Social Development: North and South, Immigrants
American entrepreneurs, day laborers, transport workers, Irish immigrants, large German
Beginning in the mid–1840s, New England’s factory work force was increasingly dominated by Irish immigrants—refugees who often saw factory work in America as a big improvement over famine and colonialism back home. Much of the labor force in Northern cities and factory towns and on the new transportation projects was composed of German and, particularly, Irish immigrants. A trickle of Irish and German newcomers had been coming to America since the 18th century. There were large German-speaking areas in the mid-Atlantic states, and the Irish were sufficiently numerous and politically active to become the targets of the Federalists’ Alien Act of 1798. These early immigrants possessed craft or agricultural skills, and most of them, like their British neighbors, were Protestants. A newer immigration grew quickly after 1815, peaking in the 1840s. The new immigrants were landless peasants driven from their homelands by famine. They took menial, low-paying jobs in factories and as servants, day laborers, and transport workers—replacing white women in factories and blacks in household service and on the docks. Most of these new immigrants were Catholics, and they arrived in such numbers that by 1850 Catholics were the largest single denomination in the United States. They overwhelmingly sided with the Democratic Party in politics.
Many American entrepreneurs welcomed this new supply of cheap labor. But militant Protestants and many native-born working people perceived the immigrants as a cultural and economic threat. Arguments over immigration would shape Northern politics for more than a century after 1830.
Article key phrases: