The words below originally appeared in an essay. It was published in The Lowell Offering, a magazine. This magazine was created by “mill girls.” These were the young women who worked in fabric, or textile, mills in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1840s. The full essay is called “A Weaver’s Reverie.” It was written by a mill worker named Ella.
It was a sunny day, and I left for a few minutes the circumscribed spot which is my appointed place of labor, that I might look from an adjoining window upon the bright loveliness of nature. Yes, it was a sunny day; but for many days before, the sky had been veiled in gloomy clouds; and joyous indeed was it to look up into [the sky] . . . and my heart fluttered, like a prisoned bird, with its painful longings for an unchecked flight amidst the beautiful creation around me.
'Why is it,' said a friend to me one day, 'that the factory girls write so much about the beauties of nature?'
What clues does the excerpt provide about what it was like to work in a mill?
Based on your reading of this excerpt, how do you think Ella felt about working in a mill? Why do you think “factory girls write so much about the beauties of nature”?
Based on what you know about U.S. history, how do you think the emergence of factories such as the one Ella worked in changed life in New England and the rest of the United States?
In Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration, you will learn about many inventions and changes. These affected manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, communication, and daily life. You will learn about two groups of European immigrants who arrived in the United States during the 1800s. You will think about why they came here. You also will see how urbanization and immigration changed America, making it a country with a mix of cultures.
The Industrial Revolution Begins
How did the Industrial Revolution begin?
In the 1700s, most people in the United States were farmers. Almost all goods were made by hand, either in homes or in small shops. However, toward the end of the century, people in Great Britain began inventing machines. These new machines made more goods faster and more efficiently.
The change to machine production and the development of factories were both part of the Industrial Revolution. Because of new inventions and ways of working, people’s lives completely changed.
The first industry to use machines was the textile, or cloth, industry. In the 1700s, the first textile factories were started in Great Britain. The British automated production, using machines instead of people to spin thread and weave cloth. That way, the factories were able to produce huge amounts of cloth quickly and cheaply. These early factories needed water power to run the machines. Most factories were built along rivers.
The British tried to keep the plans for their factories and machines secret. They passed laws against sending textile machine plans out of the country. They did not allow anyone working with those machines to leave the country. The British tried to protect the new industry and the global need for British textiles. However, keeping this technology secret was not easy.
The Industrial Revolution Comes to New England
How were the first factories in the United States built?
In 1789, a British mechanic named Samuel Slater secretly went to the United States. Slater had memorized the plans for textile plant machinery. He was able to make copies. In 1793, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Slater and others built the first cotton-spinning mill in the United States. Within about 15 years, Slater helped run 12 different mills in New England.
The textile industry went through a series of major changes. First, came machines that could spin cotton into yarn. Soon after, people developed power looms, which wove yarn into cloth. A wealthy businessman namedFrancis Cabot Lowell built the first factory that joined these different aspects of textiles. He built many factories in what would become Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell’s factories were built along the Merrimack River because they used water power to run the machines.
At first, the workers in the Lowell mills were mostly girls from nearby farms. They wanted to earn money and live on their own. With the country’s growing population, there were not many opportunities for farm wives in the East. At that time, women were not expected to go to college or have careers.
While New England’s land was not ideal for farming, it had many rivers to provide the water power the early mills needed. In addition, some New Englanders, such as Francis Cabot Lowell, previously made their fortunes in trade and shipping, so they had money to invest in new factories. These factories went on to manufacture goods other than textiles, including power looms and locomotives, which were shipped to other regions and European countries. The region’s economy grew throughout the 1800s as New England became the center of trading between the southern colonies and Europe. Many towns and states fostered this economic growth with construction projects for new roads, bridges, and other transportation routes for the manufactured goods. A growing banking industry in New England provided loans to start and grow businesses. In addition, the labor force expanded greatly as more and more people moved to towns to work for wages in factories.
