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U.S. Built by Immigrants

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U.S. Built by Immigrants

America was built by immigrants. From Plymouth Rock in the seventeenth

century

to Ellis Island in the twentieth, people born elsewhere came to

America. Some

were fleeing religious persecution and political turmoil. Most,

however, came

for economic reasons and were part of extensive migratory systems that

responded to changing demands in labor markets. Their experience in the

United

States was as diverse as their backgrounds and aspirations. Some became

farmers

and others toiled in factories. Some settled permanently and others

returned to

their homeland. Collectively, however, they contributed to the building

of a

nation by providing a constant source of inexpensive labor, by settling

rural

regions and industrial cities, and by bringing their unique forms of

political

and cultural expression.

The volume of immigration before the 1960s was staggering. Figures for

the

colonial period are imprecise, but by the time of the first census of

1790

nearly 1 million Afro-Americans and 4 million Europeans resided in the

United

States. The European population originated from three major streams:

English

and Welsh, Scotch-Irish, and German.

After 1820, the data became exact enough to document the volume of

immigration

more reliably. From 1820 to 1975 some 47 million people came to the

United

States: 8.3 million from other countries in the Western Hemisphere, 2.2

million

from Asia, and 35.9 million from Europe. The stream was relatively

continuous

from 1820 to 1924 with only brief interruptions caused by the Civil War

and

occasional periods of economic downturns such as the depression of the

1890s,

the panic of 1907-1908, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. World

War II, of

course, also greatly reduced the numbers emigrating. In fact, 32

million of the

35.9 million Europeans who came to the United States between 1820 and

1975 came

prior to 1924.

Immigration on such a large scale resulted in greater ethnic diversity

from the

earlier colonial structure. In the century prior to World War I, the

major

sources of immigrants were Germany, Italy, Ireland, Austria-Hungary,

Russia,

and Great Britain, but Canada also supplied 4 million newcomers,

including a

large number of French-Canadians, and Mexico sent some 2 million. These

emigrant centers supplied the largest ethnic concentrations in American

society

before the 1960s.

Immigrants to colonial America were welcomed because of its acute need

for

inexpensive labor.

The English and Afro-Americans were quickly joined by Scotch-Irish,

Scots, and

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