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Webisode 8: Who's Land is This?
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Webisode 8
Whose Land is This?
Arriving in New York Harbor
This illustration from the July 2, 1887 issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper reads: "Welcome to the land of freedom -- an ocean steamer passing the statue of liberty: scene on the steerage deck." For many immigrants who sailed to Ellis Island after 1886, the Statue of Liberty represented their introduction to the American continent, and all it entailed.



In the last half of the nineteenth century, America offered two things in seemingly endless abundance: land and freedom. With the 1862 Homestead Act, Civil War veterans, the jobless, immigrants, newly freed African-Americans, and women pushed west. Most settlers ignored the rights of Native Americans who had inhabited these lands for thousands of years. Conflict between Native Americans and new settlers led to decades of broken treaties and bloodshed. The federal government tried to solve the "Indian problem" by restricting Native Americans to reservations, Americanizing them, and killing them. The promise of freedom and opportunity brought a flood of immigrants to the United States. Their desire for economic opportunity matched the nation's demand for a cheap labor force. They toiled before steel furnaces and textile looms, along dusty railroad lines, in farm fields, and deep within dark mines. They faced strong anti-immigrant sentiment and prejudice.

Yet these newcomers pursued the American dream with intense purpose and made America the most productive nation in the world,

A landmark Supreme Court case concerning Chinese immigrant Lee Yick further defined equality under the law for all persons, citizens or aliens, under the jurisdiction of the United States. Another immigrant, Mary Antin, eloquently described the hardships, and hopes shared by many immigrants in the late 1800s.

As the nation expanded after the Civil War, it faltered in offering freedom and opportunity for all. It failed to live up to its promises with Native Americans and new immigrants. Despite the mistakes, the hopes for liberty and opportunity continued to burn brightly.

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