Emigration and immigration
VII.—Emigration and Immigration. By C. F. Bastable, M.A.
[Read Tuesday, 26th June, 1888.]
Alike in old and new countries there has been, during the last few years, a remarkable revival of interest in the long debated and apparently exhausted problems of emigration and colonization. Many important European states have shown by their official enquiries and reports, as well as by public discussion, that the attention of statesmen and publicists has been directed to the effects, both social and economic, likely to follow from the recent movements of population. On the other hand, the United States and our Australian and American colonies, looking at the same set of facts from an opposite stand-point, have been engaged in an examination of the influence which various classes of immigrants must necessarily exercise on their earlier inhabitants, and have even in some degree proposed to deal in a practical manner with the problem. It may not, therefore, be out of place to consider some of the questions thus brought into notice, the more so as Ireland is surely as deeply interested in the policy pursued towards immigrants by foreign nations as any other country.
The first point which is evident on even the most cursory notice is the general extent of the movement. Almost every country in Europe is a region either of emigration or immigration. England, Germany, Italy, and the Scandinavian peninsula, each send out an annual stream, varying, it is true, in amount with the conditions of trade, but never wholly ceasing. France, on the contrary, receives an increasing number of foreigners, and in this way has the decline, or at all events the very slow growth, of its native population somewhat disguised. Switzerland, again, is at once a land of emigration and immigration, the amounts of each being very nearly the same. New countries are all, more or less, the recipients of the surplus population of older lands, and find that their unoccupied territory is being rapidly taken up by the new arrivals, and that their city populations are in many cases mainly composed of persons born abroad. There is, too, a process which may be called transmigration operating on an extensive scale. Large numbers pass from Canada to the United States, or from one Australasian colony to another; and within these larger areas there is a great tendency towards shiftings of population—in the United States, from the eastern towards the western States, and in Australia, towards the larger colonies. The entry of oriental countries into the field is a further evidence of the diffusion of the spirit of movement, though its chief importance lies rather in its indications of what may happen in the future, rather than the actual magnitude of the emigration.
To enable a somewhat less inadequate idea to be formed of the series of facts thus briefly indicated, the accompanying tables may prove of service.
These changes in distribution of population do not thus end. They produce economic, social, and political effects of several kinds which need some fuller notice.
Both emigration and immigration, economically considered, have a very definite object. They aim at producing a better distribution of labour, just as interchange of commodities tends to bring about a better circulation of wealth. The emigrant generally seeks to improve his condition; he is attracted by the prospect of higher wages and a better standard of living. Older countries by the process get rid of their spare population, and are saved from the fall of wages which almost inevitably results when the labour market is unrelieved. New lands by the same agency receive that additional labour force which is essential for a full development of their resources. It is true that under the influence of mercantilist ideas it was once universally held that emigration exhausted a population; but it need hardly be said that theory and experience alike show that where social conditions are even moderately well adjusted, the number of inhabitants will rapidly grow up to the limits of comfortable subsistence, or even beyond them, and that so long as a livelihood is easily obtained there need be no fear as to a decline of population. Immigration, on the other hand, has generally been welcomed. New countries, more especially, have kept an open door for all arrivals. The increase of population has been taken as the great test of advance, and every immigrant was looked on as additional evidence of progress. This process of development is not, however, unlimited. In the advance of a community a point is sooner or later reached at which any further addition to population does not increase the proportional amount of wealth, and then immigration may justly take the place which emigration used to occupy in the minds of the statesmen of older countries, viz., as a danger to the welfare of society. This point of view will not at once be adopted. Men do not easily change their favourite doctrines, even under the most pressing circumstances. It is more likely that some particular kind of immigration, presenting peculiarly objectionable features, will first be assailed; but there can be little doubt that the habit of criticising immigration, once formed, will act with increasing force. The attainment of this stage marks a turning point in national history, and the fact that the United States and the English colonies appear to be now approaching it, makes the study of the subject at present more interesting.
