The first immigrants to the territory now the United States were from Western
Europe. The first great migration began early in the 19th century when large
numbers of Europeans left their homelands to escape the economic hardships
resulting from the transformation of industry by the factory system and the
simultaneous shift from small-scale to large-scale farming. At the same time,
conflict, political oppression, and religious persecution caused a great many
Europeans to seek freedom and security in the U.S.
The century following 1820 may be divided into three periods of immigration to
the U.S. During the first period, from 1820 to 1860, most of the immigrants came
from Great Britain, Ireland, and western Germany. In the second period, from
1860 to 1890, those countries continued to supply a majority of the immigrants;
the Scandinavian nations provided a substantial minority. Afterwards the
proportion of immigrants from northern and Western Europe declined rapidly. In
the final period, from 1890 to 1910, fewer than one-third of the immigrants came
from these areas. The majority of the immigrants were natives of Southern and
Eastern Europe, with immigrants from Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Russia
constituting more than half of the total. Until World War I, immigration had
generally increased in volume every year. From 1905 to 1914 an average of more
than a million immigrants entered the U.S. every year. With the start of the war,
the volume declined sharply, and the annual average from 1915 to 1918 was little
more than 250,000. In 1921 the number again rose; 800,000 immigrants were
admitted. Thereafter the number declined in response to new conditions in Europe
and to the limitations established by U.S. law.
The first measure restricting immigration enacted by Congress was a law in 1862
banning American vessels from transporting Chinese immigrants to the U.S.; 20
years later Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act excluding Chinese
immigrants.(Immigration) In 1875, 1882, and 1892, acts passed by Congress
provided for the examination of immigrants and for the exclusion from the U.S.
of convicts, polygamists, prostitutes, persons suffering from contagious
diseases, and persons liable to become public charges. The Alien Contract Labor
Laws of 1885, 1887, 1888, and 1891 prohibited the immigration to the U.S. of
persons entering the country to work under contracts made before their arrival;
professional actors, artists, singers, lecturers, educators, ministers, and
personal and domestic servants were exempt from this provision.(Immigration)
Immigrant skilled laborers, under these laws, were permitted to enter the U.S.
to work in new industries. A diplomatic agreement made in 1907 by the U.S. and
Japan provided that the Japanese government would not issue passports to
Japanese laborers intending to enter the U.S.; under the terms of this agreement,
the U.S. government refrained until 1924 from enacting laws excluding Japanese...