1819 United States Immigration Act

by wcascade40

Once this law was enacted, statistics on immigration to the United States were more accurate.

Before 1819, ships arriving in the United States with immigrants just dropped the passengers off and went on their way. Now they would be required to furnish statistics on their passengers so the government could start to compile statistics.


The 1798 immigration act had required some reporting, but it soon expired and really there were no reliable statistics on how many new people moved to the United States or where they were from. William J Bromwell wrote a book called “History of Immigration to the United States in 1856 and he estitmated that about 250,000 people immigrated to the United States from the end of the Revolutionary War to 1819. This was just a guest, but this is the number that the Bureau of Statistics used in their official statistics.

immigrants getting off boat
immigrants getting off boat
Ellis Island immigrants
Ellis Island immigrants

The State Department compiled immigration statistics from 1820 to 1870, the Treasury Department took over to 1892. Since then the Immigration and Naturalization Bureau has compiled the numbers and issued regular reports.


After 1819, ships arriving at Atlantic and Gulf ports had to compile the following statistics. The ship’s captain had to furnish a list of passengers that included their age, sex, occupation and country of origin. Statistics on the passengers who died on the voyage also had to be included.


It wasn’t until 1850 that ships bearing immigrants to Pacific ports were included in the national statistics. During the Civil War, only Southern ports under Federal control provided statistics.

Immigrant woman and child
Immigrant woman and child

Of course, the United States had other territories and they were not included in the immigration statistics for decades. In 1871, Alaska immigrants were included in reports. It was 1901 for Hawaii, 1902 for Puerto Rico and 1942 for the Virgin Islands.


The immigrants that were counted were those that arrived by sea, the ones who came across a land border were not really included. There had been a few attempts, but the Civil War also disrupted this and it wasn’t considered a priority. More immigrants were arriving by ship than by land anyway. However in 1894, many European immigrants arrived at Canadian ports on their way to the United States. This passengers were included in the immigration statistics. In about 1904, border station started to be established and common by 1908.


Some immigrants were never included in the immigration statistics. Citizen of Hawaii before it was a state, Puerto Rico, Phillipines,Virgin Island and Guam are not considered immigrants so the numbers are kept but not part of any immigration statistics.


1820     8,385

1850    369,980

1875    227,203

1900    448,572

1925    294,314

1950    249,187

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Updated: 08/17/2011, wcascade40
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