Post-revolution America: Population Growth due to Emigration from Europe

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, 2ND EDITION

By Allen Guelzo, Ph.D., Gettysburg College

In 1824, America was getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution. It was the last year of President James Monroe’s term, and most revolutionary leaders had died. During these 50 years, the American Republic had undergone dramatic changes. The most important one was the growth in population.

An 1899 chromolithograph of U.S. cavalry pursuing American Indians.
The end of Indian resistance facilitated the move of immigrants to the West.
(Image: Werner Company, Akron/Public domain)

American Population Dropped after the Revolution

According to the first federal census in 1790, the population of the US was lower than four million. In 30 years, the number had grown to more than nine million. The growth would be even more dramatic by 1850 when it would reach 23 million.

The first reason for this population growth was from natural causes and changes in birth rates. The marriage age for women in rural areas of Massachusetts from 1780 to 1789 was 23 or 24. During their childbearing years, they would be expected to have seven or eight children. After 1800, the marriage age rose to 25, and birth rates fell. Now, an average of 6 live births was expected. This number dropped to four by the 1830s.

However, this decrease in population proved to be of no significance because a massive numbers of European immigrants came to American ports. In the 19th century, Europe saw immense drainage of its population, who immigrated to different parts of the world. Specifically between 1815 and 1840, massive movements of people took place from the British Isles.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of the United States, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Drivers of Emigration from Europe

These movements had different reasons. One reason was related to demographics. Although European birth rates were much less than a century before, European death rates fell even faster due to the medical advances of the 1700s. As a result, the population in Britain rose from 10 million in 1800 to more than 26 million by 1870. This growth was despite the high emigration rates.

At the same time, British capitalism was moving from a commercial mode to an industrial mode. As a result, people moved from farmlands they had worked on for generations to the cities with uncertain and unbearable living conditions.

By 1830, every year 6,000 Scottish farmers were driven out of the highlands, and by 1832, 50,000 Protestant and Catholic Irish moved to America from British-ruled Ireland. Those who continued to work on the farms had to pay taxes because the British government had accumulated huge debts during the wars with Napoleon and was looking for ways to pay off the debts.

Immigrants on ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty, New York City, 1887.
European immigrants made up for the population decrease after the revolution. (Image: Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper,pp.324-325./Public domain)

But things were going to get more complicated. The famines created by frigid winters from 1825 to 1829 in Ireland and Germany were another factor. In contrast, the abundance of cheap land attracted people to America. In addition, America was a republic where military draft, censorship, political police, and aristocrats did not exist. Besides, taxes were one-tenth of those in Great Britain. So, people continued to go to America. In 1816, with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, 50,000 people immigrated to the US. And in the 1830s, 300,000 more flooded the country.

Learn more about venturing beyond the Appalachians.

America: a Convenient Destination for Immigrants

By 1840, the number of English-speaking immigrants to the US had reached 500,000. The conditions for immigration were uncomplicated for immigrants; they did not need any passport or health certificate. The only thing they needed was £10 or £12 to pay for the passage. Nobody would ask them about their identity, their destination, or their plans for living in the US. All they needed to do was to survive the voyage across the North Atlantic that took two to four weeks.  

The immigrants arrived in New York or Philadelphia. Thanks to the transportation revolution, they could go anywhere in the US. The low cost of transportation made moving of goods and people cheaper, so they could go beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap. (George Caleb Bingham, oil on canvas, 1851–52)
Many immigrants went beyond the Appalachian Mountains toward the West. (Image: George Caleb Bingham/Public domain)

Another thing that facilitated this massive immigration was the end of the War of 1812 that ended Indian resistance. In that year, Indian resistance in the northern woodlands broke down, Tecumseh was killed, and Andrew Jackson conquered the Red Sticks and crushed southern Indian resistance. The federal government managed to wipe out the Indian tribes from east of the Mississippi. All these events facilitated the move of immigrants to the West.  

Now, there were vast stretches of land available for developing and farming, waiting for newcomers to inhabit them and start their new lives on them.

Learn more about The American Revolution-politics and people.

Common Questions about Post-revolution America: Population Growth due to Emigration from Europe

Q: Why did European immigrants come to the United States?

European immigrants came to the US for different reasons. The most important one was the famine created by extremely cold winters from 1825 to 1829 in Ireland and Germany. At the same time, medical advances had led to population growth in Europe, which made life difficult for Europeans.

Q: How many Europeans immigrated to the US in the 19th century?

In 1816, with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, 50,000 people immigrated to the US. And in the 1830s, 300,000 more arrived in the US. By 1840, the number of English-speaking immigrants to the US had reached 500,000.

Q: How did Europeans come to America in the 19th century?

The conditions for immigration were very simple for immigrants; they did not need any passport or health certificate. The only thing they needed was £10 or £12 to pay for the passage. Nobody would ask them about their identity, their destination, or their plans for living in the US.

Q: Where did European immigrants settle after they moved to the US?

The immigrants arrived in New York or Philadelphia. Thanks to the transportation revolution, they could go anywhere in the US. The low cost of transportation made moving of goods and people cheaper, so they could go beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

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