The Irish in American Life

SINCE the settlement of this country, we have received nearly, if not quite four million immigrants from Ireland, — a number about two thirds as large as that of the present population of Ireland. To understand what part these people have played in American life, it is necessary to inquire what were their antecedents and what was their national character.

In the first place, our immigrants have been the most Irish of the Irish. They have come mainly from the western counties,— from Clare, Kerry, Leitrim, Galway, and Sligo ; and these are the counties in which the inhabitants are most nearly of Celtic descent. It is a matter of dispute among historians how far the peculiarities of the Irish race are due to the Celtic blood that is in them, but at all events these peculiarities have come to be associated with the Celtic race and are called by that name. A Celt is notoriously a passionate, impulsive, kindly, unreflecting, brave, nimble - witted man; but he lacks the solidity, the balance, the judgment, the moral staying power of the Anglo-Saxon. The Celts, so far as their history is known, have been as unsuccessful in war as they have been brave in battle. Their history is a history of defeat. “ They went forth to war, but they always fell.” Intellectually, the Celt is fundamentally different from the Anglo-Saxon. He proceeds by intuition rather than by inference, and he is usually unable to state the process by which he has reached a given conclusion in such a way as to be convincing or even comprehensible to an Anglo-Saxon antagonist. I was present once at a long discussion between the most brilliant Irishman whom I ever knew and an American of great talent. After it had come to an impotent conclusion, one of the disputants declared, “ It is useless for us to discuss, for we really cannot understand each other: ” and that was the truth. It was this fundamental difference that a great English writer had in mind when he said, after a residence of some length in Ireland, “It becomes more clear to me every day that, in their ways of thinking, in their ideals and mental habits, these people are as different from us as if they belonged to a different world.”

Mr, Arnold, in his acute essay upon Celtic literature, says that if we are to characterize the Celtic nature by a single word, “sentimental” is the word that we should choose ; and, adopting the happy phrase of a French writer, he speaks of “ the Celts, with their vehement reaction against the despotism of fact.” It is this inability to see facts as they are, to realize their consequences and to submit to them, which more than anything else has impaired the efficiency of the Celtic race. For instance, to attempt, as the Fenians did, the conquest of England by throwing a handful of soldiers across the line between Canada and the United States was a signal example of “ reaction against the despotism of fact.” But Mr. Arnold speaks also, and with equal truth, of “ the greater delicacy and spirituality of the Celtic peoples.” They are neither so hard nor so gross as the AngloSaxon races ; and they have in a high degree the splendid virtues of courage and generosity. Loyalty, too, is a virtue for which the Celt has always been remarkable. Finally, the Celt is essentially a social creature, loving society and hating solitude ; and this trait has determined to no small extent his career as a citizen of the United States.

It must be remembered, furthermore, that our Irish immigrants belong not only to the Celtic, but also to a conquered race. They belong to a race which for many years was subjected to a galling persecution. Our immigrants are Catholics ; and for a long period the Catholic religion was proscribed in Ireland. Its priests were concealed in the cottages of the peasantry, and mass was said in hiding-places. Resistance by the Irish to England and to the government set over them by England necessarily took the form of conspiracy, sometimes of treachery. And from this long and cruel subjection the Irish character has suffered. It has acquired a quality of deceit, of unveracity, such as is always found in a race long under subjection. The Christians of the East, at this day, are notoriously untruthful. Moreover, in this country, the Irish, notwithstanding their intense love for Ireland, have always exhibited a certain shame at being Irish instead of American. Partly this may have been simply a reflection from the feeling of superiority which the native American felt and showed ; but certainly the Irish brought with them a consciousness of inferiority to the AngloSaxon race, — not necessarily an inferiority of nature, but an inferiority of condition. Mr. William O’Brien relates a striking illustration of this. “ A great prelate,” he says, “ of distinguished attainments in Irish, was on his way to the visitation of a parish where almost everybody understood that language. I asked, should we have the advantage of hearing him address the people in Irish ? The answer was that nothing would give him greater pleasure, but that one could not insult an Irish-speaking congregation more effectively than by addressing them in Irish; that they would take it as a suggestion that they were a pack of barbarians who knew no English.” “ Paddy ” is a term of opprobrium in this country, even when addressed by one Irishman to another.

