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Catholic World. A Monthly Magazine

The Philosophy of Immigration

Citation Information:"The Philosophy of Immigration," Catholic World. A Monthly Magazine. v. 9, N. 53. New York: The Catholic Publication House. August, 1869.

IT is strange that while so many of the most enlightened minds of the country are engaged in the investigation of the mysteries of social and physical sciences, so few, if any, appear to give the least attention to the phenomenon of American immigration; a study which is equal in importance to any that can come within the purview of the economist, and of much more practical value to us, nationally, than most of the developments of nature, considered in her material aspect.

The researches of geologists and astronomers often supply us with curious and pleasing discoveries, and the laws which regulate commerce and labor, manufacturers and capital, are doubtless well worth the attention of intelligent public men; but not more so than the habits, qualifications, and destiny of the millions of foreigners who of late years have made their homes among us, and who are still annually coming in myriads to our shores.

It may safely be said that neither ancient nor modern history presents a parallel to this American immigration. The emigration from the plains of Shinar was a dispersion of one people over the surface of the globe, a disintegration of a nation into several fragments, each particle the nucleus of a separate and independent race, speaking a peculiar tongue, and destined to establish distinct laws and forms of religion. Ours is the convergence of many peoples to one common centre, silently arraying themselves under a uniform system of public polity, yielding up their ownpolitical predilections, and to a certain extent their creeds and language, and destined eventually to profess one faith and speak one language. Subsequent migrations in the old world offer points as strikingly dissimilar as the first great exodus. Those were nothing else than succeeding waves of population borne from one portion of the earth to the other, generally preceded and heralded by fire and sword, and ending in the subjugation and spoliation of the inhabitants of that country over which they swept with irresistible violence. Our immigrants, on the contrary, come to us in detail, peaceable to enjoy the benefits of our laws and to respect our institutions, with no thought of conquest but such as may be suggested by our yet untilled fields of the west and our comparatively undeveloped mineral treasures.

Viewed in this light, our knowledge of the past gives no rules of guidance in our relations with this new and very important element of our population, and it becomes the duty of every patriot jealous of the welfare and reputation of his land to draw lessons of wisdom from every-day, experience, in order to help direct this perennial flood of life into the most proper and useful channels. A country's true wealth lies primarily in its population; the product of its soil is its surest and most permanent concomitant. To give a helping hand and a word of cheer and advice to those future citizens and parents of citizens is the common duty of humanity and patriotism; to protect them until sufficiently domiciled to be able to protect themselves, is the absolute duty of our legislators.

The city of New York, being the centre of the commerce of the country, is necessarily the objective point of European emigration, though many of our neighboring seaports receive their proportionate share of the precious human freight. It will be scarcely credited that in the space of twenty-one years, ending with 1867, there arrived at this city alone no less than three million eight hundred and thirty-two thousand four hundred and four immigrants, or a number almost equal in amount to the entire white population of the country at the time of the Revolution. Those arrivals included natives of every country in Europe, China, Turkey, Arabia, East and West Indies, South America, Mexico, and the lower British Provinces. Emigrants from Ireland and Germany were of course largely in excess of all others. Until 1861, these two counties were nearly equally represented, the numbers from them for fourteen years previously being respectively 1,107,034 and 979,575, or nearly four fifths of the whole arrivals. Since that year the German element has largely preponderated, and is now equal to one half the entire immigration. England, Scotland, France, and Switzerland follow next in rotation, the northern counties of Europe supplying a respectable number in proportion to their sparse population, and the southern counties, like Spain and Portugal, comparatively few.

