Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Migration

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The movement of populations from place to place is one of the earliest social phenomena history records. The earliest migration recorded in the Bible was when, after the confusion of tongues, men wandered over the face of the earth (Gen., xi, 8) under conditions only vaguely known to-day. The Book of Exodus more clearly describes the withdrawal of the Hebrew tribes from the land and rule of ancient Egypt. A typical illustration of tribal migration was the separation of Abraham and Lot, when the latter gathered his substance and set his face towards Sodom, while Abraham took his way to the plains, founded a nation and went into history as the Father of the Mighty. Of the Greeks too, it may be said that the dominant fact of their leading epoch was the wandering of the race, until its narrow borders widened out into Magna Græcia. Throughout early Latin literature runs the same story of the migrations and conquests of the Latin race, reaching a climax in the colossal structure of the Roman Empire. Modern writers have discussed the fall of that structure and the building of that strange conglomerate of Asiatic and European, of Germanic and Romance elements, till a new, and greater, Europe arose from the old.

General movements of population are termed migrations. It is a general term indicating a permanent change of habitat, i. e. a more or less serious intent to take up permanent residence in the new country. The terms immigration and emigration denote respectively the entry into and the departure from any given country. Generally speaking, immigration presents more serious problems than emigration, though certain dangers do arise from an excess of emigration. Many problems grow out of immigration, and to these, legislators and rulers have turned their attention.

Migrations have taken place under a variety of conditions. In general they have been voluntary: peoples have come and gone of their own free will. But forced migrations have not been unknown in history, as when a conquering people has expelled, killed, or sold the conquered into slavery. The rule, however, has been to leave the population on the soil under conditions more or less severe. The latest principle, dominant among Western nations is to disturb the population as little as possible, either in their person or property. The right to exile a people has been abandoned, and the noted case when England transported the Acadians in 1755 marks the date when sentiment turned against it and practice rapidly followed; transferred to a new authority as the Filipinos were, the people do not migrate. Indeed, in the treaties transferring territory to new hands, the inhabitants are sometimes expressly guaranteed against expulsion, as in the Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803. Enforced migration has taken other forms. It has shown itself in the organization of criminal colonies, as seen in Tasmania. It has been practised by Russia in the attempt to settle Siberia. While compulsory migration has not played a great part, assisted migration has been a large factor in either inducing or directing the movement of population. Assistance may be given either by the land which gives or that which receives the emigrant. An illustration of the former is the aid given to emigrants from Prussia to Argentine and to the Kamerun region. In times of colonial expansion this method has been especially effective. Prospective colonists have been given bonuses in the form of tax-exemptions and liberal grants of land; the last mode is best illustrated in the grants in the London charter of 1609-12. Liberation from civil and criminal prosecution was also an effective means to induce migration; this was used in England when the jails were emptied, and debtors flocked to Georgia, and when the courts offered the choice of self-imposed exile to accused and condemned persons. Cases are not wanting where countries have attracted immigrants to themselves in various ways. Conspicuous as an example was the United States, where for decades "contract labour" supplied the market and made it possible for absolutely impecunious labourers to migrate to America. So extensive had this assistance become that Congress has for many years legislated with the view of preventing further aid of this kind.

Migration today differs in many important particulars from that of earlier times. Down to a quite recent date peoples moved as tribes, nations, or races, moving and settling en masse. Taking forceful possession of extended areas, they maintained their individuality either under colonial systems or as separate groups; they finally established nations. With these migrating groups went their own institutions, language, religion, industrial methods, and political and legal systems. Usually they moved into uninhabited or sparsely settled areas, where no question of amalgamation could arise. With certain exceptions, the Roman Empire being the most noted, migrations have entailed the settling of a highly cultured people among those of a lower culture. In all such cases of migration en masse the native habitat was forever abandoned, and the migrating tribes, thoroughly equipped, entered a new environment and yielded entirely to new influences. In these particulars different conditions now obtain: migration is effected by families and individuals. These go from dense and highly cultured populations where free opportunity is usually closed, taking few possessions with them; their language survives during their own generation, and in the succeeding one is exchanged for the language of the adopted country, though they usually retain their religion. They must fit into a new industrial system, however, unlike their own. As a rule, they renounce their natural political allegiance and assume a new political status, abandoning the relations attaching to their former status and assuming new political and contractual relations. Such migration means to the emigrants the death of a nation, so far as concerns them, while to their new country it brings a serious modification, the extent of which depends upon the relative virility of the newly added national element.