Another Irish trait, often exhibited in American life, is a morbid sensitiveness, a readiness to take offense and to suspect insult or unkindness when none is intended ; and this, too, is the badge of a conquered race. This failing has been shown most conspicuously in political matters. When Mayor Hewitt, of New York, refused to permit the Irish flag to be hoisted over City Hall upon St, Patrick’s Day, the Irishmen of New York received the refusal with a tirade of abuse. A Democratic governor of Massachusetts once declined to review an Irish society because its members paraded under arms, which was contrary to the law of the State. This was a just and manly act on his part, and one from which he, being a Democrat, could gain no possible advantage; but the Irish, with Celtic impetuosity and with the supersensitiveness of a conquered race, overlooked the motive, and took the act as an intentional insult.

Finally, our Irish immigrants have been almost universally Catholic in religion, and to the difference in religion between them and native Americans, more than to difference of race or of temperament, is due the fact that they still form a distinct, though integral part of the community. However, the American people, though Protestant, had ceased, at the time of the great Irish immigration, to be aggressively Protestant. They had also become much easier to live with, more flexible, more open-minded, than the Englishmen from whom they were descended; and, on the whole, the two races — Anglo-Saxon, American, Protestant, on the one hand, and Celtic, Irish, Catholic, on the other — have lived and labored side by side with astonishingly little friction. There was, to be sure, the Know-Nothing movement of 1854-55, but that was a short-lived affair, and the present efforts of the A. P. A. are less effective, and bid fair to be equally transitory. The argument against the Irish, as Catholics, is that they owe allegiance first to the Pope, and only secondarily to the government of the United States ; but if these two powers ever come in conflict, it is safe to assume that national * feeling will prevail, and that the Pope will be disregarded. In the Middle Ages, the authority of the Pope was far greater, national feeling was far weaker, than is the case now ; and yet the history of the Middle Ages is full of instances where the Pope attempted to carry out some anti-national policy and failed. To what, indeed, is the present isolated position of the Holy Father due except to his vain resistance of that national feeling which produced United Italy!

Such, then, was and is the character of our immigrants from Ireland: Celtic in race, with the faults of a conquered and oppressed nation ; Catholic in religion; agriculturists or “ unskilled laborers ” by occupation. They have come to us mainly since about the middle of the present century. From 1820 to 1830 the immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland averaged only 6000 per annum ; but about the year 1832 the number began to increase, and when the Irish famine of 1846 occurred it suddenly became enormous. It reached a climax in 1854, when the total immigration to this country, about half of it being Irish, was 427,833.1

The early emigration, between 1846 and 1855, was attended with a vast deal of suffering. The emigrants crossed the sea, it must be remembered, not in steamships, but in sailing-vessels, and the average length of the voyage from Liverpool to New York was about thirty-five days. In the winter of 1849-50 several emigrant-ships were forced to put back after having been out for seventy days, and their passengers, being soon transferred to other ships, sailed upon a second voyage, weakened and demoralized by the hardships of the first. Ship fever soon broke out among them, and carried off many. In some cases the provisions were exhausted, and there was famine upon the sea as well as upon the land.

The London press fired parting maledictions at the fleeing emigrants: “Ireland has no snakes or vermin except among Its peasantry and clergy.” “ Ireland is boiling over, and the scum flows across the Atlantic.” Such were the gentle words with which these emigrants, flying from famine, were speeded on their way. And what was their reception in this country ? We permitted them to land. If any were imbecile, crippled, or helpless, we sent them back. To the able-bodied we gave a fair field, but no favor and no assistance or even advice. They arrived in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia (at least three quarters of the whole in New York) with little or no money. As a rule, they knew how to till the soil, and they knew nothing else. Land in unlimited quantities, rich farm land, was lying idle at the West, and could these immigrants have been transported thither, with some aid, perhaps, from temporary loans of money, their prosperity would have been assured, and a source of great danger to our Eastern cities removed. In this emergency, what was done by the national government or by the state governments concerned ? Nothing. The Irish seem to have been overlooked even by the philanthropists, though one voice, at least, was raised in their behalf. In a series of interesting letters (afterward published in a pamphlet) dealing with the Irish immigration, the Rev. E. E. Hale wrote in 1851: “ Here in Massachusetts we writhe and struggle . . . lest we return one fugitive slave who can possibly be saved from Southern slavery; but when there come these fugitives from Irish Bastilles, as they call them, we tax them first, and neglect them afterwards.”

This was our first great mistake in dealing with the Irish : we gave them no opportunity to do that for which they were best fitted, to become farmers. Lacking money and skill and information, they remained largely in the great cities where they landed. The Irish who came later have followed a similar course. Partly from necessity and partly from choice, — the Celt being, as I have said, eminently a social creature, — they have become dwellers in cities ; and a great proportion of them are found in the chief cities of the Atlantic seaboard. In this tendency the Irish are surpassed only by the Italians.2 Nearly two thirds of our whole Irish population are in the five States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania ; and more than one quarter of the whole are found in five large cities, namely, New York, Chicago. Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Boston.3 The only Western State which has a considerable percentage of Irishmen, 3.25, is Illinois ; and this percentage is due to the Irish population in Chicago.

