I need to compare and contrast immigration groups from the Colonial period to 1929. What were the push/pull factors that brought them here? How did the various immigrant groups differ from each other?
In answering this question, I will focus on three main waves of immigration, with some attention paid to one other wave. For most of these waves, the pull factors were fairly constant. They came for either economic opportunity, political and religious liberty, or a mixture of the two. The push factors typically consisted of economic hardship or political oppression.
The “one other wave” I will discuss is the wave of forced immigration from Africa in colonial times and in the first two decades of the United States’ existence. This wave had no push and pull factors as it was involuntary. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the US was built with significant input from this wave of immigrants who were rather different from other waves.
The first wave of voluntary immigrants came over in colonial times. Most of this wave of immigrants came from England. These immigrants came for religious and economic reasons. Puritans, for example, came so they could have a place where they could dominate government. Others came because they were being pushed off the land where they had lived by the enclosure movement.
The second major wave of immigration came in the 1840s. There were two main parts to this wave. One part came from Ireland. The push factor here was quite clear—the Irish Potato Famine destroyed the ability of many Irish to make a living, forcing them to leave the island. It is important to note that the Irish tended to be Catholic at a time when sectarian differences mattered deeply in the United States. The second part of this wave came from Germany. The main push factor for this wave was political. The lead up to and the aftermath of the failed revolution of 1848 made many Germans want to leave for a country that would be more politically stable and free.
The final major wave of immigration in the time period you are asking about came between 1880 and 1920. This wave was different from the others because it came mainly from Eastern and Southern Europe. Another difference in this wave was that many of the immigrants were Jewish (along with many Catholics). Many of the Jews came because of religious persecution in Russia and other Eastern European countries. Many of the Italians and Greeks came because populations in those countries were rising without a corresponding increase in economic output.
As we can see, the immigrants groups were largely similar. They came either for religious or political freedom or for economic opportunity (or a mixture of both). They were different in their particular religions and their particular circumstances, but they were similar in other ways.