Coming to America for most people was a voluntary act which held the hope of achieving Thomas Jefferson’s promise, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. For the Irish however, immigration was a last resort of survival from their infected homeland of Ireland by British control and famine. The emigration from Ireland came by the millions exploiting poignant views of prejudice from the natural-born Americans towards the new Irish-American citizens. The Irish people were negatively stereotyped by other Americans, shown through a political cartoon titled, “The Ignorant Vote” which was marketed in 1876 to visually compare the Irish with the fellow oppressed African Americans. Life in America was not easy for generations of Irish immigrants due to stereotypes fabricated by the natural-born Americans, which affected their living conditions and limited their job occupations.
In 1845, the Great Famine drove families in Ireland into poverty and caused mass starvation. To escape a likely fate of death, the Irish were forced to flee to America for a new opportunity of survival. Ensuing, between the years of 1815-1920, 5.5 million people emigrated from Ireland to America (Takaki, 140). Irish families in America tended to be larger than others, which was interpreted by the native-born citizens as a “lack of self-control” (Takaki, 149). To further confirm this stereotype as well as “lacking habits of punctuality and industry” (150), many of the Irish laborershad a drinking problem, often showing up to work inebriated.
To further demonstrate the condemning of Irish-Americans, a man named Thomas Nast developed a cartoon titled “The Ignorant Vote” comparing them to blacks. The two men are sitting on a scale at equal balance but the Irish man is depicted as an apelike man. Nast has drawn this picture to show that the black man is unfit to vote, thus the Irish man is also unfit to vote because of his equal stature. The Irish at this time were stereotyped “as apelike and ‘a race of savages,’ at the same level of intelligence as blacks” (Takaki 149) which is clearly shown in the political cartoon.
Irishmen immigrating to America were typically unskilled and were forced into labor. The men were only offered the jobs that no other American wanted to do because of how dangerous the task was. Many of them died in the work force building railroads and canals, they were “thought of nothing more than dogs…despised and kicked about” (Takaki, 147). The families were poor since the wages for Irish labor was low, that the families were constrained to terrible living conditions. As well, the “Irish were often dismissed from their jobs for laziness, gambling, and drinking” (Takaki, 149). These habits may have developed because of the hardships the Irish had to go through, which only proved the stereotypes given by the native-born Americans.
Living in America showed to be undoubtedly difficult for the Irish, “they had crossed the ocean in pursuit of riches, but failed to find ‘the gold on the street corners’” (Takaki, 148). After years of prejudice, public oppression, and life altering stereotypes, the Irish proved themselves durable since they are now the ones known as the ‘lucky’.