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History of Immigration in United States

History of Immigration into the land of United States dates back to the history of United States itself. Its diverse culture and variegated social order have and again posit before historians the question of actually who were the first to enter its soils. But discoveries by anthropologists on the human remains in the past few decades revealed very interesting and several contradicting facts. Immigration to United States of America was not a one phase or one period process, but has been a continuous process since centuries, in-fact it goes much before 1492, when Christopher Columbus discovered its sea route. (Powell 2005)

Around 20,000 years ago, itinerants from North East Asia had already made their permanent base in America and, are now considered to be ancestors of today’s Native Americans. It is also said that Polynesians, South Asians or Europeans, were the first to enter into America but they could not leave behind any descendants as they were killed by later arrivals. Vikings arrived in America around year 1000, and around 500 years back, Europeans began to make their presence felt in large numbers in this so called “Promising Land”. Many settlers from Europe and Asia also began to forge their entry into America with a hope of earning great fortunes.

(Powell 2005) Though Europeans and Native Americans lived peacefully for many years but quite often there were clashes between the two owing to their difference in nature, culture and religion. From the beginning of the 16th century, British had occupied Africa too and they were now forcibly bringing Africans into America as slaves to work in plantations. (Klein 1986) Besides, being the “Promising Land”, there was a great idea behind the establishment of various settlers- it was an idea of forging together in a common bond and creation of self government for the common good of all.

This idea induced 102 English colonists, later known as Pilgrims, to set their sail on Mayflower in 1620 and landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This journey was considered to the beginning of the continuous planned migrations from Europe. 18 years later, in 1638, Swedes also began their route towards America. These Swedes were sent by Swedish Government to set up their colony in Delaware but soon in 1655, the Dutch took over their colony and again in 1840, Swedish began to migrate in large numbers and it continued till World War I. (Beijbom 1996)

Others to migrate were North Europeans, Germans and Islanders, and people and travelers from Netherlands, Spain, Italy, the Scandinavian countries, and Eastern Europe too did not lack behind. (Schultz 1999) Years 1806-1816 saw the rates of immigration on a decline which historians owe to the development of inimical relations between Great Britain, France and the United States. England remained with the doctrine that took it forward with a success; the doctrine said that, “a man, once a subject, was always a subject,” (Bromwell 1856) coaxing many to think twice before immigrating to America from the British Empire.

Another cause for the reduction of immigrations was the issuance of a decree by the Great Britain in 1806 creating a blockade of the coasts of France (Bromwell 1856) and in the November of same year, France retaliated creating a blockade for British Isles. Again in March 1809, the United States passed the law forbidding any trade relations with British. When United States annulled the Napoleonic decree and when the United States commerce ships fell into the hands of British, no body could stop the war between the two. (Bromwell 1856) The adverse environment also saw German immigration to decline.

The situation was restored in 1815 and after the peace was signed between United States and England; there was again the spurt of immigration. By 1817, more than 22, 240 persons embarked on the ports of the United States. (Bromwell 1856) The situation was out of control and passengers had to face numerous hardships. There was no law on the number of passengers a ship should carry nor there were any health or accommodation facilities. In 1818, Louis M’ Lane of Dilware put forward a bill to the House of representatives for the regulation of passenger ships and vessels. This bill was read two times.

Again, in December session, Thomas Newton of Virginia explained the usefulness of the bill and after reading it for the third time, it was passed and approved on March 2, 1819. (Bromwell, 1856) In that period and as the record thus maintained and stated that the largest number of immigrants, 747,930 were from Ireland and together out of 1,848, 682 immigrants from Britain and Ireland, 1,000,000 were born in Ireland alone. (Bromwell, 1856). Next in numbers were from Germany, England and then France. Uptill 1854, immigration from China was considerably low, only 88 but after 1819, Chinese number increased to 13, 100.

(Bromwell, 1856) K. Schultz, a professor of History divided immigration process into three phases, between 1815-1860, 1865-1890 and between 1890-1914. Between 1815-1860, around five million immigrants especially from English, Irish, Germanic, Scandinavian, and from northwestern Europe made their permanent settlements here. Between 1865-1890, there were 10 million immigrants settlements in America, which arrived from Northwestern Europe, and between 1890-1914, 15 million entered in America from Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, Lithuanian, Russian, Jewish, Greek, Italian and Romania.

