High School Student Proves Professor Wrong When He Denied “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Existed

Irish immigrants were often depicted as apelike as in this cartoon by Thomas Nast.

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For many years, the employment ad or sign indicating “No Irish Need Apply” had been part of the historical memory of discrimination against the Irish immigrant in America. In 2002, University of Illinois Professor Richard Jensen set out to disprove the existence of such signs. As recounted by the Irish Central website:

Jensen claimed that because his exhaustive search for any material or archival evidence of the NINA signs yielded only one result, they were likely a myth, a figment of the collective Irish American imagination.

“The fact that Irish vividly ‘remember,’ NINA signs is a curious historical puzzle,” he stated.

“There are no contemporary or retrospective accounts of a specific sign at a specific location. No particular business enterprise is named as a culprit. No historian, archivist, or museum curator has ever located one; no photograph or drawing exists.”

Jensen’s article appeared in the Oxford Journal of Social History, and now the same journal has an article definitively debunking the Jensen Thesis that NINA signs did not exist. Incredibly, the new article was authored by a teenaged high schooler. Rebecca A. Fried, a student at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, found numerous instances of ads in major American newspapers and small-town journals advertising for workers with the prohibition “No Irish Need Apply.”

I have long had a personal interest in this question. When Jensen’s original article appeared in 2002 I was active on the Urban Legends Message Board (snopes) where it was an object of much discussion. Even with the more limited data bases of the time I came up with two ads that said Irish would not be accepted for employment. However, in later years Jensen’s Thesis became part of the wallpaper of discussion, with a lot of academics just accepting that the signs had never existed.

ursiline-conventThe burning of the Catholic Ursuline Convent in 1834 outside of Boston by a nativist mob was the opening incident of violence against the Irish.

I will admit that a few years ago I cautioned a colleague who wrote something about NINA that Jensen’s paper that indicated that the ads were not common. So, even though I had seen some NINA ads, a peer-reviewed paper in an Oxford journal led me to question my own lying eyes.

When I told my girlfriend Michele Ascione about the article by Rebecca Fried debunking Jensen, she did a quick search on the Brooklyn Eagle archive at the Brooklyn Public Library, and that one newspaper had scores of ads or articles using the term “No Irish Need Apply”. I guess Professor Jensen did not look through Walt Whitman’s old newspaper. You can go through some of her search results here.  I looked through some other newspaper archives and came up with even more. I will post some of the ads I found along with some of Ms. Fried’s finds throughout this article.


Before we get to the debunking by Ms. Fried, we should first listen to Professor Jensen, a Yale PhD. and a retired professor from the University of Illinois, whose abridged article can be read here.

Jensen attracted a lot of attention because he did not just write that the NINA signs did not exist, he said the Irish were and are delusional, that in order to sustain a sense of victimhood they had manufactured a group-wide lie of discriminatory anti-Irish ads and signs. He said that believing that No Irish Need Apply Signs existed was the Irish equivalent of believing in leprechauns. Here is what Jensen wrote more than a decade ago:

The Irish American community harbors a deeply held belief that it was the victim of systematic job discrimination in America, and that the discrimination was done publicly in highly humiliating fashion through signs that announced “Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply.”

This “NINA” slogan could have been a metaphor for their troubles—akin to tales that America was a “golden mountain” or had “streets paved with gold.” But the Irish insist that the signs really existed and prove the existence of widespread discrimination and prejudice.

The fact that Irish vividly “remember” NINA signs is a curious historical puzzle. There are no contemporary or retrospective accounts of a specific sign at a specific location. No particular business enterprise is named as a culprit. No historian, archivist, or museum curator has ever located one; no photograph or drawing exists.

No other ethnic group complained about being singled out by comparable signs. Only Irish Catholics have reported seeing the sign in America—no Protestant, no Jew, no non-Irish Catholic has reported seeing one.


Brooklyn Eagle May 1, 1863

According to Jensen, the historical record is virtually silent on NINA. He writes:

The business literature, both published and unpublished, never mentions NINA or any policy remotely like it. The newspapers and magazines are silent. The courts are silent. There is no record of an angry youth tossing a brick through the window that held such a sign. Have we not discovered all of the signs of an urban legend?… The complete absence of evidence suggests that probably zero such signs were seen at commercial establishments, shops, factories, stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor recruiters etc. anywhere in America, at any time. NINA signs and newspaper ads for apartments to let did exist in England and Northern Ireland, but historians have not discovered reports of any in the United States, Canada or Australia. The myth focuses on public NINA signs which deliberately marginalized and humiliated Irish male job applicants. The overwhelming evidence is that such signs never existed.

nina-march-29-1860Brooklyn Eagle March 29, 1860

Bizarrely, Jensen says that the Irish cooked up the story of having endured being discriminated against to protect themselves from the individualism of American society. Although violence against the Irish immigrants was initiated in the 1830s, Jensen claims that “The use of systematic violence to achieve Irish communal goals might be considered a “premodern” trait.” Since the violence was initiated by nativist Know Nothings, does that not make the native—born Anglo Saxon community similarly “premodern?”

Jensen detailed his research and its results:

An electronic search of all the text of the several hundred thousand pages of magazines and books online at Library of Congress, Cornell University Library and the University of Michigan Library, and complete runs of The New York Times and The Nation, turned up about a dozen uses of NINA.

The complete text of New York Times is searchable from 1851 through 1923. Although the optical character recognition is not perfect (some microfilmed pages are blurry), it captures most of the text. A search of seventy years of the daily paper revealed only two classified ads with NINA

Jensen argued that the American adaptation of an English song, No Irish Need Apply, helped foster the myth. He resorts to the stereotype of the drunken Irishman, writing that “After a few rounds of singing and drinking, you could easily read the sign.” So alcoholism helped create the Irish delusion of having been the victims of discrimination. Sort of an Irish historical delirium tremens

Jensen also denies that there was ever a major movement of nativistsdirected against Irish immigrants. He writes that “Political mobilization against the Irish was never successful. The most important effort was the Know Nothing movement, which swept the Northeast and South in 1854—56. It was a poorly led grass roots movement….” In fact, the Know Nothings came to control several state governments and secured the coveted office of Speaker of the House of Representatives. Its 1856 presidential candidate was not some obscure figure, but was the former President of the United States Millard Fillmore.

Jensen makes the absurd claim that far from being anti-immigrant bigots, “The Know-Nothings were primarily a purification movement,” a “good-government” party trying to clean up corrupt government. He says that “There was no known employment discrimination. Know-Nothing employers, for example, were never accused of firing their Irish employees.”

Jensen argued that other anti-immigrant groups were similarly unsuccessful. “Likewise there were few visible effects of the APA movement of the 1890s, or the KKK in the 1920s.” Of course, the KKK secured the passage of the most restrictive laws against immigration in our country’s history in 1924, but Jensen ignores that fact.

