American Immigration Policy, a Reappraisal

By William S. Bernard; Carolyn Zeleny et al. | Go to book overview
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1
Background of Our Immigration Policy

Only in recent years have we begun to understand the full significance of the great wave of migration which brought thirty- eight million people from Europe to the United States in the space of one hundred years. This movement of European peoples across the Atlantic has been vividly depicted by the historian, Marcus L. Hansen:

The years from the fall of Napoleon to the outbreak of the World War spanned exactly one hundred seasons of migration in which a great flood of humanity rolled westward across the Atlantic and swept over the waiting continent. To that flood every nation, every province, almost every neighborhood, contributed its stream. Beginning in Ireland and the valley of the Rhine, the fever of emigration extended towards the north and cast, gripping the English midlands, the Scandinavian countries and the north of Germany, spread southward through the Baltic provinces, Poland and Austria into Italy and, before it finally ran its course, afflicted the Balkans and the Near East. Only France and Spain proved immune so far as the United States was concerned. It is clear that the cause of so vast an exodus was wider than race or nationality and deeper than legislation or politics. It was not the mania of a single generation, nor of ideas that prevailed for a mere decade or two. The cause was as universal as the movement'itself.1

A unique convergence of social and historical conditions in Europe and America made this overseas migration possible. On the one hand, the European nations had begun to relax the rigid governmental controls over emigration which were part of the mercantile system of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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1
Marcus L. Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860 ( Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1940), p. 8.

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