Immigration: A Report

By Hamilton Andrews Hill, of Boston, Massachusetts (pp. 86-98)

A Paper from the Proceedings Of The Conference Of Charities, Held In Connection With The General Meeting Of The American Social Science Association, Detroit, Michigan, May 1875.


This subject has already been treated before this Association in a paper, by Mr. Friedrich Kapp, of much breadth and ability, read at the meeting held in New York in October, 1869. The questions, why do people emigrate, who are those who emigrate, and why is the United States the favorite land of the emigrant, were then so well and so fully answered that nothing more need be attempted under these heads. The further questions discussed by Mr. Kapp, as to the capital value of immigration to this country, the relation of immigration to the population and wealth of this country, and the respective duties of the general government, and of the several States, to the immigrant, will be referred to more or less directly, in presenting such considerations as may now be suggested, and may perhaps receive some fresh elucidation from what has been taking place during the last five or six years.

Our attention will naturally be first directed to the present falling off in immigration to the United States. The tide from Europe reached its maximum height in 1854, when the arrivals were 427,833. Only once since, we believe, have they exceeded 400,000 in any one calendar year; this was in 1873, when they were 422,545. In 1874 they declined to 260,814. This was less considerably than the immigration of any previous year since 1864, and less. by nearly forty per cent. than that of 1873.*

* The immigration to the United States during the first six months of the current year, 1875, was 106,825. The immigration during the fiscal year, ended June 30, 1875, was 227,498, which was less by 85,841, than that of the previous fiscal year. For these figures we are indebted to Dr. Young, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics, Washington.

The reason of this decline it will not be difficult to find. Mr. Kapp has tersely stated the rule which governs the movement of emigration to the United States: ” Bad times in Europe regularly increase and bad times in America invariably diminish immigration.” In the present instance, certainly, there can be no doubt that “‘ bad times in America ” have led to the diminished numbers. However serious the great failures of the autumn of 1873, and the general depression of trade throughout the country subsequently, have been felt to be by those at home, they have seemed much more serious when regarded from abroad, and especially by foreigners who know comparatively little of the resources and understand still less the recuperative powers of this young and vigorous country. Nor does the press of Europe at such times err on the side of underestimating financial and industrial difficulties in the United States. On the continent the ruling influence is directly opposed to emigration to any and all countries, and in Great Britain, it not unnaturally prefers and favors the British colonies. It can readily be understood, therefore, why many who may have been proposing, a year and a half ago, to cross the seas and settle among us, should have been induced, by what they have heard and read, either to postpone their emigration or to change their destination; and why many more, who, during the same period, may have been brought to consider emigration as a question personal to themselves and their families, should have left the United States out of the account. Perhaps, under all the circumstances, the wonder is that at such an unpropitious time, more than a quarter of a million of the people of Europe had the discernment and the courage to come hither in 1874 and cast in their lot with us.

There has not only been a check in the flow of the stream in this direction, but there has been a strong current setting from the United States towards the shores of Europe. The general dulness of trade in America, in connection with unprecedentedly low rates of railway and steamship fares, afforded an opportunity to our foreign born citizens, particularly to those engaged in mechanical and manufacturing industries, to return to their old homes for the purpose of visiting their friends, or of obtaining temporary employment, or for the two purposes combined. At one time last summer, owing to the severe competition among both the railway and the steamship companies, passengers were conveyed on through tickets from Chicago to Queenstown or Liverpool for seventeen dollars each, currency; and it is easy to see how strong the inducement to take a trip across the Atlantic must have been to those who, at the time, were out of employ, or could not obtain such wages as they desired. Instances there undoubtedly were of personal disappointment and loss among those who filled the steamship steerages between America and Europe last year; but we believe them to have been altogether exceptional, and that the large majority will return to us at no distant day. The number of those who landed from homeward bound steamers at Queenstown and Liverpool in 1874 is reported as 77,146 against about 38,000 in 1873. We’have not been able to ascertain the number of passengers who landed at German ports, but we are informed that about 4,000 persons returned to Sweden during the year. It is probable not only that most of these people will return to the United States, but that they will bring with them, or influence the coming of, many others. It will appear, in due time, that they have been serving as most efficient promoters of emigration, in the countries to which they have gone, and the information they will impart in their personal contact with friends and acquaintances, and the encouragement which their appearance and experience will afford, will, no doubt, help to swell the numbers of immigrants to the United States for years to come.