After attacking the Irish for using labor union solidarity and high levels of civic participation to achieve some degree of power, Jensen says the working class Irish wrongly libeled “Benign Protestant factory owners” by charging them with discrimination.

nina-feb-16-1865Brooklyn Eagle Feb. 16 1865

Jensen wrote that the Irish had a “chip on their shoulder” and that they used the “myth” of having been discriminated against to justify “bullying strangers” which he says “helped sour relations between Irish and everyone else.” The delusions of the Irish did not end as they entered the middle class after World War II, according to Jensen. The NINA story was resurrected by the Irish “in recent years as the Irish feel the political need to be bona-fide victims.”

In one of the most bigoted passages of his essay, Jensen asks; “If we conclude the Irish were systematically deluding themselves over a period of a century or more about their primary symbol of job discrimination the next question to ask is, was it all imaginary or was there a real basis for the grievances about the economic hostility of Protestants to Irish aspirations? Historians need to be critical. Because a group truly believes it was a victim, does not make it so.” Jensen, of course, believes that it was not so.

nina-nov-18-1868Brooklyn Eagle November 18, 1868

Jensen is also implicitly critical of Irish American strategies for getting ahead in America. Unlike native –born Protestant Americans who presumably advanced in the modern American way through individual gumption and smarts, the Irish “tended to work in equalitarian collective situations, such as labor gangs, longshoremen crews, construction crews, or with strong labor unions, usually in units dominated numerically and politically by Irishmen. Wage rates were often heavily influenced by collective activity, such as boycotts, strikes and union contracts, or by the political pressures that could be exerted on behalf of employees in government jobs, or working for contractors holding city contracts, or for regulated utilities such as street railways and subways.” The Irish maintained this egalitarian labor solidarity by allegedly lying to themselves about having been the victims of discrimination.

nina-bostonBoston Evening Transcript June 9, 1860

Jensen also depicted the Irish as a terrorist element in American society. Irish labor “Solidarity (with or without formal union organization) made for excellent bargaining power, augmented as needed by the use of intimidation, strikes, arson, terrorism and destructive violence to settle any grievances they may have had with their employers.” Mind you, the use of violence against workers by “benevolent Protestant factory owners” was quite common until the 1930s.

If you want a sense of how delusional Dr. Jensen is, he writes that apart from the Irish, “Discrimination against newer immigrant groups can be identified as late as 1941.” Apparently, the internment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor was not discrimination. Mexicans have not been discriminated against since 1941, nor have Salvadorans. At least not in Jensen’s discrimination-free America.

NINA-July-27-1865-Boston-Evening-TranscriptBoston Evening Transcript July 27, 1865

Rebecca Fried summarizes Jensen’s conclusions at the start of her article:

The core of Jensen’s critique is a series of findings that there was no evidence, or virtually no evidence, supporting various components of the NINA narrative. He argues that “NINA ads for men were extremely rare,” and he reproduces an image of “the only NINA ad for men anyone has ever found.” He writes that “[t]here are no contemporary or retrospective accounts of a specific sign at a specific location,” and that “[n]o particular business enterprise is named as a culprit.” Finding that “[t]he newspapers and magazines are silent,” he concludes “that probably zero [NINA] signs were seen at commercial establishments, shops, factories stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor recruiters, etc. anywhere in America, at any time,” and that certainly “reports of sightings in the 1920s or 1930s” were impossible and demonstrative of the myth’s “impervious[ness] to evidence.”

NINA-November-10Philadelphia Inquirer Nov. 10, 1906

Fried writes that “Jensen’s belief that there is “only [one] NINA ad for men [that] anyone has ever found” is incorrect.” In fact, she found numerous ads with the words No Irish Need Apply stretching over eight decades. The earliest example…appearing on January 15, 1842 in the [New York] Sun, solicited “[m]en and boys to carry pies” in New York City. It specified a preference for “[t]hose who are accustomed to it,” and instructed interested parties to “[a]pply 139½ Mott st., near Grand.” It concluded with a NINA restriction: “No Irish need apply. Best of references required.””

NINA-NovemberJersey Journal Nov. 25, 1914

NINA ads were published at many different times and places in America and across occupational categories. Fried writes that:

the broad temporal, geographic, and subject-matter dispersion of the NINA-restricted advertisements suggests that they were not limited to particular, narrowly defined circumstances. We have more NINA advertisements from the 1840s than from any other decade, but from the 1850s through the first decade of the twentieth century, the frequency of NINA-restricted advertisements remains generally similar. Moreover, many cities are represented, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, the District of Columbia, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Wheeling, Virginia, Emporia, Kansas, Warren, Pennsylvania, Alpine, Texas, and Monmouth, Illinois. And the occupations advertised in the appendix are widely representative of those occurring in the newspaper want ads of their time, including clerks at stores and hotels, bartenders, farm workers, house painters, hog butchers, coachmen, bookkeepers, blackers, workers at lumber yards, upholsterers, bakers, gilders, tailors, and papier mache workers, among others. The evidence thus suggests that NINA-restricted advertisements were not likely to have been cabined to narrow periods of time, small geographical areas, or particular occupations.

Contrary to Jensen, Rebecca Fried found that people reported seeing NINA ads and signs. Fried writes “One nineteenth century writer remarked, on arriving in the United States, that “It is common in advertisements for servants in New York, as in London, to append, ‘No Irish need apply.’” Another asserted of Milwaukee, without apparent fear of contradiction, that “[t]he sign, ‘No Irish need apply’ has frequently been seen, and is yet seen in newspaper advertisements.””

The high school student writes that at least one employer was forced to post a NINA sign by an armed nativist mob:

John Frederick Brennan, writing in 1892, recounts the posting of a NINA placard on a mill that solicited workers to repair “roadways and embankments” during a period of high unemployment: “In addition to a hundred Irishmen who rushed for the proffered fifty cents a day, four hundred skilled American workmen appeared upon the ground solicitous for employment upon any terms. Bill Percival, the gambler and Democratic wheel-horse, appeared at their head, and many of them were armed with bludgeons, and not a few with knives and pistols. At the demand of Mr. Percival, Mr. Cheney, of the mills, was compelled to hang a sign at the gate of the institution, reading “NO IRISH NEED APPLY.” The Irish, without weapons and in such inferior numbers, discretely retired.”

Note that while Jensen talks about the Irish as labor terrorists, this was just one of many examples of Irish workers being terrorized by nativists.
NINA signs were not restricted to small businesses. The Chicago Railway Company engaged in NINA postings, prompting a union to be organized by its workers.

Fried finds a number of newspaper references to Irish Americans actively campaigning against NINA postings. This contradicts Jensen’s claim that there were no indications of resistance to NINA, and therefore no NINA signs. She found announced boycotts of employers, as well as other labor actions, to end the posting of NINA ads and signs.

The student historian also finds disapproving mention of the signs in newspapers. For example, in 1883 this appeared in an Ohio newspaper; “We saw a notice the other day, to wit: A good and reliable man wanted to clean Bridge Lamps. ‘No Irish need apply.’ Call on or address Police Headquarters, Port Washington, Ohio.”