It were beyond the scope of this article to enter into an extended inquiry as to the cause of this unequal abandonment of nationality on the part of our new denizens. The misgovernment of Ireland, which culminated in the terrible famine of 1846-7-8, and the natural affinity of the people of that country for the advantages afforded by free governments, will easily account for the immensity of their numbers who have sought political and social independence in this republic; while the low rewards of labor and the heavy burdens of taxation experienced by the German in his own home, form powerful incentives in his economical mind to change his condition and abandon the fatherland of which he is so justly proud. The same reasons, to a lesser extent perhaps, operate on Englishmen and Scotchmen, with the additional one of the rapid growth of our infant manufacturers requiring the experience of the workmen of Leeds, Birmingham, and Glasgow. Spain and Portugal, the pioneers of immigration in former ages, though now not essentially an emigrant people, as a general rule prefer Central and South America, where their languages are spoken and their religion universally established; with France, of all European counties, the least disposed to colonization, has on account of political troubles, sent us many of her best mechanics, and Italy some of her finest artists.

With the influx of such vast unorganized masses of strangers, representing all conditions, ages, and degrees, into one port, and considering the unusual trials and dangers of a long sea-voyage, it is not to be wondered at that a great amount of sickness and distress should be developed; but we are glad to know that all that private benevolence and judicious legislation could do has been done for the unfortunate. Refuges for the destitute and hospitals for the sick have been established in this neighborhood. Employment for the idle, food for the hungry, and transportation for the penniless have been provided by the Commissioners of Emigration with a free and even profuse liberality. Nearly thirty percentum of the total arrivals, each year, have been thus benefited without any cost whatever to the state, the money required being derived from a fund created mainly by a small commutation-tax on each emigrant passenger. Though this fund, as we have said, is especially intended for the protection and support of immigrants, a portion of it has necessarily been expended in the erection or purchase of valuable buildings, requisite for the purposes of the commission, all of which will revert to the state when no longer required for their original objects. But this is not the only direct pecuniary advantage which we derive from immigration. In 1856 it was ascertained that the average cash means of every person landing at Castle Garden was about sixty-eight dollars, a sum which, considering the improved condition of those who have since arrived, must amount to much more per capita; still, taking the standard of that year, we find that in twenty-one years over three hundred and twenty millions of dollars have been brought to the country and put into direct circulation. Its effect on our shipping interest will be appreciated when we learn that during 1867 there were engaged in the passenger business alone, at this port, two hundred and forty-five sailing vessels and four hundred and four steamships, requiring large investments of capital and employing thousands of men.

It would be impossible to estimate the indirect stimulus given to the general interests of the Union by the acquisition of so much skilled labor and brawny muscle. We can see its developments, however, in the rapid rise of our towns and cities, the superior condition of arts and manufacturers, and the extraordinary increase of our agricultural productions. Coming from so many lands, each heretofore celebrated for some peculiar excellence, the European artisan, while he does not necessarily excel his American fellow-workmen in the aggregate, contributes his special knowledge to the general stock of industrial information. The Swede bring his knowledge of metallurgy, the Englishman of woolens, the Italian of silk; the German, of grape culture, and the Frenchman, of those finer fabrics and arts of design for which is country has been so long famous. When the ancient Grecian sculptor designed to make a representation of the human form in all its perfection, he selected, it is said, six beautiful living models, copying from each some member more perfect than the rest, and thus, by the combination of several excellences, modelled a perfect and harmonious whole, in which were combined grace, beauty, and harmony. So the republic, availing itself of the genius and skill which every country sends us so superabundantly, may attain that general superiority in the arts of peace which was formerly divided among many nations.

