THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents

A Multitude of Immigrants
AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS AND HOW THEY ADDRESSED THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE

 

Home       l       Site Map      l      Exhibitions      l     About the Museum       l      Education      l     Contact Us       l       Links

 


From the New-York Daily Tribune, December 18, 1910:

TO DECREASE AND CLARIFY STREAM OF INCOMING ALIENS


Such is Plan of Immigration Commission, and Many Leading Americans Agree
That Congestion in Industrial Communities Causes Serious Ills.


A PARTY OF IMMIGRANTS ARRIVING AT ELLIS ISLAND.
 

 

A few days ago, as required by law, the United States Immigration Commission filed a brief statement of its conclusions and recommendations, and announced that the materials it had gathered would ultimately be published in forty volumes. As a result of its labors it has recommended that for economic and social reasons the flow of the stream of immigrants should be reduced. Its investigations showed that, although the standards of living and of wages in the higher forms of skilled labor had not been materially affected, the volume of unskilled labor from Europe was so great that employers were under no compulsion to maintain a standard of wages. The result was that not only were industrial communities congested to a degree that interfered with rapid assimilation, but the unskilled laborer was not able to raise his standard of living.

The various well-known methods of putting on the brakes were suggested as a remedy, and emphasis was laid upon the literacy test. This test, however, was not emphasized without a protest from Congressman Bennet, a member of the commission, who argued that it was illogical as a selective measure.

The question whether to restrict or not to restrict is now squarely up to the American people and Congress. A number of men who have come into close contact with the subject from one standpoint or another have contributed their views in the form of interviews on the question of restriction. Among them are Senator William P. Dillingham, chairman of the United States Immigration Committee, who evidently may be described as a conservative restrictionist, and Congressman Burnett, of Alabama, a Democrat, who is considered the most radical restrictionist member of the commission. The proportion of those favoring restriction is much greater than one would be led to expect, in view of the growing interest in the immigrant as a man.
 

John Mitchell, labor leader.

 

"I want to preface any remarks I may make on the subject of immigration with the statement that its restriction should not be based on any prejudice against the immigrant," said John Mitchell, the labor leader, as he laid aside his pipe and leaned back in his chair in his room at the office of the National Civic Federation. "Unfortunately, we find some objection to him based on such a ground. On the whole, immigrants are good men, and with half a chance would develop into fine American citizens. But sympathy for the immigrant should not cause us to disregard the higher obligation we owe to the people of our own country. We cannot absorb a million immigrants each year. We cannot find profitable employment for that number. As a consequence, the immigrant suffers from overcrowding. Because of his necessity he is too often compelled to accept any wages offered, and this is made the standard of living of the population now here.

"It is undesirable from any point of view that immigration should be colonized in great numbers, as now happens in most of our industrial centres. The immigrant has paid to no chance for development, and his children have not the best opportunity for becoming Americanized when they are colonized in such overwhelming numbers that they cannot absorb by contact with Americans the ideals of our country."

photo: John Mitchell.

"I am absolutely opposed to Asiatic labor of any type, whether Chinese, Japanese, Hindu or Korean, because those men cannot be assimilated. Amalgamation with them is impossible. It has never raised the standard of the Asiatic to the Caucasian, but has always lowered the standard of the latter to that of the former. Of course, I am not opposed to merchants and students coming to us for purposes of observation and of study.

The great difficulty about the whole problem lies in this fact, that too many of our employers believe in the false economic theory that low wages and cheaper products make for the prosperity of the nation. The reverse of that is true. The wage earner is a consumer. And it is the well paid and the reasonably employed wage earners who are the best workmen. It is they who are the consumers to be depended upon to build up a home market for our products. Therefore, the prosperity of the country depends upon the ability of the average wage earner to purchase the products of the American mine, mill and factory. The low paid workman is only able to purchase the merest necessities of life, and he makes no great contribution as a consumer to the material welfare of the land. If the employers would understand this side of the economic problem, they would not favor employment of newly arrived immigrants at the lower wage rate in preference to those having a higher standard of living.

"Wage earners believe that, in addition to the restrictions imposed by the laws at present in force, the head tax of four dollars now collected should be increased to ten; that each immigrant, unless he be a political refugee, should bring with him not less than $25, in addition to the amount required to pay transportation to the point where he expects to find employment, and that immigrants between the ages of fourteen and fifty years should be able to read a section of the Constitution of the United States, either in our language, in their own language, or in the language of the country from which they come."