The Irish immigrants, being unskilled and uneducated, naturally took their place at the very bottom of the social ladder; and they have done the hard manual work of the country. They began to come at an opportune time, when our mining and manufacturing industries were ready to receive a great accession of workmen, and when railroads were beginning to be built. Since 1830 one hundred and fifty thousand miles of railroad have been constructed in the United States, and doubtless the greater part of the rails were laid by Irishmen. Irish girls took the place of Yankee girls in the cotton-mills of Lowell and Lawrence; and in the course of a few years the domestic service of the country was revolutionized by the substitution of Irish for native-born servants. In the case of the men this answered well enough. The » typical “ hired man ” of New England, the man employed in towns and villages by people of moderate means who keep a cow, a horse or two, and have a small garden, has been for many years an Irishman ; and barring an occasional spree, no more faithful or pleasanter servant could be desired. In the case of the women the results have not been so good. Patrick has an almost innate knowledge of a horse, a cow, and a garden ; but Bridget, having never been taught, knows little of cooking or neat housekeeping. Then, too, the difference of race and of religion creates more friction between women than it does between men. But Bridget, despite the fact that her shortcomings have been the theme of comic papers for half a century, has some excellent qualities. She breaks contracts, but she does not steal; and if the little people of the country were interrogated upon the subject, I am sure that they would declare in her favor. Now, a servant to whom a whole nation safely entrusts its household property and its children is not utterly to be condemned.

What became of the native American servants and mill hands who were displaced by the Irish it would be hard to say. Of the men, many emigrated to the West, and many were employed in shops, or as foremen and superintendents in factories, foundries, and stables, and as brakemen, conductors, and the like upon railroads. Of the women, many became shop-girls and seamstresses. In recent years, the Irish, in their turn, have largely been displaced. They have abandoned to the French-Canadians the woolen and cotton factories of New England. Where one used to see Irishmen digging up the streets one now sees Italians ; and the imps of the sidewalk in New York and Boston, the newsboys and bootblacks, are now more often Italian than Irish. In the coal regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Irish have given way to Hungarians, Poles, and Russians. Many Irish are at present employed as salesmen in shops ; and no doubt the influx of other nationalities, especially in the last five or ten years, has raised the Irish in the social scale, but a large proportion of them are still unskilled laborers or domestic servants.

Of the children born in the United States of Irish parents, according to the census of 1880,4 there were occupied industrially 978,854 persons, distributed as follows : rendering personal service, 415,854 ; in mechanical and mining industries, 284,175 ; in agriculture, 140,307 ; in trade and railroads, 138,518. Thus it will be seen that only a very small proportion are engaged in agriculture, and a very large proportion are servants of one kind or another.

Despite the small number of Irishmen who are engaged in agriculture, the Irish as a whole, and especially the Irish immigrants, have shown a fondness for land. When an Irishman acquires a piece of real estate, even in a city or a large town, it is hard to dislodge him from it. The very fact that in Ireland it was almost impossible for him or for any member of his class to obtain land may be the reason why he is so ambitious of owning it in America. In the Northwest, the Irish farmers have done exceedingly well, and in New England, since the civil war, many farms that were thrown on the market or abandoned by their American owners have been taken up by Irishmen. In the Northwest, the Irish of the second generation usually remain upon the land ; but in New England the children of the Irish are just as prone as children of native Americans to exchange country for city life.5 Norwegians, Swedes, and even Italians are taking their places.

I happen to know the history of one farm situated about twenty miles from Boston. Thirty years ago it was sold by the American owner, to whom it had descended through his ancestors for two hundred years back. He moved to Boston and opened a shop. The purchaser was an Irishman, who made the farm profitable, and, when he became old, retired with a competence to a house in the village. His sons grew up and went to the city, one of them becoming a coachman ; and the farm is now owned by a Norwegian. His children will probably sell it, perhaps to an Italian. In many cases the Irish immigrant and his sons have done well in business, acquiring a good deal of property ; and it is noticeable, but not surprising, that in almost all of these cases the business is of what might be called a gregarious kind. Irishmen prefer, and succeed best in, those occupations where a man can be lively and sociable and can move about, and especially where he can have to do with horses. Contractors, blacksmiths, stablekeepers, and hackmen are largely Irishmen. Some of the most noted trainers and drivers of trotting horses have been Irishmen. I know one Irishman who began life as the driver of a coupe for a liveryman. Before long he had a horse and coupé of his own. Then he bought another horse and coupe, and hired a man. And from this small beginning he has become, in twenty years, the owner of a large stable and of much valuable real estate. He still attends vigorously to business, but indulges himself in the ownership of a few running horses. This is not an isolated case of prosperity. Saloon-keepers are notoriously Irishmen ; and what more social occupation could there be than keeping a saloon ! In the Boston Directory are the names of 526 persons who sell liquor at retail, and of these names 317 are unmistakably Irish.6

