J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Issue of Immigration—Running the Numbers

Yesterday I quoted from the Course of Human Events blog’s posting about The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government, a new analysis of the forces behind the Revolution by Yale history professor Steven Pincus.

Specifically, I discussed how Pincus’s book links the imperial debate of the 1760s and 1770s with the issues of economic stimulus and governmental austerity today, wondering how well the analogy works. Given the limitations on what the central British government did and could do in the eighteenth century, what sort of stimulus could Parliament cut back on?

Pincus’s answer relates to an even hotter hot-button issue of our day, immigration. Once again, from the Course of Human Events blog:
The British government had heavily subsidized immigration to North America. The colony of Georgia was even set up specifically so that Parliament could subsidize immigration of tens of thousands of people—including Scottish Highlanders, Italians, Germans, and the poor of England—to come to America. As Pincus explains, “All of that comes to a grinding halt in 1763, and throughout the 1760s and 1770s the British government tries desperately to stop immigration into North America.” The patriots argued that immigrants provided skills and were good consumers, which would drive the economy. Those against immigration argued that these individuals were polluting culture and providing competition that took jobs away from other people. “That strikes me as an interesting parallel to today’s debates”, says Pincus.
Here I have questions about what the American colonists perceived about immigration policy in the pre-Revolutionary period. Because they were actually seeing a growing influx of arrivals from Britain and northern Europe.

In Voyagers to the West (1986), Bernard Bailyn wrote:
…migration figures to mainland British North America before 1760—far greater than those to any other area of European colonization—pale next to the figures for the decade and a half that followed.

People flooded into North American between 1760 and 1775, first of all from the British Isles. Between the end of warfare and the disruption of the Empire in 1775, over 55,000 Protestant Irish emigrated to America; approximately 40,000 Scots, and over 30,000 Englishmen—a total of at least 125,000 from the British Isles alone. . . . But the British and Irish contributions together constituted only half the whole number of immigrants. In the same years at least 12,000 German-speaking immigrants entered the port of Philadelphia…
Other scholars have reached different conclusions about the numbers of immigrants, but they seem to agree on the upward trend. Carl L. Bankston III has written:
Northern Irish migration peaked between the 1750’s and the early 1770’s, with an estimated 14,200 people from northern Ireland reaching America from 1750 to 1759, 21,200 from 1760 to 1769, and 13,200 in the half-decade leading up to the American Revolution. Most of the Scots migration took place from 1760 to 1775, when about 25,000 new arrivals came to the colonies.
In “Migrations to the Thirteen British North American Colonies, 1700-1775” (Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Spring 1992), Aaron Fogleman estimated the number of Europeans coming into the thirteen North American colonies that broke away as:
  • 1740s: 51,500.
  • 1750s: 70,900.
  • 1760s: 75,500.
  • 1770s: 49,700 in the first five years, thus on pace for 99,400 for the whole decade until the war intervened.
Though these scholars’ estimates differ on the number of arrivals from Europe, they all agree that immigration to the North American colonies was up significantly during the 1760s and early 1770s. That’s the same period when Pincus says the imperial government’s support for such movement “comes to a grinding halt.”

So whatever the government in London was doing in those decades to “stop immigration into North America,” it wasn’t working. Maybe it kept the numbers down from where they would have been. But the colonists could see more people arrive from Europe every decade.

TOMORROW: Looking at the naturalization laws.

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