Stereotyping of the Irish Immigrant in 19th Century Periodicals
Immigrating to the United States during the 19th century was not the
magical solution for the majority of the newcomers. Many ethnic groups ran into prejudice in
America; with stereotyping being a major problem. The
Irish especially faced this problem in America, often being depicted
as hot-headed, old-fashioned,
and drunkards. During the 19th century, political cartoons were widely used to express
the widespread negative opinions about Irish immigrants.
Often the full stereotype meaning of the cartoon was subtle and could be missed by the casual
reader, while other times it was cruelly obvious.
The Irish were stereotyped as uncivilized, unskilled and
impoverished and were forced to work at the least desired occupations
and live in crowded ethnic ghettoes. Irish immigrants often
found that they were not welcome in America; many ads for employment
were accompanied by the order "NO IRISH NEED APPLY."
Throughout the 1800s, as hordes of technologically and agriculturally
unskilled Irish immigrants settled in the major cities of the east,
several anti-immigrant groups began to develop. Nativists
reacted to increased Irish immigration with violent riots and
increased demands for limits on immigrants' rights. These
nativist groups considered the immigrants as a threat and regarded the
Catholicism of the Irish as an alien and rebellious religion and
culture. During the mid-nineteenth century anti-Catholic riots struck
the major eastern cities and vandalism against Catholic institutions
became such a common practice that many insurance companies refused to
cover Catholic schools and churches.
Many nativists urged policies that would limit Irish political
power and immigrants' rights to vote and to hold public office, to be
passed. In 1849 The Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, a clandestine
society of nativists, emerged; its members pledged to only support
native-born Protestants for public office, to fight the Roman Catholic
Church and to support an obligatory 21-year waiting period for
naturalization. This society, later reformed into the American
party, when asked about their anti-immigrant activities would simply
reply "I know nothing," earning them the name the
Know-Nothings. This party with its motto "Americans Shall
Rule America" won many city and state elections throughout the
1850s and produced a multitude of political cartoons depicting the
Irish as a barbaric civilization.
Cartoons for magazines such as Harper's Weekly featured cartoons by
Thomas Nast and depicted Irish immigrants as ape-like barbarians prone
to lawlessness, laziness and drunkenness. "St. Patrick's Day,
1867...Rum, Blood, The Day We Celebrate" shows a riot with
policemen and ape-like Irishmen.
printed in 1889, stereotypes the Irish as unmixable in America's melting
This cartoon was labeled "A Question of Labor" and was published in Harper's Weekly in
The Conscription Act of 1863
made all white men between the ages of twenty and forty-five years
eligible for the draft by the Union Army. Blacks were not drafted or
forced to fight and white men with money could legally hire
a substitute. Lower-class whites (many of whom were Irish) resented the
draft. This print shows the 1863 riot in New York City by a mob of
lower-class whites (including many Irish).
An 1850s cartoon showing a "poor house" of immigrants from
An 1854 caricature of an Irish
immigrant in Dublin.
Cartoon showing the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day, 1867.
Thomas Nast cartoon from 1870 expressing the worry that the Irish
Catholics threatened the American freedom.
An 1854 Nathaniel Currier cartoon called "Taking a
'Smile" picturing Irish drinking.
A cartoon from the 1850s by the "Know-Nothings" accusing the
Irish and German immigrants of negatively affecting an election.
Harper's Weekly image of the
"coffin ships" showing the cramped, unhealthy
accommodations for the Irish immigrants.
These cartoons from an 1881 issue of Puck depict common held negative
views of most Irish-Americans.
Author: Christine Haug
[Not for reproduction without permission of the author]