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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Facts and Thoughts Concerning Immigration

By Josiah Strong (1847–1916)

[Born in Naperville, Du Page Co., Ill., 1847. Died in New York, N. Y., 1916. Our Country: its Possible Future and its Present Crisis. 1885.]

WHILE in 1880 the foreign-born were only thirteen per cent. of the entire population, they furnish nineteen per cent. of the convicts in our penitentiaries, and forty-three per cent. of the inmates of work-houses and houses of correction. And it must be borne in mind that a very large proportion of the native-born prisoners were of foreign parentage.

Moreover, immigration not only furnishes the greater portion of our criminals; it is also seriously affecting the morals of the native population. It is disease and not health which is contagious. Most foreigners bring with them continental ideas of the Sabbath, and the result is sadly manifest in all our cities, where it is being transformed from a holy day into a holiday. But by far the most effective instrumentality for debauching popular morals is the liquor traffic, and this is chiefly carried on by foreigners. In 1880, of the “traders and dealers in liquors and wines” (I suppose this means wholesale dealers), sixty-three per cent. were foreign-born, and of the brewers and maltsters seventy-five per cent., while a large proportion of the remainder were of foreign parentage. Of saloon-keepers about sixty per cent. were foreign-born, while many of the remaining forty per cent. of these corrupters of youth, these western Arabs, whose hand is against every man, were of foreign extraction.

We can only glance at the political aspects of immigration. As we have already seen, it is immigration which has fed fat the liquor power; and there is a liquor vote. Immigration furnishes most of the victims of Mormonism; and there is a Mormon vote. Immigration is the strength of the Catholic church; and there is a Catholic vote. Immigration is the mother and nurse of American socialism; and there is to be a socialist vote. Immigration tends strongly to the cities, and gives to them their political complexion. And there is no more serious menace to our civilization than our rabble-ruled cities. These several perils, all of which are enhanced by immigration, will be considered in succeeding chapters.

Many American citizens are not Americanized. It is as unfortunate as it is natural, that foreigners in this country should cherish their own language and peculiar customs, and carry their nationality, as a distinct factor, into our politics. Immigration has created the “German vote” and the “Irish vote,” for which politicians bid, and which have already been decisive of State elections, and might easily determine national. A mass of men but little acquainted with our institutions, who will act in concert and who are controlled largely by their appetites and prejudices, constitute a very paradise for demagogues.

We have seen that immigration is detrimental to popular morals. It has a like influence upon popular intelligence, for the percentage of illiteracy among the foreign-born population is thirty-eight per cent. greater than among the native-born whites. Thus immigration complicates our moral and political problems by swelling our dangerous classes. And as immigration is to increase much more rapidly than the population, we may infer that the dangerous classes are to increase more rapidly than hitherto. From 1870 to 1880 the population increased 30.06 per cent. During the same period the number of criminals increased 82.33 per cent. It goes without saying, that there is a dead-line of ignorance and vice in every republic, and when it is touched by the average citizen free institutions perish; for intelligence and virtue are as essential to the life of a republic as are brain and heart to the life of a man.

A severe strain upon a bridge may be borne with safety if evenly distributed, which, if concentrated, would ruin the whole structure. There is among our population of alien birth an unhappy tendency toward aggregation, which concentrates the strain upon portions of our social and political fabric. Certain quarters of many of the cities are, in language, customs, and costumes, essentially foreign. Many colonies have bought up lands and so set themselves apart from Americanizing influences. In 1845, New Glarus, in southern Wisconsin, was settled by a colony of 108 persons from one of the cantons of Switzerland. In 1880 they numbered 1,060 souls; and “no Yankee lives within a ring of six miles round the first-built dug-out.” This Helvetian settlement, founded three years before Wisconsin became a State, has preserved its race, its language, its worship, and its customs in their integrity. Similar colonies are now being planted in the West. In some cases 100,000 or 200,000 acres in one block have been purchased by foreigners of one nationality and religion; thus building up states within a State, having different languages, different antecedents, different religions, different ideas and habits, preparing mutual jealousies, and perpetuating race antipathies. If our noble domain were tenfold larger than it is, it would still be too small to embrace, with safety to our national future, little Germanies here, little Scandinavias there, and little Irelands yonder. A strong centralized government, like that of Rome under the Cæsars, can control heterogeneous populations, but local self-government implies close relations between man and man, a measure of sympathy, and, to a certain extent, community of ideas. Our safety demands the assimilation of these strange populations, and the process of assimilation will become slower and more difficult as the proportion of foreigners increases.

When we consider the influence of immigration, it is by no means reassuring to reflect that seventy-five per cent. of it is pouring into the formative West. We have seen that in 1900 our foreign population, with their children of the first generation, will probably number not less than 43,000,000. If the movement westward continues, as it probably will, until the free farming-lands are all taken, 25,000,000 of that foreign element will be west of the Mississippi. And this will be two thirds of all the population of the West, even if that population should increase 350 per cent. between 1880 and 1900. Already is the proportion of foreigners in the Territories from two to three times greater than in the States east of the Mississippi. We may well ask—and with special reference to the West—whether this in-sweeping immigration is to foreignize us, or we are to Americanize it. Mr. Beecher hopefully says, when the lion eats an ox the ox becomes lion, not the lion ox. The illustration would be very neat if it only illustrated. The lion happily has an instinct controlled by an unfailing law which determines what, and when, and how much he shall eat. If that instinct should fail, and he should some day eat a badly diseased ox, or should very much overeat, we might have on our hands a very sick lion. I can even conceive that under such conditions the ignoble ox might slay the king of beasts. Foreigners are not coming to the United States in answer to any appetite of ours, controlled by an unfailing moral or political instinct. They naturally consult their own interests in coming, not ours. The lion, without being consulted as to time, quantity, or quality, is having the food thrust down his throat, and his only alternative is, digest or die.