How did immigrants (in particular, Irish, German, Mexican, and Chinese immigrants) help shape American society between 1800–1850?

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Immigrants to the United States between 1800 and 1850 shaped the United States in many ways. First, they contributed to the population and economic growth of the country. Despite the focus on Irish and German immigrants, many also came from England and Scotland during the antebellum era. Many of these immigrants brought technical expertise in industry, and helped spark the Industrial Revolution in the Northeast. Samuel Slater, for example, came to the country with experience in building spinning machines, and helped set up a spinning factory in Rhode Island, the nation's first.

Waves of immigrants came to the United States from Ireland and Germany from 1800 to 1860. The largest surge of immigrants was in the 1840s, when many Irish immigrants entered the country fleeing the Potato Famine. German immigrants came in large numbers as well, settling especially in newer cities in what is now the upper Midwest. These immigrants mostly settled in Northern cities, because they saw fewer opportunities in the slave societies of the South. Immigrant labor was a driving force behind Northern industrialization in the antebellum period. They also, especially Irish immigrants, formed a vital political force, one which was a major source of power for the Democratic Party.

In the Southwest and the West Coast, Mexican-Americans were essentially conquered by the United States. Though many came to the United States from Mexico after the Mexican War, for over 100,000 former Mexican citizens, the process of entering the United States was involuntary—their homelands were taken through war. Their influence on especially Southern California and the southwestern territories and states of New Mexico and Texas in particular was obvious, though they were, for the most part, excluded from political power.

Many immigrants came to California in the 1840s seeking gold, or at least employment in gold extraction. These included settlers from around the globe, but Chinese immigrants were especially well-represented. Many came fleeing famine in China, and they settled in mining camps throughout the new state.

Immigrants, then, made the United States a more diverse nation culturally and played an important role in the nation's economic expansion during a period characterized by historians as the Market Revolution. But so-called "native-born" Americans responded to immigrants with fear, suspicion, and often violence and repression.

Nativism, or fear and discrimination against immigrants took many forms. In the Northeast, many commentators worried about the Catholicism of immigrants, arguing that they would foment rebellion. Their fears led to frequent violence, and was institutionalized in the American Party. This national political party, colloquially called the "Know-Nothings," advocated restrictions on immigration in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine, and remained a powerful force throughout the 1850s. In California, Chinese immigrants were explicitly targeted by discriminatory measures. For example, like black Americans and Native Americans, they were not allowed to testify against whites in court, making violence against people of Chinese origin essentially legal before the Civil War.

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