Fried demolishes Jensen’s contention that there were no court cases involving NINAs. She found two. One was brought in 1853 claiming that in printing a NINA ad the New York Herald had libeled the Irish people. In an 1881 lawsuit, the plaintiff proved that a prominent politician had written in a letter that “No Irish Need Apply.”

NINA-Saturday-April-17Anaconda Standard (Montana) April 17, 1909

Jensen claimed that if NINA advertising had really existed, it would have been used in Confederate propaganda during the Civil War to alienate the Irish from the Northern war effort. Fried writes that “NINA was indeed used as a propaganda point against the North. In July 1861, the Fayetteville Observer published an article entitled “No Irish Need Apply,” exclusively devoted to lampooning”;

the frequent advertisement in New York” of solicitations bearing that restriction. The Observer cited this as an example of the hypocrisy of “these beautiful doublevoiced instruments of Abolition!” And it concluded by paraphrasing the northern sentiment as “exclaim[ing]”: ““Return to us, beloved Seventh, our sons and brothers of Fifth Avenue, and other fine places; we need you here, to support the police and keep the d—d Dutch and Irish down.”

In short, she writes that while Jensen believes that Confederate propagandists “did not mention job discrimination or NINA…such propaganda did indeed exist as Jensen opines it should have if NINA was a real and pervasive phenomenon. By Jensen’s own reasoning, then, this strongly supports the widespread reality of NINA restrictions in Northern States during the Civil War era.

nina-charlestonThe Charleston Mercury of June 15, 1861 is an example of Confederate propaganda using No Irish Need Apply to influence immigrants not to enlist in the Union Army.

In her damningly understated conclusion Fried writes:

These discrepancies require substantial modification to Jensen’s thesis that the NINA phenomenon is an ahistorical memory to be explained by “delu[sional]” group psychology and “the political need to be bona-fide victims” rather than by the fact of historic discrimination. The documentary record better supports the earlier view that Irish-Americans have a communal recollection of NINA advertising because NINA advertising did, in fact, exist over a substantial period of United States history, sometimes on a fairly widespread basis.

Professor Jensen decided to challenge Rebecca Fried in the comments section of Irish Central which published a detailed article on the teenager’s research. Dr. Jensen wrote:

I’m the PhD who wrote the original article. I’m delighted a high school student worked so hard and wrote so well. No, she did not claim to find a single window sign anywhere in the USA—the signs DID exist in Britain & Canada. Yes there were NINA newspaper ads—I was the one who found the first one—but I argued they were very rare. If a man read every job want-ad in his newspaper every week for 40 years, he would have a 50-50 chance of coming across one NINA ad in his lifetime. That’s what I called very rare—& the student called very common. Richard Jensen

Rebecca Fried replied quickly:

Professor, thanks so much for the reply. I really appreciate it. I do have to say that the article does in fact list a number of posted physical NINA signs, not just newspaper ads. Pages 6-7 catalogue a number of the signs. I also have to respectfully disagree with your numerical calculation. I explain why at page 25 of the article, which is a brief response to your points. Briefly, if the man in your example read the Sun newspaper, he would have read at least 15 male-directed NINA ads in a single year, plus any female-directed ones, plus any from other sources. Thanks again for this. I respect you and your work.
Rebecca Fried

Jensen would have done well to edit his response to Fried’s reply:

Rebecca—you did a terrific job: congratulations. It’s a matter of whether the class is half full or half empty. I think you have a very big glass, with a couple of drops of water at the bottom, and you call it half-full. I have two points:
a) I counted one maybe 2 possible window signs in your essay. You have 1) an undated story that an armed anti-Irish mob forced an owner to put up such a sign after he had hired many Irishmen; that tells me he was in fact pro-Irish. 2) a 1932 episode with mentions a sign—it’s inside a place on 6th Avenue in Glens Falls NY—a little village that does not have a 6th avenue. So maybe it’s from somewhere else? 3) a recollection with no date no place that matches lots of mythical memories; 4) an 1882 story that mentions a newspaper ad not a sign; 5) A St Louis story that is garbled—there was no job ad; 6) the closest you get is a Port Washington, Ohio story from 1883 about a sign at a police station; 7) 1897 Chicago, no mention of a sign; 8) undated 1870s Boston—some outsider briefly hung a sign to ridicule a club; 9) 1879 St Louis story—no job involved; 10) 1884 story with no job involved. So maybe n=1 or 2. For dozens of cities over 100+ years N=2 = pretty invisible signage—a few drops of water at the bottom of the glass.
b) you list 69 newspaper items from 22 cities over a 90 year period. That’s many millions of newspaper pages in which there are 69 little ads. In any one city it would take decades of reading all the ads every day to find the one. That’s what I call very rare. Only in one year (1842) in one paper (the Sun) in one city (NY) was there even one ad per month, The next year 1843 the NY Sun had six ads all year, In 1844 just one ad then never again. All the daily newspapers combined in New York City published 6 ads in the next 60 years. That’s very rare. In Chicago, only 3 ads in over 50 years. How rare can you get? Richard Jensen

Fried quickly demolished Jensen’s ill-considered comment:

Thanks again for the response. This discussion is really fun for me, and I appreciate the opportunity to have it. I’ll keep this really brief. You discount most of the documented NINA signs because they didn’t advertise jobs. But these involved other significant acts of discrimination. For instance, you dismiss one of the Saint Louis signs because no job was listed; but in fact it advertised an apartment for let, and elsewhere you make a point of claiming that there were few examples of NINA restrictions in apartment solicitations. Rejecting this sign because it is for an apartment rather than a job and simultaneously complaining about the paucity of apartment ads seems like a bit of a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. Your dismissals of others seem to rest on minsunderstandings, or scant grounds. The club sign was not in Boston but New York, and it was not hung to ridicule the club; it was hung by the club itself to announce the exclusion of Irish-American applicants. The Glens Falls piece doesn’t mention which 6th Avenue the sign appeared on, but is that a ground for disregarding the incident? That one is reported not once, but twice, further confirming that it was no reporting error. Still others are not addressed at all—for instance, I don’t think you discuss the 1892 report of a mill posting, which was for jobs, and which lists named individuals who were present. In short, I think you are too quick to dismiss these examples. And the reason they are significant is that the vast majority of such signs would not be documented by newspapers at all for reasons discussed in the article. The surprise is that there are so many surviving examples of ephemeral postings rather than so few. You haven’t defended your numerical calculation, nor addressed the multiple grounds discussed in the article why the extant database records are no more likely to be near complete today than they were when you found only one example several years ago. To the contrary the evidence suggests that the ads available today are a small minority of those actually posted. Thanks again for this.

