When an Influx of French-Canadian Immigrants Struck Fear Into Americans

The United States, while ostensibly welcoming immigrants from all over, has a peculiar history of demonizing those newcomers in waves, no matter where they came from. Some time later, we hear about it and wonder what the fuss was all about. One of those panics came from an influx of immigrants from -of all places- Canada. During the Civil War, shipments of cotton from the South ceased and New England mills shut down. As business resumed after the war, nearly a million French-Canadian workers arrived to operate the mills. While they became American citizens, they kept to themselves (mostly in squalid company tenements), spoke French, and worst of all, they were Catholic.

But U.S. opinion demanded of the naturalized citizen something more than a merely formal participation in civic life, and Franco-American efforts to preserve their culture soon aroused suspicion and enmity. By the 1880s, elite American newspapers, including The New York Times, saw a sinister plot afoot. The Catholic Church, they said, had dispatched French Canadian workers southward in a bid to seize control of New England. Eventually, the theory went, Québec would sever its British ties and annex New England to a new nation-state called New France. Alarmists presented as evidence for the demographic threat the seemingly endless influx of immigrants across the northeastern border, coupled with the large family size of the Franco-Americans, where 10 or 12 children was common, and many more not unknown.

Read about the struggles of the Franco-American immigrants at Smithsonian.

(Image source: The National Gallery of Art)


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People with ancestry from Germany were targeted some during WW1. My great grandfather allegedly lost his job with the post office because of it. My father was the last to speak the language. It's a bit ironic that my younger grandson knows it having studied in school.
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It's interesting to see how these immigrants, once they (or their descendant) consider themselves as native-born Americans, turn against the next wave of immigrants.
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"A peculiar history of demonizing those newcomers in waves, no matter where they came from".
A'yuh. At least we're equal opportunity racists. Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Polish, Irish - Everybody gets a turn. Plenty of people won't like this, but Cultural Assimilation defines Americans. It's who we are. "United" and all that. Not easy getting there either.
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