Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

An Irishman Encourages His Countrymen to "Go South"

The vast majority of nineteenth-century Irish emigrants to the United States settled in cities in the Northeast.  A smaller percentage headed for the western territories.  Some Irishmen were encouraged to go South instead.   After the Civil War, southern plantation owners were forced to divide up and sell their considerable tracts of land.   Some Irish, such as the author quoted below, saw an opportunity to buy land from southern whites who they believed would be more willing to sell to European immigrants than to former slaves. As stated in the excerpt, "The policy of the South is to increase and strengthen the white population."

It is not at all necessary that an Irish immigrant should go West....There is land to be had, under certain circumstances and conditions, in almost every State in the Union. And there is no State in which the Irish peasant who is living from hand to mouth in one of the great cities as a day-labourer, may not improve his condition by betaking himself to his natural and legitimate [work]—the cultivation of the soil. Nor is the vast region of the South unfavourable to the laborious and energetic Irishman. On the contrary, there is no portion of the American continent in which he would receive a more cordial welcome, or meet with more favourable terms. This would not have been so before the war, or the abolition of slavery, and the upset of the land system which was based upon the compulsory labour of the negro. Before the war, the land was held in mass by large proprietors, and, whatever its quantity, there was no dividing or selling it—that is willingly....Now, the state of things is totally different. Too much land in the hands of one individual may now be as embarrassing in the South as in the North, especially when it is liable to taxation. The policy of the South is to increase and strengthen the white population, so as not to be, as the South yet is, too much dependent on the negro; and the planter who, ten years ago, would not sever a single acre from his estate of 2,000, or 10,000, or 20,000 acres, will now readily divide, if not all, at least a considerable portion of it ...he will sell on fair terms, and he will afford a fair time to pay—he will, in fact, do all in his power to promote the growth of the white population....

This is a subject on which I could not venture to write without the fullest authority; but I have spoken with hundreds of Southerners of rank and position, men identified with the South by the strongest ties of birth, property, and patriotism; and I know, from unreserved interchange of opinion with them, that the general feeling of the enlightened and the politic is in favour of inducing European settlers to come to the South, and come on easy terms. ‘The experience of the past year (1866),’ said a well-informed Southern gentleman to me, ‘leads most of our people to see the absolute necessity of dividing and sub-dividing the large plantations.’ I heard almost the same words used in several of the Southern States, as well as by owners of large estates as by persons extensively engaged in the sale and management of property.

Source | John Francis Maguire, The Irish in America (New York, Montreal,: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1868); in The Making of America,
Creator | John Francis Maguire
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | John Francis Maguire, “An Irishman Encourages His Countrymen to "Go South",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

Print and Share