"Would you favor an immigration policy which would permit the government to make special efforts in the manner which Canada has adopted to induce the kind of immigration we need while discouraging other kinds of labor from coming? Canada, you may recall, aims at attracting agricultural settlers, farm laborers and house servants and dissuades these trained in other occupations from landing on her shores."

"I should say that it would be much better if there were a shortage of any special class of labor to arrange for bringing it here than to leave the doors wide open as we now do, admitting a million immigrants in the hope that perhaps ten thousand of them will find their way into that branch of industry that is in need or workmen. The privilege would always have to be so safeguarded that those desiring the labor should be obliged to satisfy some government board that the labor was needed and could not be obtained in this country, that the prevailing rate of wages in that industry would be paid and that continuous employment would be provided. It would be a shame to bring then thousand farm laborers here for only three months' work."
 

"The economic problem which confronts us at the present time," said Senator Dillingham, "is the result of the enormously large immigration during the last twelve years, extending from 1898 to 1910, during which period the industrial expansion of the United States has by far exceeded that of any previous decade. During this period we have received 9,555,000 immigrants, of which 2,550,000, or about 36.5 per cent of the whole came from northern and western Europe, and was largely made up of English, Irish, Germans and Scandinavians, while about 63.5 per cent--nearly two-thirds of the whole--came from south eastern Europe--from Italy, Austria-Hungary and Russia more largely. Or--to include a larger period--in the sixty-two years, extending from 1820 to 1882, we admitted about 11,000,000 aliens, a great proportion of whom came from the countries of northern and western Europe.

photo: Senator W. P. Dillingham, Chairman of the committee which urges restriction of immigration.

 

Senator W. P. Dillingham

But during the period of twenty-seven years extending from 1882 to 1909, 15,000,000 have been admitted, more than half of whom came from Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia and the Balkan states.

"The difference in these two classes is indicated by the fact that of the first--those from Northern and Western Europe--about 58.5 per cent were males and 41.5 per cent females, while of those coming from Southeastern Europe, about 73.5 per cent were males and only 26.5 per cent females. Assuming that all of these females are wives, the fact remains that nearly one-half of all the males coming from that part of Europe last mentioned are single, and that fact indicates that they came to the United States not so much with the intention of remaining permanently and making homes, as to better their immediate condition and return to their former homes.

"Of the old class--the Northern and Western Europeans--only 23.8 per cent were farm and common laborers, while of the latter class00the Southeastern Europeans--more than 51 per cent were unskilled laborers, and although of the old class only sixteen out of every hundred admitted returned during the period mentioned, 38 per cent of the new class found their way back. Another significant difference between the two classes lies in the fact that of the first, only 2.7 per cent were literate, while of the latter class 35.6 were unable to read and write. As above appears, more than one-half of the latter class are unskilled laborers, and are employed in the basic industries of the country as miners of coal, copper and iron and wherever the production of iron and steel as a finished product is carried on.

"It does not appear that this great influx has actually reduced the rate of wages in any of the communities where they have been employed, but it has operated to prevent an increase of the rate of such wages, and the bettering of the labor conditions, while on the other hand, they have adopted a standard of living considerably lower than that which would satisfy Americans or immigrants of longer residence among us. The result has been that they have crowded out many of those previously employed, and these have been compelled to obtain employment in more favored communities. And in many instances also, the number on the payrolls of the different industries has been so great that they have been able to obtain employment only a portion of the time, and their annual earnings have been so reduced that their standard of living could not be improved. In spite of this fact, however, they have been thrifty and saving in their habits, and by strict economy have been enabled to increase their store of savings to such an extent that in 1907 they remitted abroad $141,000,000, of which $55,000,000 went to Austria-Hungary, $52,00,000 to Italy, and $15,000,000 to Russia.

"These facts, briefly stated as they are, would, in my judgment, warrant further legislative action of a restrictive nature, the character of which should operate more particularly upon that element among us who have come without intention of obtaining the privileges and benefits of citizenship. The commission has mentioned several methods which could be adopted to accomplish this end, but has not discussed in detail the merits of the several propositions."
 