These characteristics of modern migrations have given rise to a threefold movement. In certain lands, as Germany, where migration to America means a loss to German citizenship, attempts have been made to colonize, and thus save the migrating persons to German citizenship and culture. Those nations, moreover, which they enter look with increasing caution and suspicion on the numbers and character of the incoming population. When once admitted, the problem presents itself of granting them citizenship. To what extent shall the immigrant assume the rights and duties of an acquired nationality? The problem of migration is thus inextricably bound up with a political one.


The primary cause of the migration of peoples is the need for larger food supplies. From the time when nomadic peoples were constantly migrating down to the present westward movements, one principle has been uniformly followed - they have gone from areas of low, to areas of high food-supply. This has been a constant impelling and expelling power. In the last analysis, migration results when the forces of increasing population and decreasing food supply are not in equilibrium, and it tends to equilibration of forces among societies of men: equilibration of food in relation to population; equilibration of rights as related to authority; equilibration of industrial energy as between labour and capital. These express in the most general terms the meaning of migration. First came the tribal migrations, such as the exodus of Lot and Abraham towards Zoar and their subsequent separation in search of richer pastures. The nomad tribes on the steppes of Asia take up the journey to the waterways to find richer pastures for their herds. The migration of Germans, Slavs, and similar nations came later, and, pushed on by the same inexorable necessity, they moved south from the Caspian and Baltic regions, overrunning Rome, and taking possession of Gaul and Britain. With the industrial changes in England, when the modern age dawned, lessening supplies of food pushed men beyond the sea. In more modern times the hunger-stricken peoples of European lands have come to the new parts of the world, to America, North and South; to Australia and South Africa; from Russia they have pushed into Asia, while Japan lays hold of outlying islands where congested population may find room for expansion. Moreover, there are secondary causes which play back and forth with varying degrees of force and effectiveness. These causes operate temporarily though powerfully. They usually act reciprocally in the different countries, and, like the sun and moon affecting the tides, now oppose each other, now act in conjunction.

At the close of the eighteenth century a change in the attitude of the principal governments resulted in greater freedom for those who wished to migrate. During the first half of the nineteenth century the laws limiting or prohibiting emigration were gradually modified or repealed. At this time most countries, especially those of the Western world, favoured immigration, and few limitations existed checking the flow of population; free action was thus secured to social, political, and economic causes. The variations in the flow of immigrants to the United States illustrate with special clearness the operation of these causes. From 1820 to 1833 the number of immigrants gradually increased, but as hard times began here, culminating in the panic of 1837, immigration fell off. More marked still were the effects of economic conditions from 1846 till 1857. During this period unusual activity showed itself in the United States. Under the influence of Clay's tariff measures, manufactures had grown, creating an enlarged demand for labour, which was not forthcoming from the native population. The opening of Western lands absorbed much of the labour that otherwise would have gone into industry, and also drew on foreign sources for increased supply. The greatest impulse, however, was given by the discovery of gold in California in 1848. Not only was there a great demand for labour on the Pacific Coast; the effects of the discovery of gold were more far-reaching. Prices were high, money plentiful, business, so sensitive to these influences, was greatly stimulated, and a heavy demand for labour was created. By an interesting coincidence European economic conditions also favoured a heavy migration. With bad crops and sunless summers throughout Europe, the climax was reached in the potato famine of 1847 in Ireland. This destructive calamity occasioned a heavy migration from Ireland to the United States, where abundant and increasing opportunity was to be found. At the same time certain political causes operated in Europe. Notable among these causes was the overthrow of the attempted revolutions in the German states, especially Prussia; large numbers of the Liberal Party left Germany. The results of the Crimean War are less easily measured, though it probably sent a certain number to our shores. The operation of these causes may be read clearly in the following statistics: in 1844, 78,615 persons came to our shores; in 1845, 114,371; in 1846, 154,416; in 1847, 234,968; in 1848, 226,527; in 1854 the high-water mark was reached when 427,833 immigrants landed here.

Equally forceful were the causes of immigration which manifested themselves at the close of the Civil War. Checked by the war, industry advanced by leaps and bounds at its conclusion, and men and capital were in abnormal demand. Immigration increased from 72,183 in 1862, when the national disaster was at its worst, to 459,403 in. 1873. During the misfortunes following the panic of 1873 the number fell (in 1878) to 138,469. In the eighties bad economic conditions again somewhat influenced migration to the United States, when it fell from 788,992 in 1882 to 334,203 in 1886. The panic of 1907 and the subsequent hard times are clearly recorded in the attenuated immigration to this country in 1908; whereas in 1907 it had received nearly a million and a quarter, in 1908 and 1909 the figures amounted to only three quarters of a million.

