Cities had to begin somehow. The early towns of America were boat
landings, road terminals, warehouses, trading agencies for domestic
and foreign imports and exports, rendezvous for property exchanges
and sales. They were commercial and trading centers with the same
artisanal shops than villages had, but in greater numbers. They would
in some cases start out as forts, as Chicago did with Fort Dearborn. Or
the military would add its weight to the scene later on.
All towns of consequence required access to the sea or a navigable
river. There were ocean cities like New York, Bay Cities like
Philadelphia and Providence, river cities like Cincinnati and Louisville,
and lake cities like Chicago and Milwaukee. Later transportation
forms - the railroad, the automobile and the airplane - would tend to
create their own kind of city. Power sources had to work in tandem,
first water, then coal, oil, electricity, nuclear power.
Abundant water was always needed,
even if not for generating power.
The towns of the first half of the nineteenth century grew fast with the
coming of the European industrial revolution to America. Whereas
New York alone had over 100,000 residents in 1820, eight cities
exceeded that number in 1860, and many more had climbed above the
25,000 mark. By then New York City numbered over a million
persons. All nations congregated in the City, wrote Poet Walt
Whitman, a Brooklyn boy. By 1860 it handled two-thirds of the
nation's imports and one-third of its exports. America's urban growth
was exponential and would continue on the same upward curve until
the end of the 1900's. By the end of the 1800's
America was more urban than rural.
With its abundant land and mineral resources to occupy the
population, American cities would not have grown so rapidly were it
not for the development of the factory system and the specialization
within the cities of certain functions and production processes. That is,
Americans were aware to a degree from the beginning that it would be
nicer to decentralize manufacturing, and held up before all eyes as
horrible examples London and Birmingham. But "birds of a feather
flock together," and "misery loves company," so manufacturers went
where the cheap labor pools, the pre-existing dock and road facilities
were, to the neighborhoods of the managerial and entrepreneurial and
capitalist class, but especially where people like themselves were
already working, even if only in small shops. Once begun, only major
forces would re-route and transfer industrial centers.
Cincinnati bounded forward in the early nineteenth century, its
population rapidly turning over, its founders, Revolutionary War
veterans, mostly disappeared. One group of its settlers, African-Americans,
never increased by much; it averaged several percent of the
people; it was periodically expelled from the town, like lepers. Yet the
city's developmental energy increased exponentially, with a great
change from a native Protestantism and British foreign population to a
majority of Catholic Irish and German (both Catholic and Protestant)
immigrant population in 1850,
never to return to its former Protestant condition.
Catholics were subject to vicious discrimination and abuse. But they
held together. The Irish particularly were bellicose, while the
Germans were persistent and busy bees, so that when the Protestants
wished away the combative Irish they encountered the stubborn
Germans and were back where they started. They passed an ordinance
to have a Protestant Bible read in the public schools and the Catholics
insisted that the Catholic children be given the Catholic Bible. (Neither
thought that the Federal Constitution afforded any
protection against reading any Bible in the public schools.
This was a century into the future.}
At the same time a vigorous Jewish element accompanied the German
immigration and set up trading and manufacturing facilities for the
region. (By now there were Jewish congregations in every state of the
Union; there were, besides, a growing number of free-thinkers and
non-sectarians of Jewish origin.) In 1841 Cincinnati, the "Queen City"
was the world's largest pork market, with a $3 million market in
meatpacking, mostly pork, and a $1 million product in butchering
(in German towns traditionally butchering was a Jewish special
occupation; the tradition was ultimately dissipated in America); ready
to wear clothing was produced to the amount of $1.2 millions (the
Jewish tailor was also proverbial in Germany, and persisted in
American business, bringing in the largest competitors to the old New
Between $800,000 and $400,000
originated from each of food and flour processing,
furniture, foundry castings, steamboat-building,
printing and publishing, boots and shoes, and housing.
The next decade trebled the growth of the top ten industries
and of all industries of the city.
The ingenuity of its entrepreneurs was considerable,
in pork by-products such as soap and candles for example. One can
observe even in the skeletal statistics the operation of
fevered imaginations, fully captivated by capitalist
expansionism and product development.
Returning in time and place to New England, we review the
prototypical textile industry as it springs forward. It begins with the
theft of English machine designs by Samuel Slater, who takes them
within his brain storage to America to sell in 1789. It starts up soon
with nine children on the job. So go the precedents. By the War of
1812, hundreds of textile factories were at work.
