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Immigration And Nativism In The United States

2141 words - 9 pages

Immigration and Nativism in the United States

In the United States, the cliché of a nation of immigrants is often invoked. Indeed, very few Americans can trace their ancestry to what is now the United States, and the origins of its immigrants have changed many times in American history. Despite the identity of an immigrant nation, changes in the origins of immigrants have often been met with resistance. What began with white, western European settlers fleeing religious persecution morphed into a multicultural nation as immigrants from countries across the globe came to the U.S. in increasing numbers. Like the colonial immigrants before them, these new immigrants sailed to the Americas to gain freedom, flee poverty and famine, and make a better life for themselves. Forgetting their origins as persecuted and excluded people, the older and more established immigrants became possessive about their country and tried to exclude and persecute the immigrant groups from non-western European backgrounds arriving in the U.S. This hostile, defensive, and xenophobic reaction to influxes of “new” immigrants known as Nativism was not far out of the mainstream. Nativism became a part of the American cultural and political landscape and helped to shape, through exclusion, the face of the United States for years to come.

Colonial era immigration into North America began with Western Europeans searching for religious freedom across the Atlantic. Between the mid 1500s and 1790, the population of the colonies grew from zero to over 3 million people.[1] Nearly all of these immigrants were from western and northern Europe. In 1790, seventy-five percent of the population were of British decent while the second largest ethnic group, those of German decent, constituted about seven percent.[2] Many of these immigrants came to North America in mass exoduses that resulted in particular ethnic groups being concentrated in specific geographic locations. For instance, 20,000 Puritans from England immigrated between 1629 and 1640 in what is called the Great Migration and settled mostly in New England, but later moved to New York and the upper Midwest. New York and New Jersey were once called the New Netherlands because New York and New Jersey 8,000 Dutchmen settled there between 1609 and 1664. The last important colonial immigration was of 250,000 Scotch-Irish from Ulster between 1710 and 1775 who settled mostly in western Pennsylvania, Appalachia, and the western frontier. [3]

German immigrants tended to settle in Pennsylvania, where they made up a third of the population until the Revolutionary War. At least 500,000 Germans came to the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century including about 60,000 after a failed revolution in 1848.

Aside from social issues such as religious freedom, immigrants have come to the U.S. to escape poverty and make a better life for themselves and their children. Until immigration laws limited the...

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