Let me make one last point and then I promise I will shut up and give you the last word if you want it. You began this conversation by stating that the article “did not claim to find a single window sign anywhere in the USA.” I think we now agree at least that this is not correct. Many are specifically listed. And of course the ultimate question here is simply whether NINA signs were sufficiently prevalent to account for the strong historical memory of them in the Irish-American community. A NINA sign would be just as offensive and memorable to Irish-American and other viewers whether it was for a job, an apartment, a social club, a “freedom pole,” or anything else. I think the ordinary inference finding lots of signs and lots more newspaper advertisements drawn from sources that are demonstrably far from complete is that they look more or less as one would expect if the NINA phenomenon was real and sometimes pervasive. After such a showing, I do think that the burden should fall on you to show that mass delusion rather than ordinary memory should be invoked to account for this memory. I think the evidence, which includes many advertisements and signs, many more female-directed ones not even collected, and strong, concrete reasons showing that the existing digitized databases are vastly under-inclusive, strongly supports the ordinary, simple explanation rather than the unusual psychological explanation. I’ll conclude by sincerely thanking you again for interacting with me on this. It is a real honor and I appreciate it.

I encourage those with academic journal access to read Rebecca Fried’s entire article. It is compact, elegant, and well-researched. We can expect great things from this teenaged historian. She has already made a great contribution.

Source: No Irish Need Deny: Evidence for the Historicity of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs by Rebecca Fried in Oxford Journal of Social History.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings

108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence

109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General

110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”

111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address

112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation

113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery

114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal

115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga

116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga

117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga

118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle

119. Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga

120. German Immigrants Pinned Down at Chickamauga

121. Hans Heg: To Die for His Adopted Country at Chickamauga

122. Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness

123. Immigrants March Out of The Wilderness and Into a Wicked Hail of Gunfire

124. Peter Welsh in the Irish Brigade’s Purgatory at Spotsylvania

125. Peter Welsh: What Sacrifice Must the Immigrant Make for His Adopted Land?

126. A Second Irish Brigade’s Catastrophe at a Forgotten Fight Near Fredericksburg

127. An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

128. Two Irish Brigades Swept Away by a Hurricane from Hell at Cold Harbor

129. Petersburg: The Start of a Ten Month Siege that Devoured Men and Disabled the Irish Brigade

130. A Volcano in Virginia: The Battle of the Crater

131. 1864 Election: The Immigrant Voter & Abraham Lincoln

132. August Belmont: The German Jewish Immigrant Who Led the Opposition to Lincoln’s 1864 Reelection

133. Lincoln and the Superiority of the “Negro” over the Irish

134. Lincoln’s Germans and the Election of 1864

135. Lincoln’s German Lawyer Comes Out Swinging in the Election of 1864

136. Lincoln Wins the Election of 1864 With Immigrant Votes

137. American Refugee Camp in Civil War Kentucky Destroyed by Union Soldiers

138. Kentucky Civil War Refugee Camp Reborn and Reconstructed After Expulsions

139. Immigrant German “Hamburgers” Tormented and Captured at Petersburg

140. German General Weitzel and His African Canadians at Petersburg

141. Irish Regiment at the Beginning of the End of the Confederacy at Five Forks

142. Richmond Burning: The German Immigrant and Black Troops Who Saved the City

143. Appomattox: The Capture of a Confederate Army & the Fall from Grace of an Immigrant General

144. Lincoln Assassinated: John Wilkes Booth’s Immigrant Conspirators

145. Immigrants Hunt Lincoln’s Killers and Help Capture the Confederate President

13 Comentarios

  1. Richard Jensen is another clueless liberal more interested in promoting his ideology than actually checking the facts. Ever hear about this, Richard? http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/nativist-riots-of-1844/ or Duffy’s Cut http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-1D4 Some say that these Irish workers were actually shot to avoid having them journey into town with the cholera. Free blacks in NYC earned more that Irish workers, but only the Irish had to worry about the Draft. This eventually led to the NYC riots right after Gettysburg. I’m of English descent by the way.

  2. She’s contributed nothing other than another one-sided and inaccurate view of Irish-American history. Most of these signs came from other immigrant groups who were warring for the low rungs of the economic ladder. The use of the term “Irish” meant “Irish immigrant”, “Irish by nationality”, and not “Irish by descent”. During the period of nativism in question, the most stridently anti-“Irish” (more like anti-Catholic) around were none other than Irish Protestants. They were heavily active in the Know-Nothing movement and even participated in deadly riots that both sides, Protestants and Catholics, need to assume some blame for. The descendants of these Protestants also happen to be the largest component of the Irish diaspora in America, a fact that is conveniently left out of these discussions (I’ll come back to this later.)

    During the anti-German hysteria of the First World War, anti-German sentiment was rampant. “No Germans Need Apply” captions frequently appeared in job ads, Germans were routinely depicted as apes and savages in ads for war propaganda, and many German immigrants had to change their name to avoid nativist suspicions. Anglophobia, the most enduring and reoccurring out-group prejudice in American history (other than the obvious enslavement of black Africans), had appeared as late as the Second World War — although without significant numbers of English immigrants migrating to the US, anti-English hostility was mainly directed at Anglo-American policies and those who would dare express pro-English sentiment (New Zealand and Australia are different stories, being two countries who were getting a good deal of English immigration at the time. English immigrants there faced job discrimination and physical violence.) You would have no trouble finding examples of anti-French sentiment or anti-Dutch sentiment throughout American history as well.

    So why is it that people don’t have a singular obsession with the discrimination histories of other white ethnic groups in this country? Probably because people are aware that these occurrences would be receiving unmerited attention and do not capture the total historical experiences of these groups. The only interesting question to be asked here is: Why is this going on with the Irish? Whatever the motivation is, it certainly isn’t a desire to tell a complete and accurate history.

    And there are real injustices that come with this behavior. By the late antebellum, no less than 300,000 enslaved African Americans were owned by Southerners of Irish descent. There are millions of African Americans today who hold Irish surnames because their ancestors had been owned by Irish-American slave masters. Where’s the attention?

    Pseudo-histories are rarely in the form of myths that were made out of whole cloth. They typically start with a premise of truth and exaggerate the extent to which something occurred. Holocaust deniers are perhaps the masters of this art: rather than deny the Holocaust altogether (which is too insane to result in any lasting success) they will often downsize the number of Jews killed to a number that sounds more plausible (say, in the thousands) but is really many orders of magnitude less than the real number. Once they successfully convince others that the Jewish community is in the business of exaggerating a genocide, they can then attribute the motivations to a money-making scheme, a Zionist conspiracy, or whatever crackpot idea they possess. As far as Irish-American pseudo-history is concerned, I’ve studied these discussions long enough to be able to identify two competing political ambitions at play: the left is attempting to use the “Irish weren’t white” myth to extinguish the very existence of biological race (if the English and Irish are almost identical in DNA, and the Irish weren’t considered white, then whiteness is arbitrary and therefore race is a fiction); and the right is using it to advance white supremacist theories (there is a reason why the first poster called Jensen a “clueless liberal”)

    • To Jonathan Christophers:
      You wrote: “Most of these signs came from other immigrant groups who were warring for the low rungs of the economic ladder.” Professor Jensen claimed that “No Irish Need Apply” did not exist. You say it did, thereby agreeing with Ms. Fried. You also claim that most of the signs were posted “by other immigrant groups.” Do you have any evidence of this? Please post it in this comment section if you do.

