Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/December 1895/Has Immigration Increased Population?

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THE immigration which formed the basis of our colonial population was very slight. The men who fought the Revolution and created the United States were almost exclusively native. The population of New England, as is well known, was produced out of an immigration of not much over 20,000, all of whom arrived before the year 1640. From 1640 until about 1820, a period of nearly two hundred years, the growth of New England was by the childbearing of the original and native stock. There was no immigration worth mentioning; but, on the contrary, an overflow into neighboring colonies. New York and the West. Franklin, writing in 1751, when the population of all the colonies was about a million, said that the immigration which had produced this number was generally believed to have been less than 80,000.[1]

Modern immigration set in some time in the beginning of the present century, and had grown to noticeable proportions about 1820, when the national Government decided to take statistics of it. By 1830 all observers agree that the foreigners had begun to have a decided influence and effect, and that a change could be distinctly seen. By 1840 the Native American or Know-Nothing movement had begun; in 1850 it had become a distinct political party; and in 1856 had a candidate for the presidency.

One of the strongest arguments used against the Know-Nothings was that immigration would greatly increase the population, and in that way the wealth and strength of the country. The rate of increase by births among the colonists had been remarkably rapid and had astonished the people of Europe. Franklin was among the first to call the attention of learned men to this phenomenon. In some parts of the country the people, without the aid of immigration, doubled themselves in twenty-five or twenty-seven years; and there were traditions of particular localities in which the doubling had taken place within less than twenty years. No record of a like increase over such an extended territory could be found in the history of the civilized world.

For the fifty years that followed the Revolution, when immigration was at a minimum, this natural increase was greater than ever. The whole population in that time doubled itself about every twenty-three years. It was therefore very natural for the people who believed in the immigration experiment to suppose that if to this increase in every decade were added a couple of million immigrants, who would presumably have children in the same rapid manner as the natives, the population, wealth, and strength of the United States would be forced forward in a manner that would produce results of inconceivable grandeur. It certainly did look like an enormous boom, irresistibly attractive both for its possibilities and for its uncertainties. The difficulty with it was that, like the rest of the experiment, it was all based upon "presume" and "suppose."

If the calculations had turned out as expected, we should undoubtedly now have a population of at least a hundred millions. Jefferson, writing in the year 1815, prophesied eighty millions for the year 1875, which would give considerably over a hundred millions for the year 1893. But, curiously enough, when the alien element had reached a certain point, about the year 1830, the native population began to fall off in births, and the more the aliens increased in numbers the fewer became the births of the natives. The foreigners themselves were not as prolific as the old native stock had been; and the consequence is that we have now to-day not as many people as we would have had if the immigrants had never come near us and the native stock had continued their old rate of increase.

The statistics which show this were very ably discussed many years ago by Mr. Edward Jarvis, and recently General Francis Walker has again called attention to them. The calculation is a simple one. We have the population at the close of each decade and also the number of foreigners in the country. Confining ourselves to the white population, if we subtract from the total whites at the close of a decade the number of foreigners at the close of the decade and find the difference between that result and the native whites at the end of the previous decade, we have the natural increase of the native population, and can easily find the percentage.

Let us therefore construct in this way a table which will show the growth of the native white population by decades from 1750 to 1890. Previous to 1750 the numbers by even decades are not obtainable. For the population previous to 1790 we shall take Bancroft's estimates, which are now generally accepted, and for the time after 1790 we shall rely on the revised figures of the national census. For the time previous to 1800 the number of foreign born living in the country has never been estimated, but they were very few and would not materially alter the results.

To find the number of natives it will be necessary to deduct from the total number of whites not only the European foreign born but also the people who came to us by a stroke of the pen when we acquired the Louisiana territory, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and California. Louisiana was purchased in 1803, and her people considerably swelled the census of 1810. How much they increased it is hard to say, for between 1803 and the time the census was taken in 1810 a large number of our people moved into the new territory, so that the population of the new territory for 1810 gives more than the number we ought to deduct. It is certain we ought to deduct something, and equally certain that we shall never know the exact amount. The best authorities, however, seem to indicate 20,000 as about the proper number. For Florida it is about 12,000, and for Texas, New Mexico, and California, which came to us by the Mexican War, it is about 90,000, to be deducted from the total whites as given by the census of 1850. We shall also have to make a deduction from the whites in the census of 1860, because part of the returns for California in the census of 1850 were burned, and the natives of that Commonwealth were not all given in the census of 1850, but appeared in the census of 1860. A deduction of about 70,000 will probably account for all of them.

