Throughout American history, there has been immigrants coming in surges, or waves. There have been four waves of immigration in the US and, continuing to this day, immigration is a key part of our economic and political structure. American history cannot be discussed without immigration being a part. Before 1780, there was a large group of people that immigrated to the United States. These people were made up of Europeans and Africans. Those European countries (organized from largest population to smallest) were Great Britain and Ireland, Scottish, Germans, Netherlands, and France. People from Europe largely came for political, religious, and economic freedom and opportunity.
The African countries people immigrated from were unspecified. In 1790, it was calculated about one out of every five people in the US was from Africa. African people were in the United States was that they were brought by European slave traders.Between 1790 and 1820, there was another group of people who immigrated to the United States called the First Wave. These people were almost all from the same places as the people who arrived before 1790, except English people now accounted for the largest population of people with Africans in second. Far outnumbering earlier immigrant groups, people who came in the First Wave came for relatively the same reasons of freedom and opportunity.
When the First Wave started arriving, people who were already in the US (Europeans not actual natives) were angry and did not want these other European immigrants to be coming to the country. Between 1820 and 1880, there was another pulse of immigration called the Second Wave, totaling over 15 million immigrants. It was made up of mostly Germans, Irish, and British people, but also included large amounts of people from Austro-Hungary, Canada, China, and many places in Africa. These people immigrated to the US to take part in specific economic reasons, such as to take part in the industrial revolution, build the transcontinental railroad, and mine in the Gold Rush.
Many Irish people were fleeing the Great Famine that was happening in Ireland at the time. While millions immigrated to the US, it was a very difficult and expensive thing to do. It also required spending long amounts of time on a ship. Around 1850, the first large-scale anti-immigrant movement in the US began known as the first nativist movement. Nativists are, in short, people who largely believe that only ‘natives’ (by that they mean white protestants born in the country of question) should be allowed in the country. This movement was headed by the Know-Nothing party, which lobbied to make elected office only available to people born in the country and to greatly restrict immigration from other countries. The Know-Nothings were a Protestant party that was very against Catholicism.
Many Know-Nothings even thought of the Catholic Pope as the antichrist. This party made it very difficult for immigrants to be accepted in communities. This was due to the massive propaganda campaigns they launched against Chinese immigrants and other newcomers.
The Know-Nothing party lost support after the Civil War when immigrants were relied upon as soldiers. The Second wave immigrants and their descendent have become part of the fabric of our multicultural society.The Third Wave of immigration was the largest wave up to that point. The Third Wave immigrants came between the years of 1880 and 1930, although many people think of it as going until 1920.
Many people came to the US as refugees, from famine, war, or other horrors. Many came with hopes of gaining religious and political freedom. As always, people came to the US with the hope of better life with the opportunity of a better and higher paying jobs. Many were farmers had come from places whose land or product had been taken away or devalued. The people that came were mostly from eastern Europe with a few coming from Asia. People also came from Canada and Mexico, which were countries to whom immigration was not monitored. When WWI started people began to be seen as possible enemies, with their country of loyalty coming into question.
Many immigrants were thought to be spies or agents of their country of origin. Towards the end of the third wave, many restrictions on migration and immigration were put into place, largely banning people from many opposing countries.Over the four waves of immigration, hundreds of millions of people came to the US, shaping the US into what it is today. Immigration has always been a consistent issue that must be central to understanding US history.
But still, it is often skimmed over in teaching. Because of immigration, the US is now known as a very diverse place and is a stronger place because of it.