2. This brings us to our second point, the probabilities with regard to the extent of immigration to this country in the future. While we may confidently expect that circumstances on this side of the Atlantic, which have caused the present falling off in the arrivals on our shores, are temporary only and will cease to be operative before long, we may be sure, also, that the reasons which lead multitudes in Europe to decide upon changing their residence and allegiance, are, to say the least, becoming no less potential from year to year. Excepting in Ireland, emigration has caused no perceptible diminution in the population which crowds the countries of the old world; while many things conspire to render emigration desirable, if not indispensable, to an increasing number both of individuals and families.

Ireland has been our chief source of supply in the past, and during the last forty years has contributed to our population nearly three millions of her people. During the years 1847 to 1854 inclusive, the arrivals from Ireland averaged one hundred and fifty thousand per annum. In only one year since 1854 have they reached one hundred thousand; this was in 1867, when they were 108,857. Ireland still stands second in the tables, after Germany, which, since 1865, has been first. The exceptional circumstances and conditions which in past years increased Irish emigration to such large proportions do not now exist, and in the future it will be governed mainly by the same considerations which affect emigration in England and in Scotland.

Since 1869 the emigration of English to all parts of the world has been larger than that of Irish, and while the latter has hardly held its own from year to year, the former has been steadily increasing. In 1873 the English emigration outnumbered the Irish in the proportion of three to two, although, of course, it was far below the Irish when the respective populations are taken into account. In 1872, upwards of eighty thousand English arrived in the United States, and as soon as times improve with us we may expect a repetition of these numbers, and probably an advance upon them. Not only in the classes represented by Ginx’s Baby and Little Hodge, but in all others the size of English families is such, as a rule, that except among the very rich adequate provision cannot be made for the younger children at home, and the increase in the cost of living seriously aggravates the difficulty.*

*There is hardly a family in England which has not one or more of its members in America, in Australia or In India, many of them having gone abroad when quite young. Dickens wrote, rather sadly, of his son Walter, the fourth of nine children, on his departure for India, where he died, that he was going before he well knew he was alive, or what life was, which, indeed, he added, seems to be rather an advanced state of knowledge.

Land is steadily increasing in value, and so much more capital is required now than formerly for its cultivation that, as the Daily Telegraph said, not long ago, it will soon have to be cultivated with a ” silver plow.” The position of the English farmer is a very trying one, between the landlord on the one hand, and the agricultural laborer on the other. In his relations with the former he has to deal with many perplexing questions connected with the granting and renewal of leases, and the value of exhausted and unexhausted improvements, which, fortunately, we know nothing about in the United States; and he finds himself still more embarrassed by the demands of the laborer for more wages, backed as these are by union organizations. There can be little doubt that when the farmers of England, and especially the younger men among them and their sons, shall come to understand, as some of them are beginning to do, the advantages offered them by a settlement in this country, where there is plenty of land and free scope, where they can at once become their own landlords, and where they can buy a farm for what the rental for one year would be in England, or less, there will be such a movement hither from among this class as will take most of us by surprise, and from other classes also, for most Englishmen are fond of the land and take kindly to agricultural pursuits.

The settlers in the British colonies are English in about the proportion of two to three, but three-fourths of the total emigration from the United Kingdom is to the United States. Until 1873 the proportion of English going to the colonies as compared with other destinations had not varied much for several years; but during 1873 and 1874, by means of “assisted passages,” ” free grants,” and other inducements offered in the interest of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there has been a large increase in the number of emigrants to these countries especially to that last named. The emigration to New Zealand alone, for 1874, is reported at about forty-two thousand, which is nearly three times as many as the departures for Australia and New Zealand combined in 1872. A large number of these people were agriculturul laborers and their families. The preponderance of even English emigration, however, will continue to be in favor of the United States, not to name other reasons, because of the shortness of the voyage hither, as compared with Australia and New Zealand, and the superiority of the climate and the’ land, as compared with most of Canada.

Scotch emigration has taken a new start since 1868, and is now about twenty thousand a year. Of this number the United States receives rather more than one-half. Canada has succeeded in attracting a large share of these settlers, wlo, as agriculturists and horticulturists especially, are a most valuable acquisition to any country. It has been said of Scotchmen that ” they are never so much at home as when they are abroad,” and certainly there are no better emigrants than they, and none who more readily adapt themselves to new conditions and to a new country. In Scotland, also, as in England, the large capital now required for cultivating the soil, presses the alternative of emigration upon the attention of farmers and their sons. Professor Caird says that on a farm in the Lothians, rented at ~1,000, while ~25 was the outlay on foreign manures forty years ago, at the present day twice the rent would not be thought an extravagant expenditure on fertilizers and cattle food.*

*See the Times, January 11, 1875.