Water power was used at first; a half century later stationary steam
engines fired by abundant coal could do better. The principle of the
steam engine had been discovered much earlier by a French Huguenot,
Denis Papin, who had fled to England, where he invented a pressure
cooker, and then to Hessen. By the beginning of the nineteenth century
inventors all over the western world, including America,
were trying out steam-driven vehicles on waters and roads.
Not much later, a Frenchman invented the de Rivas
Water power would be generated wherever
rivers and streams rushed off, along the whole length
of the Appalachian Mountains. Still the textile industry
had grown in New England and stayed for another century
before moving South, and much of it stayed on anyhow.
Inertial factors work unceasingly against unforced change
in industrial processes as in every aspect of life.
New England was lucky, too, in that female labor was
perfectly suitable to factory work in textile mills,
poor, quick, docile, and often abandoned
by their boy friends headed West.
With cheap factory goods becoming generally available,
girls were not worth their keep in a household economy.
Children were welcome in the factories, too.
Somehow, the factory owners managed to get twelve hours
of work a day six days a week from these young things,
and a certain group of high-minded capitalists and
intellectuals, transcendentalists and Unitarians among them
(usually connected with Harvard University)
created a "Lowell System" at Lowell, Massachusetts,
an experiment that they were so pleased with
as to boast about it, and they were touted
all over the Country as philanthropists.
Mostly it consisted of giving the workers a dormitory bed
to keep them out of trouble, providing uplifting lectures
to the drowsy girls, and seeing that they got to bed and
arose from bed at the right times.
Unfortunately for all of America at the time and
ever since, the farm was taken as a model for the shop,
the Puritan father as the model for the owner.
If a person worked on the farm every daylight hour,
so should he or she work in the factory. If there should be no recourse
from the will and word of the father, so should it be with the boss.
These were happy days, in between firings and layoffs,
earning less than a dollar a day,
breathing the fumes of engines and lint of rags, for
children of the promised land of early modernity.
Lowell within a decade, with many well-wishers,
became an appalling city of many mills.
Lowell's premier creative genius, painter James Whistler,
caught something there (1834-55),
but went abroad to Europe to live, work and die.
The story was to be repeated everywhere a city grew up in
America. All who hoped that its promising experiment would be
copied elsewhere got their wish.
What caused this outburst of industrial energies,
these far-reaching innovations, this new civilization?
The reasons in America are probably much the same
as they were in Europe. One had to be prepared
religiously for hard work, for daily suffering,
and treat them as good, at least for others.
Religious ministers had to believe so for their parishioners.
The traditional settled society had to be shot full of holes.
So it was even in old New England,
where irreligion had taken over, preserving
only the convenient social doctrine, and the population was moving
out and around, save for the tenacious rich nucleus.
Turnover of the Boston population averaged
40% annually in the 1850's.
The rich had money earned from shipping, with all that implies of
smuggling, the slave trade, and immigrant transport,
and their derivative, banking.
The natives had mechanical skills and could tend and repair machines.
They learned quickly to make new ones.
It is the machine-making-machine that separates the
burgeoning from the passive machine culture.
There was no aristocracy built upon ancient history, which
could pour contempt upon the busy-ness of the capitalist industrial
class. There were the large natural resources of the
country, a good part controlled by New Englanders,
even if the region itself contained little mineral wealth,
and its land and forests were disappearing.
Behind the bent back of every machine-tender was
the specter of an Irish or German replacement.
It would not be long before the good people of Lowell and Boston
would stand by in amazement to watch the Lowell girls go on strike.
Skilled crafts organized into unions now in every town and city in
the country, seizing monopoly powers over jobs, as in medieval times.
This was against the American creed of laissez-faire, but crafts
unions managed to continue in this manner until the government,
not the capitalists, fractured the monopolies
in favor of the disemployed.
Crafts unions continued to enjoy the highest wages and best work
conditions , and fought off attempts of outsiders, regardless of skills,
who were attempting to take up the trade. Catholics could not gain
admission to unions dominated by Freemasons and natives. Italians
could barely eke out memberships here and there until they forced
their way in through violence and politics -
and, of course, skill was something of a factor.
