I would like to form a panel on various topics in immigration and nativism in the U.S. during the nineteenth century. Please contact me if you are interested.
Here is my individual paper proposal:
“Immigrants and Crime during the Antebellum Era”
Luke Ritter, Ph.D.
My current book manuscript aims to understand the Americans during the antebellum era who voiced their concerns about unregulated immigration and advocated political nativism. Nativists around the country held both irrational and rational reasons for supporting immigration reform. They experienced immigration pressures in cities well beyond the hubs of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia (the most examined places in the scholarly literature on immigration and nativism), and based their own conclusions, however incomplete, on actual contact as well as peripheral and media-driven hearsay.
Nativists were right that the wave of European immigration to the U.S. in the 1840s and 1850s brought an increase in crime, pauperism, and unlawfulness and that immigrants were disproportionately represented in urban poorhouses and prisons. This was an essentially urban problem in an era where bourgeoning cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and St. Louis confronted unforeseen and unprecedented conditions. I have collected a large amount of data (see charts below, for example), which has the potential to change the way scholars talk about the relationship between immigrants and crime in the nineteenth-century Midwest.
Nativists had good reason to worry that city administrators were not up to the challenge. They were ultimately wrong, however, that such rapid demographic change would mean the demise of the American city in the West because progressive urban planners and private benevolent organizations implemented seminal programs to manage complex urban problems and restore order and safety – including but not limited to an empowered professional police force, prisons and workhouses for criminals, almshouses for paupers, houses of refuge for orphans, insane asylums for the mentally disadvantaged, and emigrant societies for incoming destitute immigrants. The wealth generated by labor-intensive industrialism funded these massive urban programs and charitable organizations and fueled the steady economic growth of American cities for decades to come.
Luke Ritter, Ph.D.