The political and social results of emigration, though not susceptible of precise treatment, yet reinforce the conclusion I have drawn from a consideration of economical conditions. Older and long settled countries have, in the course of time, less reason to regret parting with various classes of their inhabitants. Emigration is a safety-valve for any political system, more particularly as by a process of natural selection it takes off the more discontented members of a community. Germany can hardly have any reason to regret the action of an agency which relieved it of the Chicago anarchists. But the same fact naturally influences those countries which are the centres of immigration. In a rude and widely-scattered community the character of the population is of little moment. The convicts of Australia, or the gangs of outlaws who formed the early settlements in California, under the pressure of rigorous social conditions speedily settled down into law-abiding citizens. Nor, if we can trust their early historians, was the case different with the Pilgrim Fathers. An able American writer has put this point very clearly:—
"We are no longer in that vigorous early civilization, when we could digest almost anything sent to us, and when the very conditions of life here corrected and controlled the weaknesses of the immigrants. In a frontier life the new-comer not only has a chance to begin anew, but, in a sense, he is obliged to do so. He is thrown on himself, and obliged to look out for himself. On the other hand, he is controlled by the rough justice which is dealt out between man and man. The code of morality may be rude, but he is obliged to conform to it." 
The progress of society weakens this power of assimilation. A state of settled political type, and with deeply-rooted social and religious sentiments, cannot "digest almost anything sent" to it. When confidence is general, and when wealth is held in many shapes, the addition of a small lawless element may shake the whole social order, and in particular, profoundly influence the political system; and it thus becomes a natural aim of societies so placed to protect themselves against the dangers likely to result from an inferior class of immigrants; as the writer just quoted says:—
"We want good men, and we want to guard against a process of selection that seems likely to send us poor men."
The political effect of immigration is all the more marked in new countries, owing to the easy terms on which naturalisation is obtained. Thus, in the State of Massachusetts, according to its census of 1885, there were 98,199 Irish born males over twenty years of age, 62,599 of whom were naturalised—i.e., over 63 per cent. It is not hard to see that a decisive effect may be exercised at elections by a solid vote given by such a body; and though other countries do not equal Ireland in the percentage of citizens they give to the State, yet we may remark that there are 16,386 naturalised Englishmen in Massachusetts, out of a total of 30,323 English-born—i.e., over 54 per cent.
Bearing in mind the facts just mentioned, it is not very hard to account for the rising feeling against indiscriminate immigration; nor need there be any hesitation in predicting that it will in all likelihood extend to immigration in general. The causes which have united to produce the sentiment may, however, for the sake of completeness, be more definitely stated:—
(1) The great body of available public lands in the United States has now been taken up, and thus the field of settlement for farmers is practically limited to land purchased from companies or private holders. This element of the question will naturally become increasingly prominent.
(2) For many years it has been an article of faith with the strongest political party that the American working-man should be protected from the competition of pauper labour; an aim which was supposed to be accomplished by the imposition of heavy duties on almost all commodities imported from Europe. The American working-man unfortunately found to his cost that this "protection" implied an increased cost of living, while it utterly failed to secure him constancy of employment. We cannot, therefore, wonder that he should try to apply the doctrine of protection to labour in a more logical manner. If the exclusion of the products of pauper labour be so beneficial as is asserted, it is only natural to believe that the shutting out of pauper labour itself will prove a still greater good. The workingman may fairly say to the protectionist politician:—
"So long as I am exposed to the competition of labourers just landed from Europe I can never hope for increased wages through strikes or any other means. If, therefore, you are sincere in your advocacy or protection to American labour, you are bound to support an agitation which seeks to check immigration."