Among the motives other than economic which prompt emigration is the desire to escape military service. This has been especially operative in such military countries as Germany. This cause is much more powerful during, or just after, a war. In 1872-73 there were 10,000 processes for desertion on this account alone and in great part due to emigration. Again migration because of religious persecution has been historically of great importance. In past centuries thousands went from the Continent to England, from Ireland and England to the Continent and to the New World, that they might enjoy freedom of worship. In recent years these influences have been most powerful in Russia and Turkey, whence persecutions affecting the Jews and the Greek Christians have sent large numbers of refugees, especially of the former class, to the United States. Another cause, difficult to measure, but of great influence, is the solicitation of relatives and friends. Once in the new country, in many instances relatives plan to bring those left behind, secure places for them, aid them in coming, and in general form a centre of attraction in the new land, drawing powerfully on those beyond the sea. Along with this is the fear, periodically recurring with the agitation for restriction, that further immigration may be cut off, and at such times considerable increase is seen. This was particularly noticeable before the American legislation of 1903.

A phase of this subject which cannot be overlooked and which is of increasing importance in the United States is the commercial. On the one hand is an employing class, eager for cheap foreign labour; on the other hand are various agencies whose business is the transportation of goods and people. As the main profits of, say, the steamship companies come from the immigrants who travel in the steerage, the reasoning is clear to the line of action which they follow. Everywhere, in lands where migration originates, is the ubiquitous immigration agent. His business is to induce people to migrate. Exaggerated reports, sometimes amounting to actual misrepresentation, are too often resorted to. On this legislation has had its important bearing. The greatest influence exerted by the employing class is by means of contract labour. At first generally desirable, when labour was scarce, this has since become most unpopular, and through law and adverse popular opinion is now of comparatively little importance.


The many varied problems of immigration are best illustrated by its history in the United States. Perhaps no more composite nation has existed since the Roman Empire engulfed the various nationalities of Western Europe. At a very early period in the history of the American Colonies, the Negro was introduced - a race so remote anthropologically, from the first colonists as to be impossible of assimilation. The American Indians, isolated from the first, have ever since been tending to extinction, and hence need not be considered as a possibility in the problem of national and social composition. As time passed, other races came to still further complicate the problem. Besides these distinct racial elements must be reckoned an infinite number and variety of nationalities marked by lesser differences and capable of assimilation.

The settlers of the original Thirteen Colonies, while fairly homogeneous, yet presented some diversity. There were English, at first the dominant element, Irish, and Scotch, and persons of mixed British origin. There were a goodly number of Germans in Pennsylvania. and remnants of the Dutch settlement in New York and New Jersey. A few Swedes had come to Delaware and a sprinkling of Finns. The French were represented by the Huguenots in Georgia and in the Carolinas. It has been estimated that the population of one million in 1750 had developed from an original migration of 80,000. Additional racial modification resulted from the annexation of new territories of alien population. In 1803, by the treaty with France, Louisiana was added, with some accession of population and a considerable effect upon the customs and ideas of the nation as a whole. This addition was chiefly French, though a few Spaniards were included. The acquisition of Florida in 1821 brought a few Spaniards, although their influence is negligible. The enlargement westward, from 1845, when Texas was admitted, till 1848, when the Mexican Treaty added an extensive cession, brought a number of Spaniards, Mexicans, and half-breeds. Following upon the Spanish War of 1898, which resulted in an accession of nearly 8,000,000 of alien, mainly Far-Eastern, races, the extension of American dominion into the Pacific has vastly complicated the problem of nationalization, at the same time rendering more difficult the control of immigration from the Orient.

The beginning of migration to the English Colonies in America was the Jamestown settlement of 1607. In New England the first real migration of any extent was the company that reached Salem, Massachusetts, under John Endicott in 1628. Figures on the subsequent arrivals, while not certainly accurate, are nevertheless very interesting. The diversity of religion was not so marked, though there was some variation. The early German immigrants were mostly Protestants. Maryland was settled by Catholics. Into the South drifted a large number of Huguenots. In New England there was a strong Separatist element. The formation of the State of Pennsylvania by Quakers gave them a stronghold in that commonwealth.

The beginning of immigration into the United States (i. e. of post-Revolution immigration) dates from 1789. Before that time it is more proper to speak of colonists than of immigrants. Statistics as to the aliens coming to, or returning from, the United States are inaccurate and incomplete from 1789 till 1820. Not only are the absolute figures unsatisfactory, but no distinction was made between newcomers and returning Americans; nor was any attention paid to the returning immigrant. Roughly speaking, about 250,000 immigrants landed here from 1789 to 1820. From the meagre figures recorded any analysis is imperfect. The dominant elements were English, Scotch, and Irish. There came to the United States as immigrants, from 1820 to 1910, a grand total of more than 28,000,000. The numbers by decades were as follows: -