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Immigration Policy and the Shaping of U.S. Culture

Becoming America

Roger White

The author examines the relationships between immigration policy, observed immigration patterns, and cultural differences between the United States and immigrants’ source countries. The entirety of U.S. immigration history (1607-present) is reviewed through a recounting of related legislative acts and by examining data on immigrant inflows and cross-societal cultural distances.
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Chapter 2: The Colonial Era and the Northern and Western European wave, 1607–1874

Becoming America

Roger White

Extract

We review U.S. immigration history during the period from 1607 through 1874. During these years, few laws restricted immigration, but there were restrictions on who could become a citizen. We argue that America’s colonial ties to Britain and restrictions on naturalization encouraged emigration from Northern and Western European countries and discouraged emigration from other locales. The 1790 U.S. Census supports this assertion. In that year, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population (and 97.8 percent of the free population) were either immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, or France or descendants of someone from one of these countries. We contend that the ancestral mix of the Colonial population fostered a cultural transfer from Northern and Western Europe to the American colonies. Further contributing to this transfer is that 88.5 percent of all immigrant arrivals between 1820 and 1874 were also from Northern or Western Europe.

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