Our Immigrants and Ourselves
SINCE it is one of the strongest instincts of human nature to dislike what is unlike one’s self, or what one is not familiar with, and since another, hardly less powerful, is to blame some one else for one’s own troubles, it is not surprising that, almost from the very day we, the so-called “ native Americans,” arrived, here as immigrants, we have objected to the coming of other immigrants, and have attributed mainly to them the various complications that have arisen from time to time in our industrial, political, and social machinery.
Each day’s budget of news affords us some item that falls in with our prepossession, to strengthen and confirm it. Now a great strike, now a row in a tenement house in which some heads are broken, now the turning of an election against our party and candidate, is one more bit of evidence to our minds that the foreigner is the root of all evil.
Is a crowned head struck down by the assassin’s hand, as the result of an anarchist plot hatched by foreigners in one of our cities ? How plain to us seems the lesson that we should shut out of our boundaries the race producing such miscreants ; while at the very moment we are indulging in such reflections, the wires are hot with fast-crowding news of our own Judge Lynch and his exploits, of native riots, midnight mobs, wild outbursts of murderous frenzy, that are tokens of a state of anarchy brought about by our own people, as serious, it would seem, as any that the foreign agitator could plan for.
And so the long account against the foreigner is made up in the popular mind. The main items, as they have been thrown into relief through years of complaint and criticism, are familiar, — poverty, vice, crime, dirt, ignorance, superstition, political corruptibility, anarchical tendency, and, more serious than all, a constant change for the worse in all of these respects in the character of immigration as it pours in upon us decade after decade. Paradoxical as it may seem, in this last and apparently gravest charge is to be found the most encouraging sign for the future, and a key to the whole question of immigration. That we think the later comers inferior in quality to their predecessors may be because they really are inferior. But it may be because a gradual change to a better opinion of the earlier comers has been going on within us unobserved, due partly to familiarity with them and their especial traits, partly to an actual improvement on their part which has made us forget what they once were.
Familiarity has certainly had much to do with our general acceptance of the Germans, — one great half of the earlier immigration with which later comers are so unfavorably compared. This people, whom we rely upon to-day as among our most valued citizens for their social stability and true attachment to their adopted country, our grandfathers thought of as all that was dangerous and bad. Atheist, Sabbath-breaker, drunkard, social outlaw, — these were a few of the choice epithets lavished upon the Germans when they first came among us ; and the revolutionist of ’48, that mild-mannered exponent of moderate principles, created as much consternation in the minds of the people as the anarchist or communist of to-day, and was described in as heated popular language. But a general improvement in the condition of our early immigrants accounts in greater part for our change of feeling toward them. This is especially noticeable in the case of the Irish, — the other half of our early immigration. It is an instructive and wholesome exercise to look back for a moment and see what these people really were at the time they began to come to our country in large numbers. A German traveler in Ireland about the time of the famine depicts the people as a " nation of beggars,” of a “ wretchedness without a parallel on the globe.” He says, comparing them, interestingly enough, with some of the very peoples we are regarding to-day as far lower in the scale : —
“ I remember when I saw the poor Letts in Livonia I used to pity them for having to live in huts built of the unhewn logs of trees, the crevices being stopped with moss. . . . Well, Heaven pardon my ignorance ! Now that I have seen Ireland, it seems to me that the Letts, the Esthonians, and the Finlanders, lead a life of comparative comfort, and poor Paddy would feel like a king with their houses, their habiliments, and their daily fare. ... A French author, Beaumont, who had seen the Irish peasant in his cabin, and the North American Indian in his wigwam, has assured us that the savage is better provided for than the poor man in Ireland. ... A Russian peasant, no doubt, is the slave of a harder master, but still he is fed and housed to his content, and no trace of mendicancy is to be seen in him. The Hungarians are certainly not among the best-used people in the world, still, what fine wheaten bread, and what wine, has even the humblest among them for his daily fare. . . . Servia and Bosnia are reckoned among the most wretched countries of Europe, . . . but at least the people, if badly housed, are well clad. We look not for much luxury among the Tartars of the Crimea, we call them poor and barbarous, but good heavens ! they look at least like human creatures. . . . An Irishman has nothing national about him but his rags, his habitation is without a plan, his domestic economy without rule or law. We have beggars and paupers among us (in Germany), but they form at least an exception, whereas in Ireland, beggary or abject poverty is the prevailing rule. . . . There is not the least trace left to show that the country has ever been better cultivated, or that a happier race ever dwelt in it. It seems as if wretchedness had prevailed there from time immemorial,— as if rags had succeeded rags, bog formed over bog, ruins given birth to ruins, and beggars had begotten beggars for a long series of centuries.”
