Irish Immigration and the Nativist Reaction (1847-1856)
  1. The Potato Famine in Ireland (1847)
  2. The Exodus Begins (1850s)
  3. The Waves of Immigration
  4. Nativist Response to Irish Immigration
  5. The Propagation Society (1855)
  6. Irish Immigration Lesson Plan
  7. PowerPoint Presentation of Irish Immigration
  8. Historiography
The Potato Famine in Ireland (1847)Top
Historical Context
By 1847, the potato famine had reached full strength and much of the population of Ireland was malnourished and weak.

Attached Documents
This is an account written by a visitor to Ireland who notes much of the misery he witnessed. Such conditions provided a great impetus for the emigration of millions of Irish citizens.

Questions to Consider
1) What were some of the horrors witnessed by the writer?
2) Who was being affected by the famine?
3) Where was the worst devastation?
4) How were the people fed?
5) What was the scene like upon their arrival in county Cork?

     Account of an Irish Traveler.rtf  
Document Source:
The Exodus Begins (1850s)Top
Historical Context
By the middle of the 19th Century, thousands of Irish immigrants were arriving in the U.S. in an effort to escape the devastating famine in Ireland.

Attached Documents
The attachments here deal with the initial stages of the Irish flight. The first document is an edited report from the Illustrated London News illustrating the massive number of Irish emigrants leaving for America, while the political cartoon sheds some light on why so many Irish immigrants were willing to leave their homeland for the United States.

Questions to Consider
1) What was the average rate of Irish emigration?
2) How were some of these Irish immigrants paying for their passage to the New World? Does this remind you of anything else in US colonial history? Compare this wave of immigration with colonial era immigration.
3) Where were the ships carrying immigrants destined to land?
4) What sort of backlash did this mass emigration create in Ireland?

     Newspaper Report on Irish Immigration.rtf  
     Here and There.GIF
Document Source:
"Here and There" Cartoon:
The Waves of ImmigrationTop
Attached Documents
The following graphs and maps demonstrate the overwhelming number of Irish immigrants coming into the U.S. as compared to immigration from other European nations. Note also the sharp spike in Irish immigration that corresponded directly with the Irish potato famine that began in 1847 and continued for several years thereafter.

The map below, available at Omaha North's Social Studies website, clearly demonstrates the distribution of Irish settlers across America. Note the wide dispersion of Irish immigrants across the country by 1870, reflecting the tremendous demographic impact of Irish migration to the United States.
     Immigration Graph.GIF
     Immigration Graph 2.GIF
     Immigration Graph 3.GIF
     Irish Population Map.GIF
Immigration by Country of Origin 1840-1860:
Nativist Response to Irish ImmigrationTop
Historical Context
The influx of large numbers of Irish Catholics during the 19th century disturbed many conservative Americans who viewed the ethnic shift in American society as a potentially damaging phenomenon. The American Party was commonly referred to as the "Know-Nothing" Party because the founding leaders kept their purposes secret and always answered, "I know nothing" when questioned. This anti-immigrant group gained popularity in the north in 1854. They played on the nativist fears of foreigners to gain their influence. They believed that German and Irish Catholics would hold their allegiance to Rome and the Pope rather than the US.

Attached Documents
The documents below outline the Know-Nothing Party's platform from 1856. They contain a strong anti-immigrant emphasis stating, "Americans must rule America." The party's attempt to use scare tactics, however, lost it many followers and thus the party was disbanded after 1856.

Also included is a propaganda piece by a nativist publication that argues that the Irish would place their loyalty to the Catholic Church above their loyalty to the U.S.

Finally, a series of anti-Irish cartoons are included, all of which illustrate the extreme discrimination that Irish immigrants often had to overcome.

