American Military University
Journey to America
Story of the Irish in Antebellum America
HS101 - US History to 1877
William J. McMonigle - 3055083
Friday, October 28, 2005
When many think of the times of immigration, they tend to recall the Irish Immigration and with it comes the potato famine of the 1840s' however, they forget that immigrants from the Emerald Isle also poured into America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The assimilation and immigration of the Irish has been difficult for each group that has passed through the gates of Ellis Island or South Boston. Like every group that came to America, the Irish were looked down upon; yet, in the face of discrimination, political, social and economic oppression, the Irish have been a testament to the American Dream as their influence in the political and business world increases with each generation. The tradition and family upbringings of the Irish culture has served as the bridge to allow the "great race" to both prosper and persevere through the hardest of times. Although Irish immigrants were mixed into and not originally part of American culture, they enriched their new country with their cultural contributions, active participation in politics, and their wealth of influential individuals.
The antebellum period in America was a hard time for all that lived, native born and those coming to America shared in the labors and hardships equally. Irish immigrants however, seemed to have struggled a little more. Many were regarded as inferior to the Anglo-Americans and immigrants already established in America. This problem came chiefly because of the lack of skilled labors, thus causing Irish immigrants to bear the load of working in mines, in quarries, digging canals, and building bridges and railroads. Others still, were servants working as waiters, janitors and factory workers. Women, like American women at the time, often worked in menial jobs as well.
After the Civil War, with the economy in shambles and increased openings for jobs, attitudes toward the Irish shifted slightly. Unlike earlier times, when the Irish first came to America, store windows no longer flashed "Irish Need Not Apply" signs. The Irish had won their place amongst the natives, having heartily participated in the war: thirty nine Union Regiments contained a majority of Irishmen, and the famous 69th regiment "Fighting 69" was comprised almost totally of Irishmen. But, don't let the Confederates be forgotten either, over forty thousand Irishmen fought for the grays. The Irish Americans gained some respectability for their involvement in the Civil War and were now more accepted by American society. The Irish Americans in post-Civil War era were more economically successful. Several of the Irishmen that had been manual laborers now held managerial positions in the railroad, iron and construction industries, their hard work has allowed them to rise through the ranks. Irish Americans also became educated and trained professionals. Fortunately Irish women, although held back by the restrictions placed on all American women around the turn of the century, achieved higher positions in society as teachers, nurses and secretaries.
Of course there was a method to the way the Irish gained their likeness and overcame the difficulties that came with absorbing into the American culture. They did this by continuing to have their close knit communities and families revolve around faith. The Irish always had been strong religious practitioners, even during the hardships of the "New World". Most of the time, this was all that they had. Since most of the Irish were impoverished because of tyrannical regime of the British Government, they did not have enough money to move west and become farmers. Not surprisingly, the large Irish communities in South Boston and New York are the two places where the Irish immigrants arrived in...