The famine was merely the climax of a long history of misery. In a Dorélike sketch a Dublin newspaper of the period portrays the prevalent social physiognomy of that terrible time : —
“The famine and the landlords have actually created a new race in Ireland. . . . Yahoos . . . gray-haired old men, whose faces had hardened into a settled leer of mendicancy, simious and semihuman, and women filthier and more frightful than harpies, who, at the jingle of a coin on the pavement, swarmed in myriads from unseen places, struggling, screaming, shrieking for their prey, like some monstrous, unclean animals. . . . Girls with faces gray and shriveled, the grave stamped upon them in a decree which could not be recalled, . . . and among these terrible realities imposture shaking in pretended fits, to add the last touch of horrible grotesqueness.”
This was what met the eye in crowded city streets ; in the country it was as bad, if not worse : —
“ Groups and troops of lunatic-looking paupers wandered over the fields, alarming the traveler by their wild and ferocious appearance, . . . and ... if he penetrate into a cabin, and can distinguish objects among filth and darkness, of which an ordinary pigsty affords but a faint image, he will probably discover from a dozen to twenty inmates in the hut, — the ejected cotters, — clustering together and breeding a pestilence. What kind of creatures men and women become, living in this dungheap ! What kind of children are reared here to grow up into a generation I have no words to paint! ”
From this normally miserable and now famine-distorted population, our first great Irish immigration was drawn. Could our newest comers be pictured in any darker colors than these ?
The seaboard cities, notably New York, felt the greatest burden of this invasion. Immigrant ships by the hundred dumped upon our wharves their loads of the poor, the helpless, and the friendless, who did not know where to go or what to do. Many came with one sole trade, — beggary, — which they proceeded to practice on the day of their arrival, seeking the watch-house for their first night’s shelter. A noticeable increase of pauperism and crime followed, and was attributed directly to the immigrants. New York was said to exceed in crime not merely any one of the great English cities, — London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, — crowded with the ignorant and vicious classes of the population as they were, but all of them put together. Then was the beginning of the city slum. In New York the old Five Points came into being as a centre of dirt, disease, immorality, and violence, never since surpassed, or even equaled. Political corruption struck the notice of people as never before. As the immigrants poured in they were fraudulently naturalized in squads ; their votes were openly bought and sold like any merchandise, and were cast in any quantities desired. These were genuine evils, but the greater part of this mass of poverty and ignorance in a very short time became absorbed in the labor force of the country, accomplished a work in developing its resources of a magnitude hard to realize, and prospered in so doing. To-day the Irish element — both foreign and native born — has arisen, as a whole, almost entirely from the low social and industrial grade it entered on its first arrival, and is now to be found in all grades above, up to the very highest. Is there any reason to suppose that newer comers will not assimilate as readily ? There are not wanting indications that they will succeed even better.
In the later immigration attention has been especially called to two great general groups, made by a rough-and-ready classification ; one, the Hebrews, coming from Russia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Roumania, and elsewhere ; the other, what is known to political and social controversy as “ the scum of southern Europe,” that unpleasant term covering the Italians, Bohemians, non-Jewish Hungarians, Poles, Austrians, and others.
The Jew has stood for centuries as the butt of an almost universal dislike. Perhaps, in the last analysis, such a feeling is the best warrant for getting rid of the people that excites it, but rational thought retreats in shame from admitting this, in the face of the strong considerations to be urged in favor of the Jew. A study of even the most poverty-stricken and forlorn of the recent Jewish immigrants shows them to be a temperate, moral, and industrious people. If the life and health of a nation depend largely, as some philosophers of history claim that they do, on the physical vitality of its individual citizens, the Hebrew race certainly adds an element of value to the community that cannot be despised. Notwithstanding the crowded conditions in which they live, notwithstanding the unwholesome tenements, the low damp ground of the quarter, and the universal filth, Jewish dwellers on the East Side in New York have a far lower death rate than is shown by any other foreign element in the city, and, strange as it may seem, a perceptibly lower death rate than even that of the well-to-do native dwellers in wholesome uptown wards. So far as analysis can account for it, this vitality seems to be founded on moral habits, a most useful ingredient in a modern state.