Questions to Consider
1) According to the platform, who should be allowed to hold office?
2) What does it state about allegiance to the US? At whom do you think this is aimed?
3) What sort of stance did the Know-Nothings take on states' rights? On the formation of military companies?
4) How does the American Crusader propaganda compare with the Know-Nothing platform?
5) What does the nativist doctrine do with its own immigrant past?
6) In the political cartoons, how are the Irish depicted, both physically and otherwise? How does this compare with cartoon depictions of other minorities or foreigners? Compare this with depictions of the Japanese during World War II or modern depictions of Muslims. Has any thing changed since the 1850s? Explain.
     Know Nothing Party Platform.rtf  
     Know Nothing Platform Image.jpg
     Nativist Reaction to Irish Immigration.rtf  
     Cartoon 1.GIF
     Harpers Cartoon Black and White.jpg
     Cartoon 3.GIF
Know-Nothing Platform 1856:
Image of Know-Nothing Letter:
Nativist Reaction:
"The Day We Celebrate" Cartoon:'s.jpg
Harper's "Black and White" Cartoon:
"Uncle Sam's Lodging-House" Cartoon:
The Propagation Society (1855)Top
Attached Documents
An anti-Catholic cartoon, reflecting the nativist perception of the threat posed by the Roman Church's influence in the United States through Irish immigration and Catholic education. The "Propagation Society" is probably the Catholic proselytizing organization, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. At right, on a shore marked "United States," Brother Jonathan, whittling, leans against a flagpole flying the stars and stripes. "Young America," a boy in a short coat and striped trousers, stands at left, holding out a Bible toward Pope Pius IX, who steps ashore from a boat at left. The latter holds aloft a sword in one hand and a cross in the other. Still in the boat are five bishops. One holds the boat to the shore with a crozier hooked round a shamrock plant.

The dialogue reads as follows:
Pope: "My friend we have concluded to take charge of your spiritual welfare, and your temporal estate, so that you need not be troubled with the care of them in future; we will say your prayers and spend your money, while you live, and bury you in the Potters Field, when you die. Kneel then! and kiss our big toe in token of submission."

Brother Jonathan: "No you dont, Mr. Pope! you're altogether too willing; but you cant put 'the mark of the Beast' on Americans."

Young America: "You can neither coax, nor frighten our boys, Sir! we can take care of our own worldly affairs, and are determind to "Know nothing" but this book, to guide us in spiritual things." ("Know nothing" is a "double entendre," alluding also to the nativist political party of the same name.)

First bishop: "I cannot bear to see that boy, with that horrible book."

Second bishop: "Only let us get a good foot hold on the soil, and we'll burn up those Books and elevate this Country to the Same degree of happiness and prosperity, to which we have brought Italy, Spain, Ireland and many other lands."

Third bishop: "Sovereign Pontiff! say that if his friends, have any money, when he dies; they may purchase a hole, for him in my cemetery, at a fair price."

Fourth bishop: "Go ahead Reverend Father; I'll hold our boat by this sprig of shamrock."

Questions to Consider
1) What is the significance of the fourth bishop hooking onto land by a shamrock?
2) Why do you think the Pope is pictured with a sword in one hand?
3) Why would the first bishop call the boy's Bible "that horrible book?" How would the boy's Bible differ from the bishops' Bibles?
     Proagation Society Cartoon.JPG
Original Document:
Irish Immigration Lesson PlanTop
Below are lesson plans relevent to the subject.
     Irish Immigration Lesson Plan.rtf  
PowerPoint Presentation of Irish ImmigrationTop
Below is a PowerPoint presentation which can be used in the classroom and includes the above material.
The first book below is a step by step history of Irish Immigration to the United States; from the era before the Potato Famine through the role of Irish Americans during the Second World War.

Kenny, Kevin.The American Irish. New York: Longman, 2000.

The next book describes the lives of Scots-Irish in the United States and their influence on the development of the country.

Webb, James H. Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

The first article below covers the subject of nativism in the United States following the influx of Irish, and other European, immigration.

Cohn, Raymond L. "Nativism and the End of the Mass Migration of the 1840s and 1850s." The Journal of Economic History. 60(2): 361-383.

The second article investigates nativism further, but from a specifically Irish perspective.

Jensen, Richard. "'No Irish Need Apply': A Myth of Victimization." Journal of Social History. 36(2): 405-429.

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