Reasons for the link between American diplomacy and ethnicity are found in the manner in which the country was settled. In Europe it was common to have a single national or religious identification shared by the public. In the emerging American republic, however, the composition of the population reflected a high degree of national, religious, and racial diversity. One wave of immigrants after another swelled the American population with persons of vastly dissimilar backgrounds.
White English settlers made up the clear majority in the American colonies, but only through the second half of the eighteenth century. During that period three-quarters of the new settlers were Scotch-Irish, Scottish, German, French, and Swiss. Thirty percent of New Englanders came from places other than England in the years immediately preceding the War for Independence. Settlers of English ancestry were only 30 percent of the population in German-dominated Pennsylvania. In the southern colonies African slaves comprised the single largest ethnic or racial group.
These immigrants, and in many instances their descendants, have retained ancestral loyalties. Over centuries, waves of immigration have brought to America innumerable groups and tens of millions of immigrants whose ancestral identity has been handed down to present generations. It has been, and remains, common for ethnic minorities—such as Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, and Polish Americans—to embrace their new American loyalties while clinging to their kinship ties. Groups with millions of immigrants, such as those noted above, have the advantage of their large numbers in lobbying for a particular foreign policy. A fascinating element of ethnic politics that will be explained is that even a relatively small ethnic group representing only a fraction of 1 percent of the national population, such as Armenian Americans, can exert significant influence on the conduct of foreign policy.
The process through which American foreign policy is formulated works to the advantage of ethnic groups interested in assisting some cause of their homeland. All forms of government, including dictatorships, ultimately rely upon the support of public opinion to sustain their activities abroad. In a democracy, however, the link between the nation's diplomacy and the desires of the citizenry is more direct than in nondemocratic states.
The extent to which ethnic minorities are able to shape foreign policy is a uniquely American phenomenon. No other nation has absorbed such extensive waves of immigration as the United States. Sixty percent of the world's international migration between the early nineteenth century and 1930 came to the United States.