Family affection is strong among them. Reverence for parents is taught and practiced. They are not found in the police courts and prisons in any noticeable proportion, and, remarkable indeed in view of their extreme poverty, they do not come habitually upon charity. A striking characteristic among them is a desire for improvement. The adults among them, devitalized by long years in an atmosphere of repression, may themselves trudge along for a while in the treadmill of the sweatshop, but they have other ambitions for their children. Even within so short a time as has passed since their coming here one may note a remarkable advancement. The casual visitor to the East Side to-day will see apparently the same old patriarchs with side curls and velvet caps, the same mothers in Israel, with wigs awry and infants multitudinous, that he saw yesterday. But this is a human stream in which, while it looks the same, the individual elements are always changing. The old man in the gabardine one saw last week has now put on the garb of America and moved uptown with his family. This one that you took for him has just landed from the emigrant ship. Next week he, too, will be gone. The rate of change, of course, is not literally so rapid as this, but it is sufficiently so as to be astonishing. It is only sixteen years since this people began to come here at all; it is only eight years since Jewish immigration reached highwater mark with sixty thousand arrivals from Russia alone at the port of New York. But they have already learned the principles of industrial combination, have sent their children to and through the schools and even the colleges, and are seeing these children almost without exception advance to an industrial and social grade higher than their own. Significant testimony to the scope and rapidity of the change is the complaint of workers in the different social settlements that they cannot keep their hold on individuals from year to year on account of the many removals. The University Settlement, in the heart of the Ghetto, makes up its classes with a practically new membership each year, and the College Settlement near by has the same experience.
As a type of the southern Europeans that are coming among us the Italians may be taken, though of course, strictly speaking, no one race can represent another in all details. Those who know them familiarly as they are found in large cities — workers for the charities, the missions, and the settlements — say that they are a much misunderstood people. As a class, and when in normal family relations, they are gentle, industrious, frugal, and temperate ; but they are looked upon by the public generally as a lot of idle, dissipated cutthroats. On our records of crime they do not, it is true, make a good showing, but there is a special reason for that, as will be indicated presently, which removes a great part of the blame from them as a race. There is little pauperism among the Italians. It is a matter of every-day observation among charity agents that in the so-called “ Italian quarters ” in great cities most of the applicants for relief are Irish. The poorest Italian family manages in some way to make provision for a rainy day, and it is seldom indeed that it is found a habitual dependent on charity. The Italians, like the Jews, are eager for improvement, although not, perhaps, in so striking a degree. They have been reproached with denying advantages to their children for the sake of the money to be got by the children’s labor, but a special investigation made some years ago by a committee of sociological specialists shows that this charge, when made a general one, is without foundation. The committee testified in the plainest terms to the fact that the Italian family, even in circumstances of the greatest destitution, showed at least the normal amount of interest in the education of their children, and in many cases made especial sacrifices to secure it.
So far as individual race traits are concerned, it would seem that there is no especial trouble to be apprehended from the mass of our newest immigrants. But beyond race traits we must look at certain general processes at work, as they are to be seen in the history of immigration as a whole, to understand the question more fully, and to judge more fairly as to the good or evil of immigration.
These processes may be depicted something in this fashion: We must regard our country as a land traversed by successive waves of population passing from east to west, each marking in its progress an ever advancing coast line, which, in the case of the first great wave, we have known as the frontier. The crest of such a wave is made up of the most mobile elements in a population, drawing after them, indue proportion of time and distance, the less and less mobile elements. First to get in motion in any normally developing community are the men, in an age period roughly to be defined as between early youth on the one hand and later middle life on the other, who proceed on their way unencumbered by wives and children, either having none, or leaving them behind. So there is to be found, or until recently was to be found, on our frontier, as the crest of the first great wave of immigration, — the movement of the American branch of the Anglo-Saxon race to the Pacific, — a predominantly male population, young, active, unfettered by family ties, fired with energy, driven to the necessity of self-help, cast loose from all the bonds of society, from all law, religion, and morality as a long-established social body understands these things ; on the eastern edge of the wave a population containing more women than men, a settled family life, quiet, order, and the sway of public opinion. On the western edge are poverty for the day, enriched by unlimited hopes of wealth on the morrow, a freedom that has not as yet developed into inequality, and a general simplicity of life ; on the eastern edge, more wealth but less hope, more training but less versatility, greater inequality but greater possibilities through cooperation and control, — in short, the complexities of civilization instead of the simplicities of a primitive life.
The immigration of the fifties may be regarded as a second great wave, repeating the processes of the first, modified by the fact that it did not pour in on dry ground, like the first, but upon the heels of another. It, as well as the other, pushed before it a “ frontier.”
