as little as twenty-five dollars, and passengers were no longer likely to die on the way.
So the immigrants came. For the most part this was an urban migration. Millions went to the middling-sized red-brick towns dominated by the factory chimney and whistle. More millions went to the big cities, where they grunted and sweated in the creation of the skyscrapers, the bridges, the subways and trolley lines, the sewer and lighting systems —the guts of the metropolis.
Or where, if they did not swing a pick or scrub floors, they sold groceries to those of their countrymen who did. In Pennsylvania in almost 60 percent of white bituminous coal miners were foreign-born. In three anthracite coal mines in a single county, more than three-quarters of the work force was Slavic. Twenty-five languages were spoken in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ethnic monopolies of particular lines of work were established. For most, life in the golden land was potentially promising but actually brutal.
Wages hung at or below the cost of living and far below the cost of comfort. Some parts of Chicago had three times as many inhabitants as the most crowded sections of Tokyo or Calcutta.
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A New York survey taker found 1, Italians living in rooms. Single toilets and water faucets were shared by dozens of families. Uncollected garbage piled up in alleys. Settlement-house workers took up residence in the worst neighborhoods, trying to teach the rudiments of hygiene. The American public school took on a new role. Authorities regarded it as their mission to teach immigrant children not only basic skills but civic responsibility, respect for the flag, and the proper use of the toothbrush.
In fact, the schools did produce millions of competent citizens. The urban center of gravity of the new immigrants made it harder for them to be accepted. It was all too easy for them to associate these evils with the immigrants, who seemed always to be at the center of this or that dilemma. Kallen did their best to explain immigrant culture to their fellow old-stock Americans and to guide the newcomers in acceptable American ways. They organized their own newspapers, theaters, social clubs, night classes, and self-help societies.