Decades. Total whites. Foreign
By new ter-
Per cent of
native in-
for census
of 1870.
1750 1,040,000
1760 1,385,000 33·17
1770 1,850,000 33·57
1780 2,383,000 28·81 Revolution.
1790 3,177,257 33·33
1800 4,306,446 44,282 34·14
1810 5,862,073 96,725 20,000 34·79
1820 7,862,166 176,825 33·76
1830 10,537,378 315,830 12,000 32·83
1840 14,195,805 859,202 30·64
1850 19,553,068 2,244,602 90,000 29·10
1860 26,922,537 4,138,697 70,000 31·91
1870 33,589,377 5,507,229 70,000 23·37 25·37 Civil war.
1880 43,402,970 6,679,943 31·05 29·05
1890 54,983,890 9,249,547 24·53

The census of 1870 is now generally believed to have been an underestimate, owing principally to the difficulty of obtaining returns from the South so soon after the war. The rate of increase for that decade ought therefore to be a little more than 23·37, probably about 25·37; and this would lower the percentage of the next decade to about 29·05, instead of 31·05.

Following down the column of native increase, we find that from 1750 the rate remains at a little over 33 per cent for twenty years, until reduced by the Revolution to 28·81. But after the Revolution it returns again to 33·33 in the next decade, then rises to 34·14, and then to 34·79. In the next decade, 1810 to 1820, it fails suddenly about one per cent, and in the next falls one per cent again; and in the next, which is 1830 to 1840, falls more than two per cent to 30·64, which is much lower than it had been at any time in the previous eighty years, except during the decade which contained the Revolution. The falling continues, with one or two slight revivals, as we follow the column, until in the decade 1880 to 1890 it has reached the very low figure of 24·53 per cent—more than four per cent lower than during the Revolution.

It is to be observed that the first serious fall begins after the year 1830, the point which all observers have fixed upon as the time when the effects of immigration began to be palpably felt.

If we look at the number of foreigners for the year 1830, we find them to have been 315,830—almost as many as there had been in the three previous decades. In the next decade they more than double, and in the next they almost treble, with the rate of native increase steadily declining.

It is also rather significant that the first break and decline of the native rate occurs after the year 1820, when immigration had begun to attract so much attention that the Government decided to take statistics of it.

These coincidences of the decline of the native increase with the increase of immigration are so exact that they can hardly have been accidental. There is, to say the least, a strong suspicion of cause and effect. And if it should be asked what is the exact nature of that relation of cause and effect, the question may be concisely answered in the words of General Francis Walker, superintendent of the tenth census and now President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

"The access of foreigners, at the time and under the circumstances, constituted a shock to the principle of population among the native element. That principle is always acutely sensitive alike to sentimental and to economic conditions. And it is to be noted, in passing, that not only did the decline in the native element, as a whole, take place in singular correspondence with the excess of foreign arrivals, but it occurred chiefly in just those regions to which the newcomers most freely resorted."

That the arrival of the foreigners was a shock to the natives is very clearly shown in the formation of the Native American or Know-Nothing party, and the riots and violence which followed for a period of twenty years. The foreigners came to work for lower wages than the native and drove the native from his place. For a hundred years the native had been accustomed to a standard of living which was remarkably high. This was particularly true of the New England and Middle States, where all classes had every incentive in their surroundings to produce large families. They felt that they owned their country, and were proud of it. They were the creators of their own destinies and the architects of their own fortunes. They built up homes and families. They were sure there would always be enough for all, and that their children would have to enjoy as good, if not better, conditions.

"Then came the foreigner, making his way into the little village, bringing, small blame to him, not only a vastly lower standard of living, but too often an actual present incapacity even to understand the refinements of life and thought in the community in which he sought a home. Our people had to look upon houses that were mere shells for human habitations, the gate unhung, the shutters flapping or falling, green pools in the yard, babes and young children rolling about half naked or worse—neglected, dirty, unkempt. "Was there not in this sentimental reason something strong enough to give a shock to the principle of population?"

The native of that time was utterly unable to compete in dirt and degradation with the low Irish and European peasantry. He lost heart and interest; in many cases he sank to the level of his competitor; and even when he did not actually sink in his personal habits, he had not the same high incentives as before.

It is a remarkable fact and should be remembered that in New England, which received scarcely any immigration between 1640 and 1820, the greatest growth of population ever known in America took place. The New-Englanders overflowed their borders, and settled a large part of western New York, the Western Reserve of Ohio, the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, and hundreds of towns and counties in the far West. Some years ago the number of people of New England origin was estimated at a third of the whole population. The place of strongest nativism was the place of the most rapid growth.

