Mass immigration played a large role in the War for Southern Independence in some obvious ways. It provided a workforce for large scale industrialization, it populated the Midwest and created a large population and economic advantage when war did come, it brought large Catholic and Lutheran populations to the north threatening Yankee cultural purity, and it brought the neo-Marxists 48’ers to America following the failed European socialist revolutions of 1848. A less obvious impact of mass immigration was on African Americans in the North and labor in a broader sense before and after the war, the impact of which extends to today which is explored in a new book by Roy Beck.

Before addressing immigration, it’s necessary to have a general understanding of the poor conditions of the Black population in the north which is; of course, drastically different from what’s inferred in schools and through the media. As slavery gradually died in the North it was a long, generally unguided, process driven more by economics and demographics than morality that left a small Black population in fairly specific areas that was isolated, unwanted, and frequently persecuted.  While slave ownership wasn’t a big part of the Northern economy by the 1800’s slave transport continued to be. Northern states generally had some form of Black Code that was intended to limit the movements of free blacks, prevent further migration of blacks to the north and, to the extent possible, cause them to leave.  All of this had the effect of depopulating the northern states of African-Americans. At the time of the war the Black population in the north was only about 1% despite appearing to offer freedom to escaped slaves.

The conditions of those who exited slavery in the North were frequently not much different from life under bondage. Conditional manumissions and indentures were contributing factors to this as was the nature of work. Free blacks would commonly continue to reside in the same household with their former owners. The frequency of this appears to have increased in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Domestic service, service jobs, and other marginally skilled roles were the norm including food preparation and catering, cutting hair, cleaning chimneys, and driving coaches. In 1800 roughly one fifth of slaveholding families in New York City had free Blacks living with them as did one-third in Kings Country (Berlin, 1998, p. 238). In New York there was a Black artisan population but this was the exception and not the norm. Free Blacks continued to be governed by the same laws and regulations that they did as slaves including curfews, travel restrictions, inability to vote, serve on juries, or testify in court, and exclusion from militia service (Berlin, 1998, pp. 238-39).

Gradually from the time of the revolution forward the Black population in the north became increasingly urbanized which was also impacted by the arrival of Caribbean immigrants. By 1830, there were hardly any Blacks in the rural North.  In 1826 a Hudson Valley newspaper wrote “few of this ill-fated race, more wise and faithful than the rest, still remain in their old chimney corners to spend their days in comfort (Berlin, 1998, p. 243).” There also developed a gender imbalance with many more black women than men in Northern cities.  In New York City, women from 14 to 26, prime household formation years, outnumbered men two to one. This was due to young men being sold south and others finding work at sea which was the largest employer of free black men (Berlin, 1998, p. 244).

As the New England antislavery movement developed, the term “freedom” had significantly different meanings to different people which were, in turn, not what people today would assume the meaning to be projecting modern ideas back to a distant time. To the slave, freedom aligned most closely with the impression given by the antislavery rhetoric of an independent life with legal rights and economic opportunity. To slave owners, it could mean a combination of things including freedom from the newly recognized sin of owning slaves, freedom from managing slaves, and freedom from the continual presence of slaves. For whites who didn’t own slaves, it meant freedom from ongoing political narrative and ultimately freedom from the existence of slaves in their society (Melish, 2016, p. 163). The common point here being that amongst whites in the north, freedom didn’t mean emancipation and inclusion of slaves but the absence of them. Because the elimination of a category of people was most commonly equated with the elimination of those occupying that category, ending slavery was seen as the removal of the unwanted black presence and the restoration of New England to its original ideal state as a homogenous white society.  Quoting Emerson, “The abolitionist seeks to abolish slavery, but because he wishes to abolish the black man.” (Melish, 2016, pp. 163-64)

Was all this caused principally, if not entirely, by ethno-religious prejudices or were there other factors at play? Author Roy Beck in his new book, Back of the Hiring Line – A 200 Year history of immigration surges, employer bias, and depression of Black wealth, provides a simpler explanation based principally on economics as the initial variable and shows how Black wealth and standing has been very strongly inversely related to immigration throughout the history of America. Beck is president of Numbers USA, a citizen-action group working to reduce immigration, and throughout his book he notes that the observations he makes about black workers and immigration also extend to workers of all races however, in the case of African-Americans there was a cumulative effect that prevented the accumulation of family wealth and development of job skills for more highly skilled and higher paying jobs.

Beck states that in 1820 there were 100,000 free blacks in the industrial work force in the North which was small but significant given the smaller population of the time (Beck, 2021, pp. 8-10).  From that point, however, mass non-English European immigration took off and the Black workers were systematically displaced by the immigrants who were willing to work longer hours in worse conditions for less income. This then raises the question of whether the lack of economic, social, and political standing caused a deficiency in income and wealth or was caused by it. The European immigrants came in such large numbers that, despite the rapid expansion of industry, there was a labor surplus prior to the war that kept wages and working conditions from improving.  Each wave of arrivals became the economic victim of the next wave. How might history have been changed if immigration was constrained at least to the point where there was a labor shortage during these decades? To the Yankee the new immigrants were another sort of foreign population that threatened the ethnic and religious homogeneity of the north but the economic benefits outweighed the cultural implications. This then led to attempts to “Christianize” and “Americanize” the newcomers, who were largely Catholic, which never succeeded to any significant extent but the European immigrants remained an underclass lacking wealth and political power. The number of Catholics in New England would rapidly catch and surpass the Northern Protestants as persecution strengthened the Catholic Church and northern Evangelicalism started to lose followers through secularization.