However, working conditions in the mills were very bad. The fast machinery made work dangerous. The noise the machines made was loud. The air was filled with dust. Windows were kept closed during the summer. People worked long hours—73 hours per week was standard—but were paid little. Workers often protested working conditions. Over time, immigrants from Europe replaced women workers.
What role did Eli Whitney play in the Industrial Revolution?
Whitney’s Cotton Gin
Factories could create cloth from cotton more quickly than before. This increased the demand for clean, raw cotton from the South. The process of cleaning the seeds out of cotton plants was very time consuming. Southern farmers had a hard time keeping up with the demand of the factories.
In 1793, Eli Whitney, a mechanic from Massachusetts, solved this problem by inventing the cotton engine, orcotton gin. This machine used wire teeth to pull the seeds out of the cotton and sped up the cleaning process tremendously. The invention of the cotton gin created economic prosperity in the South by causing massive growth in the production of cotton. For example, the number of cotton bales produced rose from about 750,000 in 1830 to 2.85 million in 1850. Many Southern farmers decided to focus on the growth of cotton instead of other crops, and so the Southern economy began to depend heavily on cotton. Cotton production was tremendously profitable business, in part due to its reliance on slave labor, and cities such as New Orleans in Louisiana, Mobile in Alabama, and Charleston in South Carolina became major ports for shipping cotton to be processed into textile in the North. Because of the large cotton supply, the price of cotton-based products, such as textiles for clothes, decreased for consumers. However, the number of enslaved people also increased to meet the needs of the South’s cotton production, rising to more than 3.2 million in 1850.
After Whitney invented the cotton gin, the U.S. government hired him to build 10,000 muskets, a type of weapon. The United States feared it might need to go to war soon, so it wanted the guns quickly. At this time, most guns were made by hand. Every part of every musket was unique. If one part broke, a new one had to be made specifically to fit that weapon.
Whitney came up with the idea of using interchangeable parts to build guns. Whitney designed tools that made parts identical. This was so that a part from one gun would fit into any other gun of the same kind. No longer did a laborer make an entire gun. Instead, each worker or team worked on a specific part.
Using interchangeable parts allowed factories to mass-produce parts, meaning they made many identical products at the same time. This process decreased the overall time and effort required to create a single good, which meant more profits for business owners and lower costs for buyers in the market. The development of identical, machine-made parts for assembly into finished products became known as the American System of manufacturing. By the 1860s, clocks and sewing machines had begun to incorporate interchangeable parts as well. A new industry, called machine tooling, began to emerge, specializing in machines that made interchangeable pieces for other machines in various industries. As manufacturing became more profitable and transportation improved, new factories sprang up in towns and cities, providing jobs with cash wages for workers and lower-priced goods for consumers. This transition away from a farm-driven agricultural economy towards a machine-driven manufacturing economy is called industrialization.
Changes in Transportation
How did transportation change during the Industrial Revolution?
In the early 1800s, roads in the United States were usually narrow dirt paths. Moving people on roads was difficult. Moving large amounts of goods overland was almost impossible. However, people often moved goods by rivers and canals. This was usually easier and faster than moving them by land.
Robert Fulton was an inventor in the 1800s. In 1807, he designed a steamboat by solving the problems of earlier designs. His boat, the Clermont, was able to travel both downriver and upriver, against the current of the water. Soon, his boat made regular trips between New York City and Albany. Fulton had found a way to make steamboats practical and successful in the United States.
Canals were another important method of transportation in the first half of the 1800s. Canals are artificial waterways that connect natural bodies of water, enabling ships to move goods and people faster and less expensively. The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, was especially important because it connected the Hudson River, which emptied into the Atlantic Ocean, to Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes. This made it much easier to transport goods from the Midwest to the East Coast. The Erie Canal also opened up the possibility of new markets in the Midwest for goods manufactured on the East Coast, because manufactures were able to ship new goods to this region.