Jews could hardly ever obtain a union card,
were told off flatly, and so sent their wives and daughters
into the sweat shops while they peddled
whatever could be bought and resold,
then set up their own enterprises,
until finally as builders and employers,
they were sitting opposite the union agents in determining
who would work for whom at what wages and
under what circumstances.
Now what was happening in Cincinnati?
There, in 1811, 38 different trades
were represented in the shops. In 1819, a year
when most businesses began to fail owing to
a bank panic and steep recession throughout America,
55 trades were practiced. By 1826
there were 76 different trades.
Factories were still few. The masters met to control
prices, review practices and exert controls over apprentices.
It was a high-wage city, the skilled worker earning
three to five times the national average daily wage.
The word did not take long to get around,
immigrants and Southerners would enter, and there would
soon be a nativist, anti-Catholic, and unionizing feeling erupting.
The one-dollar-a day wage for a mature semi-skilled worker was
standard in America for a hundred years, the 1800's. Real wages
declined in the 1830's. The bottom 50% of the population of the city
held 8.1% of the wealth in 1838, even less than the 9.8% it held in
1817. This was the Golden West of the times.
It was soon the turn of St. Louis and Chicago.
The population of Chicago jumped from practically zero
in 1803 to 100,000 thirty years later.
Its early garrison and people were mostly killed by their escort
of Indians and hostile Indians while trekking to Detroit
to escape precisely this fate when the War of 1812 was announced;
perhaps the Indians felt insulted by their desertion.
But soon their ilk were back and the Indians gone West,
so that Chicagoans could begin a way of life that was a source
of uncomplimentary astonishment to visitors
from abroad thereafter.
Most people then as now labored to keep body and soul together.
A letter from a German immigrant, once well-to-do in
Hamburg, now working in Cincinnati,
tells of having to send his young son to work in order
to save something to build a shelter for his family and old age.
(The old were usually destitute all around America
in the lower 1800's, the happy days of Tom Sawyer,
one of the best-selling books in the old Soviet Union,
itself another collective victim of American myth,
just as Americans and West Europeans became suckers for
"Gone with the Wind" mythology.)
If material inequality was great before the Revolution, where we speak
of 1% of the people owning 30% to 60% of all assets, and most
people owning practically nothing, the situation only worsened during
the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian periods of direct democracy, whether
rural or urban sectors are considered. By 1828, 78% of New York
City assets were owned by a few merchants, bankers, brokers,
auctioneers, manufacturers and attorneys -- and idlers.
The rate of intermarriage among the rich was high,
more in Boston than in New York, probably more than ever after.
Moreover, in New York City, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Boston,
some 81% to 95% of the richest people
were children of rich or eminent people;
only 2% to 3% came from humble circumstances.
Between 1828 and 1850,
an age of social fluidity in the minds of most students,
almost no rich person became significantly poorer,
perhaps only one in fifty of them.
Officials of the reformist Empress Catherine the Great of Russia
responded to her well-intentioned desire to see how her people were
doing in the empire by building a set of facade villages along the royal
road to deceive her. American mythology has operated in the same
way, or, to use a doubly delusory analogy, like the rows of giant
billboards that ran along the sides of American highways in the first
part of the twentieth century.
Americans became thoroughly hoaxed about country and city.
Rural slums surrounding and infiltrating most countryside were ignored.
The rural slum was a life-style, even as the frontier, amusing, to be admired.
The city slum was a threat to the adjacent superior class.
. The rich had their grounds for complaint, but all too often
they were directly involved in the problems on a day-to-day basis,
neglecting the government in its most important respects,
caring not at all about the welfare of the people.
It did not take the good citizens of Boston long
before adjudging the Irish immigrants, possibly the most pitiable
group that ever came "voluntarily" to America,
the Haitian boat people notwithstanding,
as criminally insane, helpless drunk automatons of the Pope.
All that history really shows is that the Irish picked themselves up
off the floor when they arrived in America,
behaved as they thought free citizens of a republic should behave,
tried to get work, any job,
go to church, marry, have children, and
acquire the vicious prejudices of their predecessors as soon as possible.
I speak not alone of men, but also of priests and women.
The Irish immigration had this astounding feature. It was
composed as much and more of women than of men. Tens of
thousands of women came over and worked at the most menial tasks
and scraped together enough to send for a man of the family to come
along or a sister and maybe later a dependent parent.
