The influences of the African & Irish Americans on the American democracy

The influences of the African and Irish Americans on the American democracy


Today, America is one of the most democratic nations in the world irrespective of the different ethnic groups living in the nation. The different ethnic groups came from different parts of the world. For example, the African Americans came from the western part of Africa while the Irish Americans came from Ireland. Given the diversity of the people living in the USA today, democracy did not come overnight. Instead, it took many years of struggle to develop the current democracy that every American citizen enjoys. In a way, this is similar to what many undemocratic nations in the world with different ethnic groups experience today during their democratization processes. However, the American case is different from these cases because most of the people living in the USA today did not come from the USA, but they have now become American citizens by birth (Sweeney 7). Furthermore, other nations in the world do not adopt people from other parts of the world as America does even today. With regard to the differences in the historical backgrounds of the ethnic groups currently living in the USA, the minority people that were not American citizens right from the start went through some challenging moments (Jewell 19). Some of them lacked proper jobs thereby worked in the informal sectors; others such as the African Americans even became slaves before they finally became American citizens. This research paper explores the histories of African Americans and Irish Americans after the civil world. The paper uses historical data to show that these two ethnic groups contributed significantly to the democratization of the USA. The paper argues that the historical complexities of the two ethnic groups especially after the civil war helped in defining modern-day citizenship in the USA.

An overview

The Irish Americans and the African Americans are two distinct groups that have different historical backgrounds. The two groups settled in the USA during the colonial period and in one way or the other, they provided labor force to the British colonial masters. The Irish Americans were among the first groups of people to settle in the USA during the colonial period thereby they settled in the USA before the African Americans settled and they provided contracted labor in form of servitude. African Americans, on the other hand, settled in the USA after the Irish Americans settled. Furthermore, the African Americans were mostly slaves on the British farms, but the Irish Americans were mostly servants (Kenny 82). Despite these differences, the two groups of people share some similarities given that they all found themselves in the USA in some roguish ways. Some of the Irish Americans like the African Americans were arrested, brought to the USA, and later they were subjected to slavery even though they were regarded as servants.

 African Americans

From the time, the African Americans settled in the USA as slaves, these people did not have political rights. They were slaves and everyone treated them that way even the politicians that later changed their perspectives towards these people for their political gains. However, as time progressed, the affairs of the African Americans changed slowly as they continued to give birth to children and familiarized themselves with the American political and legal frameworks. The American political framework advocates for equal rights for all people living in the USA. In this regard, once the black Americans understood this fact and became American citizens either by naturalization or by birth, they fought for their rights relentlessly (Sweeney 7).

This paper starts by evaluating the population of the minority groups in the USA. The table below considers the percentage of the American population since 1900 particularly the African Americans in comparison to the White Americans.

1900 1950 2000 2050
Indian Americans
Asian 8
Hispanic 11 24
African American 12 10 12 14
White 87 87 72 53
Other minority groups


The population of African Americans was small as indicated in the above table. For this reason, the African Americans had to fight extensively for their rights once they became American citizens by birth.

Participation of the African Americans in constitutional conventions (1867-1868)

States African-American (%) White (%)
Texas 10 90
Arkansas 13 87
Louisiana 50 50
Mississippi 17 83
Alabama 17 83
Georgia 19 81
Florida 40 60
South Carolina 61 39
North Carolina 11 89
Virginia 24 76

The above table indicates the percentage of the African Americans that participated in the 1867 and 1868 constitutional conventions. It also indicates the percentage of the white Americans in ten former Confederate states. Based on this data, it was only in South Carolina that the percentage of the African Americans was higher than that of the white. In other words, the white people controlled the constitutional conventions of these states despite the fact that five of these states namely Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Florida had high numbers of black voters. As a way of overcoming this state of affairs, the African Americans attended most of these constitutional conventions. They contributed significantly to these conventions thereby influenced progressive reforms in education, participation in public affairs and abolition of death penalties on various offenses among other things.