    • Or just Protestants with Ango ideology that think that the definition of white? They also hated Italian Catholics along with Chinese and German immigrants.

  3. To Jonathan Christophers:

    You wrote:

    “So why is it that people don’t have a singular obsession with the discrimination histories of other white ethnic groups in this country?”
    First, I don’t have a “singular obsession” with discrimination against the Irish. I have seen no indication that Ms. Fried does either. I have written extensively about discrimination against not only other white immigrants, but against Chinese, Muslim, and Latino immigrants as well.

    This article was on a specific piece of news, that Ms. Fried had disproven Professor Jensen’s claim. Why would I incorporate the history of discrimination against other immigrant groups in the article? Do you expect me to cover all forms of discrimination against all immigrants every time I write an article that touches on one group or another?

    Here are links to a few of the articles that I have written on discrimination against other immigrant groups:



    Hatred of Just About All Immigrants:



    and many others


  4. Jonathan Christophers wrote:

    “And there are real injustices that come with this behavior. By the late antebellum, no less than 300,000 enslaved African Americans were owned by Southerners of Irish descent. There are millions of African Americans today who hold Irish surnames because their ancestors had been owned by Irish-American slave masters. Where’s the attention?”

    I don’t write about “Southerners of Irish descent.” This is a site on immigration, not on people of one ethnic descent or another. It should have been obvious from just looking at the other articles on the page!

    Anyway, the implication is that I have ignored racism among the Irish. A simple perusal of my articles would show you that I have written extensively about this in many other articles on this site. Here are just a few:

    Cultivation of racism among Irish immigrants in the 1850s: https://longislandwins.com/news/national/irish-green-and-black-america-race-on-the-edge-of-civil-war/

    The Democratic Party and the racial attitudes of Irish Americans: https://longislandwins.com/news/national/the-democratic-party-and-the-racial-consciousness-of-irish-immigrants-before-the-civil-war/

    Racial hatreds among Irish immigrants in 1863: https://longislandwins.com/columns/immigrants-civil-war/before-the-draft-riots-the-cultivation-of-division/

    The NY Draft Riots: https://longislandwins.com/columns/immigrants-civil-war/convulsion-of-violence-day-one-of-the-new-york-draft-riots/ and https://longislandwins.com/news/national/the-draft-riots-end-in-a-sea-of-blood/

    Irish-immigrants in the Memphis Massacre of African Americans:


  5. A final few words on Jonathan Christophers comment:

    1. I find it incredible that he lumps Ms. Fried and myself in with “Holocaust deniers.” That is simply disgusting.
    2. Contrary to his claim, neither Ms. Fried nor I are constructing “Pseudo-histories” of Irish immigrants. We were both writing about Professor Jensen’s claim that “No Irish Need Apply” signs and ads did not exist. middle school student Rebecca Fried disproved it in a journal article. I added supporting documentation that I and my life-partner Michele found easily in newspaper archives. Even Christophers says that such signs existed, but says that they were mostly the work of other immigrants. He supplies no documentation for that claim, but he does seem to support the central thesis of Ms. Fried’s article, that such signs and ads existed. She makes no claims about the ethnicities of the people who posted them.

  6. It is not a matter of whether the NINA ads existed (it is a fact of history that they did); rather the question is to what extent did they exist, and more importantly, what hindrances did they enable on Irish success in America. Jensen’s 2002 paper was a rebuttal to a paper written by a Kerby Miller, in which the latter argued that the signs were “ubiquitous” and used this assumption to conclude that anti-Irish discrimination was widespread. Jensen responded with evidence that the signs were at most rare and to the extent they did exist, they were of no economic consequence to the Irish. Rebecca Fried, who was evidently unaware of the direction in which the stream of scholarly dialogue was flowing, published a paper that was presented as if it were a rebuttal to Jensen, but was really (unwittingly) an impressive supporting argument that demonstrated one of Jensen’s main points — that the signs were exceedingly rare. The result was a media frenzy that at once exaggerated Rebecca’s findings and misstated Jensen’s thesis, and your site apparently played a large role in this phenomenon.

    In any event, newspaper ads of this kind are frozen capsules of sentiment, and sentiment is, more often than it isn’t, an unreliable historical artifact, especially when it doesn’t accord with more established lines of evidence. Rebecca not only elevated newspaper sentiment to a level of unmerited historical significance, she used it to make highly imaginative leaps that go beyond the facts. In her online dialogue with Jensen she remarked, “It is amazing that any ads survived at all,” and then used her intuition to conclude that the ads are vestiges of a once widespread anti-Irish bias. Of course there is nothing particularly remarkable about the survival of 19th Century newspaper ads: Humans have attempted to record every facet of the lived experience since antiquity, so naturally in the age of print we’re going to find an abundance of records. What is more remarkable from within the perspective of the ‘widespread’ Irish discrimination thesis, is that no one can find more than 300 of these things for an entire century.

    To demonstrate how misleading sentiment can be, consider the following accounts of the Revolutionary War,

    “The common soldiers of the state were, for the most part, Irish.” — Davis Ramsey

    “Immigrants from Ireland were to be looked on as our most serious antagonists” — General Clinton

    “On more than one occasion Congress owed their existence, and America possibly her preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish.” — General Marquis de Chastellux

    “America was lost through the action of her Irish immigrants.” — Lord Mountjoy

    I’ll spare you the rest of this seemingly endless quote collection.

    From these quotes it would appear that Washington’s army was made up entirely of valiant Irish soldiers who fought to advance the cause of liberty and birth a new nation. This would mean that the Irish first defeated the British not by gaining Irish independence but in rugged combat on the battlefields of the American outpost of the Empire. It is a tantalizingly attractive version of history, despite that there’s no other evidence this was the case. You can find similar sentiment about the Palatine Germans, the French Huguenots, and the Dutch, and the facts show that Washington’s army was not ethnically homogeneous but ethnically diverse, and that all these groups played their part. Historians, using muster rolls, pensions, and other records, place the Irish component anywhere from 1/4th to 2/5ths the army — a sizable portion but nowhere near the total — and a surprising number of Continentals were vagabonds, ex-cons, and other degenerates who were lured out of Europe — most notably Germany and Ireland — by promises of food, shelter, and financial reward. The national myth of the modest yet respectable yeoman ‘freedom fighter’ and ‘patriot’ developed decades after independence when dreamy authors looked back at the conflict with a pseudo-nostalgia and romanticized the affair.

    NINA sentiment is worse than what we were dealing with above, for unlike the quotes attributed to Lord Mountjoy or Dr. Ramsey, we are more often confronted with a nameless, faceless variety of opinion. “A good girl to do housework. German or Scandinavian. No Irish” — okay? “40 laborers. Good wages. No Irish” — hmm? There is an obvious mystery surrounding both the identities of NINA authors and their intentions; most of their names and all of their faces are lost to the ages, and we can’t even determine whether these ads were all legitimate requests for labor or harmless larks that targeted Irish sensitivities. But there are a few things we can conclude with confidence, which I may be able to demonstrate by a random NINA sample,

    “The whitewashing of Hackett and Keefe’s Saloon will be given to the lowest bidder. No Irish Need Apply.”