During the 1800s, the United States went from having about 100 miles of canals to more than 4,000 miles of canals.
The steam locomotive was a steam-powered engine for pulling trains. Trains were the most important form of transportation in the 1800s. The first steam engines were built in Europe in the early 1800s. Soon after, they came to the United States. The early railroads were built around cities in the East, such as Boston, New York, and Charleston. Railroad tracks were slowly added in the West. By 1850, cities such as Chicago, Saint Louis, and Memphis were part of the railroad system. By 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was finished.
Railroads moved people and goods more quickly, less expensively, and over greater distances than any other form of transportation available at the time. They connected people nationwide and allowed farmers andfactory owners to ship their products all over the country.
Transportation innovations also changed the way in which goods were designed and marketed. In colonial times, local markets only required certain goods, which were produced nearby. Now, manufacturers could consider the needs of people living in distant parts of the country and how to market their products to these people effectively. For instance, a business that produced textiles might design one type of shirt for a person who worked on a shipyard on the East Coast and a different shirt for person living on a farm in the Midwest. Similarly, clothes makers in western cities could advertise fashionable whalebone corsets or imported silk cravats to their wealthy customers.
Despite these improvements, there were negative consequences to these changes in transportation. Building the nation’s transportation networks first required modifying the physical environment, such as clearing trees, damming rivers, and blasting away rock. These modifications inevitably destroyed much of the natural habitat for native plants and animals. The steam engines on trains required the burning of coal, which created smoke and air pollution. Increased levels of air pollution, especially near major centers of railroad transportation, created health hazards and difficult living conditions for the people there. In addition, the overall shift toward more manufacturing led to the contamination of rivers and other bodies of water due to the chemical waste from the manufacturing industries.
How did the telegraph change communication in the early 1800s?
In the early 1800s, people who wanted to communicate over long distances wrote letters. They waited weeks or months for mail to be delivered. In 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph. The telegraph sent electrical signals over wires. The signals could travel quickly to any location that also had wires. It was a much faster way to communicate.
Morse and his partner, Alfred Vail, developed a code of short and long signals, called “dots” and “dashes.” Different combinations of these sounds stood for different letters. This is called Morse code. A message in Morse code could be typed into a telegraph machine in one location, sent along electrical wires, and quickly received in another location.
Morse’s invention quickly spread throughout the United States and Europe. Companies, such as the Western Union Telegraph Company, strung telegraph wires all around the country. The first transcontinental telegraph line was completed in 1861. Telegraph messages would be sent to the telegraph offices in a distant town. At the office, a telegraph officer would transcribe the message and hand it to a messenger who would race off to deliver it.
As the United States grew and developed, the telegraph helped keep people and businesses connected. Settlers moving to new towns in the West could stay in touch with their families in the East. News could travel across great distances instantly. Businesses also took advantage of this new technology. Businesses with branches in several cities could communicate orders and report business developments quickly. By the end of the 1800s, telegraph technology could be used to transfer money between people and banks around the country. The increased speed and ease of communication played a significant role in helping the United States both grow and develop.
Changes in Farming
How did new inventions change life for farmers?
In the 1800s, many people left farms to work in factories. However, most Americans still made their living by farming. New inventions helped farmers to produce more.
In 1831, Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper to help farmers. It was a harvesting machine that chopped down grain automatically. It was pulled by horses. Before this invention, people cut grain with scythes. A scythe is a long blade with a handle that farmers would swing back and forth to cut grain. McCormick’s reaper could cut about as much grain in a few hours as two or three men could cut by hand in a day.
The Steel Plow
In 1837, a blacksmith named John Deere invented the steel plow. Up until then, iron and wooden plows had been used. They worked well enough in the soft soil of the East. However, they could not cut through the heavy, sticky soil of the Midwest. The steel plow made it much easier for farmers of the Great Plains to plow their soil. Deere became very rich selling his plows.