It cannot be denied that the limitation of the number of labourers is a much more efficient mode of raising wages, than the taxation of imports. Trades unionism in the United States can never hope for much success, until it is able to dispose of a large proportion of the total body of labourers, a power of which it is necessarily deprived by the continuous influx of foreigners. The following passage so clearly illustrates the point, that I venture to quote it:—
"One of the most notable of the strikes of the year—that of the freight-handlers upon the piers and at the railroad termini of New York, is full of teachings of the utmost interest and importance. The question was put at the commencement of the difficulties, by the writer, to the foreman of a body of freight-handlers not participating in the strike—on one of the steamboat piers of New York:—'Is the strike likely, in your opinion, to be successful?' 'There is not the ghost of a chance for success,' was the prompt reply. 'Why not?' 'Simply for the reason that two men stand ready to do the work that offered for only one.' 'Have the labourers then no remedy for their grievances?' 'Yes; let us have a law prohibiting the coming in of all those labourers from Europe.' 'Do you think the enactment of such a law possible?' 'Yes, if the labourers all over the country were united in demanding it, the politicians would soon bring it about.' "
On the whole then it is plain that the outcry against immigration is but a logical deduction from the popular political economy of Americans; but it at the same time has to contend against two forces, both of them of influence, viz. (a) the deeply-rooted feeling that America is a land of liberty, open to all comers; a sentiment well expressed by Emerson in the declaration that "The land is rich enough, the soil has bread for all." (b) Reinforcing this inherited doctrine of complete freedom of "opportunity" comes the strong capitalist interest which would be directly affected by anything that tended to raise the cost of labour. No one can doubt that the agencies which have established protection would be used to preserve the right of free immigration; but such methods would inevitably be conquered by any strong popular movement. A like feeling against a constant influx of labourers is to be found in the English colonies. Thus, we are told in the latest report of the Emigrants' Information Office, that—
"At the present time, when there is apparently a growing inclination in this country to promote emigration, it should be fully realised how strong a feeling exists in most of the colonies against the unrestricted and indiscriminate admission of immigrants. This feeling is due partly to the objection of tax-payers to pauper immigrants, partly to the objection of workmen on the spot to competition in the labour market, which may have the effect of reducing the rate of wages."
Assisted immigration is particularly obnoxious, when assistance comes from the colony, as it appears rather hard that the resident artisan should be taxed in order to supply funds for the purpose of lowering his wages.
(3) Certain classes of immigrants have been specially objected to, on the grounds of some real or supposed inferiority. Everyone now has heard of the "Chinese difficulty," which is so perplexing to American and Australian statesmen; but in reality it is only one part of a larger problem, viz., the effect on a population with a high standard of comfort of a continuous influx of persons accustomed to a lower scale of living. Thus in the United States, Irishmen were at one time objected to by a large section, and at present there is some dislike felt to the immigration of French Canadians, who, in several New England districts, form the greater number of factory hands. Italians, Russians, and Hungarians, all now contribute to the immigration, and even two small bodies of Arabs have succeeded in making their way to the United States; but against immigrants from all these nations there lies the objection that they will lower the working-class standard of comfort. For example, speaking of the Hungarians, Professor Smith says, "that they seem to be but little superior to the Chinese civilization." Once it is admitted that immigration is a suitable subject for regulation, such cases will be speedily dealt with.
(4) Another element of the question which will assuredly occupy a prominent place in future discussions, is the asserted decline in the class of immigrants even from countries that have been the main sources of emigration to the United States. Thus it is pointed out that the percentage of emigration from the western counties of Ireland is increasing, and' that these counties are also the most backward.
In like manner German emigration is more largely supplied from the north-eastern, that is, the poorer and most illiterate provinces, than it used to be.
"A similar movement may be discovered in the recent statistics of Italian emigration: the movement is steadily pushing from the better regions of the north, to the poorer regions of the south."
(5) But whatever be the case with purely voluntary emigration, all attempts to artificially encourage it by state grants or private benevolence, will, we may be sure, be vigilantly watched by the anti-immigrationists in every new country. The legal powers at present possessed by the Commissioners of Immigration in the United States are very feeble, the only persons with whom they can interfere, under the act of 1882, being "convicts, lunatics, idiots, or persons unable to take care of themselves without becoming a public charge;" but should any reason be given, they will assuredly be widely extended. The truth is that the interests of the country sending, and of that receiving an immigrant, are almost necessarily in some degree opposed. The former naturally wishes to get rid of its feeblest and least valuable members. The idle, vicious, and criminal, are those who can most easily be spared. But then it is precisely these classes that are the least desirable addition to the members of a civilized community. The existence of a poor law system still further complicates the matter; for by the emigration of paupers, the local taxes of the sending country are relieved, and the inhabitants of the country of immigration may be compelled to contribute to the support of persons who have no real claim on them. At the same time it may be said that there is no proof that the class of emigrants ever reached a high standard. An analysis of the occupations of immigrants to the United States during the decade 1877-86, as given in Table XII., will clearly show that unskilled labourers formed the largest proportion of the immigrants. Still the belief in a deterioration of character in the later arrivals, may, even though it is quite unfounded, seriously affect future legislation.
