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Lincoln and the Immigrant

Lincoln and the Immigrant

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Jason H. Silverman


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
8 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

Between 1840 and 1860, America received more than four and a half million people from foreign countries as permanent residents, including a huge influx of newcomers from northern and western Europe, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who became U.S. citizens with the annexation of Texas and the Mexican Cession, and a smaller number of Chinese immigrants. While some Americans sought to make immigration more difficult and to curtail the rights afforded to immigrants, Abraham Lincoln advocated for the rights of all classes of citizens. In this succinct study, Jason H. Silverman investigates Lincoln’s evolving personal, professional, and political relationship with the wide variety of immigrant groups he encountered throughout his life, revealing that Lincoln related to the immigrant in a manner few of his contemporaries would or could emulate.

From an early age, Silverman shows, Lincoln developed an awareness of and a tolerance for different peoples and their cultures, and he displayed an affinity for immigrants throughout his legal and political career. Silverman reveals how immigrants affected not only Lincoln’s day-to-day life but also his presidential policies and details Lincoln’s opposition to the Know Nothing Party and the antiforeign attitudes in his own Republican Party, his reliance on German support for his 1860 presidential victory, his appointment of political generals of varying ethnicities, and his reliance on an immigrant for the literal rules of war.

Examining Lincoln's views on the place of the immigrant in America’s society and economy, Silverman’s pioneering work offers a rare new perspective on the renowned sixteenth president.


Jason H. Silverman is the Ellison Capers Palmer Jr. Professor of History at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of ten books, including Immigration in the American South, 1864–1895: A Documentary History of the Southern Immigration Conventions and A Rising Star of Promise: The Civil War Odyssey of David Jackson Logan, 17th South Carolina Infantry, 1861–1864. 


“Two subjects of enduring interest to all who study the American past are the history of immi­gration and the political ideology of Abraham Lincoln. Until now, no book-length study has examined these subjects together. Silverman’s inspired idea was to consider them as related parts of the same story. He shows us not only how Lincoln interacted with individual immigrants from many backgrounds but also what he thought about the larger significance of immigra­tion as a theme in American life and its relationship to freedom, economic growth, and social opportunity. The result is a compelling interpretation of nineteenth-century American history with important implications for our understanding of diversity today and for the prospects of American democracy in the century to come.”—Kevin Kenny, professor of history, Boston College
“In this excellent untold story, Silverman narrates Abraham Lincoln’s politics on and interac­tions with the foreign-born in his time. Lincoln never denied the right of immigrants—most of them poor, as he was in his youth—to rise as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and which he did himself. They would become Lincoln’s supporters and fight for the Union. This is a tale worth telling, and Silverman does so exceedingly well.”—Frank J. Williams, founding chair of the Lincoln Forum

“Despite the enormous number of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln, there has never been a full-length study about Lincoln's views on immigration. Silverman admirably fills this gap in the literature with his well-written and thoughtful study, demonstrating once again that an imaginative scholar can still provide new information about our sixteenth president. Highly recommended, not only for what it reveals about Lincoln’s ideas on immigration but also for the insights provided to twenty-first-century Americans who wrestle with similar immigration issues.”—Thomas R. Turner, editor of the Lincoln Herald  

“A learned, prodigiously researched, and engagingly written contribution to our understanding of this important subject.”—Bruce Levine, J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"It can easily be read in a few nights, yet it will leave you thinking for weeks."—Long Island Wins

Jason Silverman has provided a succinct overview of Abraham Lincoln's views and relationships with immigrants from his years as a young adult in Springfield to his term as president...No other book focuses exclusively on Lincoln and immigration."--Bruce Bieglow, The Annals of Iowa

As the last point suggests, Lincoln and the Immigrant is a timely book. Its slim size, engaging prose, and poignant anecdotes make it an ideal selection for teachers, scholars, and general readers seeking to historicize current debates over religious tolerance, citizenship, and immigrants' role in the United States economy. Those who choose to do so by assigning or reading for themselves, Silverman's book will be richly rewarded."--Ian Delahanty, Springfield College (MA)