There had nothing like this in all the history of the world: an
immigration of single independent women, with here and there a man,
and then, too, the priest who made it all possible, because the priest
stood as their moral authority, and he was pledged to watch over them
and ward off evil, to help them, though he be half-literate himself, to
assert a right, and post a letter to Erin, and to ward off the advances of
the boy of the house where they worked as domestics.
The priest took his pennies from them, for we speak of women who
earned a dollar a week and their keep, and with these and what he
could get from the men and the Germans down the road and secret
friends and politicians, the priest somehow managed to put together a
construction deal for a church. Soon the church went up, and the
Protestants and Freemasons ground their teeth,
just as the priest knew they would.
The Irish immigrants were luckier than others in one respect;
at the cost of total national humiliation,
they had been forced to learn English and in part
abandon their Celtic tongue, as had the Welsh and lowland Scots.
But now in the New World, this gave them an entry,
though their accent was scorned, and Irish jokes
were the quintessential ethnic jokes.
They had an advantage over the Germans and others from abroad.
They could move rapidly into jobs and politics.
New England science and secularism had gained over Puritanism, and
now regarded most religions, including Catholicism, as superstitious
belief systems congenial to domestic help. The transcendentalists and
Unitarians were filing into a softer establishment in New England.
Meanwhile the distaff side of New England and mid-Atlantic
households were losing their female servants to the Lowell plan or
with a "Westward, Ho!"
So, breasting gusts of crankiness and abuse,
the Irish servant-girl made her way.
The English fared better, and found America less traumatic.
They had less interest in politics, with less to gain personally, but
they were favorably impressed by the ease of the suffrage after
witnessing the battle of half a century to accomplish a moderate
suffrage reform in England in 1832. Fewer now were from the most
downtrodden classes. They were readier to take advantage of some of the
better living conditions to be expected in America. They were familiar
with the disgusting conditions of life in the
cities of the Industrial Revolution.
The German immigration of the period before the Civil War was
perhaps the most balanced in American history. It contained a
surprisingly large number of professional, highly skilled, economically
competent, and artistic individuals (composer Richard Wagner, a
genius of the century, wanted to immigrate to Chicago when he was in
political trouble and financially broke around 1850). Nevertheless, the
best is none too good: accounts of the arrival of immigrant ships in
Philadelphia are disgusting. One report tells us that redemptioners
were many and those who had not paid their fare beforehand had to be
sold on the dock to wealthy farmers; batches of a score of children
were sold, and separated from their parents for years.
Because they were so well established in several sites of the country
East and West, and set themselves up even in a new area near San
Antonio in Texas, and because they were coming in increasing
numbers, and because they felt qualified to constitute a society unto
themselves, a movement developed to organize a given territory of
German culture and apply for admission as a state or autonomous
nation. Northern Missouri with St. Louis as Capital was
suggested by some of the ethnarchs.
However, Germans were of different nations; Germany would not be
united until 1870. Moreover there were both religious and cultural
differences among them. Too, so many Germans were becoming
assimilated so rapidly and successfully to American society in such
separated parts of the country, that the movement halted. German
ethnicity found some independent expression in a large Turnverein
movement, associations for the expression and development of
Germany culture in America that prospered for over a century
before gradually petering out, partly because of the
cosmopolitanizing of American society in general,
where facets of German culture were admired.
The lot of the Catholic Irish now was in several ways
worse than the first immigrants to America in Virginia and
New England. It was probably the worst of any group in
American history, the African-American aside.
Although they were not degraded persons, criminals, or
dissenters, they were on the verge of starvation, after being thoroughly
subjected and culturally deprived by a foreign power - England. Their
death rate in passage was extremely high. The landscape and
inhabitants upon arrival were more hostile than in the
time of the Indians.
The first settlers made enemies of the Indians; the Irish were received
by the descendants of their Puritan enemies, most notably in New
England. These were Americans, true, but generally firmly anti-Catholic,
and related to those who had invaded Ireland and had
imposed a totally new population upon the Northern part of the
country, while distributing to Protestant Englishmen the choicest
estates of the rest of Ireland. The Irish had been treated worse than the
British colonists of pre-Revolutionary America. Rarely had the
American had to observe the obsequies to the English official that the
Irish were forced to perform.