On the other hand, before the start of the civil war, about fifteen states in the USA had approximately 3,954,000 slaves (Samito 14). The white Americans living in these states considered these people as properties for sale and hire thereby they treated them as they wished. Another group of free African Americans that was approximately 262,000 lived in the USA as well. These people enjoyed some rights the white Americans enjoyed and majority of them lived in north. On the contrary, the black slaves living mostly in the south had limited rights. Some of the rights the black slaves enjoyed included the right to buy and sell goods, enter into contracts, acquire education and sue as well as assemble in public conventions (Samito 14). The fact that majority of the African Americans were slaves justified their exclusion from the national citizenship. This was in relation to the fact that the black slaves appeared to their white masters as properties, as such, they did not have national identity. However, the existence of free African Americans from the north created some problems in defining citizenship. The problems emanated from the fact that the white Americans could no longer consider the free African Americans as properties as they considered the black slaves. The free African Americans in the north simply became Americans by birth.

Nonetheless, the recognition of the free African Americans from the north as American citizens was a challenge because white Americans feared the complication it would bring in the citizenship. Many of the white Americans from the south anticipated the challenge it would have on their slaves thereby some of them proposed secession from the union. Furthermore, even the white Americans from the north did not want to extend equal rights and privileges to the free African Americans. As a result, majority of the white Americans held a racist view in accepting the black people as American citizens. This challenged the African Americans, but their number was small. Despite this fact, when the civil war started, the warring factions mobilized Americans from all ethnic groups to participate in the war. They mobilized even the minority people to participate in the war irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds. For this reason, both the African Americans and the Irish Americans took part in the war in great numbers than they did before. This does not mean that the African Americans had not participated in any other major war before, but during this time, their great participation in the war brought some significant changes. In fact, after the civil war, the African Americans together with the Irish Americans were able to assert their American identity on politics more than they did before (Samito 5). This was irrespective of the fact that the goals of the two groups differed in many instances because of their racial differences. However, during this time, the two groups held onto the fact that their military services in the civil war were significant in guaranteeing them good citizenship. Consequently, when the war ended, the two groups started fighting for equal rights with the Native Americans (Singh 40).

The results of the fight against discrimination among the minority groups especially the African Americans are evident from what followed. First, the congress changed the thirteenth amendment as a way of eradicating slavery in the USA. This happened right after the end of the civil war. It was an important aspect to the African Americans that were slaves formerly. However, despite its enactment, the challenges for African Americans did not stop there. In fact, in 1866 things appeared worse when angry white mobs burned down homes, churches and schools that belonged to the African Americans. At the same time, about fifty black people lost their lives in the incident. The whites from the north evaluated this attack as an attempt by the whites from the south to stop African Americans from enjoying their rights guaranteed in the thirteenth amendment. As a result, the incident convinced the republicans that the president’s reconstruction plans were weak and they needed to be strengthened (Shah 16).

Second, the congress amended the fourteenth amendment as a way of ensuring that African Americans did not lose the basic rights granted in the civil right act. The amendment enabled all citizens born in the USA to have full citizenship rights. In this regard, many of the African Americans born in the USA became full American citizens. The amendment further took away the rights of the states to deny American citizens such rights. Third, the congress amended the fifteenth amendment and gave the African Americans the right to vote. The Republicans believed that such a right would help the African Americans safeguard their rights. Consequently, this aspect helped the African Americans liberate themselves from bad citizenship by allowing African Americans become political leaders (McNeese 25). This was irrespective of the fact that African Americans did not control any state government, but they comprised the majority of the people in the lower houses.

Despite the fact that the African Americans living in the north enjoyed some rights that white Americans enjoyed, these people continued to experience some social, political and economic strictures that varied from one state to the other. They also experienced some forms of discrimination that hindered them from prospering economically. In fact, at the onset of the civil war only Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire allowed the black people to vote on equal terms with the white Americans (Samito 15). The rest of the states in the north did not allow the black people to have equal voting rights with the white Americans. This state of affair influenced the presidential race that followed in 1860. The republicans advocated for the eradication of slavery while the democrats opposed it. The support for eradication of slavery popularized the republicans among the African Americans in 1861.

The end of the civil war in 1865 necessitated the need to determine how to deal with over 3.5 million African Americans that were slaves before this period. Consequently, it was at this time that the African Americans saw a chance to advance their grievances. By this time, the black people living in the USA were free and their white masters could not treat them as properties for sale and hire as they did before. Despite the fact that the black people living in the USA at the time were free, they did not have equal rights with the white Americans. As a result, most of these people suffered in silence socially, economically and politically.

