Progress and Extent of Immigration Prior to 1819 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

WE will first consider very briefly the progress and extent of immigration to the United States of America prior to 1819, the year in which the present official history begins. As, on this point, no authentic information exists, it must be determined by such evidence as statisticians of that period possessed, and by the relations then existing between the United States and the countries from which persons emigrated.

The current of migration commenced its flow from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and from Germany through the French and British ports. It was subject to many fluctuations during a part of this time, but continued with considerable uniformity, it is believed, until 1806.

Mr. Samuel Blodget, a statistician of more than ordinary research and accuracy, wrote in 1806, while every fact in regard to immigration was fresh in the minds of the people, that from “the best records and estimates at present attainable,” the immigrants arriving in this country did not average, for the ten years from 1784 to 1794, more than 4,000 per annum.

During 1794, 10,000 persons were estimated to have arrived in the United States from foreign countries.

In 1818, Dr. Adam Seybert, member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, in his exceedingly valuable “ Statistical Annals” of the United States, wrote to the following effect:—

“Though we admit that ten thousand foreigners may have arrived in the United States in 1794, we can not allow that they did so, in an equal number, in any preceding or subsequent year, until 1817;” and he assumes that 6,000 persons arrived in the United States from foreign countries in each year from 1790 to 1810;” to him, and to the authorities he consulted, this average seemed a generous one.

During the ten years from 1806 to 1816, extensive immigration to the United States was precluded by the unfriendly relations at that time existing between Great Britain, France, and the United States.

England maintained the doctrine, and for a while enforced it with success, that “a man, once a subject, was always a subject.” This deterred many from emigrating to this country from the British empire. Numbers had previously come for the purpose of entering the American merchant-service, and numbers still might have come which the fear of British impressment frightened from carrying out their design.

Another influence retarded immigration: in 1806, Great Britain issued a decree declaring the coasts of France in a state of blockade. A retaliatory decree was, in November of the same year, issued by France, declaring the British isles in a state of blockade.

To these restrictions on commerce and, consequently, on the unobstructed passage from Europe succeeded the British orders in council, and the Milan decree of Napoleon.

In March, 1809, the United States law was passed prohibiting for one year intercourse with Great Britain and France.

In 1810, the Napoleonic decrees were annulled; and the commerce of the United States had, in 1811, fairly commenced with France, but only to have their vessels fall into the hands of the British.

Preparations were now making for active hostilities, and on the 18th of June, 1812, war was formally declared by the United States to exist with Great Britain.

The German emigration sensibly felt this unfavorable condition of affairs, inasmuch as the Germans embarked principally at the ports of Liverpool and Havre; facilities for migrating thence to this country being more numerous, and the expense of the voyage less onerous. Thus, from 1806, was the stream of emigration pent up at its fountain.

In February, 1815, peace was concluded between the United States and Great Britain; and, after several months requisite to restore tranquility and to secure the confidence of those desiring to leave the Old World, the tide resumed its flow, and with a speed greatly accelerated: as, from authentic information, collected principally at the several customhouses, it appears that, during the year 1817, not less than 22,240 persons arrived at ports of the United States from foreign countries. This number included American citizens returning from abroad.

In no year previous to that had one half so many foreign passengers reached our shores. Many sufferings were incident to a voyage across the Atlantic in a crowded emigrant-vessel; and there were no laws of the United States either limiting the number of persons which a passenger ship or vessel should be entitled to carry, or providing any measures for the health or accommodation of the passengers. The subject seemed to deserve the immediate attention of Congress. In 1818 (March 10), Louis M Lane, of Delaware, reported to the House of Representatives a bill “regulating passenger ships and vessels, “which was read twice and referred.

In December of the following session it was called up by Thomas Newton, of Virginia, who explained the necessity of its passage. It was read a third time and passed by the House.

After receiving amendments from both the Senate and House, it was finally passed, and approved March 2, 1819.

