CIVIL WAR EVE

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POPULATION ON THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR

 

The decade between the early 1840s and the late 1850s was a period of rapid settlement in the American Bottoms towns. Despite some loss of population during the California gold rushes of 1849 and 1857 and immigration to Kansas and Nebraska, the deficit was easily made up by migration to Illinois from New England and Europe (Cole 1922:8-15). New England farmers were forced to migrate because their agriculture could not compete with western productivity when bulk shipments by railroads drove eastern prices down. Immigration from Europe came about as a result of economic disruption, crop failures, and famines as well as political and religious persecution (Howard 1972:221-222; Ward 1971:50-52). During this time 85 percent of all immigrants came from northwestern Europe, including the British Isles, Germany, British America, and Scandinavia (Ward 1971:53). In the American Bottoms, Germans and Scandinavians were attracted by the opportunities for land ownership as well as the commercial opportunities in St. Louis and surrounding towns. The demand for construction labor on the railroads and terminal facilities provided jobs for many immigrants, especially the Irish, who had fled their homeland during the famine following the potato blight of the late 1840s (Chudacoff 1981:101-105; Ward 1971:52-53).

The European immigrants brought about vast changes in the character of the cities and towns in the St. Louis area. The Germans brought with them new skills in brewing, printing, and other crafts; the Scandinavians achieved success in construction; while the English and Irish were distinguished in jobbing and retailing. The more skilled and enterprising European immigrants were quick to capitalize on the opportunities that the American free enterprise system offered and soon were among the commercial elite of the western cities (Chudacoff 1981:104, 105).

The coming of the foreign immigrants added to the social and economic changes that were coming about as a result of the railroad revolution and improving commercial conditions in the west. Better transportation opened up wider markets for agricultural goods and livestock. Manufacturing experienced a stimulus as raw materials and markets were brought nearer to the western factories. The result was a good economic climate for those who were able to take advantage of the opportunities presented. This was the beginning of both an industrial and urban revolution in the country, with a concentration in a mosaic pattern of various cultural and socioeconomic entities, a forerunner of the industrial city to emerge later in the 19th century (Cole 1922:45-52).

 

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