Tools such as these allowed farmers to plant and harvest their crops more quickly. Because of this, individual farmers could tend more land. People in the mid-1800s began buying larger farms.
Changes in Daily Life
How did new inventions change the way people lived at home?
As the 1800s progressed, more and more inventions changed the way people lived. In 1846, Elias Howe, a machinist, invented a sewing machine, which other inventors copied and improved upon. One of those others,Isaac M. Singer, became very successful by manufacturing and selling large numbers of his improved sewing machines.
Sewing machines changed the way people made clothes at home. However, sewing machines also moved the process of making clothes from inside the home into factories. Before the sewing machine, tailors and their apprentices commercially made custom clothing in small shops, with prices usually too expensive for many people. After the sewing machine appeared, clothing factories hired large numbers of workers to mass-produce clothing to be sold in stores. Some of the workers in these factories even owned their own sewing machines and brought them along if they took a job in a different factory.
In homes across the United States, other inventions made life easier for many people. In the early 1800s, people began using iceboxes in their homes to store food. These boxes were made of wood or metal on the outside, and were insulated by slate or metal on the inside. Large blocks of ice were put in the box, as well as food that a family wanted to keep cold. The large blocks of ice would last for a couple of days in the summer and longer in colder weather. Iceboxes allowed people to store food, and as more people began buying food in stores, they were able to keep store-bought food fresh as well.
Another change that affected people’s food was the cook stove. Stoves had not changed much since 1744, when Benjamin Franklin invented an improved iron stove used for heating homes and cooking. The main development in cook stoves was the step stove: a stove with two or three cooking surfaces that a cook could keep at different temperatures.
The Rise of the American City
Why did industrialization cause cities to grow?
People created better methods of production, communication, and transportation. These new methods greatly changed where people lived in the 1800s. New machines helped businesses produce more goods. However, these machines also took jobs away from workers in rural areas. Machines such as the reaper reduced the need for farm hands. As a result, jobs became less available in rural parts of the United States.
Young men and women needed new chances for jobs. Many moved from rural areas and small villages to cities. Early factories were close to quickly moving waterways that provided power. Most of the country’s early factories were built in the Northeast. For example, the Waltham mill was built on the banks of the Charles River, about 10 miles outside of Boston. The first factory workers moved from rural areas to factory towns. They hoped to find better work and make more money.
New England had the first textile mills, such as the Lowell mills. These factories hired teenage girls from farms. These girls worked for little pay. They had to live in company boarding houses and follow certain rules. However, they also were free to make their own money for the first time. By the mid-1800s, these mills were mostly run by immigrant workers. Outside of New England, most early factory workers were men from poor rural families.
In cities, the demand for labor was high. New industries needed an easy way to bring in raw materials to factories. They also needed to transport the goods they made to market. Last, they needed people to do the work. Factory owners who needed workers sent people to rural areas to hire others. The promise of a steady job was enough to get many people to leave their homes for the city.
In 1800, there were 5.3 million people in the United States. Most did not live in cities. The four largest cities in the United States were New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston. These four cities had a combinedpopulation of only about 180,000. By 1850, the combined population of these cities reached nearly 1 million. Other cities were continuing to grow, too.
Advances in transportation made cities the perfect place for large factories and groups of workers. Some factories moved large amounts of goods. They needed to be close to transportation centers. Railroads and waterways were the easiest sources of transportation. They also were connected to major cities on the East Coast. People had constructed waterways, such as the Erie Canal, to transport large amounts of goods over long distances easily. Steamships already were used on the Delaware and Potomac Rivers. They provided transportation to and from cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Alexandria, Virginia. By the 1830s, railroads provided transportation to cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and Quincy,Massachusetts. Cities soon grew so large that new forms of public transportation were needed. In 1832, the first horse-drawn streetcar line opened. It ran from downtown New York City to Harlem. By the 1850s, many American cities had horse-drawn streetcars.