The emigration from Sweden and Norway has become important since 1866. Nearly the whole of it is attracted to this country, and as much pains have been taken of late to spread information about the United States in the North of Europe, and as the facilities for transportation hither are improving year by year, a large gain may be looked for from this source. Nothing could help this more than the return of the four thousand persons last year to whom reference has been made.

From Russia some important communities, Mennonites and others, have begun to transfer their homes to the United States. The arrivals in 1873 and 1874 (together about 11,000) were more than in all the previous years together, and are only the advanced guard of a great movement.

Germany has already sent us more than two and a half millions of people, and will, no doubt, continue to be our largest source of supply. The arrivals in 1873 were 133,141; in 1874, 56,927. The laws of the empire relating to military service and conscription, together with the prevailing fear of further continental wars, stimulate emigration from Germany more than all other considerations combined. The recent enactment of the Imperial Parliament which in the event of war, will render every able-bodied man in the empire, between the ages of eighteen and sixty, liable to do military duty, and which makes more stringent even than heretofore, all the regulations relating to military service, will influence thousands upon thousands to come to the United States, who, but for these laws and for the misgiving that occasion may come for their enforcement, would greatly prefer to remain in their native land. The German Government, which during the last few years, has bitterly opposed the emigration of its subjects, will, no doubt, seek to render it still more difficult for them to get away, but the effect of this opposition will probably be to make them only the more anxious and the more determined to leave.

3. Something may be inferred as to the character and value of the immigration now reaching us and likely to come hither in the future, from what has already been said; but more may be added on this point.

Abject poverty, which, at one time was the rule, is now the exception among those who arrive in the United States as immigrants. In 1851 the Marquis of Lansdowne gave free emigration to America to ” every man, woman and child in the poor-house, or receiving relief, and chargeable to his estate” in Ireland, and during that year 3,500 paupers were sent over from the Union of Kenmare alone.*

*Mr. W. Steuart Trench, author of “Realities of Irish Life,” testified before the select committee of the House of Lords on the Irish Tenure of Land bill, that in the years immediately succeeding the famine, the Marquis of Bath expended ~7,988 in assisting 2,459 persons to emigrate, and the Marquis of Lansdowne ~17,059 for 4,616 persons. Mr. Trench was agent in Ireland for both these noblemen; and in his interesting book above named, a remarkable contrast is drawn between what these people were when they left their native land, and what they had become a few years later. He says; ” It must be admitted that the paupers despatched to America on such a sudden pressure as this were of a very motley type, and a strange figure, these wild batches of two hundred each, most of them speaking only the Irish language, made in the streets of Cork. * * * * * I am happy to say that the most favorable accounts have been received, and are to this day coming back from every quarter to which the emigrants were despatched. Money in large quantities has been sent home by them to their friends.”

Within the limits of that Union, 5,000 had died of starvation during the famine, and the more intelligent and enterprising among the landed proprietors in Ireland and their agents, saw no other course before them but (to use the words of one of them) ” …to free the estates from the mass of pauperism which had been allowed to accumulate upon them, and to put the people in a far better way of earning their bread than they had ever known before.” There was less excuse for the deportation to America, at the expense of the landlords or of the government, of Ribbonmen and other dangerous characters. But those sad times have passed away, let us hope never to return. It is said that Mr. Gladstone’s Irish land law increased the selling value of Irish property from twelve to twenty per cent. This has made it practicable for the landlords to deal more liberally with their tenants in terminating their leases and in compensating them for improvements, so that those of them who emigrate are able to provide themselves with good outfits, and they all start with more or less money in their pockets. The English, Scotch and Germans who come to us are almost all fairly supplied with capital in clothing, tools and money, and many of them bring large sums with them. The Topeka Commonwealth, in referring last autumn to the arrival in Kansas of a Mennonite colony consisting of two thousand persons, said that the capital they brought with them amounted to a million and a half of dollars.

