Irish population in America

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVII

The disruption between the States and England, or rather the causes which led to it, re-opened whatever feelings there may have been against the mother country, and at the same time increased its bitterness a hundredfold. The tide of Irish emigration had set in even then—slowly, indeed, but surely; and it will be remembered that the Irish in America, few though they were, became the foremost to fan the flame of rebellion, and were amongst the first to raise the standard of revolt.

The States obtained a glorious freedom—a freedom which, on the whole, they have used wisely and well; and even their bitterest enemies cannot deny that they have formed a powerful nation—a nation which may yet rule the destinies of the world. Let us endeavour now to estimate in some degree the influence of Irish emigration on American society. If the history of Ireland were written in detail up to the present day, fully one-fourth the detail should comprise a history of the Irish in America. Never in the world's history has an emigration been so continuous or so excessive; never in the world's history have emigrants continued so inseparably united, politically and socially, to the country which they have left. The cry of "Ireland for the Irish," is uttered as loudly on the shores of the Mississippi as on the shores of the Shannon.

It is almost impossible to arrive at accurate statistics of the number of Irish in America, but a fair approximation may be obtained. The population of America, according to a recent writer, was, in 1840, 17,063,353; in 1850, it had risen to 23,191,876; it is now [1868], 35,000,000. In 1842, the imports were in value, $100,162,087; the exports, $104,691,534; and the tonnage was 2,092,391. In 1859, the imports were $383,768,130; the exports were $356,789,462; and the tonnage was 5,146,037. This increase is beyond all historical precedence, and a future historian, who found such amazing statistics of increase, and knew nothing of emigration, would be strangely puzzled to account for it. But if he searched the files of an old English or Irish newspaper office, whatever might have been the creed or politics of its proprietors, he would soon arrive at a satisfactory solution.

In the Irish Times, the leading Irish paper of the day, he would find the following reference to the present history of Ireland: " The Emigration Commissioners notice with some surprise the fact, that, during the past year [1867], the emigrants from Ireland were better clothed, and carried with them better furnished kits, than either the English or foreign emigrants. During the past year, 51,000 Irish emigrants left Liverpool alone—a regiment nearly one thousand strong every week. The loss of 100,000 persons annually, chiefly of the labouring classes, and generally strong, active, well-built men, affords matter for serious consideration. If the Government be contented that 100,000 yearly of the Irish population should increase the power of America [the italics are our own], they have but to, refuse those generous and considerate measures which alone can keep our people at home, by giving them a chance of progressing as they do in America."

This is the honestly avowed opinion of a Protestant paper, whose editors are beyond all suspicion of writing to encourage "Popery," or preach Fenianism. An admirable parliamentary comment has just occurred in the rejection of the Protestant Church Suspension Bill by the House of Lords, though there is no doubt that the good sense and the native justice of the English nation will at length compel its acceptance.

The fact is, that at this moment nearly one-half the population of America are Irish and Catholics. The writer lately quoted, cannot refrain from a sneer at the "low Irish" in America, to whom he attributes the "insult and injury" which he is pleased to consider that Americans manifest to foreign nations, and especially to England; he forgets the old sources of injury, which no American can forget; and he forgets, also, how easily the same "low Irish" might have been prevented from exhibiting the feeling which he attributes to them.