The destination of this flood of knowledge and strength forms not the least interesting phase of this subject. From the data before us, we find that the State of New York retains about forty-four per cent; the Western States receive over twenty five; the Middle States, eleven; the New England States, eight; the Pacific slope, two, and the Southern States a little less than two per cent, the residue being scattered among various portions of the continent outside of our jurisdiction. The comparatively small number who have sought homes in the South may be accounted for partly by the occurrence of our late civil war, but principally by the peculiar organization of labor in that section before the abolition of slavery. In future we may expect a much greater percentage of people, particularly from southern Europe, to assist in developing the almost inexhaustible wealth of such states as Georgia and Tennessee. It is to be regretted that no record has been kept of the nationalities and occupations of those who so instinctively choose their favorite sections of our country; but our own everyday experience, and the laws of labor and climate, enable us to form a sufficiently accurate general opinion. Irishmen, though not adverse to agricultural pursuits, generally prefer large cities and towns, like those of New England, where skilled labor is least required in the production of fabrics. The Germans, on the contrary, though quite numerous in New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, avoid New England, and prefer farming in the Western States, in some of which they already form a majority of the rural population. Englishmen are to be met with either in the Eastern factories or in the Atlantic cities, keeping up a business conneciton with their countrymen at home. Frenchmen find a market for their superior mechanical skill amid the luxury of large cities, and are seldom tillers of the soil, while a Welsh miner (if he doe not find his way to Salt Lake) goes as naturally to Pennsylvania, and the slate quarries of New York and Vermond, as the Swede and Norwegian do to the northern parts of Michigan and Wisconsin. The mode of emigraiton may have something to do with these selections. The continental nations, particularly the Germans, understand migration better than their insular neighbors, always leaving home in families and groups, and settling down in small colonies where, as in all new countries union is strength; but the inhabitants of Ireland and the other islands of the United Kingdom too frequently emigrate, one member of a family at a time, without system or organization, to the great disruption of those ties of relationship which are always a bond of unity and a source of comfort, amid the hardships attendant on great changes of habitation.

Considering the various manners, habits, and opinions of so many nationalities, some of them, if not repugnant, at least strange to the native-born of America, the power of absorption possessed by the people of the United States is astonishing. Columbia, taking to her ample bosom the fiery Celt and the phlegmatic Teuton, the self-asserting Briton and the debonnaire Gaul, smiles complacently at their peculiarities, or remembering the good qualities, which underlie such eccentricities waits patiently for time and example to cure them; and we venture to assert that the German feels himself as free to indulge in his national games and festivals in New York or Buffalo as if he were in Vienna or Berlin, and the Irishman can dance as lively and attend a wake or a wedding with as light a heart, and as free from hindrance as if he had never left his own green isle. In justice, also, to the immigrant, it must be said that, once settled in America, he gives to its government his hearty and unqualified allegiance, notwithstanding the occasional spasmodic attempts of a despicable few to subject him to ridicule and social ostracism. How many instances do we find of worthy men who, having gained a competency here, acting upon that natural and beautiful love of native land, return to the home of their childhood to end their days, but who almost invariably return to us and the scenes of their manhood's toils and triumphs!

There are two other sources of accession to our population, independent of that of acquisition of territory, which are worthy of notice. The first, of present importance, is the passage of our borders by natives of Lower Canada, and which, though now more than usually remarkable, has been going on quietly but steadily for at least a hundred years. The French Canadians are a decidedly unique people. Originally from Normandy, early deprived of the protection of France, and practically cut off from their fellow-countrymen by the cessation of emigration, they have sill retained all the primitive simplicity, keenness, and hardiness of their ancestors. Increasing in numbers with extraordinary rapidity, they have tenaciously adhered to their faith, language, and manners of life, in face of the opposition of a dominant and intolerant master. They have not only, so far, held their own against English laws, and customs; but, despite the increase of British colonists among them, they have nearly, if not altogether, kept pace in numbers with the English-speaking inhabitants of the two Canadas. They have likewise constantly shot forth numerous hardy offshoots which have taken root and flourished in the far west. Detroit, La Salle, Dubuque, St. Louis, St. Paul, Sault Ste. Marie, and many other western centres of wealth and population, were first selected and settled by those enterprising followers of Jacques Cartier and the missionary fathers, and their names are still honored in those places. Many of the later immigrants from Canada find employment in our seaboard cities, but the majority either still seek the northwest, as being more congenial in climate, and offering more opportunities for that spirit of adventure which distinguishes the race, or go directly to California, where so many of the French people have already settled.