From the nature of the case it is impossible to arrive at any precise estimate of the amount of money annually brought into the country by immigrants. An attempt was made a few years ago at Castle Garden to obtain information on this point from the passengers themselves, and, as the result of the inquiry, the Immigration Commissioners fixed upon $68 as the estimated average amount for each passenger. There is no doubt, however, that many of these people failed to make correct returns, naturally hesitating to talk about their private affairs, or to display their means, to strangers. Mr. Kapp, who found evidence of this in the course of his own observation, fixed the average amount at $150. This was several years ago, and it is our belief that since then the amount of capital in money or effects brought by ilnmigrants has greatly increased, and that the estimate of $150 would now be much within the truth. At this moderate estimate, however, and with the reduced immigration of 260,000, our country is gaining from this source of wealth at the rate of nearly $40,000,000 per annum.

What is the economic value of each immigrant to the land of his adoption? Mr. Kapp, from carefully considered data, places it at $1,125. Dr. Edward Young, of Washington, thinks this too high, and has fixed it at $800. Other statisticians would perhaps reach still different results. But whatever process we may adopt in making our calculations, it is evident that the annual increase to the capitalized wealth of the country, by this influx from beyond the sea, must be reckoned by more than tens of millions.

Here is still another view of the subject. Dr. Young says: ” It is impossible to make an intelligent estimate of the value to the country of those foreign born citizens who have brought their educated minds, their cultivated tastes, their skill in the arts, and their inventive genius. In almost every walk of life their influence has been felt. Alike in the fearful ordeal of war and in the pursuits of peace, in our legislative halls and in the various learned professions, the adopted sons of America have attained eminence.”

4. It remains for us to speak of our duties to immigration and to the immigrant.

It need hardly be said that the general government should encourage such immigration as has been referred to, in every practicable way. Not that it is called upon to send its agents to the Old World to make the people there dissatisfied with the institutions and conditions under which they have been born and trained, and to urge their coming across the sea to us. These people are finding out for themselves, in a natural and spontaneous way, the advantages to be gained by emigration, and they receive all the special information they desire from our consuls, from the representatives of the great railroad companies which have lands to sell, and from the steamship companies which are competing among themselves for their conveyance to the New World. Nor need we offer assisted passages or any pecuniary inducement to those who, without them, cannot emigrate at all. We will extend every opportunity, on their arrival, to those who may land upon our shores absolutely poor, and will point them to the encouraging example of hundreds of thousands of the same condition who have preceded them, and who, by industry and Providence, have marvellously changed their circumstances for the better; but we can afford to let the majority of this class go to the colonies, where they are needed more than by us, leaving those to come here who bring something with them with which to make their own start in life.

The duty of the general government in this matter, as we conceive, is to protect the immigrant, by suitable enactments, in his passage across the sea; to welcome him on his arrival, with the promise, after the lapse of a proper interval, of full and equal citizenship; and to secure him in the enjoyment of all his newly acquired rights, by treaty with the power from whose sovereignty and protection he has separated himself; and this threefold duty the government has already sought in good faith to perform.

Both the United States and Great Britain have endeavored by stringent legislation to regulate the steerage passenger traffic on the Atlantic, and with a good degree of success. Of all classes of travellers, none, probably, are protected in their lives and persons by such thorough precautions, as emigrants. The English Emigration Commissioners, in a recent report to the Colonial Office, stated that during a period of twenty years, the percentage of loss of life on board emigrant ships was only seventeen in every ten thousand, or less than two in every thousand emigrants. Something more than mere safety also has been aimed at. Macaulay speaks of “that sensitive and restless compassion which pries into the stores and water casks of every emigrant ship,” and the result of this enterprising philanthropy is, that in the vessels of the great steamship lines which navigate the Atlantic, the wants of the steerage passengers are, upon the whole, well cared for, and there seems to be an honest desire on the part of the companies to do all that, under the circumstances, can be done for their comfort. Still, for every reason, this traffic should be closely watched, and it is most desirable that the laws which regulate it should be uniform on both sides of the Atlantic. There should also be treaties among the several powers interested, so that the jurisdiction of each and all over the officers and crews of vessels employed in the conveyance of emigrant passengers, and over their acts upon the high seas, may be fully secured and clearly defined.