The war caused a pause in immigration and immigration didn’t return to its previous levels until the 1880’s. During this time there was some limited Black migration north to fill low end minimally skilled jobs in the overwhelming majority of cases.  Many advanced quickly into more skilled positions with some starting their own business and others becoming policemen and some even found their way onto city councils. In Cleveland 1/3 of Black workers in 1870 held skilled jobs (Beck, 2021, pp. 8, 39-41). In the 1880’s, however, mass immigration didn’t just return but accelerated to new levels and the economic foundation of the emerging Black middle class in the north collapsed as bigotry again became a luxury employers could afford.

Finally in 1917, Congress passed legislation to limit immigration through immigration criteria. President Wilson vetoed the legislation but the House and Senate solidly overrode the veto (Beck, 2021, pp. 68-69). Legislation had been proposed and came close to passing for some time prior to that but couldn’t overcome business and banking opposition to such constraints.  This brought about a gradual but steady change in the fortunes of not just Black workers but all workers and leveled the distribution of wealth and income but the relative improvements were greatest for black workers and others who tended to be to hold lower wage jobs.  It also coincided with a mass migration of Black and White Southerners to fill jobs in the West and North. Following the Depression, the gains were really impressive and Beck refers to the era from the 1940’s to 1970 as “The Great Leveling”. Most of these gains came before the Immigration Act of 1965, which again opened the immigration flood gates, and slowed and then reversed real wage gains after that (Beck, 2021, p. 12).

There is a degree of political irony in passing the immigration restrictions.  The 2nd Klan, which existed from roughly 1915 to 1926 and was far more of an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic movement than it was anti-Black, played a significant role in limiting the Catholic and Southern and Eastern European mass immigration. The Klan’s motivation was more along the line of cultural preservation as opposed to being economic, which aligned with Yankee Progressivism of the time, and wound up dramatically improving the lives of groups they opposed. There probably has never been a time when the American populous actually favored mass immigration, legal or illegal, but business interests do favor it so that is the policy that has held sway except for this one exception. Without a convergence of motivations at this unique time in history, it might well not have happened.

In the 60’s along with the Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act was the Great Society. The net effect on African-Americans was clearly negative but it can be argued which of these changes was initially at least more at fault. In the decade prior to the passage of these acts, Black representation in professional, technical, and other high level positions had more than doubled and in the 1940’s when there was no civil rights movement the increase was even greater.  Thomas Sowell observed “The Civil Rights Act represented no acceleration in trends that had been going on for many years”  (Woods T. E., 2004, pp. 205-8). Walter E. Williams further observed, “In every census from 1890 to 1954, blacks were either just as active as or more so than whites in the labor market. During that earlier period, black teen unemployment was roughly equal to or less than white teen unemployment. As early as 1900, the duration of black unemployment was 15 percent shorter than that of whites; today it’s about 30 percent longer” (Williams, 2017).  In light of the obvious causal correlation between government policy and deterioration of black income and wealth, the case to associate black economic misfortune to a history of slavery becomes absurd. The correlation was in the immediate past and has always been.

By the mid-1980’s the gains that American workers had experienced from the mid-century were rapidly evaporating and this was subsequently made worse by trade and monetary policies that have prioritized the very wealthy over average citizens. Black-Americans were disproportionately impacted by this and it’s all the result not of well intended accidents but deliberate policies creating both poverty and dependency.


Beck, R. (2021). Back of the Hiring Line. Arlington, Virginia: NumbersUSA.

Berlin, I. (1998). Many Thousands Gone. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Melish, J. P. (2016). Disowning Slavery Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England 1780 – 1860. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Williams, W. E. (2017, September 20). Creators Syndicate. Retrieved 2021, from

Woods, T. E. (2004). The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Washnigton, DC: Regency Publishing Company.


James (Jim) Pederson

James (Jim) Pederson is a systems engineer specializing in data analytics for a major a aerospace company who is a self taught independent historian and active member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. He currently resides in Texas.


  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    Destroy the family, destroy the culture. BT Washington was replaced by mlk in the 1960s. This change was thrust upon blacks by the same group of megadonors who recently ceased funding harvard’s insane asylum. BT Washington was an honorable man…mlk was a serial adulterer, serial plagiarist, Christian “preacher” who was a denier of Christ as Son of God…and he was a communist.

    By adopting mlk as their standard, turning a blind eye to his cheating on his wife hundreds of times, by accepting this as the norm, black America became mlk. Once as hard-working and honest as BT Washington, blacks devolved into mlk…a man not worthy of capitalization.

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