How the West Was Won

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How the West Was Won

Over the years some 25 million people have come to America. Some came for economic reasons, others to freely practice their religion without persecution, others to escape war, political unrest, and overpopulation. Whatever the reason, they all came to enjoy America's promise of freedom and prosperity.

There have been several major waves of immigration throughout the history of the United States. The first dated from 1783 to the early 1800s. Between 1820 and 1870, there was a rapid increase in the number of immigrants who came from northern and Western Europe. "About 7.5 million arrive, mainly from northern and western Europe (especially Great Britain, Ireland and western Germany)." (American Immigration Timeline) The Irish came because of England's oppression and the potato famine during the mid 1840s, and Germans came for economic reasons. Immigrants who entered the United States at these times were known as ‘old immigrants.' In many ways, these immigrants possessed customs and traditions similar to those of Americans. Therefore, it is claimed they adjusted more easily to the American way of life.

In brief, the Homestead Act of 1862, granted free federal land to settlers. "The Act, which became law on Jan. 1, 1863, allowed anyone to file for a quarter-section of free land (160 acres). The land was yours at the end of five years if you had built a house on it, dug a well, broken (plowed) 10 acres, fenced a specified amount, and actually lived there. Additionally, one could claim a quarter-section of land by "timber culture" (commonly called a "tree claim"). This required that you plant and successfully cultivate 10 acres of timber." (The Homestead Act of 1862) Word of this opportunity reached Europeans, who then came to America. In addition, during the early 1800s, development of the factory system created a demand for more consumer products. Immigrants provided the necessary manpower. During the next wave of immigration, from 1881 to 1920, immigrants came mainly from southern and eastern Europe. "The next wave of immigration (1881-1920) brought people from southern and eastern Europe, especially from Italy and Austria-Hungary. While these groups were considered inferior to the Anglo-Saxon idealized in Great Britain and Germany, and it took them longer to establish themselves as citizens in the United States, it still took only one to three generations for these groups to make themselves a comfortable home in the US. Those groups constituting these first two waves of immigration to the US managed to do so with relative ease." (Multiculturalism) These immigrants were referred to as "new immigrants." These "new immigrants" possessed customs and traditions very different from those of Americans. With more and more immigrants arriving in the United States, native-born Americans began to feel threatened and hostile toward them. They feared the impact these immigrants would have on their country.

In 1921, Congress set a quota on the amount of immigrants coming into America. "In response to growing public opinion against the flow of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe in the years following World War I, Congress passed first the Quota Act of 1921 then the even more restrictive Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act)." (Who Was Shut Out?) The frontier was closed. There would no longer be any free or cheap land for immigrants to purchase. Labor unions began to form in order to protect American jobs and to limit immigrant laborers from coming into the United States. Immigrants began to settle in cities and worked in the factories. In addition, laws stated that reading and writing in English were required in order to enter the United States. For those "new immigrants," fitting into the new world was not as easily attained as the "old immigrants."

America had called itself a melting pot, that is, a place where people "of all backgrounds could live together in peaceful brotherhood."...
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