It may seem a little strange to call our great cities, with their crowds of people, their masses of buildings, their various paraphernalia of a modern civilization, in any sense a frontier. But such they are in certain vital respects for the immigrant, when he arrives on these shores. The movement across the sea to us is headed by the same class that led our own march across the plains, and, like the early frontiersman, the later immigrant, on arriving at the end of his journey, finds himself freed from the restraint of a public opinion that he has felt in the community where he was known. This may be as strictly the case in the crowded city as on the wide plains. Nowhere can one be more really alone than among strangers. The sudden relaxation of effort to keep up to a standard, moral or otherwise, when social boundaries are changed, is a familiar sensation to every one. And this is especially true when no great effort is made by the environing strangers to impress themselves and their opinions on the newcomers. To the immigrant, then, our people, with their thoughts and ideas, their social and governmental schemes, are, at first, of as little pertinence as the thoughts and institutions of the Indian or the buffalo are to the cowboy. So it is not surprising to see in him some of the characteristics of the cowboy, — the brawling, swearing, and drunkenness, the violence and profligacy that naturally arise when a male population is herded together, and all of those outbursts that keep police magistrates busy and swell the records of crime. These records, indeed, presenting on their face, as they do, a bad showing against the foreign born, and especially against certain race groups among them, must be corrected with regard to the circumstances just indicated. In any population, whether under conditions of normal social restraint or not, the bulk of the crimes recorded are committed by one sex and age class, — that of the adult males. It would be expected, then, that the native born — a group containing a larger proportion of women and children — would show a lower proportion of criminals than the foreign born, with a larger proportion of adult men ; and that the newer immigrants, like the Italians, for instance, would show a higher crime rate than older comers, who have had time to gather families about them. And this would be quite apart from any question of innate race tendency to crime.
Several detailed statistical studies recently made confirm our expectations on this point, and agree in showing, pretty conclusively, that when like sex and age classes are made the bases for comparison in the different race groups, the rate of crime for the foreign-born white population of all races is no higher, to say the least, than that of the native white population of native parentage ; and that the difference in crime rate still remaining after sex and age have been allowed for, between the different race groups, to be attributed to race tendency, is so slight as to be negligible as a social factor. Notwithstanding this explanation of the crime rate, however, a positive, if not a relative, increase in crime remains as a result of immigration, and if the foreign population were to remain predominantly of the class that furnishes criminals, there would still be serious ground of complaint. But it will not, as all experience up to this time abundantly shows. Just as our frontier groups have grown into settled communities, so do theirs. As soon as a good start is made, the “ birds of passage ” call their mates from over sea, and the normal life of a settled society begins. This is easily seen to be the case with the Irish, the Germans, and the Scandinavians ; while the Hebrews, for the most part, came from the first in family groups. The Italians, it is true, may seem to form an exception to the above rule. So many of them are seen, yearly or monthly, turning back to the old home with their little earnings, that it is no wonder they are generally regarded as a floating population with no permanent interests here. But the net result of all this ebbing and flowing is a steady current setting this way. The Italian, it would seem, after a period of oscillation between the new country and the old, — a movement of adjustment which is, indeed, no bad preliminary for the new life, — ends, like his brother immigrants, a permanent settler in our country Statistics of population indicate this. Every-day observation, if sharp enough, shows the same thing. A significant trifle, just lately noticed, was that the great mass of applicants for naturalization papers in New York city this year, during the rush that always comes just before a presidential election, were Russian Jews and Italians. And it was said by the court officers that applicants of the latter race were more numerous than ever before.
Once the family is established, subsequent progress is rapid. The fast-coming children are not only at the same time so many sharp little goads to industry, and silken but strong bridles to passion, in the parent, but they are, in and of themselves, the most active and effective of agents in the process of assimilating the immigrant family to its surroundings. The barrier of language, so often said to be the one great obstacle in the way of our newer immigrants, these children leap so rapidly that it practically ceases to exist. Almost before one can realize it they are speaking the tongue of their adopted country, if not with Attic purity, at least with Attic fluency, and boldly disclaim acquaintance with any other. A class of forty boys in an East Side school was asked the other day how many of them spoke English at home. Fully half the hands were raised. How many spoke German ? A few hesitatingly confessed to that. How many spoke Yiddish, or any other foreign tongue ? One or two faltering hands went halfway up, then down, a mute expression of conflict between the ideal and reality. As a matter of fact, about ninety-five per cent of these children were Russian Jews; nearly all had been in the country for short periods ranging from one year to four or five ; probably all could, and did to some extent, speak either German or Yiddish at home, and in many cases were obliged to do so. In these children the sense of American nationality springs up with astonishing rapidity. They are “ Americans ” in their own estimation, and nothing else. They are thoroughly imbued with that first brute instinct of citizenship which takes shape in onslaughts on “ foreigners,” — meaning for them those who are not “ Americans,” — and are firm in the determination to uphold “ our flag,” — which for them is always the American flag, — right or wrong. They discuss in their debating societies such questions as “ Shall the Ignorant Foreigner be admitted to Free Participation in the Advantages of Our Country ? ” and find difficulty in getting speakers on the affirmative side. It would, in fact, be hard to find any set of children of a more conscious and expressed loyalty to the country than these little immigrants. In a school for Russian children, which takes them, on their first arrival here, to prepare them for the public schools, — which, by the way, it does with entire success inside of four months for each child, — a special effort is made to give encouragement to the growth of this spirit of new nationality. Patriotic songs are taught, the flag is saluted, the blessings and obligations of freedom are pointed out. On an exhibition day it is affecting to see She rows upon rows of eager little faces alive with enthusiasm in songs of loyalty to the new country. “ Land where our fathers died,” shrill forth the young voices, and the lookeron is caught by the rapt countenance, the exalted eye, the thrilling tone of one small dark-skinned maiden, who stepped from the immigrant ship just six weeks ago. Remembering where and how their real fathers after the flesh have died, and suffered before they died, the generous heart must feel a reckless impulse to share “ our fathers ” freely with them, with all that this implies, and risk the passing discomfort that the critics warn us will follow.
