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From Sea to Shining Sea: 1846-1854

America was bursting at the seams in the 1840s. In one ten-year period, the country suddenly had 35 percent more people, including almost a million immigrants from Ireland and half a million from Germany. The Irish mostly settled in Eastern cities and brought a motivated labor force willing to do a lot of work for low pay. The Irish also expanded Catholic churches and schools, making the mostly Protestant United States stretch to include the Church of Rome into its accepted religious mix. The Germans went straight for the good farmland of the Midwest and brought along the Christmas tree, German beer, opposition to slavery, and support for public education, including kindergarten (a German word).

The population surge was driven by revolutions in Europe (1848) and the potato famine (1845) in Ireland; people were drawn to the United States by the promise of opportunity and good land. Much of this opportunity was created just by people who were looking for it, especially because the United States needed both workers and consumers, and new inventions were ready to be used.


Social history, like much of the information covered in this chapter, is useful for scoring points on the AP exam. Knowing the leaders of the women's rights and abolition movements, for example, is important. You'll encounter multiple-choice questions in these areas, and you should be able to use these topics in essay answers. The authors and poets mentioned in this chapter and elsewhere in the book are extra-credit items. The test probably won't have many multiple-choice questions about art, but showing that you know how literature fits into the American story in essays rings college bells. Hint: American literature gets more up-front on issues of race and gender as Americans challenge the conventions they inherited from the Old World.

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