America as a Multinational Society
America is not a multinational society, but rather a multiethnic society. The result of this multiethnicalism has been the multicultural society in which we live. This multiculturalism has been a strength of our society, because in the United States (U.S.) the traditional view has been one of a melting pot, where all immigrant cultures are mixed and amalgamated without state intervention. One of the dangers of pursuing multiculturist social policies is that social integration and cultural assimilation can be held back. This can potentially encourage economic disparities and an exclusion of minority groups from mainstream politics. Immigrant groups must be encouraged to participate in the larger society, learn the majority languages, and enter the labor force.
A multinational society is a society in which the population consists of two or more ethnically distinct nations that are of significant size. This contrasts with a nation-state where a single nation comprises the bulk of the population. Some examples of multinational societies include: Belgium, Canada, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Switzerland. Multinational states differ from states like Japan, Poland or the Koreas in which an overwhelming majority of the population is ethnically homogenous. Multiethnic societies, in contrast to nationalistic societies, integrate different ethnic groups irrespective of differences in culture, race, and history under a common social identity larger than one "nation" in the conventional sense.
Between 1492 and 1965, 82% of all the persons on earth who migrated to American shores came from Europe. After 1965, when Congress finally revised the notorious National Origins Quota Act, the number of newcomers to America began to grow rapidly once again, and the proportions among them who were Europeans fell precipitously. In the decade of the 1960s, more than 3 million immigrants arrived, of whom only 34% were Europeans. There were 5 million immigrants in the 1970s, with only 18% from Europe. In the 1980s, almost 10 million people immigrated to America, and only 11% of them were Europeans. Immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean accounted for more than 83% of all the new entrants during the 1980s.
Until recently an amalgam almost exclusively of European nationalities, the United States is rapidly becoming the first major nation to be a microcosm of all the peoples of the world, the first truly "universal" nation. Once a basically biracial society dominated by white males, the new America will be one in which no single ethnic group or gender will ever again automatically predominate.
Multiethnic societies have existed in various historical contexts such as ancient China, the Roman Empire, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In modern times, formation of the United States, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia are examples of more or less successful multiethnic societies. As Adeed Dawisha has said in his book,
What distinguishes a nation from an ethnic group or any other collectivity has to be the nation's self-derived desire to achieve political sovereignty within a recognized territory. Lacking such a desire, a group can be a number of things but not a nation. That is precisely why Canada is, and the old Yugoslavia was, a multinational society, since significant ethnic groups within these two countries agitated for political independence, hence constituting nations. The United States, on the other hand, with its profusion of culturally-based ethnicities, is not a multinational society, but rather a multiethnic society, since none of its ethnic groups desires political separation and sovereignty.
An important precondition for the success of a multiethnic society is the availability of a common language, as was the case in the Roman Empire, and still is the case in the U.S. Alternatively, several "overlapping" languages, as found in the European Union or Canada, can serve the same function. However, even in the European Union, English is the lingua franca for business and scientific exchange. An even more important precondition for the functioning of a multiethnic society is an education towards tolerance and understanding. This means not the weak tolerance of those who feel themselves inferior, but the strong tolerance of a self-confident but not proud personality, which is able and willing to learn from others without fear of losing its own identity.
The population of the colonies that later became the United States, grew from zero Europeans in the mid 1500s to 3.2 million Europeans and 700,000 African slaves in 1790. At that time, it is estimated that three-fourths of the population were of British descent, with Germans forming the second-largest free ethnic group and making up some seven percent of the population. Between 1629 and 1640 some 20,000 Puritans emigrated from England, most settling in the New England area of North America. In an event known as the Great Migration, these people became the Yankees of New England, who later spread out to New York and the Upper Midwest. From 1609 to 1664, some 8,000 Dutch settlers peopled the New Netherlands, which later became New York and New Jersey, and between 1645 and 1670, some 45,000 Royalists and/or indentured servants left England to work in the Middle Colonies and Virginia.
From about 1675 to 1715, the Quakers made their move, leaving the Midlands and North England behind for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The Quaker movement became one of the largest religious presences in early colonial America.
Germans migrated early into several colonies but mostly to Pennsylvania, where they made up a third of the population by the time of the Revolution. Germans made up almost one-tenth of the population of the country by the end of the 18th century. At least 500,000 Germans immigrated in the first half of the 19th century. 20,000 came in the years 1816-1817, fleeing a famine. Some 61,000 fled to America after the failed Revolutions of 1848. Between 1850 and 1930 about five million Germans immigrated to the United States with a peak in the years between 1881 and 1885, when a million Germans left Germany and settled mostly in the Midwest.
Approximately 250,000 Irish left Ulster (the northern province of Ireland) between about 1710 and 1775, and settled in western Pennsylvania, Appalachia and the western frontier. These places later would become Kentucky and Tennessee. As a result of the potato famine, which struck Ireland between 1845 band 1849, many Irish families were forced to emigrate from the country. By 1854, between 1.5 and 2 million Irish left their country. In the United States, most Irish became city-dwellers. With little money, many had to settle in the cities that the ships they came on arrived. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
Between 1840 and 1930, about 900,000 French Canadians left Canada to emigrate to the United States and settled mainly in New England. Given the French-Canadian population at the time, this was a massive exodus. 13.6 million Americans claimed to have French ancestry in the 1980 census. Indeed, a large proportion of them have ancestors who emigrated from French Canada.
The years 1910 to 1920 were the highpoint of Italian immigration to the United States. Over 2 million Italians immigrated in those years, with a total of 5.3 million immigrating between 1820 and 1980.
About one million Swedes immigrated to the United States early in the twentieth century, due to famine, poverty and religious oppression in Sweden. This accounted for approximately twenty percent of the total population of Sweden at that time. Most of them where from the southern parts of Sweden and settled mainly in the Midwest after their arrival in America. Minnesota in particular has a large proportion of people with Swedish ancestry.
The majority of African slaves came to the future United States before it gained independence. "Race became the single determinant of community, especially in those places where slavery obliged special laws defining the Afro-America's place. Even those blacks who were not mere chattel were generally denied minimum citizen rights." The numbers remain less than clear, but it is believed that some 300,000 slaves arrived in the British North American colonies before Independence, and some 100,000 were imported in the period between the American Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. The slave trade was made illegal in 1808, upon the expiration of a constitutional clause prohibiting such a law.
A large number of indentured servants, from the British Isles, Ireland and Continental Europe (especially Germany), came to the U.S. during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the bulk arriving in the half-century before 1776. Most served terms of four to fourteen years and arrived in the colonies of Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia. While history tends to emphasize the British shipment of convicts to its Australian colony, some 50,000 European convicts also crossed the seas to North America in an earlier penal transportation system between 1700 and 1770.
The U.S. was first settled by Native Americans and developed by various racial and ethnic groups. Each group of immigrants has contributed aspects of their culture of origin to the U.S. culture. The United States has changed from a melting…