So far the process of immigration has been described mainly in terms of the normal development of the immigrant group, without consideration of the special influences exerted on them by the surrounding community. This latter influence must next be considered, — in this case a most important one. To return to the figure employed before, the crests of the oncoming waves are modified in force and direction by the back stretches of former ones on which they fall. The immigrant must, of course, go through a more or less lengthy process of adjustment on his own account, but this process may be hastened or hindered materially by conditions in the environing social group.
When the great wave of the fifties rolled over the country, although the native population had pushed its frontier well to the westward, on the eastern coast many frontier traits still lingered. The social group as a whole — the American people of that time — had reached the stage of development in which a body marks itself off from other bodies, gathering its own particles within a definite circumference, and repelling other particles ; but it had not yet reached the stage in which all the particles so marked off have arranged themselves into the harmoniously interacting combinations of unlike elements, obedient to a common law, and turned to a common end, that we recognize as a high grade of organization, both in individual and social life. The American people of the fifties could grumble at the entrance of foreigners, but were most feeble in dealing with them after they were in, nor was any great amount of control exercised over any part of the population. The community was outgrowing its institutions. Cities were struggling along under village ordinances and appliances, with worse and worse results as time went on. A large part of the trouble from our early immigration was plainly due to this fact. A New York newspaper of the time, commenting on the increase of crime, vice, and disorder, says that of its causes “ the most important are, doubtless, the comparative inefficiency of our police in preventing crime, the comparative uncertainty of our courts in punishing crime, the neglect of our young vagrant population, and the vast number of disorderly groggeries, licensed and unlicensed, that have, all the while, without restraint been stimulating the passions and bad propensities of all the lower classes.”
The general social system was one of individual freedom without individual responsibility. This is plainly a habit of the frontier. Widely scattered groups of individuals, removed from the control of public opinion, driven by necessity to act, on the spur of the moment, for and by themselves, naturally develop an impar tience of restraint, social, legal, or moral, that is handed down to later generations as a social tradition. For this reason the reign of law has never been thoroughly and fully established in this country. Popular feelings of indignation or prejudice against certain classes of offenders, of compassion for certain others, are always pressing upon the framework of law to bend it from its fixed pattern, or even to break it altogether, as in the numerous cases of lynching reported to us year after year. It need not be shown in detail how demoralizing such a system as this is to incoming peoples. Not only law but morals have suffered as a result of this general impatience of restraint. Where each man depends on himself wholly to say what is right and wrong, where he is so separated from others as not to know or care what they think of him, personal interest is very apt to lead him, even without his own knowledge, into bad ways. This cause is seen at work all through our history, and to it may be attributed some of the evils we are so ready to ascribe to the immigrant.
One of the most serious charges made against him has been that through him has come a strain of corruption in our political system that has gone far to overbalance, if not to destroy, the good handed down to us by our native American ancestors. But those who consider the immigrant the beginning and end of political corruption in this country have surely never read its history carefully. Legislative and administrative blackmail and peculation are a time-honored inheritance from earliest colonial days. Bribery and violence at elections are found as early as the elections themselves. The spoils system was inaugurated before the beginning of the century, and owes to native talent the long and loving elaboration that has brought it to its present intricacy and comprehensive completeness. The two figures at once called up before the mind as especially associated with the development of that system may stand as particularly clear types of the native American, in contrasting but equally genuine aspects of his nature : Martin Van Buren, suave, kindly, courteous, born on the land taken by his ancestors a generation or so before, well bred, ill educated, but with every show of acquirement, nimble of tongue, persuasive, ingenious, adaptable to all sorts and conditions of men; and Andrew Jackson, the frontiersman, himself his only ancestor, without pretense of education himself, and without respect for it in others, unadaptable, because he failed to see any complexities of life and character beyond the narrow range of his own, gaining his ends not by persuasion, but by the sheer force of self-will, in defiance of all obstacles, animate and inanimate.
