How did immigration alter the nation's population and shape its politics?

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There have been multiple waves of immigration to the United States. Historically, the American continent was the last to be inhabited by humans. During the Wisconsin glaciation, ca. 50,000 to 11,000 years ago, a land bridge enabled the first immigrants, who are now called Native Americans, to move across a...

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There have been multiple waves of immigration to the United States. Historically, the American continent was the last to be inhabited by humans. During the Wisconsin glaciation, ca. 50,000 to 11,000 years ago, a land bridge enabled the first immigrants, who are now called Native Americans, to move across a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska. Thus one can say that the entire population of the American continent is the result of immigration rather than evolution.

Although there may have been some Norse exploration and settlement of North America in the tenth and eleventh centuries, no durable colonies were founded and its effect would have been minimal.

Another major wave of immigration was that of the Athabascan peoples who became the Apache and Navajo from Alaska and Canada into the United States in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although the Navajos borrowed a more settled culture from the Pueblo dwellers already inhabiting much of the southwest, the Apaches remained nomadic and had a strong role in opposing Spanish colonization. The Navajo culture brought a deep spiritual connection to the land which continues to inspire much of southwestern environmentalism.

Early Spanish conquests gave rise to substantial Hispanic population in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and much of the southwest. Early conflicts between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking European immigrants have shaped many of the present attitudes towards immigration and conflicts between Anglo and Hispanic political groups. Another major issue is that early Spanish settlers were Roman Catholic while many of the English settlers in New England were Protestant, setting the stage for Protestant–Catholic conflicts in much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially over immigration.

Successive waves of immigration, including forced importation of African American slaves, and voluntary immigration of Asian, European, and South American people have dramatically increased the racial and cultural diversity of the United States and contributed to its economic growth. Despite occasional anti-immigrant backlash periods in which earlier immigrant groups fight to keep out more recent immigrants, in general the United States can take pride in its ethnic diversity created by successive waves of immigration.

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During the 1800s, immigration mainly stemmed from Germany and Ireland, particularly after Europe struggled through a series of political and economic shocks and Ireland faced a potato famine in the 1840s. Nineteenth-century immigrants were largely Catholic, and they settled at first in cities. The Irish mainly settled in Northeastern cities, such as Boston and New York, while Germans also settled in these cities and in Midwestern cities such as Milwaukee and St. Louis.

Immigrant groups tended to vote for Democrats because the Democratic Party was the party of the working person, and immigrants tended to work either building railroads, laboring in factories, or building canals, among other jobs. The Republican Party, on the other hand, became the party of the elite and was associated with Protestants, while Catholics (and later, Jews) often voted for Democrats. Some Republicans were nativists—that is, they favored anti-immigration policies—while Democratic political machines such as Tammany Hall in New York courted immigrant votes and often won their votes by doling out favors. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, immigrants arrived in the United States from eastern and southern Europe. These people included Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles, and others. These groups also often tended to favor urban areas and to vote Democratic. 

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