    “A good girl to do general housework. German, Norwegian, English, or American. No Irish Need Apply.”

    “40 laborers, nine hours, night shift. Only Americans, English, Irish, Scandinavians or Germans need apply.”

    “General Housework. A good Scandinavian or German girl.”

    The first sign actually names the saloon owners: Hackett and Keefe. If you are a surname enthusiast, you’ll first notice that ‘Keefe’ is an Irish name. We can reasonably assume that one of the saloon owners was an American of either full or partial Irish ancestry who was native-born and didn’t want immigrants from Ireland working for him. The second NINA sign distinguishes ‘Americans’ from Germans, English, and Norwegians. The third sign is actually requesting Irish labor while at the same time distinguishing the Irish, English, Scandinavians, and Germans from Americans. In other words, ‘Irish’, ‘German’, and ‘Norwegian’ designations were used to refer to immigrants from these countries, not Americans of these ethnic backgrounds. The last ad requests only a Scandinavian or German girl.

    One of the claims made by NINA fanatics in their efforts to boost the count of NINA ads, is that the ad authors would often use terminology such as “German or Scandinavian girl” as a veneer to disguise their true anti-Irish intentions. But the language used in the ads suggests something entirely different, namely that ‘German’ and ‘Scandinavian’ were understood to mean immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia, and that employers seeking native-born laborers specifically used the word ‘American’. Therefore, if an ad that requests German or Scandinavian labor is likely to have come from an employer who wouldn’t hire Irish immigrants, it is then equally likely the same employer wouldn’t hire French immigrants, English immigrants, or native-born Americans! And if this is the case — and it is really the only reasonable conclusion we can draw from such limited evidence — then the ads requesting foreign labor are clearly not nativist ads, as nativists would’ve only hired Americans. To many others this point may seem too obvious to be interesting, but it is a significant mention, as NINA proponents are in the habit of viewing NINAs as a xenophobic phenomenon that brings into vision the nativism of the same period, despite that NINAs and nativism were two largely unrelated episodes. Most of these ads almost certainly came from other immigrants, either first or second generation.

    At a time when African-Americans were prevented by law from holding the common rights and privileges that were afforded to the average white citizen, different classes of whites, particularly new immigrants who were competing with each other for economic prominence, often turned their hostilities toward each other. The Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania was, from the 1820s to the 20th Century, a community of immigrants, and there is perhaps no other region but this that’s been written about in a way that evinces both the competitive nature of immigrants and the tendency of 19th Century newspapers to sensationalize this tension beyond the extent to which it was real. In Rowland Berthoff’s The Social Order of the Anthracite Region, 1820 – 1902, he gives us the following account,

    “It was also taken for granted that most of the people in almost every locality were immigrants. Welsh and English miners, Irish laborers, and Germans of various occupations entered the region at the start of mining in the 1820’s, and continued to come, along with Italians, Poles, Slovaks, and other Eastern Europeans — colloquially “Hungarians” — after 1870. The coexistence of several ethnic groups in even the smallest mine patches seemed less noteworthy than the occasional altercations among them. Competition between unskilled Irish laborers and skilled Welsh or English miners for work, German and Irish militiamen brawling at a muster, barroom fights between Welshmen and Germans or Irishmen and Italians, one-day “race wars” between Magyars and Slovacs, gangs of Irish or Welsh boys beating a hapless “Hungarian” or hooting at a Chinese laundryman, Slavic peasants-turned-laborers stoning a Jewish peddler, the dynamiting of a “Hungarian” boarding house, German or Italian “carousing” on the Yankee Sabbath, American constables arresting the riotous celebrants of a Polish wedding or christening — only on such occasions, which were frequent enough, and of course on the exposure of Molly Maguire or Mafia conspiracies, did relations between ethnic groups seem to pose a problem for society.

    Intergroup conflict was nevertheless rarer than newspaper accounts suggested. In fact, native Americans sometimes congratulated themselves that most of the turbulence of this poorly policed region occurred ‘within’ particular ethnic groups, and that foreigners were “respectful and often polite” toward “their superiors”. The Molly Maguire episode of 1859 – 1875, in which Irish laborers were convicted of murdering British and American miners and superintendents, was quite exceptional. In the early years it was more usual for Irish navvies — “the Far-downs and the Connaught men” — to riot on payday among themselves, or, after 1895, for the Black Hand to be reported extorting money from its Italian countrymen.”

    Based on the historical and sociological patterns of intergroup conflict between white ethnic and ethnoreligious classes, it is more likely to have been the case that these NINA ads were in large part published by other immigrants, and it is also probable that the Irish were publishing their own discriminatory ads. What further adds credence to my theory [that the signs are evidence of economic competition between white immigrants] is the fact that American political cartoons which simianized the Irish during the same period either came from Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, or Puck Magazine, a German immigrant magazine that published both English and German-language editions. In other words, it is a reasonable view that these ads are evidence not of ‘discrimination’ (like the discrimination faced by classes of non-whites) but white immigrant warring that would find its modern analogy more in the relationship between rival urban street gangs than in the blanket prejudice experienced by non-white Americans. And if it happens to be the case that NINA ads appeared in greater frequency than, say, No German Need Apply ads, we can further conclude that rival ethnic blocs intensified their economic campaign against the Irish because the Irish were dominating a market. Or to put it another way, the ads would be indicative of Irish success, not Irish oppression.

    Lines of evidence much more valuable than ambiguous newspaper ads favor my theory. We know that within one generation in America the famine Irish had complete control over the political machinery of their cities, and within two generations, they achieved economic and educational parity with other whites. It is firmly established that Irish women dominated the market for domestic help, so we know that those NINA ads targeting these women are not indicative of a significant anti-Irish sentiment within this sector (and it is for this reason that NINA ads targeting women were excluded from Jensen’s study). We also know that the US never instituted any laws that specifically targeted the Irish, never denied them any rights, never prohibited their immigration to the country, and not one soldier was ever stationed at a port of entry to ‘control’ the pouring in. NINAs were, if nothing else, newspaper ads that infrequently appeared in only a handful or two of known 19th Century publications along with all of the other absurd nonsense that occasionally appears in newspapers, and are traces of either rare or ineffectual sentiment that had no detectable consequence for Irish success. A wee Irish lad at the tender age of seven could have left famine-ravaged Ireland with his penniless parents, crossed the North Atlantic in a stuffed coffin ship, landed at a New York City port filthy as ever, and grown up to become the mayor of New York City — or at least this is precisely the story of Thomas Francis Gilroy, who escaped the famine with his family in 1847 and became mayor of NY in 1893. When did NY City elect its first black mayor? One in the 1980s? (To be perfectly fair and perfectly precise, William V. Brady was the first Irish-American mayor of NY during the watershed years of The Great Hunger — 1847 – ’48 — but he was obviously a native-born American and not of the famine class.)

