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Immigration Archives - A Detailed Review of the Book "Immigration: A World Movement And Its American Significance"

IMMIGRATION: A WORLD MOVEMENT AND ITS AMERICAN SIGNIFICANCE. By
Henry Pratt Fairchild. New York: Macmillan Co., xi +455 pp.

Professor Fairchild has rendered a service to the student of immigration by having compiled in one handy volume the main facts and opinions scattered in the vast restrictionist literature. His original contribution deals with the relation of immigration to industrial crises, on pp. 348,361, in which he has developed the idea suggested by Professor Commons, viz. that immigration "joins with other causes to stimulate the feverish overproduction, with its inevitable collapse, that has characterized the industry of America more than that of any other country."

Professor Fairchild has adduced no data, however, to demonstrate Professor Cominons' bold assertion that the crises in the United States have been more intense, in proportion, than in other industrial countries. His argument in support of Professor Commons' theory that "immigration intensifies" the "cycle of booms and depressions" is purely speculative.

The mental attitude of the author is strikingly shown in his readiness to excuse rough handling of the incoming immigrants by United States immigration officials. He admits that "physical force . . . is frequently employed to push an immigrant in one direction, or hold him back from another" and says that this is "necessary," because the facilities at Ellis Island provide for the handling of five thousand immigrants per day, whereas on some days the number of arrivals reached fifteen thousand.

"The bustle, confusion, rush, and size of Ellis Island complete the work and leave the average alien in a state of stupor and bewilderment. He is in no condition to understand or appreciate a carefully worded explanation of what he must do, or why he must do it, even if the inspector has time to give it. The one suggestion which is immediately comprehensible to him is a pull or a push; if this is not administered with actual violence there is no unkindness in it. . . . It would be a remarkable man, indeed, who could deal with a steady stream of foreigners, stolid and unresponsive to begin with, and reduced to such a pitch of stupor, day after day. without occasionally losing his patience" (p. 188).

And yet such "remarkable men" are not scarce in Coney Island, where a great many more than fifteen thousand persons, mostly immigrants, are accommodated every Sunday during the summer months. An usher in a cheap show who would lose his patience with a foreign speaking patron would very soon he separated from his job.

Doubtless the United States has the legal authority to terminate all her commercial treaties with foreign nations and to enact a law barring all foreigners except Anglo-Saxon noblemen who have declared their intention to become sons-in-law of American captains of industry. But so long as the United States admits thousands of immigrants per day, it would seem there is room for the opinion that they are entitled to courteous treatment. If the number of inspectors is insufficient, the force might be increased.

The steamship companies could easily be instructed to have the incoming immigrants divided into language groups, each to be dealt with upon landing by immigration officials speaking their language. The head tax levied by the United States government upon every immigrant is yielding a surplus to the treasury; if that surplus is insufficient and it is thought that the incoming immigrants alone should bear the cost of inspection, though it aims primarily at the protection of those already here, then the head tax ought to be increased so as to enable the United States government to employ a sufficient number of competent officials who would handle the immigrants as an ordinary American business man would treat his customers.

Professor Fairchild's bias against immigration leads him to accept without questioning any statement unfavorable to the immigrants. He says, c. g., that "the Jews in Russia are engaged primarily in the two businesses of lending money, and selling liquor" (p. 140). If he had taken the trouble to consult United States Bureau of Labor Bulletin number 72, he could have aseertained that, according to the last Russian census (1897), the number of Jewish hotel and restaurant keepers, persons engaged in the production of and dealers in spirituous liquors was 26,728, and the total number of persons living on income from capital was 58,420, in a total of 1,530,307 persons engaged in gainful occupations, and that all persons engaged in commercial pursuits aggregated only 31 .6 per cent of the total number of breadwinners (pp. 498-500).

In justice to the author, however, it must be said that in most cases he gives both sides of the question, leaving it to the reader to reconcile the contradictory views.

The author shares the popular belief that "a very large part of our present immigration is . . . artificial and stimulated" or "induced" (pp. 14S, 161). He thinks that "one of the greatest motives bark of immigration is the desire of the transportation companies to make money" (p. 396). There is "an immense army" of steamship agents continually working the field (p. 149). "A skillful agent can induce almost any number of the simple and credulous peasants of a backward European country to emigrate, who had scarcely such an idea in their heads before" (pp. 148-149).

Still it is no longer so, since "a better knowledge of actual conditions in America . . . now prevails in most European countries," which "precludes the continued circulation" of fictitious "stories of the richness of America and the ease of life there" (p. 150). "America has become a household word even to the remote corners of Europe. . . . It is amazing to find how much so ignorant Greek peasant knows about conditions in America" (p. 160).

Though the author believes that "the advantages of the economic life in the United States all too frequently exist, not in fact but in the mind of the prospective immigrant" (pp. 148- 149), yet, "in fact, if there were not real advantages in the United States," the steamship agents "would not be able" to sell tickets to prospective emigrants (p. 150). The fact is that in those countries which today furnish the bulk of the immigrants the "economic situation is still so inferior to the United States, that an ample motive for emigration exists" (p. 143).

