History of Early New York Immigration

Immigration is an event that has been occurring in New York since 1624 when the Dutch West India Company assembled thirty families from Holland to established a settlement that became known as New Netherland. Many immigrants came to our nation looking for opportunities that their country could not provide for them. The prospect of political and religious liberty, as well as opportunities for economic advancements brought millions of immigrants to America. Through the years, immigration has played a key role in the New York”s economic, political and social development in both positive and negative ways.
During the colonial era most immigrants came from northern European countries. Their numbers declined with the onset of the Revolutionary War during the 1770″s, but immigration picked up strongly again during the 1840s and 1850s. Between 1840 and 1860, the New York received its first great wave of immigrants. In Europe as a whole, famine, poor harvests, rising populations and political unrest caused an estimated five million people to leave their homelands each year. In Ireland, blight attacked the potato crop, and upwards of 750,000 people starved to death. Many of the survivors emigrated.
The failure of the German Confederation”s Revolution of 1848-49 led many of its people to emigrate. Many settled in New York City, where the population increased from 200,000 residents in 1830 to 515,000 in 1850. By 1860, New York was home to over one million residents. More than half of the city”s population at that time were immigrants and their American-born children. The masses of immigrants were overwhelming. By 1887, it became obvious that Castle Garden (immigrant receiving station) was too small to process the large numbers of immigrants pouring into the New York.

The Castle Garden was so small that criminals were simply hanging out at the receiving station to rob the immigrants inside, instead of waiting for them to get on the streets. Thus, the government built Ellis Island in 1892 and immigrants continued pouring in. The number of immigrants was so great that by 1910 immigrants and their families composed over half the total population of New York. During Industrialization many “new” immigrants on their way out of Southern and Eastern Europe due to over population and religious persecution.
Approximately 25 million arrived between 1866 and 1915. While earlier immigrants had come mainly from northern European countries such as England, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, by the 1880s most “new” immigrants were arriving from southern and eastern countries such as Italy, Poland, and Russia. More than a million immigrants arrived in each of the years 1905, 1907, and 1910, some fleeing the “pogroms” (organized massacres) taking place in Eastern Europe, and others seeking a life that they could never have within the borders of their poverty-stricken countries.
These later immigrants, arriving from southern and eastern Europe, were Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs, Slovaks and Russian, as well as Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, and Rumanians. Approximately ten percent of them were Jews fleeing the repressive policies of Czarist Russia under Alexander III, although Roman and Orthodox Catholics were among the arrivals. The tremendous industrial growth of the late nineteenth century created an unprecedented demand for workers. The construction of canals and railroads required an enormous force of unskilled laborers.
Hence, practically all the “new” immigrants found jobs in transportation, mining, and manufacturing. Without this supply of labor, New York “s industrial expansion could not have taken place. A few exceptional immigrants rose to positions of wealth and power. But for the great mass of immigrants, success meant something much more limited. It meant better wages, money in the bank, ownership of a home, and a brighter future for their children. Even though immigrants helped to make the Industrial Revolution possible they faced opposition in economics and politics.
The response to these newcomers was unfriendly and inhospitable. The Americans who saw their job security challenged by immigrants that were willing to work longer hours for lower wages did not welcome. The new comers did not have the same culture as the first immigrants that had come from Northern and Western Europe. Most lacked skills and very few spoke English, some could not read or write in any language. The Slavic and Polish (excluding Jewish) immigrants groups were viewed as unskilled, illiterate, and transient and were seen as a bigger threat to New York institutions than the other European ethnic groups.
They were not ambitious people, tended to keep to themselves, and were opposed to the American idea of materialism. Many of the Slavs and Poles distrusted New York public schools; they withdrew their children from school and encouraged them to seek training in a trade, thus allowing a high rate of dropouts. Likewise, Italians were discriminated against because they also provided cheap labor and, naturally of a clannish nature, tended to move and settle as a group in Italian communities where they only worked with fellow countrymen and did not learn the ways of urban life.
Americans thought that Italians did not assimilate into the American culture well since they held on their old-country traditions and cultures so strongly. Assimilation was important to the Americans because they were fearful of the change that came with other cultures, not to mention their resentment towards the new languages already replacing English in several parts of the cities. The Italians also brought the Mafia, which although in Italy enforced justice, came under the control of criminals in New York, and became known for racketeering, blackmail, and extortion.
The immigrants were blamed for creating disorder and violence in the cities, and in general, were thought to be “birds of passage” who would use the American economy to make their fortunes, then return to their native land taking American dollars. The ever-growing influx of immigrants disturbed many native-born Americans who were annoyed by the newcomers” appearance and way of life. They expected these people, no matter what their place of origin, to conform to Anglo-Saxon patterns of behavior and to cherish the institutions of America.
These anti-immigrant, natives, sentiments, and the hatred and prejudice toward these immigrants led to the passing of immigration laws that greatly restricted the flow of immigration . The first restrictive law prevented immigration of lunatics, criminals, polygamists, people with diseases, and those likely to be public charges. In August of 1882, the first federal immigration law was adopted. This law put a head tax on all immigrant passengers. Laws from notes. Many American believed that these immigration restrictions were necessary to keep the New York city from deteriorating.
The population living in cities of over 30,000 increased from ten percent of the total in 1860 to more than twenty-five percent of the total US population by 1900. The pressure of the tremendous inflow of immigrants quickly outstripped the ability of the New York”s established institutions to cope with them. Already poor in the Old Country, for the most part, they arrived in America penniless and made their homes in the growing tenements of America”s major cities, like New York. The severe strain on the housing situation coupled with discriminatory practices eventually led to the creation of ghettos.
Women and children were often sent to work to contribute to the survival of the family, old-world views that eventually led to wholesale exploitation of child labor. Poverty on a never-before-seen scale became the norm in America”s urban centers. Perplexed, poor, and lacking knowledge of the American lifestyle, these immigrants were used as a low-paid labor force for dirty jobs that nobody else wanted and felt the harshness of Industrialism the most. They did not know their bosses, class animosity often divided management and labor, and their interests and wants were of little concern to the corporations.
Because these people did not have the proper education, many of them remained unskilled or semi-unskilled throughout their lives. Although many could not attain the work skills they needed, they gained many other things. By the early 1900″s, ninety percent of those who could not speak English learned to do so in less than ten years after they arrived, and only a third was still illiterate. Despite their many hardships, the new immigrants were determined to make it in the New World.
For example, the Slavs” ability to take the worst jobs and stick with them enabled them to become one of the top two ethnic groups representing employees of America”s leading industries . It was the clashing of old-world views with those of new-world ideas that forced compromises that helped to advance social and political thoughts. The cities would not have grown without people to provide cheap labor in the factories, and it was the willingness to provide a cheap source of labor and to work the most difficult and menial jobs that helped enable the United Stated to make the economic gains that she made.
The stamina and perseverance of the immigrants made America and industrial giant and the world economic power it is today Even though immigrants helped to make the Industrial Revolution possible they faced opposition in economics and politics. Although New York benefited from immigration they tended to regard the newcomers as competitors for their jobs. This is understandable not only because of fluctuations of the economy, which caused unemployment but because immigrants were often used as strike.
The “new” immigrants that came to America that could read, write, speak, and understand English were lated by many political supports. Those people feared that if an immigrant were gain power in politics that they might try to incorporate their old customs and traditions in politics. Many Americans even opposed the idea of allowing immigrants the right to vote. Even after immigrants were to become Americanized, political supports fought to keep immigrants from participating in politics.

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