The same principle holds good in an Irishman’s choice of a profession. Very seldom does he become a doctor : the severe course of study is repugnant to him, and the practice of medicine, though it involves seeing people, does not involve seeing them in a sociable way. On the other hand, there are many Irish lawyers. To become a really good lawyer does indeed require hard study ; but a man can make a creditable appearance before a jury without knowing much law, and it is easy for an Irishman to be eloquent and quick at repartee. In some cases, where sound judgment and the power of application are united with Celtic liveliness and eloquence, we find Irish lawyers of the first rank ; and these men have a suavity and courtesy of their own. But they are not numerous. Neither in the professions, nor in politics, nor in trade does the Irish - American often rise to a high position. A recent traveler in tlie V est, whose object was to procure investments for foreign capital, states that lie found very few Irishmen at the head of industrial enterprises. The managers of such concerns were usually native Americans, Scotchmen, or Englishmen.

The herding of the Irish in our large cities, and tlieir sudden contact with new social and political conditions, have made the average of pauperism, crime, and mortality very high among them. For example, in the year 1890 the number of white paupers born in the United States, but having both parents foreign-born and both parents of the same nationality, was, so far as it could be ascertained, 3333. To this number the Irish contributed 1806, whereas the Germans contributed only 916, although the Germans in this country outnumber the Irish by more than a million.7 A table which indicates, not the pauper, but the criminal element is even more significant. In 1890, the number of white prisoners who were born in the United States, but who had both parents foreign-born and both parents of the same nationality, was 11,327. These were distributed, so far as the Irish and Germans are concerned, as follows : Irish, 7935 ; German, 1709.

However, in this matter one need not resort to such unsatisfactory evidence as statistics. It is plain from observation and experience that, on the whole, the Irish in America, of the second generation, degenerate. The children of Irish birth, born and brought up in this country, are morally inferior to their parents. This is a hard saying, and perhaps it bears harder upon Americans and upon American institutions than it does upon the Irish. Perhaps, also, it does not apply to agricultural communities, but it is true of the Irish in cities and towns. This is the testimony not only of my own personal experience and observation, but of all whom I have consulted upon the subject. It is the testimony of Irishmen themselves. One of the foremost of that race in this country, a man whose name would command the respect of all of our citizens, says, m a letter which lies before me: "Life in cities demoralizes to a noticeable degree the descendants of Irishmen. They are not as good as their immigrant fathers; that is, a large proportion of those descendants. They are disinclined to work, seek easy jobs, rush into politics for the excitement which politics afford. In country places, descendants of Irishmen are an improvement upon the old stock almost in all cases.’

The Irish-American finds himself better schooled and better dressed than his father, and with a brogue so much modified as to be barely perceptible. These differences, or superiorities as he conceives them to be, create in him a most unwholesome contempt for the traditions and simple virtues of his father ’s people. That feeling of racial inferiority which, as I have said, the Irish brought with them, or partly, perhaps, acquired here, is strong in the Irish-American, and he becomes Americanized almost too quickly. He imbibes with avidity the theory of equality, and with true Celtic ardor pushes it to excess. There are, of course, many Irish-Americans who, as the authority whom I have just quoted says, “ add to the virtues of the old stock the activity and intelligence of the American.” On the other hand, there are many Irish-Americans, young men growing up in our cities, who are too vain or too lazy to work, self-indulgent, impudent, and dissipated.

We can hardly blame the Irish for this degeneracy, when we consider how quickly and completely their habits and ideas were revolutionized by the change of residence from Ireland to America.