The incoming foreigner has proved to be a ready instrument in the hands of the bosses. In cities the great mass of the foreign population is to be found, and the government of our cities is notoriously corrupt. But corruption in cities does not by any means vary with the proportion of the foreign born in their populations, nor is corruption by any means confined to the cities. In one great state of the Union a city party largely supported by foreigners, or the native born of foreign parentage, works in the most complete inner harmony — though in apparent opposition — with a country party, manned and officered by native Americans, in furtherance of ends the most remote from the best principles of our government. It must, indeed, be said by the impartial observer that the native branch of the combination is the bolder, more unscrupulous, and more comprehensive in evil designs of the two. In another large state a city government has for years been in the hands of bandits of strictly native origin, who have outdone anything that the foreign city party in the other state have ever attempted. In national politics there is an undoubted predominance of the native element, and there is an undoubtedly large element of corruption. Look for a moment at one important branch of political action in this country, — that dealing with the currency. An unprejudiced observer following the course of our legislation on currency and banking from colonial times down would be driven to conclude that an inextinguishable impulse of our nature was to avoid paying our debts. This tendency is to be explained in large part by the temptations of rapid development, in circumstances that made a constant call for capital; but the fault is a fault, nevertheless, and must be taken home to ourselves. The most American periods of our history — the colonial, the Revolutionary, the period of Western expansion —are the periods of the worst financial vagaries; and the most American parts of our country to-day are those the most tainted with financial heresy. The foreign vote, taking it all in all, has always been fairly sound on financial questions, and has more than once, in doubtful crises, saved us from the consequences of our own mistaken theories.
The fact is that the evil as well as the good in our political and social system has been inherent in it from the beginning. The first wave of population, overspreading the country, has moulded it into the general outlines that it retains to-day, which subsequent waves were unable to wash out. It is impossible to point to a single important modification of our institutions by foreigners, unless, indeed, we have to thank them, by the mere fact of their presence, for a growth of religious toleration that our ancestors praised in theory, but in practice knew very little about.
The immigrant has shown no lack of capacity to assimilate with us politically. In coining under the boss system he has “ assimilated " only too well. But assimilation has not all taken place along this undesirable line. It can no longer be said that all foreigners belong to one political party ; nor can it be said that any race group holds together for any considerable period as a workable political unit. There is much talk before elections of the delivery of this or that “ element ” to this or that candidate, but figures fail to show the general success of such predictions. A further and most encouraging token of political assimilability on the part of our immigrants is that no race element, but one, of all those who have come over here, — and that, curiously enough, the one we think has assimilated with us the best, the Irish, — has ever made foreign questions an issue in American politics.
But the political aspect of the case is, after all, of secondary importance, although, like other superficial phenomena, it is among the first to catch the eye. The political system of a country is only the outward expression of inner social forces ; and among these forces probably the most important in shaping political institutions is that complicated interplay of activities generally grouped under the name of economic life. That there is a growing realization of this truth is shown by many tokens, among them, the fact that the latest discussions of immigration, popular as well as scientific, turn almost wholly upon the industrial possibilities of the immigrant. The assumption is that if he is found desirable industrially, politically he will take care of himself. It is pretty generally admitted that, up to the present time, the immigrant has filled a useful, and perhaps necessary, place in our industrial system. What would have happened if we had been content to develop our resources more slowly, confiding that development wholly to American hands, nobody can say ; but we were not content to do so, and it cannot be denied that practically all the labor force so far supplied by the immigrants has been eagerly demanded and quickly absorbed. A large part of our immigration, indeed, has come from a direct demand by native-born employers, who must bear their share of blame for any troubles that may have arisen in consequence. The immigrant has then been useful, and has prospered ; but with the further development of our industrial system, will his usefulness and prosperity be as great as they have been in the past ?