The Chinese immigration to the Pacific coast is one of the most unaccountable events in the history of that section of our country, and one which may well attract serious public attention. Those people, remarkable for centuries for their ingenuity and industry, as well as for their exclusiveness and dislike to foreigners, have at last crossed the Rubicon that confined them within the limits of the Celestial empire, and when we reflect that the empire contains within itself nearly half the population of the world, we can readily suppose that a few millions, more or less, transplanted to the new world would not very perceptibly diminish its influence or strength. The Chinamen are represented as quiet and docile, economical in their way of living, and working for small wages, and as being eminently adapted for the building of railroads, and the development of the mineral wealth with which nature has so lavishly enriched the territory on both slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and, being as yet only a moiety of the population, are easily controlled. But, should the tide of Asiatic emigration commence to flow freely eastward, the gravest fears are entertained by many that it would lead either to the systematic oppression or even partial enslavement of the Chinese themselves, or to the deterioration of the Caucasians of that beautiful region, soon destined to become the garden of America.

Taking into account, however the great adaptability of all classes of immigrants in this country to the condition of affairs by which they find themselves surrounded, the fears of even a Chinese invasion appear groundless. Every day and year bring with them large accessions of energetic and healthy minds to the ranks of the native-born Americans—some the children of the sons of the soil; others, of adopted citizens, but all American in spirit and purpose, no matter what their parentage. Even this uniformity extends to their physique, and it has been remarked by visitors to our shores that the native-born boy or girl, however dissimilar the peculiar physical traits of their progenitors, presents strong points of resemblance in figure and face to each other. Something of this may be accounted for by food and climate, training and association, but much more by the fact of the admixture of races constantly going forward. The heavy features of the northern European are more or less elongated and brightened into thoughtful cheerfulness in his American child, while the angularity and pugnacity supposed to be characteristic of the Celtic countenance are reduced to finer lines of grace and repose in their cis-Atlantic descendants.

Taking American character as it stood at the beginning of this century, we cannot deny our admiration of its essential features, though many of its details were susceptible of improvement. Our stateliness had a tendency to what is now generally called Puritanism, and our simplicity was apt to degenerate into parsimoniousness. Our ancestors wanted a little more breadth of view, a little leaven of the poetry of life to mix with its stern realities, and a great deal more love for innocent amusements, and taste for the fine arts, which make man feel more kindly to his fellow, and raise him so high above irrational animals. Immigration has done much for us in this way, and we have done something for ourselves. If we have extended to the strangers within our gates hospitality, protection, and the rewards of labor, they have paid us with the sculpture of Italy, the music of Germany, the melodies of Ireland, and the fashions of France. It has not only done this, but it has reproduced and naturalized the love for them, and made them "racy of the soil." But what is of more importance than all, it has efficiently helped the spread of true religious faith over this portion of the continent. True, there were Catholics and very good ones here, even in colonial times, but they were few in number, and so scattered over the country that they were in constant danger of losing their faith for want of spiritual ministration or were powerless to assert their proper position before the opposing sects. We have now not only numbers, but the influence that flows from numbers, and generously and judiciously has our immigrant population used the power inherent in it. during the late civil strife which so afflicted our country, and endangered the Union, citizens by adoption vied with citizens by birth in defence of our institutions, and in their contributions to works of piety, charity, and education they have been so profuse that to others the results of their charities seem little short of miraculous. Even those who have come among us of a different creed, or no creed at all, have here a better opportunity of learning the truth than they have had in their own counties. Unfettered by statecraft or sectional laws, the Catholic priesthood have a field of labor in America such as the whole of Europe cannot present, and an audience composed of as many races as the sons of Adam represent.

Realizing the great things done by our immigrants, and what may yet be expected from them, we hope to see their protection and welfare occupy a portion, at least, of the attention of our national and state authorities. But is not enough that the law has so completely thrown its protecting shield over them. Individual charity can do much to supply the deficiencies which every general law presents. In the city of New York, especially, where a great deal has already been done by the commissioners to whose especial care the immigrants are entrusted by law, much remains still to be performed, in view of the hundreds of thousands of strangers who may annually be expected among us, for the next decade, at least.