The Irish girls, the Irish priests and the Irish laborers
who came over were poignantly aware of all of this. That they did not
know all about how to handle their problems in the New World is to
say that they were like all the other immigrants from the beginning.
Human beings destined to repeat all the faults of their own plus those
of their enemies in a new combination, the Irish did not come to
America to aid and convert the Americans whom they found on
arrival. They came, like the rest, perceiving the best chance of
survival in a cruel world.
A passage from the report of Edward Jarvis, a path-breaking
statistician and social pathologist, both unknown professions then,
marks the relationship between insanity, poverty and ethnicity. He
inquired of the physicians and hospital and prison personnel of
Massachusetts and elsewhere about cases of insanity known to them
(control over the term "insanity" rested merely upon institutionalizing
of the insane if poor, or confinement at home for mental reasons.)
Some 1400 cases were reported from 800 returns; his was the best
study of the nineteenth century concerning
mental disturbances in America.
He found more insanity among the poor, that he ascribed to their life
conditions in part, but also to their genetic constitutions - weak, ill
health, etc. Then he could show a significant, but basically
questionable difference in the rates of the Irish and the natives, 1 case
per 368 persons as against 1 per 445.
More important is his framing of the concept of immigrant shock. He
considered that the habit and conditions of the Irish poor in this
country operated more unfavorably upon their mental health, and
produced a larger number of the insane in relation to their numbers
than was to be found among the native poor. Being in a strange land
and among strange men and things, meeting with customs and
surrounded by circumstances widely different from all their previous
experience, ignorant of the precise state of affairs here, and lacking
education and flexibility by which they could adapt themselves to their
new and unwonted position, they necessarily formed many
impracticable schemes, and endeavored to accomplish them by
unsuitable means. Of course, disappointment usually succeeded their
efforts. Their lives were filled with doubts; harrowing
anxiety troubled them, and they were cursed with frequent
mental, and probably physical, suffering.
He further ascribes to the Irish a "greater irritability; they are more
readily disturbed when they find themselves at variance with the
circumstances about them." Their insanity also comes, he says, "from
intemperance, to which the Irish seem to be peculiarly prone, and
much to that exaltation which comes from increased prosperity."
Jarvis, partly because he was pressured to distort his findings and
explanations to arbitrate against the immigrants and poor, let himself
advance uncalled-for remarks.
Using a report about Blacks and Whites, based upon the 1840 census,
and prepared by the Federal government, comparing insanity rates
among free Blacks, slaves, and Whites, Jarvis found that the figures
made out free Blacks to have six times the insanity of the Whites and
eleven times that of slaves. He thereupon investigated further, and
found the census-takers scandalously erroneous. But the data were
seized upon by Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina for his
pro-slavery propaganda. Jarvis protested, to little avail.
In a population so mobile and flustered as the American, rates of
mental disorder (depending upon where you draw the line) reach to
over 50%, until the question inserts itself as to whether the normal are
simply stunned. More of this in the next chapter, for here we should
take the opportunity to look into the high rate of
crowd violence in this period.
Peddlers of the bucolic life often point to violent urban disorders as
one more proof of rural superiority, notwithstanding the fact that many
of the worst civil disorders in history (including ours) have originated
in the countryside, and the best place for a rural agitator or crook to
pursue his career is by going to a town or city.
You have to gather a crowd in order to riot, and it is not so easy to do
so in the country. Crimes of family violence, child abuse, incest,
alcoholism, and evasion of laws - to mention a few categories - were
invariably more rural than urban. There is nothing persuasive to show
that violence itself, personal infliction of forceful injury or threat of
same, is less common in the country than in the city, relative to
population and frequency of human interaction. Aside from
innumerable unregistered killings, maiming, and bullies, in isolated
circumstances, the same occurred, were even provided for, in every
rural district by a tavern and roadhouse where gathered the toughs to
talk, drink, argue, plot against the public order, and fight.
The panorama of violence in the growing towns and cities was lurid
and bloody, but it had been part of the picture of colonial life. The
nuclear elements of the infamous gangs, the North End Mob and the
South End Mob, and others less historically durable, formed in the
latter part of the 1600's, graduated to full stature in the 1700's, and
proceeded unchecked in the 1800's. The Liberty Boys were of higher
status, bringing together unskilled dock workers, skilled artisans,
shopkeepers and other activists in repeated riots against the British and
colonial authorities in Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and
Newport as well as Boston. Their agitators and leaders became heroes
in later schoolbooks, names like Samuel Adams and John Hancock of
Boston and Thomson of Philadelphia.
