fear of french and irish immigrants -- 1/12/16

Today's selection -- from Liberty's First Crisis by Charles Slack. In the years immediately following the American Revolution, there was great fear of the stream of immigrants from countries like Germany, France and Ireland:

"[In the years just after the American Revolution], Americans were panicked over a possible imminent invasion by a great European power. The trouble was they could not agree on which European power, England or France, would do the invading. Fueled by hatred for the English monarchy, Republicans felt a spiritual connection with the French, who had not only aided the American Revolution but also launched a revolution of their own.

"Federalists, for their part, had watched in growing horror as the French Revolution degenerated into a procession of rolling heads and bloodlust. They saw in that revolution a chilling forecast of what the United States could expect from its own population without strong, principled leadership from the elite. Indeed, they saw themselves as the last barrier against Republican-driven chaos. Radicals, revolutionaries, and malcontents from around Europe were streaming onto American soil and stirring things up.

"Federalists mistrusted foreigners in general and immigrants in particular, especially of the poor and non-English variety. Alarmed by the numbers of Germans, French, and Irish pouring each year into their cities and towns, Federalist politicians had proposed a ban on anyone born outside the United States holding government office, along with a twenty-dollar naturalization fee for immigrants -- no small amount at a time when an American farmhand might get by on six to twelve dollars a month.

"In July 1797, Congressman Harrison Gray Otis of Massachusetts sounded the alarm on immigration in what became known as the 'Wild Irish' speech, warning that while he had nothing against 'honest and industrious' immigrants, the country could not afford to 'invite hordes of wild Irishmen': 'The mass of vicious and disorganizing characters who could not live peaceably at home, and who, after unfurling the standard of rebellion in their own countries, might come hither to revolutionize ours.' "


Charles Slack


Liberty's First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech


Atlantic Monthly Press


Copyright 2015 by Charles Slack


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