History Alive! The United States
Enrichment Essay and Activity

Chapter 4: Life in the Colonies
America, Land of Diversity: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in the United States
The United States has always been a nation made up of many nationalities. People of different countries have brought varied ideas about religion, politics, tradition, and custom to American shores. As a consequence, there have been conflicts between various groups-but also benefits.

Read the points below and refer to information in Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 13, 16, 17, 19, 22, and 23 to answer these questions:

  • •  America was a melting pot from the very beginning.
  • •  People from many nations joined the native inhabitants to form a highly diverse nation.
  • •  In colonial times there were English, German, Scots-Irish, African, French, Dutch, Swedes, Jews, Irish, Swiss, and Scots Highlanders settlers.
  • •  In the 1830s and 1840s huge numbers of Irish made their way to the United States in an attempt to escape a famine in their homeland.
  • •  Between 1820 and 1920 German immigrants outnumbered Irish immigrants.
  • •  In the late 19th century, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe escaped poverty, religious persecution, and warfare by making the voyage to America.
  • •  People from such diverse backgrounds brought widely divergent religious beliefs. Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Shakers, Quakers, and a host of other religious groups came to America.
  • •  Religious differences sometimes led to conflict and persecution in different periods in the nation’s past. Puritans persecuted the Quakers. Irish Catholics met with difficulty from the earliest periods. They found a home in colonial Maryland but little acceptance elsewhere. The anti-Catholic backlash was a part of the nativism (dislike of foreigners) targeted at the Irish in the early 19th century. As Jewish and Catholic Eastern Europeans made their way from Poland and Russia in the late 19th century, they were met by a new wave of anti-immigrant feelings.
  • •  By the 18th and 19th centuries, state laws and the nation’s Constitution guaranteed religious freedom and the separation of church and state. As a consequence, religious conflicts were mostly resolved.
  • •  The conflict and cooperation among immigrant groups was most pronounced in urban settings where immigrants came to find work. They lived side by side in urban neighborhoods. New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco became true world capitals with people from many nations settling in them.
  • •  Class differences between immigrants were most obvious in cities. Many immigrants began their lives in America at the very bottom of the economic ladder and were taken advantage of by business owners. Urban slums cropped up in every major American city.
  • •  Political conflicts were not as obvious as religious ones. For some groups, such as African Americans or women, political progress was painfully slow. However, most white males, even recent arrivals, saw the advantages of democracy.
  • •  In spite of the widespread acceptance of many groups to American society, African Americans faced harsh treatment throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Most lived as slaves, beginning in 1619 when the first Africans landed in Jamestown, Virginia until 1865 when the Civil War ended. Thereafter, they lived as second-class citizens throughout the country, but especially in the South. Equality was very slow in coming, and was not achieved in great part until the late 20th century.
  • •  The United States benefited greatly from its diversity. Different racial and ethnic groups gifted the country in a variety of ways. From the English, came the gift of democracy. From Africans, came economic prosperity, art, music, poetry, and inventions. Mexican Americans contributed ranching, Spanish architecture, salsa, and irrigation. Native Americans gifted the nation with many of the crops that now feed American citizens, a sense of respect for the environment, and spiritual sensitivity. There are many more contributions than can be listed here. Diversity has made America a great nation.

Enrichment Activity
  1. How were conflicts between people of various racial, ethnic, and religious groups resolved during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries?
  2. Explain the relationship between urbanization and conflicts resulting from differences in religion, social class, and political beliefs.
  3. Analyze the contributions of people of various racial, ethnic, and religious groups to our national identity.

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