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Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 09:39 am

Lincoln and the immigrants

 In “Wrong in principle” I recalled how, beginning in the 1830s and ’40s the arrival in Illinois of Germans, who spoke an incomprehensible language, and Irish, who obeyed an incomprehensible church, stirred the natives to use the power of government of the people and for the people against these people. I also recalled how Stephen A. Douglas used anti-immigrant fears against Abraham Lincoln in their 1858 race for the U.S. Senate, and wondered aloud whether nativist votes didn’t help elect enough sympathetic legislators that Stephen A. Douglas went to Washington that year instead of  Abraham Lincoln. 

 While Douglas exploited anti-immigrant sentiment, Lincoln embraced his new countrymen, who reciprocated. For example, he enjoyed the backing of anti-slavery German citizens, and in 1860 purchased a press used to print German-language newspaper backing his views.

 I was interested therefore to read this week that Southern Illinois University Press has brought out what is describes as the first full-length study of Lincoln's views on immigration. Lincoln and the Immigrant is the work of Jason H. Silverman, the Ellison Capers Palmer Jr. Professor of History at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

 The author notes that during Lincoln's political coming of age, between 1840 and 1860, America received more than four and a half million people as permanent residents from countries in, northern and western Europe plus Mexico and China. Sayeth the blurbers at SUIP, "While some Americans sought to make immigration more difficult and to curtail the rights afforded to immigrants, Abraham Lincoln advocated for the rights of all classes of citizens. . . . . Silverman reveals how immigrants affected not only Lincoln's day-to-day life but also his presidential policies and details Lincoln's opposition to the Know Nothing Party and the anti-foreign attitudes in his own Republican Party, his reliance on German support for his 1860 presidential victory," among other issues.

 I’ve not yet read it, but plan to.


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