The period between 1820 and 1860 saw the heaviest and most
frequent urban violence that America has ever seen. Baltimore had
twelve serious riots, New York eight, Boston and Cincinnati four. In
one riot in Louisville, involving nativist Protestants and German-Americans,
20 were killed, hundreds wounded. Between 1834 and 1844,
more than 200 sizeable gang wars occurred in New York City.
(The roaring Chicago of the 1920's was a mewing kitten by
contrast.)These included labor riots, election riots, anti-African riots,
anti-abolitionist riots, anti-Catholic and anti-foreigners riots, some of
these propelled by more than one motive and all of them driven by a
fundamentally insecure social order and a
distraught threatened population.
The tension was always sensed; the immigrants were fairly well aware
of the situation that they were moving into. One boat from Germany in
1852 unloaded its immigrants in Boston, who were then marched
through the town to the railroad train station that was to carry them to
the Midwest, preceded by a banner proclaiming, "Hail Columbia, Land
of the Free. We Will be No Burden to Massachusetts."
In the fifties, 90% of all immigrants from continental Europe
originated in the Germanies. Farmers suffered from economic
depression, the technological revolution was reducing industrial jobs,
and political repression was general. They came especially from the
South where agents were most active. Official propaganda in Prussia
and Saxony denounced emigration, stressing the economic problems
and rank nativism to be encountered in America.
Once arrived, German radicals became active. They led parades
against the Kansas-Nebraska Act for its permitting an extension of
slavery; Stephen A. Douglas, its proponent, was burned in effigy (his
special legislation to build the Illinois Central railroad to run from
Chicago to Mobile gave them work, however, for German
construction crews often labored on the roadbed). They agitated, as
did the Irish, against anti-liquor and anti-saloon legislation.
In 1856, half the German language press in the United States was
controlled by free-thinkers, rationalists, atheists, and refugee rebels of
the 1848 uprisings in Germany. Almost all of this literature was lost to
the American tradition. Condemned, untranslated, it disappeared with
its creators, who were easily the largest group of non-institutional
intelligentsia in America. By this time most of the Germans came to
America as free men, without passage money to pay back and with a
few dollars in their pockets. In the forties and fifties clashes between
Germans and Irish were common, with the Irish as the aggressors in
most cases. Competition for jobs was almost always the
Even the aesthetic could arouse collective violence.
In 1849 on Astor Place in New York,
rivalry between the fans of the English actor
Macready and the America actor Forrest transformed itself into an
anti-aristocratic and anti-English riot that left 22 persons dead. The
riotous pattern persisted, its description to be continued in later pages,
as a feature of the wretchedness of American life for most of it
inhabitants. In New York at this time, the average wage hovered at
less than a dollar a day, should work be available. Of its population of
500,000 in 1840, 200,000 were declared to live in
utter and hopeless distress.
A silly nun of the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts ran
away and asked for protection, then reconsidered and returned. Rumor
soon had it that she was forced back. A posted notice exclaimed: "To
Arms!! To Arms!! Ye brave and free. The avenging sword unshield!!
Leave not one stone upon another of that curst Nunnery that
prostitutes female virtue and liberty under the garb of holy Religion.
When Bonaparte opened the Nunneries in Europe he found scores of
The mob gathered and attacked. The several nuns (the returned one by
now in delirious frenzy), sixty children, and several sick and infirm,
managed to escape between assault waves. The convent, an adjoining
library, a bishop's lodge, and farm house and barn were all ransacked,
looted and put to the torch.
Prominent citizens stood about. No one interceded by word or deed.
To some Congregationalists the riot would punish not only Catholics
but Unitarian parents who had entered their children in the school. The
year was 1832. Evangelistic pietism working in tandem with a
strenuous new nationalism captured the native working class
and made of the advancing 1800's an untidy
unruly introduction to modern urbanism.
From the end of the Revolutionary War to the panic of 1819, about
250,000 European immigrants landed in America. The rate doubled in
each of the next two decades. The 1840's brought in 1.7 millions and
the 1850's 2.6 millions. Never again would immigrants constitute so large
a part of the total population. By 1860 immigrants in the
population included 1.6 million Irish (almost entirely Catholic), 1.2
million Germanophones from the various Germanic nations, and
588,000 Britishers (largely English).