(Schultz, 1999) In 1818, Liverpool had become the most common port for Irish and British immigrants. Between 1846-1847, the economic deterioration due to the crop failures and mortgage foreclosures saw thousands of Europeans immigrating in America. (Ellis Island Immigrants Online) In 1849, the attraction of gold led Chinese to enter into American continent in maximum numbers and majority of them was employed in the construction of Transcontinental Railroad, by the Central Pacific Railroad. Between 1871 to 1880, there were around 61,711 immigrant Chinese.

(Sage 2007) By 1890, New York had already become the home of many Germans. Between the years 1894 to 1896, many Armenian Christians escaped from Moslem massacres and sought shelter in America. Around 2 million Armenians were either massacred or deported by the Turk rulers. This was the biggest ever massacre unleashed by Turks on Armenians. According to the estimates by Armenians, around 1. 5 million people in 1915-23, during and after World War I were massacred. (Keohan, Online) In 1910, Mexican Revolution became the cause for thousand of Mexicans to begin their journey towards America in search of employment.

It came to be known as the first social revolution of the 20th century to bring about changes in the society of Mexico and economy. People were left with two choices- either leave the country or face with bravery the social, economic and political turmoil which became the hallmark of the revolution. Mexicans who wanted peace headed towards North entering into United States and many of the revolutionaries too came to United States to make plans for initiating further sorties into Mexico.

Between 1910 and 1920, around 890,000 Mexican immigrants entered in United States as refugees and they found employment for the construction and maintenance of railroads. (Mexican revolution and Immigration, online) The Irish Catholics too began to arrive in the early 19th century owing to the deteriorated economic conditions in their own country and the potato famine, which weighed down heavily on the Irish people. They tried to escape the hardships in their own country but entered into the avenue of the brighter lands ironically in “Coffin ships”, because many of them had already died in ship only.

As Irish immigrants did not speak English, it became eventually difficult for them to adjust in the alien lands of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. They found themselves physically and mentally abused. Their churches were attacked and they were began to be labeled as Dogs and were often rebuked with words; “Dogs and Irish keep out! ” (Sage 2007) In 1960, the wining of John F. Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, to the post of President saw considerable change in their stature and life. (Sage 2007)

Now as the economic and social conditions began to take a new shape in America owing to Industrial revolution, the emergence of middle class saw new priorities and new dreams to gain fortune. By the end of civil war and 1910, these new 25 million people from as far as Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Lithuania, Romania now were mingling with the rural Americans for jobs and other new opportunities bringing with them their own varied culture and religious practices and made their presence felt in every arena of social and economic activities.

(Sage 2007) These immigrants took American democracy with great enthusiasm. K. Schultz beautifully described their emotions when they saw the Statue of Liberty, “They would often fell into deep emotions and tears fell down their cheeks when they would set their eyes at her. European immigrants would cry with happiness at the thought of escaping autocratic regimes and entering into an egalitarian, democratic society; and those who were evading famines and poverty would weep at the thought of riches and an easy life that they were expecting in store for them.

He further said, ‘To all of them, Lady Liberty symbolized a new beginning’”. (Schultz, 1999) By the year 1900, United States population had already reached 75,994,575 mark. Bureau of Immigration was opened in 1906 and the rate of immigration was dropped to considerable degree by 1921 due to passing of the discriminatory quota system by The National Origins Act. After World War I, immigration from Finland was also reduced. The first reason was the uncertainty and insecurity associated with the War and secondly several legislative restrictions had made even more difficult for the immigration.

Between 1920 and 1924, the immigrant number from Finland was only 4000 and after June 1924, the American law allowed the entry of only 471 immigrants. Subsequently many of them were diverted into Canada. Slowly and slowly, many of the Finish settlers had laid their basis in the American soils and intermingled with the contemporary social culture of America. In 1925, as said by Evert Louhi, “American Civilization, and of all civilizations, in the past, today and forever. ” (Hoglund 1979) He further stated that, “Their descendents were the first real Americans. ” (Hoglund 1979)

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