It therefore becomes a matter of great interest to consider what would be the effect of this threatened change of policy in new countries on the fortunes of older ones. So far as most, indeed all, European countries are concerned, it is evident that either a diminished birth-rate, or emigration, is essential for the maintenance of even the low standard of comfort that at present exists. No legislative or social changes can greatly alter the relation of subsistence to population. Peasant-proprietary, whatever be its social and economic advantages, cannot meet this fundamental difficulty, as the case of France, and, to take a nearer instance, the Channel Islands show. Nor can any extension of non-agricultural employments give more than a temporary relief. Nothing is to be gained by shutting our eyes to the facts that emigration is a vital need, and that the conditions on which it can be carried on are rapidly changing. The emigrants that new countries will care to get are not those that we want to leave us, while those we can best spare are not likely to be willingly received. Under such circumstances, the plans of state-aided emigration, put forward with too much persistency, seems to me to be sadly mistaken. The least objectionable form that such plans have ever taken is perhaps that put forward by the Earl of Meath, when he says:—
"All that the association desires is that the British government shall, in conjunction with the colonial authorities, draw up a well-considered scheme of emigration and colonisation, by means of which able-bodied and industrious men, who may not be possessed of the means necessary to enable them to emigrate, shall be provided with the means of colonising, or of emigrating with their families under the strictest possible guarantee that the money shall be repaid with easy interest within a certain number of years."
It is only necessary to carefully examine this passage to see the difficulties of the proposal. In the first place it would require a costly and complicated machinery for its working. It is, I am aware, a preliminary assumption in all these plans that they are to work without flaws. Red-tape and officialism are to be laid aside, and perfect organisation is to take their place. But without being unduly sceptical in the powers of governmental departments, one may like to get something beyond the statements of advocates, as a ground for adopting this amiable belief. Again, it seems to be quite forgotten that an elaborate and carefully thought-out plan of emigration has once been tried. The most hopeful and reasonable system of colonisation I have ever heard of was that of Wakefield and Torrens, and when it broke down, there seems to be no further place for state action. Thirdly, wide-reaching plans of migration ignore the fact, that every movement of population is made up of the separate movements of so many units—e.g. the same cause which leads a man to move to America in 1870, may bring him to Australia in 1880, and back to Ireland in 1887. Nothing short of omniscience would be able to rightly adjust the actions of these million of units; no association or state department has sufficient knowledge or pliability to handle the countless questions which the correct guidance of emigration necessarily involves. Lastly, if there is anything well calculated to make immigration distasteful to the American and colonial working-man, it surely is the proposal to send out those who have neither sufficient providence nor energy to go of their own accord. Of course this difficulty can be covered by calling them "able-bodied and industrious," but there can hardly be a better test of the presence of those qualities than the capacity of getting together the trifling sum required for an emigrant's passage. We have seen the objection of English colonists to pauper immigrants, and it is highly pertinent to observe that:—
"There is constant evidence that the term pauper' can be given a very wide interpretation, and that the reasonable prejudice to bona fide paupers may be easily extended, so as to cover a much wider circle of cases."
And Professor Smith's instructive article, already frequently quoted, in his contemptuous reference to "Mr. Tuke's committee or some charitable Lady Cathcart" is evidence of a similar sentiment in the United States. On the whole the conclusion is irresistibly forced on us, that any organised action in the matter of emigration is undesirable. Individual self-interest has been the main force in the enormous exodus of the last fifty years, and it is a power which is far more efficient than any that could possibly be employed instead of it. The real duty of all persons in positions of influence, is to see that the people of these islands are fitted for whatever task they may undertake; that those who stay at home have sufficient general and technical training to make them efficient producers of wealth, and that those who desire to leave us, have full information as to the best place for them to transfer their labour to. Our consuls and other officials ought to be able to throw much light on such matters, and they are more in earnest about them than they were. The following statements are examples of what may be done in this respect. Writing of the South African gold-fields, Mr. Williams says:—
"Emigrants who have a trade can make a living in this country, but it is not a country for the million. The climate, the distance from a market, and the great cost of living, are all unsuited to the poor man; and any attempt to develop the country by the introduction of funds devoted to philanthropic purposes, is to be deprecated."
The Emigrants' Information Office also warns the emigrant:—
"That farm-work at home is one thing, and in the colonies quite another, and that the conditions of country life in Canada, Australasia, and South Africa, are as a rule far rougher and lonelier than in England. Men who have not been from their childhood engaged on the land, must remember that in new countries there is not the same strong line drawn between different trades, and different branches of the same trade as in our own; and that therefore the more specialised a man has become in his work and calling, the less fitted he is to emigrate, partly because he is unlikely in most cases to find an opening in his own speciality in the colonies, partly because he is not well suited to turn his hand to general labour."
