In the decade between 1846 and 1855, more than three million immigrants came to the United States, with a vast majority of them settling in the free states of the North. By 1855, foreign-born residents were becoming a majority group; immigrants approached or exceeeded half the total population of several Northern cities.
The new Americans arriving in this burst of immigration were nothing like those who had come before. Before 1840, three-quarters of all immigrants had been Protestants. Most were single men from the British Isles. Of those, a fifth became unskilled laborers or servants, and the remainder worked as farmers, skilled workers, or in professional occupations. But in the two decades after 1840, the typical immigrant's profile would radically change. More than half of all immigrants in these years were Catholics. Two-thirds were from Ireland, with the remainder from German-speaking countries. And the percentage of them who worked as unskilled laborers doubled.
The growing industrial economy of the North swallowed these new workers into its factories, employing them for long hours at low wages. These manufacturing jobs were repetitious and sometimes hazardous. And from their meager earnings, Northern laborers had to pay for every one of life's necessities.
For some Southerners, the situation of Northern workers looked a lot worse than slavery. In fact, they argued, unlike the "wage slavery" of the North, the slavery system in the South provided food, clothing, medical care, and leisure to slaves, caring for them throughout their lives. Prominent defenders of slavery, including George Fitzhugh, based their pro-slavery attitudes on a racist assessment of African Americans as inferior to whites.
On top of its fundamentally racist outlook, this Southern justification of slavery ignored the central issue of self-determination: Northern workers could make their own choices, leaving their jobs or possibly heading West to the frontier, while slaves could not.
The African American jazz composer and bandleader performed regularly at Harlem's Cotton Club, leaving a legacy in music.
With data compiled from tens of thousands of sex questionnaires, Alfred Kinsey changed America's views about sex with the Kinsey Reports.
A great playwright's turbulent story, from childhood through the years of his Nobel Prize-winning career to his lonely, painful death.
Martha Ballard was a midwife and mother in Maine following the American Revolution.
As a nation mourned the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a manhunt closed in on the twenty-six-year-old actor, John Wilkes Booth.
A saga of ambition, wealth, family loyalty and personal tragedy.
Lyndon Johnson pushed progressive programs before the Vietnam War eroded his support. Part of the award-winning Presidents collection.
The founding father laid the groundwork for the nation's modern economy, including the banking system and Wall Street.