"As a matter of fact," said Dr. Josiah Strong, president of the American Institute for Social Service and author of several well-known books on social conditions in the United States, "it is high time we considered seriously the question of some limit to immigration--some restriction. Europe can send us 3,000,000 a year; that is, 200,000,000 in the course of the twentieth century, and yet increase her own population, the source of supply. The problem of immigration is the result of the difference in economic conditions, and will continue until a balance is reached. Immigrants are attracted to us principally because of the difference in economic conditions, and unless prevented the stream will continue until there has been an equalization of economic conditions--which will be a long time hence. To my mind, it is an economic question, but it is also something more. It is a question of assimilation. Henry Ward Beecher jauntily dismissed the problem by saying: "When a lion eats an ox the ox becomes lion, not the lion ox." But the lion's appetite is governed by an unfailing instinct that tells him when to stop. If he had quantities of ox jammed down his throat after his appetite had been satisfied, the noble ox might slay the king of the beasts.

photo: Dr. Josiah Strong.

 

Dr. Josiah Strong, president of the American Institute for Social Service.

"When immigrants come faster than they can be assimilated," he continued, "they are coming too fast. Broad as is our country, there is not room in it for a little Ireland here, a little Germany there and a little Scandinavia yonder. I would not imply a lack of sympathy with the immigrant. Immigration is bringing us a lot of splendid raw material of which to make American citizens, and when they become really acquainted with American institutions they show a patriotism which often puts to shame many of us to the manor born. Let them come as fast as they can be Americanized, but no faster."

That an Italian should favor a literacy test will surprise some students of immigration. Yet it is favored by Professor Alberto Pecorini, a Venetian, the writer of an authoritative work in Italian on American history and institutions and the managing director of the Italian American Civic League. His reasons are interesting ones:

"So far as Italian immigration is concerned," he said, "as a private citizen I wish to state that I am decidedly in favor of the education test. The reasons I have for taking this position are the condition of the Italians here and the condition of the provinces of Italy from which most of the Italians came.

"It is a fact that the Italian illiterate peasant is the best laborer that this country has had or can have at the wages usually paid to him. Illiterate Italian laborers have build in this country nearly fifty thousand miles of railroad during the last twenty-five years. If Irish instead of Italian labor had been used, their cost would have been increased by $300,000,000. Italian illiterate laborers came very handy to this country, as they came at the time when this country needed just such men as they.

"It is, however, a very grave fact that their tendency has been to concentrate in centres with a population already very large, instead of scattering throughout the country. Their state of utter dependence on somebody else for almost anything that they have to do, from writing a letter home to getting their train to go to work, is the principal cause of the flourishing among them of a certain semi-criminal class of more intelligent Italians who live by exploiting them, and whose interest it is to keep them separate from the American environment and in the most complete ignorance, so that they may not find themselves able to do anything without assistance.

"It is due to the ignorance and the illiteracy of the Italian laboring mass that the spirit of civic solidarity is so little developed among them, and that American authorities have trouble in making Italians understand some of the most fundamental and necessary functions of good citizenship, like testifying before the courts, sending children to school and keeping the regulations of the Board of Health. I believe that it is due in great measure to the large percentage of illiterates among the Italians and the creation of this class of exploiters that such an Italian environment has been created in the large American cities that has been a disgrace t the fair name of Italy, and that had not the percentage of illiteracy been so high the Italians would be held in esteem, to-day in this country, as are the Irish and the German elements.

"I also believe in the educational test, on account of the conditions in Southern Italy and Sicily. For several reasons, the Italian government has not attended to the education of the masses of these regions as it ought to have done. Southern Italy is now a country where going to America is the chief industry, and if it be known that nobody can come to America who is illiterate, it will be only a question of a few years when schools will be crowded and the masses will be clamoring for new schools and compelling the government to build them and run them, in order to be put in a position to exercise freely and profitably the best industry they have, and that they are bound to have for ten or fifteen years to come."

Marked pessimism characterizes the feeling of Charles Loring Brace, secretary of the Children's Aid Society, who points out the manner in which he believes the present unrestricted flow of immigration affects the economic status of all, regardless of their position in the social fabric.

"Personally, I am heartily in favor of restriction for a term of years, until we can assimilate what we have," said he. "For instance, nearly all of our work is among the children of foreigners. The most efficient aliens go out from New York and leave with us the most helpless. If the immigration could be so restricted that we could assimilate what we have, it would be well. It seems quite hopeless how to touch the problem. The immigrants come faster than we can do anything with them. The end of this appears to be that this tremendous influx will bring the standard of living down so low that even immigration itself must ultimately be stopped for that reason. But that means that the rest of us must come down to that standard. You will find that as soon as the Italian and the Russian get a public school education, they are going to compete with us--so it will affect all of us. They have the ability, and as soon as they get the education they are going to fill all positions. They are as able intellectually as any of us are. I know that because we are training them in our schools and see the success n the graduates. The question was put in one of our schools attended by Jewish children as to what they wanted to do and be. One half said they wanted to be doctors and the other half lawyers. They all were ambitious, but not all of them could hope to be great successes. Competition was sure to lower the standards of some in the practice of their professions. Some were bound to become quack physicians and shyster lawyers.