When the passenger has been landed and has passed through the custom house with his effects, the direct responsibility of the general government with regard to his movements, terminates and ceases; and it would be most undesirable, as, indeed, it would be found most impracticable, to seek to extend it further. The several States and the several municipalities under whose jurisdiction immigrants come, after the custom house officer has done with them, are abundantly able to protect them; and they may safely be trusted to frame such local legislation in the interest of this traffic, as will attract to each, and enable each to hold its proper share of it. All things considered, Castle Garden is open to but little criticism, while the arrangements at Boston and Baltimore are unexceptionable. We would take occasion, however, to protest against the imposition of the head money or capitation tax at the port of New York. Massachusetts, in the interest of her commerce, and as a matter of principle, has abolished this tax. She does not wish to support any of her hospitals, asylums, or other charities, at the expense of the immigrant, or to levy upon him, in any form, a toll for the privilege of crossing her domain on his way to the West. It is said, to be sure, that the steamship company, and not the immigrant, pays this tax; but there can be no question that every outlay incurred by a steamship company in bringing immigrants to this country and in landing them here, is and must be taken into the account beforehand in determining the rate of passage; and as competition increases and the margin of profit is continually diminishing, every particular expenditure, large or small, must be carefully scrutinized and allowed for. It is by no means clear that the capitation tax is a constitutional one; its collection, certainly, is unworthy of any of the great commonwealths on the seaboard; and it is opposed to the interests of the country at large.*

* On this point the writer is compelled to differ from Mr. Kapp.

Nothing more liberal can be asked for than our naturalization laws as they now stand. The treaties also, into which our government has entered with various European powers, by which the absolute American citizenship of those who transfer their allegiance to the United States is recognized and confirmed, are satisfactory. We hope, however, that the government will hesitate before giving its consent to the limitation of these treaties in any of their existing provisions. It is said, for example, that German parents, anxious to save their sons from involuntary military service, send them to America, where they remain long enough to become American citizens, and are then recalled to Germany to take up their permanent abode there. There are such instances, undoubtedly, but they are exceptional, and no law or treaty can be found to meet every exceptional case that may arise under it. It is the duty and privilege of the United States to throw wide open the portals of its citizenship, and to welcome all who come hither, without seeking to inquire into the particular motives of self-interest which prompt each instance of immigration. Neither can our government undertake to deal with the considerations which lead naturalized citizens to return, for a longer or shorter period, to their native country. It is not its fault if these motives, in the one case or the other, are thought to conflict with the supposed necessities of nations, which, for their own purposes, maintain immense military organizations, and which enact stringent military laws under which their people grow restive. It must protect everywhere those who have sworn allegiance to it, leaving them free to go and come at their pleasure. No citizens of the United States, native or naturalized, are more warmly attached to their country than those of German birth; still, various circumstances may and do require many of them to return to and for a time to remain in fatherland, and there should be no difficulty, whether of treaty stipulation or of any other nature, in the way of their doing so.

The unwillingness of the countries from which we are drawing population to part with that which in such volume flows towards us, may fairly be taken as measuring for us the importance of this immigration to the national prosperity. Sir Walter Scott makes one of his characters, in “‘ Peveril of the Peak,” say: ” The land has shaken from her lap, as a drunkard flings from him his treasures, so much that is precious in the eyes of God and His children.” This is not the estimate now put by the nations of Europe, on either individual emigrants or emigrating classes. Even Great Britain, overcrowded as she is,* looks wistfully after the tens of thousands of her vigorous and enterprising children who, year by year are leaving their island home, and, at the least, she would retain their services and their fealty under her flag in the various colonies, the younger sisters of the United States, which still cling to their old mother. We have seen what the feeling of Germany is. The Swiss government regards with as little favor as any of its neighbors, the disposition of its people to become citizens of the Great Republic. Russia, for special reasons, is just now permitting the emigration of certain communities outside the Greek Communion, but we believe a limit has been fixed to the time during which this movement will be permitted.

*Mr. Trench and others, who in the midst of the horrors of the Irish famine promoted the emigration of naked and starving paupers, were bitterly denounced, then and long afterwards, as enemies of their country.

It is more than probable that, for all these nations, there are compensations that more than make up to them for what they are losing numerically by emigration; but however this may be, it becomes us to be no less closely observant than they of the perpetual tendency of population to migrate from the Old World to the New; and we ought to make it manifest to the immigrant on his arrival among us, that his coming here is as much an occasion of gratification to us as his departure from his native land is a cause of dissatisfaction to those he is leaving behind him.

Source: National Conference on Social Welfare Proceedings On-Line. The web site for this resource is:

The proceedings of annual meetings of the NCSW, 1874-1983, are available on the web thanks to a digitization project undertaken by the University of Michigan Library, with assistance from the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.  The web site for this resource is:













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