The taking up of the last considerable tracts of government land marks the end of an era in our economic history. The impending change from extensive to intensive agriculture that this circumstance foreshadows is itself but one aspect, and may be regarded as a type of a general change even now to be seen at work in the industrial system. Business competition to-day is everywhere giving the victory to care over carelessness, economy over wastefulness, skill and training over ignorance. In short, a period seems to be opening in which the cardinal industrial principle is thrift, in the most comprehensive sense of the term. And thrift is a quality that especially distinguishes our newer immigrants. It may take some mistaken forms at first; but the quality is there, to be turned in the right direction by the teachings of experience if in no other way. Thrift has, indeed, been made a special item of complaint against the immigrant, partly because our own ideas have been shaped to extravagance by our easily acquired wealth, partly because of the mistaken methods seen to be employed by the immigrant in his endeavor to be thrifty. But there need be no fear of permanent evil consequences even from these. A people starting at a low point in the scale of living, restricting themselves to a degree of expenditure that brings poor food, insufficient clothing, unwholesome shelter, will probably struggle above that point just as rapidly as circumstances will permit; but even if they did not, they could not enter into competition with, or lower the standard of life for, those above them. There is no competition between the well-clad, well-fed, intelligent workingman and the halfstarved, sickly, and dull one. The former will always command higher, wages than the latter, because his work is better worth it, and because the latter cannot take his place. This truth has been shown again and again in the history of industry in this country. Low wages most often mean high labor cost. Failure in competition usually reduces itself not to a question of money wages, but to a lack of the broader thrift implied in using the most economical methods of production and distribution. In general it may be said that whatever makes a better man — that is, raises the real standard of life — makes a better workman, and raises the standard of wages.
At present the immigrant is, for the most part, an unskilled laborer, and at the lower grade of wages and living that this sort of labor provides. There is, however, still need of such labor, and of the class that can furnish it. The assistant commissioner of immigration at the port of New York has testified that since the recent revival of business, the bureau of immigration has received, within a period of three or four months, applications for ten thousand unskilled workmen whom it could not furnish. Such places as these neither the native American nor the immigrant of earlier arrival is willing to occupy. Both of these classes are able to secure work of a higher grade, and naturally prefer it. The immigrant is needed to take a vacant place in our industrial scheme, and his ability to make a living on the wages this grade of labor receives is in his favor. There is no reason to fear, moreover, that his ability to live at a low cost will keep the immigrant from following the general human tendency to better one’s condition the first moment one sees an opportunity for doing so. Experience already shows that none of our immigrants so far are preparing to content themselves with anything less than the best the country has to offer. Just as soon as they have gained a foothold, they begin the pressure for something more and better. Opinion may be divided as to the industrial value of the strike, but its use is an unmistakable evidence of a desire to advance, and this instrument is resorted to by every people that we have so far had among us at a very early stage of their sojourn here. As straws show which way the wind blows, the trifles of daily life afford striking testimony to the same thing. A little journey through the East Side or the Italian quarter on a holiday cannot fail to impress the observer with hundreds of such trifles, all pointing one way. The gay garments, imitating with wonderful success of superficial effect the attire of the well-to-do, the general display of ornament, the prevailing air of leisure and enjoyment, all indicate that the natural desires of humanity — the “ wants,” which economists tell us are among the first essentials to progress — are springing and bourgeoning at a most satisfactory rate.
A further quality characterizing the newer immigrant, and also (like thrift) made a ground of reproach against him, is also likely to be found especially useful in the new order of things, —that is, docility. As the country fills up, there is increasing pressure of population not only upon resources, but upon itself. For lack of elbowroom, men are less and less able to act independently, and must more and more take into account one another’s motions. Work must go on in harmony with other work, and under some common general plan, if it is not to be stopped altogether, in a tangle of cross purposes. In the growing competition of a more crowded society, the man working alone will have less and less chance against the group of men working together, and the group with an inefficient leader will have less and less chance against the group with an efficient leader. Whether we like it or not, the characteristic of the future community will be its arrangement into groups composed of leaders and followers. The original and inventive mind, the strong will, the natural leader, finds in a loyal and well-disciplined following his only opportunity to carry out his plans. On the other hand, the best chance for prosperity of the average man will be in placing himself under the guidance of a strong and honest leader.
The native American is certainly, for the moment, the natural leader here on his own soil. He has had the advantage of two centuries of prosperity. He has always had the instinct of management, as is shown in his clever direction of his own individual activities and in the exploitation of natural resources.
And the immigrant is, for the moment, the natural follower. To those of us who are in the habit of regarding the foreign anarchist as the type of the foreign immigrant in general, this would seem the most unlikely function we could assign him. But nothing could be more unfair than this view.
When half a dozen immigrant Italians had succeeded in slaying their former king, the hundreds of thousands of their compatriots packed in the foreign quarters of our great cities gave themselves up to the same execration and lamentation of such deeds that any quiet, lawabiding citizens would give utterance to. In New York, in the Italian quarter, emblems of mourning on all sides showed how the mass of the Italian population there, at least, regarded the anarchist and his works.