There were advances in communication, too. The telegraph in particular was becoming widespread. In 1851, the company Western Union was established. Its purpose was to create a single telegraph system that worked well and quickly. As a result, railway operators were now able to exchange updates along telegraph lines. The stock exchange used a kind of telegraph printer called a ticker tape machine. This machine provided minute-by-minute reports. More people were needed to send these messages. Companies hired more switchboard operators, engineers, and other technicians. This further helped the growth of cities.
The relatively large populations of cities provided people to work in factories. When more factories were built, more workers were needed. Factories provided new jobs that attracted more people to cities. This caused cities to grow even more. The overall population of the United States grew by more than 30 percent every 10 years between 1800 and 1830. In urban areas, where factories were located, populations grew at twice that rate.
Immigration from Northern and Western Europe
Why did Irish and German people migrate to the United States?
Imagine that you are hungry and poor. There are no jobs where you live. Would you move thousands of miles for the promise of a better life? In the mid-1800s alone, more than 7.5 million immigrants came to the United States. Immigrants are people who move from one country or region to another. That was more than thepopulation of the entire country in 1810. Most of the immigrants were from Europe. About two-thirds were from Germany and Ireland.
During the mid-1800s, a large number of Europeans immigrated to the United States. They were all in search of better jobs. Most of these people came in through port cities on the East Coast. Such cities included New York and Boston.
German immigrants started to come to the United States in the 1830s. They were trying to escape bad things at home. This included poor harvests, crowded cities, unsafe working conditions, low pay, and politics. Another reason was that a large number of their family members had come before them. There were Germans in the first groups of colonists arriving in the New World. William Penn brought Germans to live in his colony of Pennsylvania.
Many German Americans were successful in their new country. They wrote home to tell friends and family. The news spread. Nearly one million Germans came to the United States in the 1850s. Around 215,000 Germans arrived in 1854 alone.
During the mid-1800s, many Irish people moved to the United States. In Ireland, they were starving and poor. They were oppressed by the British. Many Irish peasants worked as tenants on tiny plots of land. About half the people in Ireland depended on potatoes for food and income. Potatoes needed much less land than other crops did. A potato harvest from a single acre could support a family for a whole year.
In 1845, a fungus infected Ireland’s potato crop. It turned the potatoes into black mush. Food became hard to come by for Irish peasants. Between 1845 and 1852, more than a million Irish peasants died of starvation and disease. This food shortage is known as the Great Irish Famine. While this was going on, rich British landlords were still able to grow cash crops in fertile Ireland. They were also exporting these crops for profit.
During the 1840s and 1850s, about 2 million Irish people fled to the United States, Great Britain, and Canada to find work and food. About 1.5 million Irish immigrants settled in the United States. Most of them lived in eastern cities. There, they could work as unskilled workers in factories or help build new transportation systems.
Life in a New Country
What was life like for German and Irish immigrants in the United States before the Civil War?
German immigrants usually had more money than some other immigrant groups. Because of this, many more options were open to them. Although some stayed in the East, many German immigrants moved to the Midwest. There was a lot of land available there. The climate was suitable for growing their crops.
Some German immigrants settled in growing midwestern cities. They set up communities with German-speaking churches, schools, and businesses. They also created music and educational groups. They were trying to keep their traditional culture alive. Mostly, they did not look for unskilled factory work. Instead, many Germans became involved with traditional German crafts such as baking, brewing beer, and carpentry.
By the late 1800s, the largest groups of German immigrants to the United States were in New York, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, and Milwaukee. States with small populations, such as Wisconsin, wanted to grow their populations and economies. They placed ads in newspapers and sent pamphlets written in German to port cities. They wanted to get immigrants to move their state. They offered land at a good price and jobs for anyone who moved to their state.