On the whole, "for the immigrant there is an undoubted net margin of advantage on the average" (p. 431).

What is "recognized by all authorities as probably the most powerful single factor in stirring up emigration from such countries as Italy, Austria-Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, etc." (p. 157) is very accurately summarized by the author in the following paragraph:
Every stream of immigration must have its origin in some few individuals, who, the first of their region, break the ties of home and fatherland, and go to seek their fortune in a new and far-away land.

Upon their success depends the question whether others from the same district shall follow in their footsteps. if they fail in their venture, it serves as a discouraging factor as respects further emigration from that region. But if they succeed, and win a position which makes them envied in the eyes of their fellow-countrymen, it furnishes a powerful stimulus to further emigration. Sooner or later, there will be some who succeed from every region, and the example of a few successful ones is likely to far outweigh numerous failures. Something like this is going on in countless remote districts of the South European countries, and has gone on for decades in every country which has sent us numbers of immigrants (p. 1M).

"This is a perfectly natural influence and obviously beyond the power of any legislation to check" (p. 157).

As customary, the author draws an invidious distinction between the "backward" races of the new immigration and the hopeful immigrants of yore. Still. we learn that "many of the stock arguments against immigration on the grounds of pauperism, criminality and inability for self-support developed during this (the colonial) period" (p. 41).

In the first half of the eighteenth century "the desire to reduce the number of immigrants" to Pennsylvania suggested the argument "that whereas the German importations were at first of good class, people of substance, now they were the refuse of the country" (p. 44). "Very many of the immigrants" of that time belonged to the type "of people so deficient in moral and physical stamina as to promise nothing, save an additional burden on the . . . resources of the community"; "many others who were relatively well off economically on leaving home arrived penniless" and "were reduced to house-to-house beggary" (p. 40).

In 1729 a head tax of two pounds was imposed upon immigrants to Pennsylvania, "to discourage the great importation and coming in of foreigners and of lewd, idle and ill-affected persons into this province" (p. 42).

We further learn that in 1727 the colonial governor of Pennsylvania expressed the fear "that the peace and security of the province was endangered by so many foreigners coming in, ignorant of the language and making, as it were. a separate people" (p. 41-42). Still the author thinks that during the colonial period, "assimilation was easy, quick and complete," and while "every language of Europe could be found in Pennsylvania, this diversity was short-lived" (p. 51). But a century later, in 1835, "the dangers of a heterogeneous population, of poor assimilation . . . and the growth of foreign colonies," are related in "a very sane, cairn and convincing article" (p. 69).

This was the period, when the immigrants were mainly Germans and Irish. "Both of these races were closely allied to the American people and easily assimilated" (p. 88). But the "decided clannishness of the Germans," which was manifested in the existence of "many German societies and newspapers" (p. 72), aroused at. the time a strong nativist sentiment against German immigration.

Another distinctive feature of the old immigration was that its motives were largely religious and political, whereas, "the religious and political motives (have,' almost wholly disappeared in favor of the economic in modern immigration" (p. 378). A notable exception, however, are the Russian Jews (p. 390), in whose case religious persecution manifests itself "in various disadvantages, imposed on other interests of life, but which are primarily due to religious causes" (p. 8). They "come to this country to escape intolerable conditions on the other side, not merely for the sake of economic betterment. They prefer to endure anything in this country, rather than to return to their old home" (p. 361).

The author firmly believes that the new immigration has lowered the standard of living of the workers in the United States, and he predicts that "as long as we continue to draw our immigrants from more and more backward and undeveloped nations and races we may expect to see a progressive degradation in the customary standard of the working people" (p. 250). Still, in general, the conclusion of investigators in regard to the food of our working classes seems to be" that the expenditure of the immigrants for food is "adequate" and that, as regards the proper "balance
between the essential food elements," probably, "the immigrants fare better
than the natives of the same class " (p. 256).

"As regards physical adequacy of clothing, the immigrant is probably as well off on the average as his native fellow-worker." There is even "a recognized danger" that the immigrant women's "desire for a fashionable appearance . . . may lead to an extreme of dress" beyond the family income (p. 257). Might not this disproportion stimulate a desire on the part of the men to increase the family income?

''In respect to cleanliness and even decency, there is frequently room for improvement among the immigrants, just as there is among the native born" (p. 257).

These facts would seem to contradict the opinion that the immigrants' standard of living in the United States is lower than that of the native worker "of the same class."
Nevertheless, the alleged lower standard of living of the immigrant "has undoubtedly been . . . instrumental in reducing the average wage of the American workman" (p. 303). And, "if immigration has not. absolutely lowered the wages and the standard of living of the American workman, it certainly has kept them from rising to the level that they otherwise would have reached" (p. 309).

But, on the other hand, "this question, like many others of its class, involves the problem of determining what would have happened if history had been different in some single particular. It is a most perilous, and often profitless, field to enter. It is apparently impossible for statisticians to determine with certainty what has been the course of real wages within the past half century or so. There is no doubt that money wages have gone up.

