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America's Troubles: Protestant Resistance to 19th Century Irish-Catholic Migration

Natives of the soil! Arouse!.jpg

In 1845, Ireland’s potato crop became infected, decimating not only the crop itself, but the Irish population as well. As a result, 500,000 Irish migrated to the United States between 1845 and 1850.1  Since the 1820s, however, America had been witness to an influx of young, male Irish migrants seeking work in an increasingly industrialized United States.2  Consequently, one third of all immigrants arriving in America from 1820-1860 were Irish.3  Upon arriving, Irish-Catholics faced harsh discrimination from native-born Protestants who sought to uphold America’s Protestant identity. Despite this, there remains a historical debate regarding the extent to which Irish-Catholics were discriminated against during the early and mid-19th century. While some, like historian Robert Dunne, agree that Irish-Catholics were severely marginalized,4  others, like Reginald Bryan, believe such a stance “enormously exaggerates the difficulties the Famine-era immigrants encountered.”5  Thus, the following research hopes not only to prove that Irish-Catholics were, in fact, marginalized, but that their Catholic faith was the primary reason.

[1] “European Emigration to the US 1851-1860,” Destination America, PBS, September 2005,

[2] Margaret M. Mulrooney, “The Ties That Bind: The Family Networks of Famine Refugees at the Du Pont Powder Mills, 1802-1902,” in Fleeing the Famine: North America and Irish Refugees, 1845-1851, ed. Margaret M. Mulrooney, (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 29.

[4] Robert Dunne, Antebellum Irish Immigration and Emerging Ideologies of ‘America’ A Protestant Backlash (Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002).

[5] Reginald Byron, Irish America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 55.

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