In compliance with a requirement of this act, collectors of the customs have reported quarter-yearly to the Secretary of State the number of passengers arriving in their collection-districts by sea from foreign countries; also the sex, age, and occupation, of such passengers, and the country in which they were born. Annual reports, embracing that information, have, in conformity with the same act, been communicated to Congress by the Secretary of State; and, as before indicated, from these reports, chiefly, this history has been compiled.


PERIOD OF YEARSTotal Number of Passengers ArrivingOf Foreign BirthDuring the 10 years ending Sept. 30, 1829151,636128,502During the 10¼ years ending Dec. 31, 1839572,716538,381During the 9¾ years ending Sept. 30, 18491,479,4781,427,337During the 6¼ years ending Dec. 31, 18552,279,0072,118,404During the 36¼ years ending Dec. 31, 18554,482,8374,212,624

Of the 4,212,624 passengers of foreign birth arriving in the United States during the above-mentioned period of 36¼ years—

People bornCountry207,492England747,930Ireland34,559Scotland4,782 Wales1,348,682Great Britain and Ireland, the division not designated.2,343,445total number born in the United Kingdom. 1,206,087Germany35,995Prussia17,583Holland6,991Belgium31,071Switzerland188,725France11,251Spain6,049Portugal3,059Denmark29,441Norway and Sweden1,318Poland938Russia123Turkey7,185Italy108Greece338Sicily706Sardinia9Corsica116Malta526Europe, the division not designated.91,699British America5,440South America640Central America15,969Mexico35,317the West Indies16,714China101the East Indies7Persia16Asia, division not designated14Liberia4Egypt5Morocco2Algiers4Barbary States, the division not designated.2the Cape of Good Hope118Africa, the division not designated.278Canary Islands1,288Azorc Islands203Madeira Islands22Cape Verde Islands59Sandwich Islands5Society Islands79South Sea Islands3Isle of France14St. Helena20Australia; and—157,537others were born in countries not designated in the returns made by collectors of the customs.

The country having the largest emigration is, doubtless, Ireland; for, in addition to the 747,930 persons arriving from the United Kingdom, known to have been born in Ireland, it is safe to assume that, of the 1,348,682 others born, as indefinitely stated, in “Great Britain and Ireland,” arriving in the United States, 1,000,000 were born in Ireland alone, thus making 1,747,930 as the total Irish emigration.

Next in numerical order comes Germany; England, third; and France, fourth.

The emigration of Chinese to this country was very inconsiderable until 1854, previous to which year the aggregate number known to have arrived was only 88. In that year, however, 13,100 came to the United States; and, in 1855, 3,526; all of whom, with the exception of a single passenger, landed at the port of San Francisco: 15,950 were males, and were designated in the returns of the collector as “Laborers.”

As regards passengers from British America, the fact may be deemed worthy of mention, that many of them, especially of those arriving during the last four years, are known to have come with the intention of returning, and not of residing in the United States. The number of such can not, however, be determined.

Finally, to the 4,212,624 passengers of foreign birth arriving in the United States since September 30, 1819, may be added 250,000 as the number of immigrants who arrived prior to that date; making the total of foreign arrivals from the close of the Revolutionary War to December 31, 1855, 4,462,624.

Legal Rights of Naturalized Citizens

Aliens, naturalize agreeably to the acts of Congress, are not prohibited by the constitution of the United States the enjoyment of the same rights, and to the same extent, as natural-born citizens—with the single proviso that no person shall be eligible to the office of President or Vice-President except a citizen native born, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the federal constitution:

Congress can make no law to prohibit the free exercise of their religion; nor to abridge their freedom of speech:

The right of security in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, is not denied to them; nor are they prohibited the purchase and occupation of lands owned by the government.

The constitutions of several states concede to naturalized citizens, who may take their residence within the states, in general the same rights as are enjoyed by persons born therein. Among these rights may be mentioned that of electing and of being elected to office.

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