In Ireland they were chiefly an agricultural people, living in cottages more or less isolated, each family having a home to itself. In this country they live chiefly in cities and in tenement houses, and often under such circumstances that real home life is impossible. An accomplished Irishman, Mr. Philip Bagenal, gives the following description of how his countrymen, or many of them, live in the city of New York : —

“ Crowded into one small room a whole family lives, a unit among a dozen other such families. . . . There is a high rent to be paid, but no one dares in New York to say with Michael Davitt that such a rent is an ‘ immoral tax.’ The street below is dirty and ill kept. In the basement is a beer saloon, where crime and want jostle each other, and curses fill the air. On the other side is an Italian tenement reeking with dirt and rags. Close by is a Chinese quarter or a Polish Jew colony. Everywhere the moral atmosphere is one of degradation and human demoralization. Gross sensuality prevails ; the sense of shame, if ever known, is early stifled. ’ Could we expect the simple virtues of an agricultural people to survive such an environment as this ?

But perhaps the theory of equality, as the Irish commonly misunderstand it, has worked more havoc with Irish manners and morals than any other new circumstance of their life in America. At home, they lived under a political and social system intensely aristocratic. The Irish peasantry have been regarded, and therefore have regarded themselves, as a class so inferior as to deserve little consideration from their superiors. A striking illustration of this is cited by Mr. Lecky from the notes of a traveler in Ireland:

“ In the month of June, 1809, at the races of Carlow, I saw a poor man ’s cheek laid open by the stroke of a whip. The inhuman wretch who inflicted the wound was a gentleman of some rank in the county. The unhappy sufferer was standing in his way ; and, without requesting him to move, he struck him with less ceremony than an English squire would a dog. But what astonished me even more than the deed, and which shows the difference between English and Irish feeling, was that not a murmur was heard nor a hand raised in disapprobation.” 8

From a subjection somewhat like this, though less harsh, the Irishman passes, in no longer time than it takes a modern steamship to cross the Atlantic, to a political condition where no classes are recognized by law, and where one man is considered to be “ as good as another.” The principle that all men are equal commonly means, as the Irish immigrant, or, more truly, as his son understands it, that there is no superiority of one man to another except the superiority of wealth, and perhaps of that kind of intelligence which enables people to acquire wealth. Now. when a man thinks, or believes that he thinks, or even when he makes a pretense of thinking, that, other things being equal, an untrained, unrefined, uneducated person is as “good as or “ equal to “ a trained, refined, and educated person, he has taken the first step in a downward course. He has let go of the truth, and has begun to build on a foundation of falsehood. We often see in native Americans the same degeneracy, the same half - conscious acceptance of a false theory, the same fallingoff in manners and morals, when they pass from an agricultural community to a great city.

But what makes the matter worse in the case of the Irish is this : the Irishman is essentially a loyal person, and many generations of subordination have made it natural for him to look up to others. He has need of and an instinctive liking for some one to follow, to obey, to imitate. Can we blame him, then, if, from the want of worthy leadership, lie falls away ? He would scarcely look for such leadership among native Americans, for they are alien to him in race and religion. And if he did look for it among them, he would not easily lind it. Our aristocracy, so far as we have one, is mainly a vulgar and selfish plutocracy. Among his own race there are individuals, but there is no whole class fit to serve as leaders in morals or in manners ; and for want of anything better, he is compelled to fall back upon Irish politicians, orators, and saloonkeepers.

This noble virtue, loyalty, is, in these days, hardly considered a virtue. To esteem a man so much above one’s self as to be loyal to him and to show him respect is thought by many persons to be anti-democratic. I was in a room the other day, when there entered a man distinguished in political life, a former Senator of the United States. Nobody was at pains to hand him a chair except one old gentleman, whose notions of respect were derived from a former generation. The Irish, and the Irish-Americans too, are loyal. They have the true spiritof devotion to a leader, to a hero, to a cause. After all, this is not only a virtue, but a fruitful one ; and it may he doubted if, in the long run, even a republic can safely dispense with it. The loyalty of the Irish to the Democratic party, though fraught with some evils, is a rare example of constancy.

It is like the devotion of a lover to a mistress not always deserving of devotion. The origin of this political attachment is so familiar that it need only be glanced at here. In 1792, the period of residence in this country fixed by law as a condition of naturalization was extended by the Federalists, who were then in power, from two years to five years.

In 1798, it was again extended from five years to fourteen years. In the same year, the Federalists passed the famous, or infamous, Alien Act, which empowered the President, of his own motion and without trial or process of law, to order any and every alien in the country to leave it forthwith, under penalty of imprisonment. The act expired by limitation in 1801. Mr. Adams never made use of it, and the only consequence of it was to hasten the downfall of the Federal party. This unwise and illiberal legislation had the effect of driving every Irishman in the country into the Republican party, as it was then called, and its successor the present Democratic party.