Not only the poorer immigrants but their upper ranks as well -
professionals, engineers, et al. - could count on being insulted by
persons of every level of society, or at least upon being patronized:
"Coming to America was the smartest thing you ever did," and having
their speech mocked or every little distinction from the most local
habits jeered, told "You start at the bottom like everybody else," and
asked incredulously "What kind of a name is that?"
It is a wonder that the American States, in the name of anti-popery,
republicanism, democracy, and the right to a job, did not use the now
thoroughly established direct democratic political rights to legislate a
halt to immigration, especially the Catholic.
A large number of signs around the country declared,
we want no foreigners here, keep moving!
That was one way to preserve local workers
from foreign competition.
But the States felt that they would be interfering with
foreign commerce, a federal prerogative, if they acted. The federal
government wanted the West settled and the Democratic-Republican
Party was getting many needed voters from the new immigrants. The
heavy Irish vote for Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828 turned the
tide in New York and defeated John Quincy Adams there and, in
consequence, for the Presidency.
Besides many local politicians were already becoming dependent upon
the Irish vote, or felt that they must appease the newcomers. When the
vote was restricted, it had been of no help to immigrants, who were
practically all poor and therefore unqualified. Now however, every
man had a vote once he had spent five years in the country so as to
become a citizen (unless he was one of the great many illegal voters
passed through the polling place by election managers.)
On the female side, the native daughters of New England and
elsewhere had snubbed themselves out of the kitchens and bedrooms
of the well-to-do employers, in an instant caste action against the
oncoming Irish domestics. The householders wanted badly the young
Irish woman who would work sixteen hours a day for her bed, board
and a dollar a week. The industrial employers felt the same way; they
were interested in an oversupply of labor at all times. Irish women next
moved into the factories in large numbers.
Considerable agitation for political action occurred from the 1920's
onwards, led by Protestant groups. An American Party did organize
and with a convention of 13 states put up local and state candidates in
1954 and a Presidential candidate in 1856. They were called
"Know-Nothings" because they pretended to secrecy about their doings. They
urged the exclusion of Catholics and foreign-born from public office
and the extension of citizenship residence from five to twenty-one
years. They made little progress nationally, but their considerable
membership moved over into the Republican
Party of Abraham Lincoln.
American workers were not so stupid as to deny in principle the
advantages accruing to a well-organized and politicized union work
force. The "Labor Party" formed by Philadelphia artisans in 1828 was
the world's first. As many as fifty newspapers espousing the cause of
labor appeared and, mostly, disappeared. They took strong positions
on meaningful issues: public education, imprisonment for debt, freer
access to the judicial system, opposition to child labor, female labor,
and foreign labor - all of these last three groups deemed
competitive to native male White workers.
Too, they urged that the courts and legislatures cease their attempts to
treat all labor organizations as conspiracies to deprive employers of
their property. They were also against monopolies and to the banking
control of the economy; both, they felt, held down wages and
restricted economic growth.
The new worker movements won many elections for local offices,
sending off some of the old elite and even the new businessmen in
politics. But soon the business interests were back and after them came
the age of the professional politician, who effectively barred the further
visible presence of labor in urban politics; but this
happened in the late century.
The cross-pressures against labor organizations were too strong. The
motive of solidarity of the workers of a given skill in a given factory or
city - say carpenters - could not go far and expand widely because of
the countervailing forces of religious ethnic and racial differences
among workers, the desire of so many workers to move to another
area, the continuous oncoming immigration, the hostility of courts who
ruled early against even the right to strike in some cases,
and the erratic job markets accompanying business cycles. For the same
reasons, class consciousness was an impossible development, despite the
extreme maldistribution of wealth.
Nor should one neglect the strength of the egalitarian ideology that
would discourage people, whatever their actual share of the wealth
and respect of the nation, from claiming publicly the existence of a
class society. There were heroes and heroines, a considerable number
of them in New England, some in New York City, not so many
elsewhere. Horace Mann turned from a directly political career,
significantly, to become an unelected civic reformer:
"The mobs, the riots, the burnings, the lynchings,
perpetrated by men of the present day are perpetrated
because of their vicious or defective education when children."
So he said as he began his work in public education.