The following excerpts are taken from Chapters 6, 7, and 40 of the book Recollections of an Immigrant, in which the Norwegian author, Andreas Ueland, recounts his immigration experience. Son of a farmer and politician, Ueland left for America in 1871 in late adolescence and traveled west by train. According to Ueland, how did the Norwegian upper classes view the United States in the 1820s and 1830s? Who were some of the first Norwegians to immigrate to the United States and why did they choose to leave Norway? Why did Ueland leave Norway? What does Ueland observe about the contributions made to the United States by immigrant populations? What does he think immigrants must do to be fully integrated into U.S. society?
Speaking generally, America was not favorably regarded in Norway until many years after the emigration started in 1825. The official class naturally disliked to see people leave the country and were disposed to sneer at almost everything American. Being well educated at the university and holding their offices for life, they were looked up to with great respect by the common country-people. NO wonder, therefore, that to the official class many things in America seemed bizarre. Just think, a railsplitter being president and a tailor vice-president! Besides, was not almost everybody in America carrying revolvers, and quick on the trigger on slight provocation? Was not justice administered by mobs or vigilance committees? In addition to that, there was negro slavery and so much humbug--"American humbug!" Why should any one go to a country like that?
Some had gone, however, following the Sloopers of '25 from 1836 on, but they were mostly tenants or very poor farmers who had barely scraped up enough to pay the passage on sailships and canal boats as far as Chicago or Milwaukee. Of some of the few educated persons leaving it was said they were no longer safe at home and that for them America was a safer and more suitable place. Letters were coming back from the poor emigrants, telling how much land they had acquired for little or nothing, how much stock they had and how they fared on pork, eggs, and white bread every day, instead of in Norway (as they used to say) "one day on soup and herring and the next day on herring and soup," or "one day mush and milk and the next day milk and mush." But years passed before this changed the attitude toward America of farmers with land owned in the family for generations, and proud to think themselves better than the poor emigrants. Those proud farmers could not then think of going to America without a feeling of humiliation, and when one of them went he felt half-ashamed.
Father died in January, 1870. That changed abruptly my whole aspect of life. An older brother was to have the farm after Mother; what was I to do? Mother wished to have me educated to teach, but I did not wish to be a teacher. There was left the choice to stay home and wait for something to turn up, go out as a laborer or to learn a trade, or to sea, or to America!
A farmer from Houston County, Minnesota, returned on a visit the winter of '70-'71. He infected half the population in that district with what was called the America fever, and I who was then the most susceptible caught the fever in its most virulent form. No more amusement of any kind, only brooding on how to get away to America. It was like a desperate case of homesickness reversed. Mother was appealed to with all the arguments I could think of, such as that I would escape being drafted as a soldier and would surely soon return. On my solemn promise to be back within five years, she consented, stocked me up. . . .
We were a party of about thirty and left Stavanger for Hull May 6th on an English steamer as deck passengers and slept below on a cargo of hay; were herded on the railroad by an interpreter from Hull to Liverpool, then put into another English boat for New York, driven party by sail and partly by steam. . . .
We had no Ellis Island or other gauntlet to run in New York but were speedily lodged in the old Castle Garden where we slept one night on the floor, and that did not matter to one who travelled with his thoughtful mother's feather quilt.
Then west by train on road and route not known to us. We saw mountains, which must have been the Alleghenies, and felt much depressed. Was that America? Had we been fooled? We expected to see flat ground with no timber or boulders to clear. When we came far enough to see that kind of country our spirits rose again. . . .
Some Forty Years Later
...I am again on a railroad train winding its way westward between wooded hills for one hundred and fifty miles and thence in straighter lines four hundred miles further over Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana prairies. I see farms to the right and left with comfortable dwellings and big, red barns, sheltered in groves of planted trees. I see herds of cattle, horses, hogs and sheep browsing on cornstalks left in the fields, or burrowing for food or shelter into huge straw piles left from the fall threshing. The ground is fall-plowed, ready to be seeded again as soon as spring returns. I pass through towns with fine buildings for dwellings and business. I reflect that when there wasn't yet a wagon road where I now ride in Pullman, Norwegian and Swedish immigrants came here in canvas-covered wagons pulled by oxen, and where they found no human trace on the ground they unhitched, built log or sod houses for shelter, and out of the wilderness made what I now see. How proud they well may be of that hard, creative work! They have been given political independence and have earned economic independence of their native countries, and they must, I think, for their own development, and in the interest of their adopted country, attain intellectual and spiritual independence also, without a dual national sentiment.