By many people the adhesion of the Irish to the Democratic party is considered to be a vicious thing. There are certain newspapers and reformers who appear to think that the rank and file of Tammany Hall, for example, are actuated by purely selfish motives. But the rank and file have nothing to gain in politics. Tammany draws upon a deep reservoir of loyalty ; it has a following composed mostly of good, true men, worthy of better leadership. The Irish vote is not a mercenary vote. It is a significant fact that the Republican party, with all its wealth and with all the unscrupulousness which characterizes political parties in general, has never been able to break the solid column of the Irish Democrats. It is true, no doubt, that in some cases Irish political leaders have “ traded ” the votes which they controlled, or perhaps even sold them for money; but in these transactions the voters were innocent dupes. There are districts in which, among a large class, a man’s vote is a recognized, merchantable commodity. In Rhode Island, for instance, the extent of this vote has been calculated with some nicety;9 but it has never been charged, in Rhode Island or elsewhere, except in rare cases, that Irishmen sell their votes. But when an Irishman goes into politics, as the phrase is, he leaves honesty behind him.

The political activity of the Irish in this country has been notoriously great, and on the whole it has been pernicious. Ireland has furnished us with a few commanding figures in political life. The fathers of two Presidents of the United States emigrated from one and the same small town in the north of Ireland ; but for the most part the Irish have contributed an insignificant number to the higher offices, state or national. They have, however, figured very largely as councilmen and aldermen in the chief cities, and also as legislators in several States, notably in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. In these positions, it must be confessed, they have been distinguished more by corruption and intrigue than by any better qualities. The part which Irishmen have played in the city government of New York and in the New York Assembly is too familiar to require comment here. Not long ago an Irish member of the Massachusetts legislature remarked that he was a laughing-stock to his Irish associates because he refused to take money from persons interested in matters of legislation before the House. And yet it would be easy to exaggerate the relative depravity of the Irish in this respect. The power of Tammany in New York would probably have been broken long since had it not been for native American, and. during the latest campaign, German-American support. If we say that the course which the Irish have taken in politics has been more uniformly and consistently bad than that pursued by native Americans, we shall probably state the truth. Among Irish politicians there is an almost entire absence of that reform element which has always to be reckoned with in the case of native Americans. Even Irishmen who are honest in business will often adopt a different standard in politics.

This laxity can be attributed mainly, I think, to the fact that for centuries the Irish in Ireland have been educated to a false conception of government. The government has commonly stood to them in the place of an oppressor, or at best as something out of which as much as possible should be got, and to which nothing was due. The Irish have not yet realized the American idea, that the people are themselves the government, and that he who holds office is administering a trust for the whole people, of whom he himself is a part. In a measure, also, the unscrupulousness of the Irish in politics arises from the Celtic ardor and partisanship with which they pursue their objects. The end in view seems to them so necessary as to justify almost any means of accomplishing it. Political dishonesty is hardly more of a crime to an Irishman than smuggling is to a woman. In time, however, we may expect that the Irish will acquire clearer views upon this subject.

Another political evil arising from the presence of the Irish in this country is that they help to disturb our relations with England. Many things have been said and done by politicians merely to catch the “ Irish vote,” and a consciousness of Irish opinion tends to make it hard for Americans to preserve an impartial attitude toward Great Britain. It is difficult to be impartial and spontaneous toward a third person whom the neighbor at your elbow is continually abusing. In such a case one’s agreement or disagreement with the neighbor is apt to assume too violent a form. But this influence is not so strong as it was, and the power of the Irish as a political entity in the United States has declined. During the civil war the hopes of the Irish ran high. They thought that their hour had come when the Mason and Slidell affair nearly precipitated a war with England ; and although this incident ended peacefully, the expectations which it aroused among the Irish were revived by the Alabama claims. But still there was no war ; and, finally, the quick collapse of the Fenian attack upon Canada convinced the Irish that America would never give them any material assistance in a struggle of their own making against England. Moreover, the Fenian fiasco made it clear to native Americans as well as to Irish-Americans that the power of the Irish to involve the United States in trouble with England had been exaggerated. Since then fear of the Irish vote has decreased.