Irish Americans

In the same way as some of the free black people that lived in the north, the Irish Americans as well enjoyed some rights just as the white Americans did. However, they did not have equal rights with the Native Americans just as the 262,000 free black people living in the north did. This was an important aspect in the fight for equal rights and the democratization of the American politics. Given this fact, the Irish Americans equally engaged in the fight for better definition of the American citizenship even though they had the right to become American citizens based on the color of their skins (Samito 15). The Irish Americans did this because the American constitution did not elaborate much on the aspect of citizenship such that it was upon the states to define citizenship as they wished. This was a challenge to the Irish Americans that feared discrimination because they experienced it in employment even though Native Americans accepted them without difficulties. The concern of the Irish Americans was on the rights of the naturalized American citizens. This concern was an important one because the congress desisted from legislating on this issue (Lee and Marion 358). At the same time, both the state departments and the judiciary made the matter worse once they tackled it. For example, the courts of law discriminated against the naturalized American citizens and in most cases, showed partiality in their rulings. Aware of this fact, the Irish Americans participated in the struggle for equal rights with the African Americans after the civil war ended though from a different perspective.

In contrast to the black people, majority of the Irish Americans supported the democrats during the presidential race in 1860. They also joined the armies in the civil war because they wanted to show their solidarity to the American citizenship that they enjoyed.

The Irish Americans also had problems in securing jobs in the USA after the civil war ended. Majority of them were inexperienced, poor, and some of them were even at the point of death. Therefore, they did not choose jobs and in most cases, they performed the available jobs as opposed to choosing them. By 1870, only a small number of them had jobs, and in general only forty percent of them had jobs and these people performed unskilled jobs (Lee and Casey 356). For example, majority of the workers in New York were Irish Americans, but even though they did not work in unskilled jobs, most of them worked in semi-skilled jobs. Some of the jobs available to the Irish Americans in 1870s included tailoring, waiter, barman and stablemen. Irish women, on the other hand, performed unskilled jobs and between 1850 and 1900 majority of them worked as domestic workers. They work for long hours and even though they did not work as slaves, their masters exploited them. They cooked, washed clothes, and tidied the houses together with other household chores (Hayes 542).

With respect to these types of experiences, Majority of the Irish Americans saw the need to participate in the struggle for equal rights. Some of them even formed workers’ unions when the civil war ended because they had become full American citizens by birth. The Workers’ unions fought for the rights of the workers especially those working in harsh conditions. In particular, they fought for the rights of the Irish Americans that the Native Americans discriminated against in acquiring jobs.


Despite the fact that the two groups fought for the same thing, that is, the American citizenship, the two groups approached the issue from two different perspectives. On one hand, the Irish Americans were not concerned with the slavery issue because they were not slaves. Instead, they were concerned with the rights of naturalized American citizens. On the other hand, the African Americans were not much concerned with the naturalized citizenship that concerned the Irish Americans, but they were concerned with ending slavery among them. As a result, in most cases the efforts and the experiences of the two groups either ran parallel or some times, but rarely intersected with one another. In this regard, it had been impossible to evaluate the two groups on the same platform even though the two groups experienced some forms of discriminations. At one point, the two groups even contrasted with one another. For example, the Irish Americans from time to time evaluated the African Americans from a racial perspective and they did not wish to have equal rights with the African Americans. This notwithstanding, the two groups contributed significantly in transforming the American citizenship. Indeed, the two groups contributed significantly in defining the American democracy after the end of the civil war. During this period, major event took place in the USA and the two groups contributed to these events significantly. The two groups fought discrimination until their identity changed in the 1860s. Their protests influenced and changed the legal and political practices in the USA because of the pressure they mounted on the government. Before this period, African Americans were slaves. They served their white masters on their farms such that the white masters especially those from south did not want to free these people. On the contrary, the white Americans from the north advocated for the freedom of the black people and they had even freed the black people in the north.

Work Cited

Hayes, Patrick. The Making of Modern Immigration: An Encyclopedia of People and Ideas. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Internet resource.

Jewell, K. Survival of the African American Family: The Institutional Impact of U.S. Social Policy. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Print.

Kenny, Kevin. New Directions in Irish-American History. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. Print.

Lee, Joseph, and Marion R. Casey. Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Print.

McNeese, Tim. Reconstruction: Life after the Civil War. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2009. Internet resource.

Samito, Christian G. Becoming American under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2009. Print.

Shah, Prakash. Law and Ethnic Plurality: Socio-legal Perspectives. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2007. Print.

Singh, Robert. Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy. Oxford [u.a.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003. Print.

Sweeney, Fionnghuala. Frederick Douglass and the Atlantic World. Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press, 2007. Print.