Most Irish immigrants moved to America due to potato crop failures in Ireland. They faced strong discrimination due to their Roman Catholic religion and had to compete with African Americans. Since they had limited skills and little money, they had to do domestic work and unskilled laborer jobs. Many entered local politics and joined the Democratic party.
Germans immigrated due to economic hardships and failed democratic revolutions. With considerable skills, many went westward and built farms. They had limited political influence but supported public education and opposed slavery.
Many native-born Americans feared the immigrants, because they thought immigrants would take their jobs and change their culture. Thus, people against immigration tended to vote for the Whig party. The nativists (those reacting most strongly to the foreigners) were Protestants who distrusted the Roman Catholicism practiced by the Irish and many of the Germans.
In the 1840s, opposition to immigrants led to sporadic rioting and the organization of a secret antiforeign society: the Supreme Order of the Star Spangled Banner
Art and Literature
The Hudson River School, the first American school of art, emphasized the power and beauty of nature. It often showed the fear of westward expansion destroying nature.
Literature mostly focused on themes of individualism and self-reliance. A new style of architecture, federal style, was similar to neo-classical.
Transcendentalism, one form of American philosophy, taught that the inside intuition connected people with God. With emphasis on individualism and self-sufficiency, it rejected Puritan tradition and rationalism of the Unitarian Church.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the founder of transcendentalism, wrote an essay called “Self-Reliance.” His friend, Henry David Thoreau, also wrote a book called Walden: Or Life in the Woods and believed in civil disobedience as well.
The idea of withdrawing from conventional society to create an ideal community or utopia, in a fresh setting was not a new idea. Never were these experiments as numerous as during the antebellum years.
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One of the earliest religious communal movements, the Shakers, had about 6,000 members in various communities by the 1840s.
In 1774, the leader Mother Ann Lee brought their radical beliefs to the United states. She believed that she was the feminine incarnation of Christ and advocated a new theology based on sexual equality. The Shakers name comes from their ritual dance. They believed in communal ownership and strict celibacy. They minimized their contact with the outside world because they believed Christ’s Second Coming to occur momentarily.
They held property in common and kept women and men strictly separate (forbidding marriage and sexual relations). For lack of new recruits, they died out by the mid-1900s