It is individuals rather than parties who seek to curry favor with the Irish by taking an anti - English position. Thus it was said, whether truly or falsely, of a former mayor of Boston that he once rushed out of town to avoid receiving a British admiral who threatened to make an official call upon him. There was at least nothing improbable in the story. Englishmen who visit this country assume too hastily that the “ Irish vote ” is the sole cause of American hostility to England. Even so intelligent a critic as Mr. Freeman declared : “The importance of that vote grows and grows ; no party, no leading man, can afford to despise it. Parties and men are, therefore, drawn into courses which otherwise they would have no temptation to take, and those, for the most part, courses which are unfriendly to Great Britain.” This, no doubt, is partly true ; but the importance of the Irish vote becomes, as I have said, less, not greater ; and, moreover, it is not the sole cause of American hostility to England. Among all our English critics, the only one, so far as I know, who has correctly stated the relation of Irish influence upon this point is Mr. J. CFirth, who remarks in his hook, Our Kin Across the Sea : “ America as well as England . . . has its Irish difficulty. It owes it chiefly, I think, to the absence of good will towards England, which, for various reasons and for a long period, has been but too plainly marked in the United States to be denied.”

This, it seems to me, is a true statement of the case. The Irish do not cause, though doubtless they increase and inflame American hostility to Great Britain. It is impossible for the Irish to regard England fairly and dispassionately, because they have been conquered and cruelly misused by England. But we do not labor under this disadvantage ; and there is no valid reason why we should either slavishly imitate or churlishly disparage the English. They are foreigners in the sense that we must maintain our rights and our political principles against them as against any other foreign nation. But they are of our own blood; and, as Commodore Tatnall said when, in the Pei-ho Iliver, he sent a boatload of bluejackets to bring off a party of British in danger of capture by the Chinese, “ blood is thicker than water.” We cannot expect our Irish fellow - citizens to share this feeling with us, and that is their misfortune ; but for a native American to be devoid of it is not only a misfortune, but a fault.10

It is impossible, in a brief examination like this, adequately to describe what the Irish have contributed to American life. I should like, for example, to dwell upon their services in the civil war, which, as the world knows, were many and great.11 I should like also to dwell upon the Irish priests in America. We hear little about them, but it may be doubted if there ever was a more zealous, faithful, and efficient clergy; and whenever the occasion has arisen, as when an epidemic of yellow fever raged some years ago in the South, they have shown the courage of soldiers as well as the fidelity of priests. We hear little about them ; and so it may be said of the social and moral forces which go to the building of national character, — they are not always apparent. We may be sure that the fine qualities of the Irish peasantry will not be lost in that American type which we hope to see produced, when the present ferment of society has had time to subside. If we wanted an example of generosity, where should we look for it if not among the Irish in America! Day laborers and servant girls have given millions of dollars to help their relatives and friends in the old country ; 12 and in addition to this enormous drain, the Irish, out of their poverty, have built churches,13 cathedrals, schools, and convents. If illustrations were sought of the essential qualities of womanhood, — gentleness, self-devotion, and chastity,—the latest emigrant-ship from Ireland would supply them in abundance. When we want men with stout hearts and cheerful tempers, tempers which make light of danger and discomfort, we are apt to look for them among the Irish. It is a common complaint of people who would never face a fire or a mob that there are too many Irishmen in our fire and police departments.

It was perhaps a special Providence which deposited the Irish in the Eastern rather than in the Western part of our country. The West, we may be sure, is sufficiently impetuous and unreflective and adventurous without having any additional impulse given to it in that direction. But in the East our tendency is different; we are in danger of becoming ultra-conservative. It has often been remarked that reforms make their way more slowly here than in England ; that we are less ready to adapt our laws to new conditions. The extension of municipal powers, for example, has been accomplished in Great Britain, while we are still hesitating over an innovation which seems to us so formidable. When, a few years ago, the citizens of New Orleans arose and lynched the Mafia murderers, the act was generally condemned in New England ; whereas in Old England it was generally commended, as being made necessary by the exceptional state of affairs in Louisiana at that time, — and this was probably the true view. Ninety years ago, when the nation was young and small, our navy swept the Mediterranean clear of the Barbary corsairs. If a similar project, under conditions correspondingly hard, were proposed to-day, it would certainly meet with opposition in New England and in New York. It would probably be condemned by the same commercial and academic elements which opposed the war of 1812, and ratified the fugitive slave law. But there can be no doubt whatever as to the position which the Irish press would take. I quote the following from the Boston Pilot of November 30, 1895 : —

“ What right, it may be asked, have we to interfere with Turkey’s treatment of the Armenians ? It is not a question of right. It is a question of duty. If God has made this the greatest nation on the earth, he will hold it to strict account for the use or misuse of its mighty opportunities. If we stand idly by while his children are being slaughtered because they worship him, there will be hard questions to be answered by the nation, as they must be answered by every individual soul before the tribunal of judgment. For its sin against human freedom this country has atoned in a river of blood and a sea of tears, and its responsibility does not end with its boundary lines. Wherever a great wrong which we have the power to right is committed without our protest or interference, we are before Heaven accessory to the crime. This may not be the creed of diplomacy, but there is a higher law than that of nations.”