    I’ll close with a few examples of just how sharply newspaper sentiment can diverge from the lived experience.

    The last NINA ad Rebecca found was dated to 1909 and came from a Butte, MT, newspaper. Other researchers found ads dating as late as 1919. In 1911, The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society published this,

    “I do not think I say too much when I say that the Irish in America gave to American opinion that tone of hostility to Great Britain, so persistent even to this day that a late President of the United States is reported as having told Ambassador Bryce that it would be idle for Great Britain to expect any treaty with the United States until the Ambassador’s nation had given home rule to Ireland.

    I say the Irish won their way, and it was a hard way.”

    Whether a US president actually said this to James Bryce is hardly the point. NINA proponents use the ads as ‘visual evidence’ that the Irish experienced widespread prejudice and intolerance, but here we have a declaration by Irish-Americans, at a time when NINAs were still in circulation, that the Irish had “won their way.” Not only did these Irish-Americans express a sense of victory, but they were even under the impression that Irish nationalism was influencing the thoughts and diplomacy of a US president. The disparity between the two competing sentiments — newspaper ads and written accounts — couldn’t be more severe. On the one hand we have vague anti-Irish sentiment expressed in newspaper ads (of course), and on the other we have a written account from Irish-Americans on what it felt like for them to be ‘Irish’ at the turn of the 20th Century.

    When anti-group sentiment is widespread, American history shows that it always leads to policies and hinders the success of the group. When the Workingman’s Party, a primitive union of Irish immigrants, perpetuated an anti-Chinese sentiment in California, it led to discriminatory practices on the state level. This sentiment spread from West to East like a virus, and by 1882, Washington passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned all immigration from China. By 1892, after the Act’s ten year deadline had passed, Thomas J. Geary, an Irish-American congressman, extended many of its provisions. This dark and xenophobic chain of events involves not just newspaper sentiment but the names of real people with real records and real pieces of legislation and reveals a historical reality that Irish immigrants were organized and serving in government to the extent that they were able to impact state and federal laws in this country in ways that other immigrant classes could not. And despite that some have claimed anti-Irish sentiment was ‘widespread’ in California at this time, the facts show that the Irish were getting elected to high office there since the origination of the state’s polity. California elected its first governor in 1849, and in that same year the acting Lt. Governor was an Irishman named David C. Broderick. In 1859 California had another Irish Lt. Governor, a John G. Downey, who was succeeded by the Irishman Isaac N. Quinn. By January of the following year, Downey was elected governor of the state by a clear majority. The Chinese, who have been in California for as long as the Irish, have produced precisely ‘zero’ governors.

    Around the same time the state of California was electing an Irish-born governor, the Native American Party was struggling to gain a real influence. The Know-Nothings, as these nativists were otherwise known, were little more than a gang of loosely-affiliated fanatics who could agree on nothing but the pseudo-patriotic ideals of xenophobia. They appeared almost out of nowhere, enjoyed barely a decade of political life, produced no lasting influence, and died in their infancy, disappearing as quickly as they emerged. Briefly put, the Irish immigrants in California commanded more influence on the federal government than the combined efforts of a national political party of ‘natives’.

    Interclass warfare (which I am defining as all forms of conflict and competition between ethnic classes, religious classes, immigrant classes, etc.) should be distinguished from discrimination by the relative population sizes of each competing class, their economic standings, and their political powers. We couldn’t claim that two competing inner-city gangs are discriminating against each other because the belligerents are i) relatively equal in number, ii) of the same economic class, and iii) political eunuchs. And we do take care to differentiate the animus that’s exchanged between urban gangs from the biases of legal and financial institutions who have a higher authority and who often unfairly judge, marginalize, or even oppress minorities of the same socioeconomic position as these hypothetical gangs. The historical evidence clearly and overwhelmingly supports the position that NINA ads are mostly the products of interclass warfare (as I have defined it), while proponents of the NINA myth maintain the untenable position that the ads are relics of a period of anti-Irish discrimination by a broader and more influential American populace. The worst the Irish ever faced in the 19th Century was economic competition and street combat against equally-matched rivals, while more often it was the case that the Irish were greater in number, market share, and political influence than their opponents, and were thus doing the discriminating.

    The most detailed account of this variety of gang warfare got preserved thanks to the court records from a trial that proceeded the Philadelphia riots of 1831. The belligerents in this riot were members of the same Irish diaspora who were divided strictly by religious class (in other words, Protestant Irish vs. Catholic Irish). You can read all about it here,


    “What had happened was that on a hot summer day a group of Irish Protestants, mostly men, engaged in a provocative demonstration, predictably precipitating the violent response of a group of Irish Catholics, also mostly men. The conflict and the symbolic vocabulary through which it was voiced were undeniably transported here from the rioters’ country of origin. But when judged by the larger Philadelphia community, both sides were condemned for their breach of the peace of their new city. While the riot challenged public order, the trial and its aftermath sought to neutralize that challenge by casting Philadelphia as an American community in which values of mutuality, reciprocity, and cooperation prevailed among the populace, and were to be enforced by the power of the law if need be.”

    And Mr. Young, I did not and would never liken you or any other NINA proponent to Holocaust deniers. My intention was to remind people that pseudo-history almost always grows from a foundation of truth, then diverges from reality by either exaggerating or downsizing the extent to which something occurred, and pseudo-historians are almost always purposed to a political goal. I referenced Holocaust deniers as masters of this craft, but certainly Holocaust denial and Irish-American pseudo-history — epitomized by the NINA myth — exist on two entirely different planes. NINA is a myth not because the ads didn’t exist but because their prevalence in the 19th Century has been exaggerated, their existence has been used to advance a historically flawed interpretation of the Irish immigrant experience,and because NINA is central to the efforts of various activists who seek to profit politically and financially from a homogenized telling of Irish-American history. You are the owner of a site themed on immigration history, but how much time have you truly dedicated to the Irish immigrants who came to America pre or post-famine? Are you aware that the seven years of Great Hunger migration accounted for less than 20% of historic immigration from Ireland to America? It was 20% for the 19th Century alone. When I look up German-American history — and German-Americans, by the way, had their once thriving sub-culture utterly obliterated by the impacts of WW1 Germanophobia — I find multi-dimensional perspectives that compliment a rich and varied history. When I look up Irish-American history, almost every source is dedicated to famine immigration, NINA signs, ape cartoons, and usually a combination of the three.

    In his 2000 book Irish America, Reginald Byron wrote,

    “Multiculturalism has brought about a new kind of project that has opened up a burgeoning market in politicized and manufactured heritage: both have produced essentializing myths. In place of the variety of views of the world as their ancestors actually experienced it, as it was related to their time, place, and individual social circumstances, we now have ‘ diasporic culture’: mass-produced, standardized, pre-packaged, one size fits all.”