Nearly all Irish immigrants were poor. Most settled in whatever East Coast city they arrived in. They did this even if there were good jobs elsewhere. By 1850, Irish people made up about one-quarter of the population of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
People who share a cultural and national background are said to be part of an ethnic group. Living in an area where there are people who share your own culture can make you feel more at home. This was true for the immigrants of the 1800s. Native-born people pressured immigrants to live in segregated neighborhoods, or ghettos. A section of a city in which people of a minority ethnic group are segregated or isolated is called a ghetto.
The Limerick district in Louisville, Kentucky, is an example of a ghetto. Early Irish immigrants had settled in Louisville after the War of 1812. They built a community there. Then, in the 1840s–1850s, the Great Famine occurred. The new wave of Irish immigrants arrived. Many moved to Louisville. They settled in the Limerick district. Eventually, Louisville had an Irish American newspaper. These newcomers helped make Louisville the 10th largest U.S. city by 1850.
The Irish who came to the United States during this time were usually poor and unskilled. Many Irish men took jobs building canals and railroads. Many women worked as house servants. They had to take low-paying, dangerous jobs. Still, many felt they were better off than they were in Ireland where they might have starved.
Between Freedom and Slavery
What was life like for African Americans before the Civil War?
Racism and Black Communities
Northern cities held more opportunities for African Americans. However, racism was common. Free African Americans and European immigrants fought for jobs. In many places, there were rules against hiring African Americans as skilled workers. It was hard for African Americans to get permits and licenses to create small businesses. African Americans also feared being kidnapped and sold into slavery, even if they were born free.
African Americans formed their own churches, schools, and other organizations. However, keeping to themselves did not make them safe. Race riots occurred when mobs of people attacked African American neighborhoods. Race riots happened in many major cities from the late 1820s on. African Americans were beaten and sometimes killed during these riots. In 1834, during one Philadelphia riot, 45 houses were destroyed in an African American neighborhood. Philadelphia officials refused to help the African Americans. They said that the victims had brought the violence upon themselves
Migration of African Americans
Free African American men and women faced discrimination and danger in the American South during the early 1800s. Most Southern states had laws discriminating against free African Americans. By 1859, Arkansas passed a law requiring the removal of free African Americans from within its borders. In states such as Virginia, African Americans faced whipping for even minor crimes, while white Americans would receive a small fine for the same offense. In most slave states, African Americans could also be severely punished for learning to read or write.
It was difficult for African Americans in the South to find work. Many states passed laws to keep them out of certain professions—including printing, publishing and gun making—out of fear that they could help lead a slave rebellion. The lives of African Americans were always at risk if there were rumors of a slave rebellion or of an escaped enslaved person.
Faced with these hardships and more, a small number of African Americans were able to move to Northern cities in search of work and a better life. In 1820, African Americans comprised about 10 percent of thepopulation of both Philadelphia and New York City. Urban centers like Cincinnati and Chicago had African American populations as well. By 1860, about one-third of the African Americans living in Boston and two-thirds of those living in Detroit were migrants from the South.
African Americans still faced discrimination in Northern cities. They often were the last hired, were paid lower wages than white Americans, and lived in segregated communities.
Leaving Home and Family
What was life like for people who moved to the cities?
Cities were full of jobs for people who could not find work on farms. There were hardships in city life. There were also benefits.
Men moved to the cities. They often worked in unskilled jobs. They usually did not make enough to support a family. Women and children often had to work to help pay for rent and food. Young teens often contributed up to one-fifth of the household income. Starving children begged in the streets.
The poorest people lived in slums. They were crowded into musty, dark cellar homes. Between 6 and 20 people lived in each room. They used outdoor toilets. Garbage was thrown into the streets. City officials could not keep up with sanitation measures. Pigs, goats, and packs of dogs were allowed to roam the streets. They scavenged through garbage piles. Finding clean drinking water was also a problem. The outdoor bathrooms emptied into cesspools. These containers would leak and pollute the water.
