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Irish Immigration and Nativism

In: Historical Events

Submitted By mmcdermott61
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United States History I
11 April 2013
Irish Immigration and Nativism
Immigration to the United States has shaped our country from its founding to the present day. The United States went through a large agricultural and industrial expansion in the 19th century and with that came a large wave of immigration from Western Europe. During this time Ireland’s potato crop became diseased, causing widespread famine and the country went through a period called the Great Hunger. These two factors were instrumental in the almost 3.5 million Irish that immigrated to American between 1820 and 1880. The Irish met with much adversity when they arrived here. A wave of nativism toward their religion, and also poverty made life difficult in the beginning. The Irish had faced adversity and oppression before, but their solidarity along with their strength and religious beliefs made it possible for them to find a better life by striving for success economically, politically and socially.
Irish immigrants arrived here with very little education or skill set and jobs were hard to find. They came from poverty so they had little money or resources to start a business. Many of them did not want to return to farming because of their experience in Ireland. Women found jobs as maids, cooks, nannies or factory workers. Because of the country’s large industrial expansion many of the male immigrants worked long hard hours building bridges, railroad and canals for very low wages. Americans were not happy the Irish were taking many of their jobs which added to the already hostile environment. Business owners made it very clear that they did not want the Irish working for them by hanging signs in their windows that read, “Irish Need Not Apply.” Their living conditions here were not much better than what they left in Ireland. They stuck together and formed small communities to live in close to where they worked. Many lived in “shanty towns” that were crammed with shacks and had no sanitation.
The Irish were met with a wave of nativism when they arrived in the United States. There was a fear of the negative influence of immigrants especially the huge migration of Irish Catholics. The English Protestants who were settled here differed in the management and policies of their church. This would soon change when in 1828, Andrew Jackson became the first president of Irish heritage. He was known for giving favors to local supporters and he also gained the support of the lower class which would change the political climate forever. By the middle of the nineteenth century, American cities were undergoing rapid growth and developing. At the same time government infrastructure was emerging and the Irish began filling many of the jobs that were created. Irish policemen and firemen are not just stereotypes. Also at this time many Irish American workers could be found at many different types of occupations and at all levels. The Irish success in government enabled the Irish to have more opportunity and many more jobs were delegated to them. One example is the building of the Brooklyn Bridge which was presided over by an Irishman and Irish laborers. Many Irish were still common laborers and with this came long hours and no pay increase. This prompted Irish Americans to band together and form unions to help improve working conditions. The unions’ ability to strike and run boycotts threatened industry, forcing them to negotiate and eventually improve working conditions for all laborers.

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