The 1800s, especially its latter half, saw an extreme increase in the number of people migrating to the United States. America was suddenly filled with people from many different kinds of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. These people were coming mainly from the poor countries, especially those of the east where people were becoming more and more hopeless with regards to their future. They came to America because of the economic prospects and employment opportunities they thought it offered. The reasons of increased immigration during this time period, the countries from which the largest number of migrants was coming and the fate they met in America will be discussed in this paper.
Reason for migration to America
As it has been mentioned, migrants were mainly coming from those countries where financial means of subsistence were limited and conditions were bad. Most of these countries suffered from crop failure, shortage of land and lack of resources (‘Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900’). Many of these countries were also facing famines and droughts. The people from these countries moved to the United States because they viewed it as a land that promised economic opportunity. They came with an ‘American dream’ whereby they sought a happy life via the pursuit of economic options. Apart from economic reasons, many people came to the United States to seek protection from their intolerant and oppressive governments. A large number of migrants came from Germany, England and Ireland. The governments of these countries were known to be very intolerant towards the religious minorities, especially the Jews. The Jews had to face a lot of oppression, particularly in Germany during the 1800s. Thus, they sought refuge in America.
In the 19th century, social conditions of Europe were very challenging. Due to the growth of industrialization and mass production of finished goods, population was increasing. It reached a point that the cities and lanes became very crowded. Houses and residential areas were crammed. Conditions in the neighborhoods of the factory workers were particularly hard. There was no proper drainage or sewage system, there was no order of construction of houses, and too many people were living in one house. Since the workers were paid very less, they didn’t even have access to good food and clean water (Sohn, 2010).
In the 1800s, new social classes were emerging in Europe as well. The most important ones were the upper class and the lower class. The upper class were in the minority. They controlled the means of production and were very wealthy. The lower class, on the other hand, were in a vast majority. They were the workers and lived in very poor conditions (Sohn, 2010). It is people from this class who wanted to leave their homeland and search for employment elsewhere.
Religious reasons explain the arrival of European immigrants in America as well. During the 1800s and in most periods of the 1900s, the religion in Europe was predominantly Protestant. This meant that the catholics were marginalized in all but a few states and had to face persecution in most. They were excluded from a lot of the political and social institutions and were denied some of the fundamental rights. Thus, they migrated to America to seek freedom and liberty. Upon arriving in America, they realized that the culture that they had brought themselves into was very different from the culture back home. It was very hard for them to settle in America and to deal with the local people, however, economic opportunities were great. Over time, they overcame their culture shock and began prosperous lives in the new country.
It is because of the freedom and countless opportunities that the Europeans found in America that increasing number of immigrants stormed into the United States. Even today, majority of the American population is comprised of immigrants. Immigrants make up more than half of the American population and play an important role in the American culture and economy. However, during the 20th century, the immigrants increased so much that the American government was forced to put a restriction (Sinke, 2005). But the fact that such a large number of people turned towards America for help and that America welcomed them with open arms cannot be ignored. The immigrants did face discrimination in certain aspects, but for the most part, their lives became better.
Sinke, Suzanne M. “Crossing National Borders: Locating the United States in Migration History.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 19, no. 3, 2005, pp. 58–63. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25161948.
“Frankenstein Social Condition.” Social Condition of Europe in 19th Century., 1 Jan. 1970, frankensteinsocialcondition.blogspot.com/2010/03/social-condition-of-europe-in-19th.html.
“Immigration to the United States – American Memory Timeline- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources.” Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/riseind/immgnts/.