The Civil War was a catalyst for immigration
The Civil War was a catalyst for immigration. It didn’t happen in a good way however. There were over a million lives lost during the war and with the country growing and wanting to become an industrial power, there was a need for people to come and help the population recover. There was a great need to resupply the working class. (Van Clease Lecture) The Homestead Act of 1862 was put in place to try and stimulate immigration and commerce with incentives. It also was put in place to populate the ever expanding land to the west. It offered 160 acres of free land to anyone who worked the land for two years. This gave hope to the poor as for two years of work, they would be land owners. (Tichenor, 65-66) The Civil War also turned the immigration issue into more of a national issue giving the federal government more power in regards to immigration then it had ever had. Before the War, most of the power in regards to immigration regulations had fallen to each individual state. (Van Clease Lecture)
The Germans and Scandinavians took advantage of the freer immigration restrictions and the Homestead Acts. They moved westward and settled into the Midwest and the Great Plains. They were also courted by the Republican party who knew that these new immigrants comprised a very solid voting bloc. (Tichenor, 63). Another prominent group to immigrate to the United States after the Civil War was a second wave of Irish Immigrants. Over two and a half million Irish Immigrants came to America after the Civil War. Although there was still great resentment towards the Irish and the question whether they were “white enough” was still there, this wave of Irishmen assimilated more easily because they were met here by 2nd generation Irish who were the sons and daughters of the potato famine Irish immigrants and as such an infrastructure was already in place for them. (Van Clease Lecture) Just as before, the Irish tended to settle in the cities on the East coast. A third major immigrant at this time was the Chinese who settled on the west coast and became an important part of the western economy. (Van Clease Lecture)
Much like the Irish who came in after the potato famine, there was much opposition to Chinese immigration. This was a race issue. The Chinese were obviously not white. The differences between the whites and Chinese were obvious and their “whiteness” was never a debate. The perception was that the Chinese were too different to ever become a True American. (Van Clease Lecture) One of the ironies is that some of the biggest opposition to the Chinese in the west came from the Irish. The same group who had had their “whiteness” questioned and were now putting down another group’s whiteness. The Irish had always wanted to stay off the lowest rung so being able to keep another ethnic group down made that possible. During the potato famine migration, they were opposing the African-Americans and fighting for the same jobs, in the second migration, they were battling the Chinese for jobs that others didn’t want. A correlation can be made to today’s time where the Mexican immigrant is mostly doing agricultural work that “nobody else wants to do”. This was an issue brought up in yesterday’s Republican debate in regards to Dr. Ben Carson’s immigration plan where he wants to institute a guest worker program to bring immigrants in to do these agricultural jobs “nobody else wants”.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was based on race and class and sought to ban the “lower class and non-whites” from populating the country. It was the first significant law set on a national level to restrict a certain group from immigrating.(Lee, 36-38) This made the United States government and its officers sole judge as who they were going to allow into their party, like a doorman at a club. We see these policies still in place today as the United States are trying to close their doors to immigrants from the south who are coming over to try and better their life and that of their families. Isn’t that where this country started from in first place? Immigrants coming over from Europe to find the promised land?
The consequences of the Chinese Exclusion Act are still cemented in Immigration policy as it created the Green Card, Visas, Immigration depot, and policing of immigration (Van Cleave). It set into motion that the United States needed to restrict immigration, it was no longer welcoming immigrants with open arms, well, some immigrants.