Foreign Immigrants in Industrial America
While conditions in nineteenth-century Europe worsened for millions of its inhabitants, the United States entered a period of incredible prosperity. Millions of Europeans who suffered through the Industrial Revolution, economic depressions, and crushing famines, began to envision America as a land of unbounded opportunity. Unfortunately, the unprecedented economic turmoil that periodically swept the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century often dashed European dreams of gold-paved streets and free land. Furthermore, many Americans who sought scapegoats for the nation's festering economic and social problems pointed to the immigrants as the source of their problems.
"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....The American economy had needed both unskilled and skilled workers through much of the nineteenth century. But after the 1880s, the demand was almost exclusively for unskilled workers to fill the growing number of factory jobs. Coinciding with this were conditions in some areas of Europe, which were undergoing substantial economic changes in the 1880s. Southern and eastern Europeans, dislocated from their land and possessing few skills, were attracted to the burgeoning industries in the United States.
Four major factors had altered their society in Europe: a dramatic population increase, the spread of commercial agriculture, the rise of the factory system, and the proliferation of inexpensive means of transportation such as steamships and railroads.
Agricultural regions, the crucibles in which these factors were mingled, had become linked to cities by the new transportation routes. The increasing need of growing cities like London, Budapest, and Berlin for foodstuffs encouraged farmers to acquire more land in order to expand production for distant markets. But commercial rather than mere subsistence farming stimulated the rise of large estates and increased the overall price of land. Small owners or aspiring owners found it increasingly difficult to acquire sufficient land to support themselves. The problem for these small owners was compounded by the dramatic rise in Europe's population after the Napoleonic Wars. Food supplies became more plentiful, diets improved, and life expectancy increased. Population pressures were further heightened because, with less land to transmit, young people had less reason to wait for the landed inheritance once needed to start a family. Many simply went ahead and married. Earlier family formations, in turn, meant that women gave birth over a longer portion of their lives and more children were born. People of modest means then began to move in search of opportunities at home and in the United States...."
Although many immigrants did migrate to rural America, a majority settled in cities. Immigrant populations, in fact, were highest in four of the largest cities at the time (New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Chicago). Furthermore, five out of every six Irish and Russian travelers, three out of four Italian and Hungarian immigrants and seven of ten arrivals from England, eventually settled in the nation's great cities.
Why did immigrants settle in cities?
Many immigrants came to America with little money to buy farms or expensive farming equipment. Others settled in cities because American agriculture was far different from what most had been accustomed to in Europe. Some, including many Slavs, simply came to America too late to acquire free or cheap land. Others moved to cities for different reasons. Many Irish opted for an urban life because they associated farming with the with English landlords who had persecuted Irish tenant farmers. Immigrants, particularly Jews, settled in urban areas because their forebears had already established vibrant cultural, religious, and educational institutions throughout many of the nation's largest cities.
Reactions of "Native" Americans to Immigration
The term "native," in this context, refers not to American Indians, but rather to Anglo-Americans who considered themselves "true Americans" even though their ancestors had been migrated from Europe just a few generations before. At first, many champions of American business, such as the editors of The Commercial and Financial Chronicle, argued that immigration would provide a ready pool of unskilled workers to man the nation's factories and would help boost the American economy. Many businessmen, however, began to change their minds as strikes became more common and labor unions grew larger and more powerful. Increasingly, they and many other Americans blamed "radical" immigrants to for the nation's labor problems. The reaction to the Haymarket Square bombing in 1886 demonstrates this kind of thinking in action.
Anglo-Saxon Myth
During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, many college professors, scientists, and other intellectuals, such as John Fiske (right), promoted the idea that human evolution had culminated in the Anglo-Saxon race. Such thinkers argued that more "primitive" races (any "race" that did not originate in northwestern Europe) did not possess the mental, physical, or social capacities of Anglo-Saxons, who were responsible for the finer points of civilization. "Scientific evidence" of the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race was hardly evidence at all. Some scientists believed, for example, that the slope of a person's forehead was a reliable indicator of their intelligence. As the logic went, Anglo-Saxons were more likely to have a high forehead; therefore, "scientists" conjectured that Anglo-Saxons were necessarily more intelligent.
Eugenics
The "science" of eugenics claimed that heredity determined cultural and social patterns and, hence, that selective human breeding would advance civilization. Many Americans seized on eugenics to rationalize "scientifically" their racism. Since many Americans already assumed that southeastern Europeans, African-Americans, Jews, Asians, Middle Easterners, and American Indians were of "inferior" blood, eugenics simply gave them "scientific proof" that these "inferiors" were causing America's social problems.
One leading proponent of eugenics theory was Dr. Charles Benedict Davenport. Davenport argued that weaknesses in society were due to the unnatural preservation, by the use of modern medicine, of the "feeble-minded" and "unfit." In his 1911 book, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, written at a time when Italians, Poles, Greeks, Russians and Jews were the targets of anti-immigrant phobia, he held that "the population of the United States will, on account of the great influx of blood from South-eastern Europe, rapidly become darker in pigmentation, smaller in stature, more mercurial, more attached to music and art, [and] more given to crimes of larceny, kidnapping, assault, murder, rape and sex-immorality" and that "the ratio of insanity in the population will rapidly increase." Advocates of the new "science" of eugenics, however, called for more than simple immigration restriction. Scientists, politicians, and others relied upon the "evidence" of heredity to advocate such drastic measures as sterilization, controlled breeding, institutionalization, and even executions of the feeble. People often associate such measures with Nazi Germany and Hitler's methods of "racial purification." Yet, proponents of eugenics and "racial purity" also enjoyed a great deal of popular support in the United States during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Information adapted from: http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/lectures/lecture08.html