"I believe the tendency away from high standards is forced by the fearful crowding, the competition of numbers," he continued. "There are many shyster Jewish lawyers, but I presume they are such because they have to earn a living. They have been ambitious, but the competition has been too great. Even if there were greater distribution the evil would not be lessened, as some think. Colonies would form in the smaller cities, where the members would be isolated and repeat the conditions to be found here. They would not come in contact with Americans, and the schools, inferior in character, would not help them."

In marked contrast was the optimistic view of C. W. Shelton, secretary of the Congregational Church Extension Society, an organization which has had much to do with missionary work among aliens at Ellis Island and in New York City.

"Depew put it about right when he said we ought to have restriction of the influx of criminals," Mr. Shelton remarked. "If the present laws for the exclusion of criminals are being fully enforced, then we need new ones, and if they are not being fully enforced then we need men who can enforce them. I believe the eighty years of history of immigration warrants the country in receiving all immigrants morally, intellectually and physically fitted for citizenship who are ready to come. Take the great West for the last thirty years. Who has built it up? I have worked on the prairies and know. In my church out on the prairies seven languages were spoken. I have great faith in the immigrant. There is room for him. There is plenty of work for him. Just before frost a man came to see me. He wanted men to dig some cellars before the frost set in. He went to Ellis Island and offered $2.50 a day. He could not get a man. The railroads got them as fast as they came in."

The radical view of restriction is presented by Congressman Burnett, who explains his personal views regarding the different methods of restriction proposed by the commission, of which he is a minority member.

"What in your opinion is the most feasible method of restricting immigration?" he was asked.

"I concur with the majority of the commission in the statement that the educational test is the most feasible, single method. It is not only restrictive, but is selective," he said.

"I do not favor the limitation of the number of each race that should be permitted to this country, because in that way we would cut out many desirable people, and at the same time let in many that I deem undesirable. This might also involve us in international complications as a result of alleged discrimination.

"I should not favor the method of excluding all unskilled laborers unaccompanied by wives or families, because that also would cut out many good people, and still let in many that are not desirable. While it would cut out many of the undesirable ones who come from Southern and Eastern Europe, usually without their families, it would also cut out many unskilled laborers who are capable of becoming skilled laborers when they come from the right kind of stock.

"I should not object to the suggestion of the limitation of the number arriving annually at any port. This would prevent such congestion as we see at some ports of arrival, but would really not be effective as a restrictive measure, because the steamship companies would soon meet it by diverting them to other ports. While it might be a proper method of distribution, it would not be an effective means of restriction.

"In regard to the increase of the amount of money required to be in the possession of the immigrant on his arrival, I believe that something of the kind should be adopted. Not so much as a restrictive measure, but for the purpose of insuring the ability of the immigrant to keep from becoming a public charge as soon as he gets here. I would not think that this should be applied to every immigrant, including wives and small children, but believe that the requirement should be made of all male immigrants more than eighteen years old, and of female immigrants who come alone, or have not some near relative in this country upon whom they could rely for support.

"I believe that the head tax should be increased to $10, but I would not apply that to children accompanied by their fathers, or to wives accompanied by their husbands. As to the children and wives, I would say that the present head tax should remain. It would also be right to allow it to remain. It would also be right to allow it to remain as to dependent parents who come with their admissible children, or come to those already here. I believe that an increase of head tax would be fair for several reasons. The first is, that the Immigration Bureau with all its connections should be maintained absolutely out of money derived from immigration. Wile I have no objection, especially to the head tax being turned into the general treasury as it now is, yet I believe that enough revenue should be derived from that source to pay all the expenses incurred by reason of immigration. Not only are thousands of dollars expended every year in keeping up the Bureau of Immigration, in building and improving places for their comfort and convenience, but a large force has to be kept constantly along our borders to prevent the smuggling of immigrants and other violations of our laws."
 

 


 

Copyright 2008-9. Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.  Image Use Policy.