United States experienced a wave of immigration in the late 1800s, “as people from all over the world either fled from their mother countries or came to seek opportunities in the then re-known land of economic opportunities” (Dennis, 2015). There was famine due to crop failure from all over the world, job shortages, increased taxes and civil wars, political and religious persecutions. According to Dennis (2015), between 1870 and 1900 nearly 14 million immigrants came to the United States in search of a brighter future. The immigrants composed of a vast rage of ethnic groups from different regions, for instance, the largest wave of immigrants consisting of groups from; Germany, Ireland, and England but this was before the civil war. “There were several ports through which the immigrants came into the U.S; the East Coast was used by the immigrants from Europe while the West Coast was mainly used by those from Asia” (Dennis, 2015). Most of the immigrants settled around the ports, but most of them moved to the in-lands in search of farming jobs as jobs were limited. They suffered social tension as they faced discrimination and suffered verbal and physical abuse, but they later managed to help in the transformation of the American society and culture by showing there could be unity and strength in cultural diversity.
The first largest group of immigrants in the United States was the Germans who came from the Rhineland area in Germany. “The first group of the Germans settled in Krefeld town in Philadelphia where they established a community called Germantown” (Hoobler, 2012). The Germans had moved to America having the capital to start up their businesses and for instance, the first paper mill in America was built by a German by the name of Wilhelm Rittenhouse in Roxboro, Pennsylvania. The journey itself during immigration was full of challenges especially due to the winter season in the voyage across the Atlantic and lack of food during the journey, most ships sunk during the voyage but it was kept a secret not to discourage future immigrants. “Most immigrants would in their mother countries save continuously so as to have a smooth start once in America, during the start of their journey in the ports they would get robbed of their life savings and also once they arrived at their destination” (Hoobler, 2012). Due to the poor hygiene during the voyage; that is poor food, poor ventilation, unsanitary water and overcrowding, there was an outbreak and spread of diseases such as scurvy and cholera. This was due to the ships they used to travel in until later in the 19th century when the steamships were developed, and they would cover the six-month journey in just two to three weeks.
Back in Germany, there were religious persecutions, poverty, and famine due to the continued political and civil war strife. Focusing majorly on the second wave of German immigration to America that occurred between 1850 and 1859; they moved to America since there were fertile lands and a free society; “for instance the German Anabaptists who faced persecution in Germany due their belief in adult baptism” (Turner, n.d). The Germans were skilled craftsmen, and the Americans resented it since they felt it was too much competition, later they became a target of an anti-immigration group which called them anarchists.
According to U.S Immigration and Migration Reference Library (2004), the nativists groups started an anti-immigrant campaign particularly anti-Catholic. They claimed to have the aim to retain the traditional American ideals which the immigrants were threatening by degrading democracy and American values. The campaign was successful and spread throughout the nation, “nativist politicians called for restrictions on rights of the ‘aliens’ and foreign-born citizens against voting and holding office rights” (U.S Immigration and Migration Reference Library, 2004). The whole objective of the campaign was to target American Germans whose numbers had grown drastically and considering they had a different set of religious and political beliefs.
“German immigrants faced a great deal of ethnicities in America which led them to change their names so as to blend in they also suspended their German heritage festivals for some years” (Turner, n.d). New immigrants also had to find a way to blend in as fast as they could as the anti-German sentiment had grown in the Americans. In 1889-1945, there was another surge of Jewish intellectuals running away from the Nazi regime, the United States government saw the danger the Jews faced and hesitated on changing the number of German immigrants moving into the country. Some Germans were still unlucky and got turned back at the ports to go back to Germany and face the danger, back home they had restricted freedom and rights; they had to bear with their property being seized and unwarranted searches out of minor suspicion. There were trade barriers against them, and they had to carry identification cards with them wherever they went, those who moved to the United States joined the army where they comprised of more than a third and served bravely (Hollifield, Martin and Orrenius, 2014). The wartime hostilities passed quickly but after the wars but Germans were not able to reclaim their ethnic heritage until recently when the climate of multiculturalism has grown in the United States. “Germans were faced with another immigration problem; before they could immigrate to the United States they had to obtain an immigration visa” (Hoobler, 2012). Baptismal certificates were also a requirement from their parish churches as an evidence of completion of their military service.
Approximately sixty thousand to a hundred thousand German-speaking people migrated to the United States before the colonial era. They settled in a German town in Pennsylvania, William Penn was a member of the Quakers that was a radical Protestant sect founded by George Fox in England. The British king awarded Penn a proprietorship in colonies in the United States. He became the owner of a large piece of land and gave him the authority to create a government and make laws. Penn took an initiative to establish a holy commonwealth that was characterized by brotherly love, peace and religious tolerance. He was a member of the Society of Friends; he declined formal creeds and worship. Like other business oriented persons in the New World Penn looked to making a profit from the sale of the land in his colony, but his primary objective for setting up a religious colony. He started searching for settlers among English people especially the Quakers and ended up recruiting from the Mennonites. He was one of the greatest campaigners against religious persecution in America which was one of the biggest contributions to multiculturalism.
In my opinion, the journey the Germanys made was worth it. They would have faced an even worse fate if they did not make the journey, persecution and starvation being the biggest threats. Besides, they managed to survive through sickness in the voyage and discrimination that they faced in America. For instance back home, they would have been persecuted for their faith and suffered under dictatorial political powers. A part from the negative factors that drove them away from home, America was the fastest growing economy in the world; vast industrialization and the railway project enabled transportation of both resources in both raw materials and labor. Thus there was more job opportunities in America that needed a lot of labor input. Given the chance to explore greener pasture, I would have made the same decision the Germanys made. During the year 1800s, America was a country with potential and the environment was conducive to anyone. Although discrimination was paramount in America, it would not have barred me from migrating to the country.
In conclusion, immigration to the US impacted greatly to the economy as workers were available to work in the first growing industry. America also provided a peaceful environment where people did not suffer persecution, poverty and hunger. Similarly, the Germany Americans were instrumental in movements such as labor unions whereby they fought for their labor rights. The other person that influence the Germany Americans in the labor union was Karl Marx. Karl Marx’s theories of socialism was essential and swept through the working class groups and European intellectuals. Therefore, the Germans were diligent, hardworking and determined people in venturing into business aside from the temporary discrimination they faced. They greatly benefited from the immigration policy in America as the Jewish elites managed to continue with their scholarly dreams in the US.
Dennis, R. (2015, February 01). Immigration to the United States – American Memory Timeline Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Retrieved January 24, 2016 from http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/
Hollifield, J., Martin, P., & Orrenius, P. (2014). Controlling immigration: A global perspective. Stanford University Press.
Hoobler, T. (2012, April 18). German Immigration. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourfamilytrees/gerim.html
Turner, L. L. (n.d). Challenges Faced by Immigrants in the 19th Century | The Classroom | Synonym. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://classroom.synonym.com/challenges-faced-immigrants-19th-century-9525.html
U.S Immigration and Migration Reference Library. (2004). German Immigration. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/uhic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?zid=a1bdd01f59dacbddab4e6bea68b2a54e&action=2&documentId=GALE|CX3436800018&userGroupName=gray02935&source=Bookmark&u=gray02935&jsid=b40cfcf38106f008bf9345320d31248c
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