Immigrants, Nativists, and the Making of Chicago, 1835-1893
Cowan, Mimi. “Immigrants, Nativists, and the Making of Chicago, 1835-1893”, Boston College, 2015. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:104929.
Between 1835 and 1893, the majority of immigrants who settled in Chicago were of Irish or German birth. Even though the city’s economic leaders’ plans to transform Chicago into a center of international trade required the labor of these immigrants, Irish and German Chicagoans were still the targets of nativism. They were not, however, merely objects of nativism; instead, they were able to challenge nativist-inspired policies and assumptions about the inability of immigrants to become loyal Americans. They demonstrated their allegiance to the U. S. through service in independent ethnic militias and challenged policies that they felt unfairly targeted them, such as temperance laws in the 1850s, militia laws in the 1870s, and educational policy in the 1880s. But after 1865, as Chicago industrialized, labor conflict grew. As a result, the success of immigrants’ efforts to demonstrate their allegiance or combat nativist-inspired policies relied on their willingness to distance themselves from radicalism. While pre-1860 immigrant groups had banded together based on ethnicity, and often courted the support of and shared membership with ethnic labor organizations, by the end of the 1880s the class issues that were dividing the city also divided Irish and German ethnic organizations. After an unknown assailant threw a bomb during a labor rally in 1886, causing widespread fear of social revolution, Irish- and German-American ethnic leaders made clear their rejection of radicalism in order to continue to demonstrate their allegiance to the U. S. and their embrace of social and political views acceptable to the city’s elite. Their rejection of radicalism was in one sense a retreat, but it also assured that they would continue to be part of the process of constructing modern Chicago.