Cities also provided social benefits. Workdays were long, but leisure time was suddenly important in the cities. People attended theaters. This took their minds off of their days. Horse racing became a very popular sport. In 1845, between 70,000 and 100,000 people came to the famous North/South race in Long Island, New York. The city of Boston feared riots. Live shows were outlawed there. However, dancing and live music shows were popular in other cities such as New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia.
Gaps Between Rich and Poor
Life in the city was very different for rich and poor. During the mid-1800s, the gap between the rich and the poor widened. Being successful often depended on a person’s social class. Was he or she rich, middle class, or poor?
By 1860, 10 percent of the population controlled most of the money in the North. These people were able to buy the latest fashions, dishes, and furniture. This was because industrialization lowered prices and made people richer. Before industrialization, the rich lived in the centers of the cities. When more factories were built in the cities, the streets grew crowded and dirty. Those who could afford to moved away from the center of town. They built rich communities away from the factories. They wanted to enjoy nature. The rich pushed for the development of open spaces. New York City commissioners bought more than 800 acres of land. It cost $5 million. This land later became Central Park.
Industrialization created new jobs for a growing middle class in the North. These jobs included store clerks, managers, and retailers. In middle-class homes, the father went to work. The mother took care of the home. If a family could hire servants, the family was considered important. Servants were usually African American andimmigrant women. They were paid little.
Factory workers worked long hours. They made very low wages. The jobs did not require skills. Any worker could be replaced easily. Competition for jobs kept wages low. The middle class grew richer. They abandoned the dirty, smoky city centers. The working class and poor moved in. Immigrants and people from rural areas found cheap factory labor. They moved to the cities so that they could live near their jobs. There was a great need for cheap housing.
Owners of large homes near city factories helped solve the problem. They divided their homes into apartments. They became landlords. By the 1850s, rows of low-rent apartment buildings were built. They were calledtenements. These buildings were overcrowded and dirty. They were badly kept up. The population was booming. City governments could not keep up with sanitation needs. Garbage and sewage became problems in the poorest areas. The dirty conditions brought disease and vermin, or fleas, lice, rats, and other pests.
How did people in the United States react to immigrants?
The immigrants to the United States during the mid-1800s found a higher standard of living. However, they often found themselves the victims of anti-immigrant beliefs. Every day was a struggle to survive. Many immigrants would take any job they could find. They would work for very low wages. Americans had worked low-paying jobs before the immigrants came. They grew angry because of the increased competition in the workplace.
The Irish in particular faced hatred and violence. In 1831, in New York City, Protestant Americans burned down Saint Mary’s Catholic Church. In 1844, there were anti-Irish riots in Philadelphia. During these riots, 13 people died and dozens were hurt. More than 40 buildings were destroyed. New groups and political parties grew withnativist beliefs. They believed that U.S. citizens, “natives,” should have more rights than immigrants.
Urbanization and Politics
Various perspectives on immigration and urbanization contributed to political differences among the political party coalitions in America. During this period, Democratic voters tended to be small farmers or unskilled laborers living in rural areas, mostly of Irish Catholic descent. The Democratic Party often used class resentments between the rich and poor to mobilize its membership and elect representatives. On the other hand, the Whig Party of 1830s was comprised of British or German Protestant immigrants. The members were mostly skilled laborers and industrialists, who emphasized the unity of labor of capital. As a result of increased urbanization, these two parties often came into conflict about the powers of the federal government with regard to the interests of businesses.
Another group was the American Party, a political party also known as the Know-Nothing Party. This party began as a secret, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant organization. It earned its name because members were trained to say “I know nothing” when asked about their organization. The party wanted to stop foreign-born people from holding public office and to extend the time it took for immigrants to become naturalized citizens.
The American Party peaked when it won 21 percent of the vote in 1856, yet it created enough political divisions to indirectly help Abraham Lincoln win the presidential election in 1860. By the time of this election, about 16 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas, and manufacturing generated around one-third of the United States’ national income. Urbanization and industrialization had become part of the American way of life.