    He went on to say,

    “There is another mythology of the Irish in America waiting to be written and popularized; another story to pluck at the heartstrings that does not seek to exclude people because of their religion or to mobilize tears of bitterness and anger at past injustices, but instead instills pride in their achievements and triumphs of the 85% in the other America beyond the big-city ghettos; which gives their histories back to those 80% who came to America before the Famine, or later; and restores the dignity that is rightfully theirs, as Irish-born men and women, to ‘all’ the people who came to America from Ireland. As scholars, we have a duty to distinguish between those ideas whose epistemological status derives from serious scholarship and demonstrable and measurable evidence; and those which merely reify hackneyed, essentializing myths.”

    Irish-American history is neither rosy nor grim, and is no more embodied by the myth of the Irish patriot of the Revolutionary War who fought to advance the cause of liberty than it is by the Irish-American slaveholder who elevated his fellow human beings to a level no higher than cattle. And it is to be found in its purest and most realistic form not in the dramatic character of the freedom fighter or the slaveholder or the mountain man or the ghetto-dweller or the gunslinger of the Wild West but in the common lawyers, teachers, gristmill operators, preachers, apothecaries, blacksmiths, architects, seamstresses, industrialists, coachmen, cattle drivers, farmers, miners, bankers, barbers, bookbinders, chandlers, goldsmiths, and tavern keeps, and in all the virtues and depravities, graces and incivilities, ambitions and apathies, successes and failures, and the pleasures and aversions that characterize their unique individual experiences and amalgamate in a complicated history. This history, as labyrinthine as it is and as taxing as it may be to write, is capable of being told and told properly, provided that the focus isn’t narrow and the commitment to do justice to all members of this ethnic class is the driving inspiration.

    Purposefully or not, Jensen was one of the few scholars to answer Byron’s challenge, and despite whatever inaccuracies may be present in his thesis, his interpretation of the evidence is a lot closer to reality than the alternative view, and his opposition to the prevailing theme is a greater contribution to the social history of Irish America than the details themselves. Rebecca Fried published an impressive paper for a girl of her age, and I would only encourage and hope that she continue her pursuit of history as she matures. The guilty parties in the 2015 digital lynching of Richard Jensen are all the adult scholars, bloggers, and journalists who trumpeted Rebecca’s paper as a serious scholarly rebuttal (which it patently is not) while they shamefully misrepresented a prominent historian’s work.

  7. Just a few responses to Jonathan Christophers’s long comment:

    Christophers writes: “You are the owner of a site themed on immigration history, but how much time have you truly dedicated to the Irish immigrants who came to America pre or post-famine?”

    I am not the owner of the site. It is currently owned by the New York Immigration Coalition, and formerly by the non-profit Long Island Wins.

    The site, Long Island Wins, is not “themed on immigration history.” It is primarily concerned with current immigration and immigration law.

    This article appeared as part of my series “The Immigrants’ Civil War” which focuses on immigration during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Hence, it does not examine Irish immigration in the 1700s or 1900s. However, I am quite aware of the longer history of immigration.

    Christophers writes: “The guilty parties in the 2015 digital lynching of Richard Jensen are all the adult scholars, bloggers, and journalists who trumpeted Rebecca’s paper as a serious scholarly rebuttal (which it patently is not) while they shamefully misrepresented a prominent historian’s work.”

    Jensen was clearly factually inaccurate in his original article. This was demonstrated by a middle school student. Rather than admit that indisputable fact, Jensen attacked Fried. Comparing the exposure of his sloppy scholarship to a “lynching” is offensive in the extreme.

    There is so much that is simply wrong in what Christophers writes that I could spend weeks responding to each point. Let me simply say that his “comment” is clearly not directed at what I actually wrote. Oh well.

  8. “There is so much that is simply wrong in what Christophers writes that I could spend weeks responding to each point. Let me simply say that his “comment” is clearly not directed at what I actually wrote. Oh well.”

    It’s disappointing that a man of your educational standing is copping out of a debate in this manner. A lot of what I said was directed at your writing, and a lot of it was directed at the historically flawed impressions people receive when they are constantly reading narrow versions of ethnic histories. But I do understand that you are probably a busy man, so we’ll forget about this for now.

    What this really boils down to is this,

    “Jensen was clearly factually inaccurate in his original article. This was demonstrated by a middle school student. Rather than admit that indisputable fact, Jensen attacked Fried. Comparing the exposure of his sloppy scholarship to a “lynching” is offensive in the extreme.”

    You seem to believe that Jensen claimed NINA ads didn’t exist, but this isn’t true. Jensen claimed the ads were rare, and then spent the rest of his paper discussing Irish economic and political mobility in antebellum and post-antebellum America. It’s also important to distinguish between ‘signs’ and ‘ads’: Jensen did speculate that signs ‘may’ have been nonexistent, but he certainly did acknowledge the existence of ads,

    “We DO have actual newspaper want ads for women workers that specifies Irish are not wanted; they will be discussed below. In the entire file of the New York Times from 1851 to 1923, there are two NINA ads for men, one of which is for a teenager. Computer searches of classified help wanted ads in the daily editions of other online newspapers before 1923 such as the Brooklyn Eagle, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune show that NINA ads for men were extremely rare–fewer than two per decade.”

    Here we have Jensen who is arguing that NINA ads were rare, and then Rebecca Fried who published a paper that found 69 ads for the entire period, proving the signs were rare while masquerading as a rebuttal to Jensen. The Internet logicians (and there are many) refer to this species of argumentation as a strawman, but I will simply restate that his work has been misrepresented in the press. If you can’t acknowledge that you either didn’t read or didn’t understand Jensen’s paper, then there is no value in going back and forth over this. This is a very simple case of what happens when political activists in the press and blogosphere jump the gun to support research they want (and need) to be true before spending any time studying the opposing literature.

    And I will apologize for rushing to judgment with respect to this site. I didn’t investigate this site until after publishing the previous essay, and it appears to be worse than I thought. This is precisely the kind of site I was thinking of when I discussed political activists twisting history for gain. I have no problem with sites that promote liberal immigration policies (I am actually a liberal who supports these policies). But I do have a problem with people who attempt to manipulate history and scholarship in order to make a case.

  9. My father was third-generation Irish, born in Nebraska in 1917. His father was employed by the railroad in Nebraska. He was away working when a group of local heroes in the small town here they were living in decided to do the heroic thing and get rid of the dirty Catholic Irish so they bucked up their courage and burned a cross while wearing white robes in front of my grandparent’s home. Only my grandmother and her two very young boys were home at the time! My own father was one of those boys and passed the story on to me. The no Irish need apply was only the tip of a very ugly iceberg and the hate of Irish Catholics certainly did apply to American born people of Irish ancestry. It was directed specifically towards my grandfather’s Irish ancestry, because my grandmother, the only adult home at the time, could trace her American roots back to puritan settlers in 1630, revolutionary war soldiers, and Swiss settlers in 1725.
    If it didn’t get written down and printed in the newspaper and no one took pictures does that really mean it didn’t happen?

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