But the one anarchist impresses the popular mind, because he makes a noise ; while the many orderly, peaceful representatives of his race are unnoticed, as they follow their daily round of quiet faithful toil, just because they have fitted themselves so thoroughly into the established order of things.
Every-day acquaintance with the mass of our immigrants shows them to be, indeed, a notably conservative class. The old and highly organized communities from which they are for the most part drawn have, through generations, drilled their citizens into habits of obedience, respect for law, for authority, for knowledge, for the leader. And although, as we have remarked, these habits are relaxed somewhat by the circumstances of change to a new country, and the special circumstances of our own slack social control, they have been too deeply ingrained to be entirely lost so soon, and still remain as the foundation of character in the immigrant.
In these habits, then, we have at hand a most valuable form of social capital, to be brought out and made much of by careful treatment, or to be wasted and altogether destroyed by our neglect.
As the native American’s best chance for prosperity to-day lies in his power to gather about him efficient and docile followers, so the immigrant’s best beginning is to find good leadership, coming here as he does with nothing of his own but the power of service and the desire for improvement. No permanent race line need be drawn in consequence between leaders and followers. It is a matter of fitness only, and when the immigrant reaches the point where he, too, will be effective as a leader, there is nothing to prevent his taking his place as such. If his present disposition to follow a leader has in too many cases driven him into bad hands, it is our duty to remedy this evil by supplying leadership of a better kind.
This changing of bad leadership into good is, indeed, the only way out from other evils that are besetting us, aside from the perils of immigration. It is growing more and more plain that no machinery of laws, of votes, of theories, or of constitutions can make men equal or safeguard the weak. The general welfare, when all is said, is in the hands of the strong. But the strong are, in their turn, subject to a certain restraint, impalpable but powerful, — the force of public opinion, which, if it be once educated up to an appreciation of the true functions and obligations of leadership, can bring to bear a pressure toward a better state of things that the leader will find it hard to withstand.
The problem of immigration does not, then, seem a hopeless, or even a very discouraging one, if it is dealt with properly. In the first place, it must be realized that any laws restrictive of immigration which it would be possible to pass would shut off the merest rivulets of the stream. Notwithstanding popular prejudice against the immigrant, the actual pressure from within to keep an open way for him is nearly as strong as that from without. Our people, even while, as a whole, they are cherishing a conscious dislike to foreigners, and a theoretical objection to their incoming, are constantly, as individual employers, calling them here, either by name and expressly, or through the great general clamor for labor of all kinds that is always going up. Here is a half-worked country in need of a larger labor force ; across the sea is a labor force in need of employment. It will be as impossible to keep these apart, under modern conditions of intercommunication, as to shut out a rising tide with a board fence ; the water will force its way in, either over, or under, or through the cracks. The fact of immigration in considerable bulk must, then, be accepted, and far better results will follow if it is accepted goodnaturedly than if an ineffectual nagging is kept up against those who are sure to come in anyway. When they are in, the best means of dealing with them are simply those that a higher development of the social organism will make both more natural and more necessary for ourselves, — impartial justice in the courts, honesty in government, especially in municipal government, the suppression of all forms of privilege that mock the law, a more thorough, practical, and flexible system of education, and a stricter social control.
The broad means, including all of these, is a frank and honest acceptance on our part of the obligations as well as the privileges of leadership. This is in accordance with the growing thought of the time. Whether for better or for worse, the Anglo-Saxon race has taken up the mission of schoolmaster and protector to the whole world. Whatever meaner motives lurk beneath our expeditions and conquests, this is the pretext that must be offered to meet the general expectation, — a common benefit to leaders and led, to be wrought out by them together, and unattainable by either separately. To correspond with this thought, a conception of citizenship is gaining ground, based, not like those of widest acceptance at present, on birth from a given stock or on a given patch of soil, but upon allegiance to a common leader, for the furtherance of common ends. Why may we not call to this citizenship our aliens at home as well as those abroad in our new colonies ?
This is, indeed, but another application of the principle of thrift already seen to be so necessary in the industrial world, soon to be recognized as equally useful in wider social relations. The conversion of human material wherever it may be found, and whatever it may be, from lower to higher social values, is coming to be recognized as a work not simply of philanthropy, but of the plainest sort of social economy. In the care of our immigrants we have the opportunity of engaging in this work under the most favorable circumstances, and with the fairest prospect of success ever offered to a people. It would seem a token of ignorance or weakness on our part if we were to throw it away.
Kate Holladay Claghorn.