All information of this kind must prove valuable to intending emigrants, and will save them from much needless suffering; but the only useful function of the state is to give more light on the subject, and to trust to individual prudence and effort for the rest. Nor does there seem any reason to fear that the result will be to drain the older countries of the best and most active labourers. It is more likely that the highly specialised trades will have their chief seats in Europe for a long time to come, while the more general employments will tend to concentrate themselves in newer countries. The figures of Table XII., already referred to, strongly bear out this view, which is indeed only the statement in a particular case of the general law—that in spite of all hindrances, the tendency all the world over is towards greater complexity of relations and increasing specialisation of social functions.
Immigration in Older Countries.
One part of the subject has been as yet purposely left unnoticed—namely, the existence of immigration into European countries. The fact which we have heard so much of lately—that certain classes of foreigners find it to their advantage to settle in London, has possibly surprised many persons; but is capable of very simple explanation. It is evident that every city of any size will attract some special classes of foreigners, and there is no reason why London should prove an exception to the rule. All attainable evidence shows that special trades, as sugar-bakers and tailors, may be largely supplied by immigrants, but that British labour in general is not appreciably affected by foreign competition. This conclusion will be strengthened by a reference to Table XIV. where the number of foreigners in different European countries is shown. If any country has reason to dread immigration it is France, where the percentage of foreign born persons is greater, and where the increase of the native population is so slight. There is nothing, however, which is less amenable to sober considerations of fact than popular feeling on such matters, and therefore the agitation with which Mr. Arnold White has identified himself may help to give us some idea of the effect which an annual immigration, counted by hundreds of thousands, may, under certain conditions, produce on public sentiment in the United States.
- Prof. R. M. Smith, Political Science Quarterly, March, 1888, p. 68.
- Wells' Practical Economics, pp. 68-69.
- Board of Trade Journal, May, 1888, p. 576.
- While the emigration for the whole of Ireland was in 1883 two and one-half times what it was in 1878, in Clare it was three times, in Kerry and Leitrim, four and one-half times, in Galway and Mayo seven times, and in Sligo, nine times, what it was in 1878.
- Political Science Quarterly, p. 72.
- Social Arrows, p. 151.
- Board of Trade Journal, May, 1888, p. 576.
- Ib. April, 1888, pp. 443-4.
- Board of Trade Journal, May, 1888, p. 577.
- The immigration of paupers is however a different matter. If foreigners become chargeable to the rates they ought to be deported to their native country, as it can hardly be contended that this process should be confined to natives of Ireland.
|Nationalities.||United States.||British Colonies.||South America.||Total.|
|Spanish and Portuguese,||32||3||406||441|
|3 yrs. 1853-5||211,013||30||62,514||9||421,672||61||695,199|
|5 yrs. „ 56-60||243,409||39||59,016||10||315,059||51||617,484|
TABLE III.—Total Emigration from the United Kingdom, during the Years 1873-1887, distinguishing the Destination of the Emigrants.
|Period.||Number of Emigrants.|
|10 years ending March 31st, 1871,||768,859|
|10 years ending March 31st, 1881,||618,650|
|1st May, 1851-31st December, 1879,||2,541,670|
TABLE VII.—Number of Emigrants per One Hundred Thousand Inhabitants in the above Countries, during the Years 1880-86.
TABLE VIII.—Immigration to the United States, 1828-87.
N.B.—Estimated immigration during 1789-1820—250,000.
|Country of Origin.||Number of Natives in the U.S|
|British North America,||717,084|
|Spain and Portugal,||13,259|
|Percentage of total.|
|Farmers and farm labourers,||372,339||17.4|
|Engineers and machinists,||13,668||0.6|
|Mechanics and artisans,||23,735||1.1|
|Stonecutters, plasterers, plumbers, painters,
locksmiths, printers, coopers and hatters,
|Merchants and traders,||64,540||3.1|
|Workers in metals,||8,633||0.3|
|Potters, papermakers, glassblowers, hosiers,
tanners and curriers,
TABLE XIV.—Number and Proportion to Total Population of Aliens
in some European Countries according to latest Census Returns.