A nation animated by such a spirit as that displayed in these words might make many mistakes and fall into many difficulties, but its face would be set in the right direction.

Intellectually, the best results from the Irish immigration will probably be found where the Irish blood has been mingled with that of the native American. If you take up a book written by a genuine Irishman, you will find, as a rule, that it is more witty, certainly more eloquent and imaginative in style, than the ordinary English or American book. But read on a little, and you are almost sure to come upon some statement so careless, so exaggerated, so outre, or so illogical that the effect of the whole is spoiled. The Celt, though artistic by nature, is almost never a good artist. He has the sense of beauty, — that is the gift of nature; but the sense of form, which is only in part the gift of nature, and which depends upon a trained judgment, upon self-discipline, upon hard, continuous work, he lacks. Ireland is running over with poetic feeling, but where are the Irish poets ? The liveliness and sociability of the Celt, which make him a dweller in cities, also tend to repress the literary instinct. He has not that brooding, meditative spirit which is nursed in solitude, and which is necessary to the development of literary genius. But when to Celtic fire and imagination there are joined the AngloSaxon restraint and sense of form, great achievements in literature may be expected. From this union have sprung already some writers of talent. Perhaps it is not a wild conjecture that if the longexpected, characteristic American author of genius ever does appear, he will come of mixed New England and Irish stock, and will be a product of the West. The Irishman and the American — the Celt from the west coast of Ireland, and the Anglo-Saxon born and brought up in New England — might appear to stand at the very opposite poles of nationality ; and yet they tend to come together. On the one hand, the Irishman readily assimilates new ideas and adapts himself to new conditions, so that he quickly becomes Americanized ; and, on the other hand, the American descendants of the English have become in some important respects less like the English, and more like a Celtic people, — quicker in mind and in body, more sensitive and more impressionable. The difference in religion is perhaps likely to remain ; but it seems highly probable that in all other respects the Irish - American will, before many years are past, be lost in the American, and that there will be no longer an “ Irish question ” or an “ Irish vote,” but a people, one in feeling, and practically one in race.

Henry Childs Meruin.

  1. Then there was a decline ; but after the civil war the Irish immigration began to increase again, until, in 1883, it reached the number of 81,486. After 1883 it fell off somewhat. For 1895 it was 46,304. Of the foreign-born population in the United States, the Irish are now only about 20 per cent, whereas in 1850 they were over 40 per cent. This decrease affects the power of the Irish vote, — a subject touched upon later.
  2. The immigrants who settle in our large cities are, of the Irish, 45 per cent; of the Germans, 38 per cent ; of the English and Scotch, 30 per cent; of the Italians, 60 per cent.
  3. These are the largest five cities in the country, except that St. Louis should stand in the fifth place, that city having about 3000 more people than Boston.
  4. The corresponding figures for the census of 1890 are not yet available.
  5. Between 1880 and 1890 the city population in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont showed a greater increase than did the total population of these States respectively; so that in these States, from 1880 to 1890, the rural population actually decreased.
  6. The stranger passing down Broadway, in the city of New York, finds himself in a desert of dry-goods merchants, who seem to be all Jews: Elias Brothers, Solomon Isaacs, Hamerstein. and the like are the names which decorate the signs. And yet there is an oasis in this desert, for about halfway down one comes suddenly upon a liquor saloon, and above it stands the familiar name “ John Flynn.”
  7. The Jewish element among the Germans accounts in part for their low average of pauperism.
  8. England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. ii. p. 318.
  9. See The Century, vol. xliv. p. 940.
  10. The existence of a widespread hostility to England in the United States is taken forgranted by many writers. “ All the world knows ” is apt to be a statement which requires a definition of the world in which the speaker lives. If the testimony of many newspapers is to be taken, such hostility is general. I can only say that my world is not hostile to England, but, on the contrary, most friendly. — EDITOR.
  11. Of all foreign nations, the Irish contributed the greatest number of soldiers who won distinction in the civil war. See Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge’s very interesting essay upon the distribution of ability in the United States, in his volume of Historical and Political Essays.
  12. Dr. Tuke states that the amount sent back to Ireland by immigrants every year exceeds the total yearly cost of poor relief in Ireland.
  13. “ A church in the United States,” writes Mr. Freeman. “ which shows any near approach to the character of a great European church is pretty sure to be Roman Catholic.”