There is also no doubt that the average price of commodities has gone up. The question is whether average priers or average wages have gone up the faster. The most reliable tables covering this subject are probably those of the bureau of labor, and these have been discontinued since 1907. As far as the showing which they make can be depended upon, it seems to indicate that there has been a very slight rise in the purchasing power of full-time weekly wages since 1890.

Granting this, the question still remains, would not the American workman have enjoyed a much greater increase in real wages during this period, if he had been allowed to reap the full advantage of his economic position in the country, without having to meet the competition of vast numbers of foreign laborers? The answer to this question must rest upon pure theory, as its statistical proof would involve a re-enactment of past history, which is a manifest impossibility (pp. 301-302).

The shifting of the source of the immigrant labor supply from northern and western to southern and eastern Europe is commonly cited as evidence of "altered conditions in the United States which make it less attractive to the residents of the more advanced nations of Europe than formerly" (p. 143). And the cause is assumed to be "that when the representatives of more backward countries, representing a lower standard of living and of industrial demands have once begun to come, the members of more advanced races cease coming" (p. 133).

"The immigrant from England, Ireland, Germany, or Sweden no longer finds his lot so much easier here than at home." because "the United States has now its own problems of congestion, pauperism, and competition of labor" (p. 133).

This explanation implies that the condition of labor in the United States must have grown worse—not merely relatively, but absolutely—than in the eighties of the past century, when immigration from those countries was at its height. Yet, as stated, the author himself shows that the real wages in the United States have somewhat increased since that period. If we go as far back as 1835, we find that "the dangers of pauperism" and "congestion in cities" were "well set forth," in what Professor Fairchild considers a "convincing article," among "the disadvantages of immigration" of that early day (p. 69).

So it does not appear that conditions in this respect have deteriorated in the United States. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that in the forties and fifties the Germans "left their home primarily for political reasons" and the Irish "emigrated because of economic disaster" (p. SS), both of which causes have since disappeared. So, if we consider that, "the home tics are very strong" with man and "that the cause of a migratory movement must be a powerful one" (p. 4), the decline of Irish and German immigration will at least in part be accounted for.

If the author had turned his attention to the economic development of northern and western Europe, he could not have failed to observe the vast improvement of the condition of labor in those countries. Moreover a portion of the earlier immigration from Germany and the Scandinavian countries was directed toward the agricultural sections of the northwest.

But as the amount of unappropriated and unsettled land diminishes, the need of new settlers also diminishes" (p. 370). And within the past thirty years "the United States has changed from an agricultural to a manufacturing and commercial nation" (p. 373). It is, therefore, obvious that the decline of immigration from northern and western Europe is due to other MUSICS than immigration from southern and eastern Europe.

In fact, however, it is not only immigration from southern and eastern Europe that is undesirable, but the United States could have dispensed with all immigration in the past: "the imposing weight of authoritative opinion" (p. 216) holds with Gen. Francis A. Walker that immigration has not increased the population of the United States, but has merely substituted foreign for native stock.

To be sure, all the "authorities" relied upon by Professor Fairchild merely quote General Walker; so unless the accuracy of a scientific proposition is determined by the number of persons voting for it, the authority of General Walker's endorsers must be dismissed. Moreover, "the proposition . . . is absolutely incapable of mathematical proof" (p. 342). On the other hand, the author is evidently unfamiliar with the later studies of Professor Willcox, which have completely disproved General Walker's theory.

Is there at present, however, any "real need of further immigrants" for the United States? The author believes that there is not (p. 431).. He cannot see how there could be any shortage of labor "in a nation, the majority of whose citizens are healthy and intelligent" (p. 344). Still, "there is no doubt that at present a large portion of our industry --possibly the greater part—is closely dependent upon a foreign labor supply, and that a sudden cessation of immigration would check the expansion of those industries. . . . It seems wholly probable that the development of the country would be retarded for a time if the immigration current was stopped" (pp. 391, 392).

What then shall be the immigration, policy of the United States henceforth?
The fact—if such it be—that immigration in the past has worked no injury to the nation, and has resulted in good to the immigrants, by no means indicates that a continuance of past policy and practice in the matter will entail no serious evil consequences, nor bring about disaster in the future (p. 380).

Immigration being "a part . . . of the dispersion of the human race over the surface of the earth" (p. 1), it would follow that if it is to be checked, though past experience does not justify any apprehension, the burden of proof is on the restrictionists to show that immigration is likely to "bring about disaster." We are told, however, that "only a prophetic vision could state with assurance what those results would be" (p. 432). Since the "evil effects" of immigration are "to be developed mainly in the future rather than existent at the present time" (p. 431), would it not be wiser to leave the regulation of immigration to the future,. rather than to tinker with it at present, so long as its evil effects are non-existent except, perchance, in the mind of a prophet?

Isaac A. Hourwich.
New York City.

NATIONAL MUNICIPAL REVIEW, Vol. II. page 757.

 

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