Washington was much impressed in 1796 with the overflow of the New-Englanders. "Their numbers are not augmented by foreign emigrants; yet from their circumscribed limits, compact situation, and natural population, they are filling the western parts of the State of New York and the country on the Ohio with their own surplusage." (Works, vol. xii, p. 323.)

Madison was in favor of immigration, but in 1820 he could not help noticing the wonderful increase of New England without the aid of the foreigner. "It is worth remarking that New England, which has sent out such a continued swarm to other parts of the Union for a number of years, has continued at the same time, as the census shows, to increase in population, although it is well known that she has received but comparatively few immigrants from any quarter." (Works, vol. iii, p. 213.)

It has been suggested that the correspondence in time between the increase of immigration and the decrease of the rate of growth does not necessarily imply a relation of cause and effect, because it can be accounted for by the fact that advanced civilization always lessens the rate of childbearing and the rate of increase of population. France is pointed out as an instance where the rate of growth has become very low because of the fashion the French have acquired, even in the middle classes, of restricting the size of their families.

The illustration, however, is not altogether fortunate for those who use it. The French annual rate of increase, it is true, sank very low during the four or five years previous to the Prussian War, being only seven per thousand inhabitants in 1870. But since then it has steadily risen, and in 1890 was thirty-seven per thousand.[2] In fact, France is an excellent illustration to show how mere ideas and opinions affect the growth of population, and how the rate of increase may be depressed by discontent or disaster, or raised by the desire to conquer an old enemy or by the success of a new form of government.

But is it true as a general proposition that advanced civilization decreases the rate of population? There is a feeling among many people, who have not thought much on the subject, that the more animal-like we become, the more we multiply, and that the lower types of civilization necessarily increase more rapidly than the higher. But this is very far from the truth.

Savages and uncivilized races are not, as a rule, of very rapid increase. They often recede and whole tribes of them become extinct. If we look at the whole world, it is the uncivilized populations that are disappearing. Before the coming of the English to the United States the red men had held the country with all its natural fertility and resources for hundreds of years, and yet had not been able to increase themselves to a million. During the middle ages, from the year 500 to 1500, a period of a thousand years, we find the population of Europe in all stages of barbarism and low civilization, and yet the increase of population was very slow. In the year 500 Europe was supposed to have something over 40,000,000 people. In the year 1500 the highest estimate is 70,000,000. Thus in a thousand years the population had not doubled. But after the year 1500, under the influence of the Reformation and modern civilization, the population doubled in three hundred years.[3]

Another excellent illustration to show the effect of modern civilization is the growth of the English people.

1480 3,700,000
1580 4,600,000
1680 5,532,000
1780 9,561,000
1880 35,004,000

The English, it will be observed, never succeeded in doubling themselves in any hundred years until 1780 to 1880, when they almost quadrupled.

Civilization, then, does not appear to be a very serious hindrance to rapidity of growth; and the reason is evident. As compared with barbarism, it produces a larger food supply, greater variety of it, better houses, better sanitary arrangements, better health, longer life, and stronger reasons for wanting to live and wanting to enable others to live. The people of the middle ages lacked skill in producing the comforts and necessaries of life, their sanitary arrangements were shocking and their lives despondent. They were visited with plagues and epidemics which have not now been known for four hundred years. Their minds were clouded with dreadful delusions, superstitions, and terrors which produced the "dance of death" and the continual slaughter of witches. A large proportion of their children died, and even adult life was short.

Long living and many who live long is as important an element in the increase of population as numerous births. All the children born in the United States in the year 1891, who die before they are eight years old, will not increase the population either in numbers or effective strength so much as one man born in that year who lives to be thirty. The man, independently of his greater usefulness, will be counted as an inhabitant in three censuses; the children will be counted in none.

Paupers, savages, and other people of low life are often supposed to multiply very fast because they seem to be so reckless in the number of children that are born to them. But the same shiftlessness which brings the children into the world surrounds them with conditions that destroy them. Negroes are supposed to be very prolific; but the death-rate among them in cities is almost double the death-rate among whites; and the death-rate among negro children is more than double the death-rate among white children. The woman of the slums, who was recently reported to have said that she ought to know something about the nurture of children because she had buried fourteen of her own, was doubtless a person of excellent intentions; but she has not done so well for the republic as some less boastful mother who has raised one son to maturity.

It is often thoughtlessly asserted that modern city life decreases population. But, as compared with ancient city life, it very much increases it. Previous to the year 1790, in all large cities, the death-rate always exceeded the birth-rate. In London the death-rate was often double the birth-rate. Immigration from the rural districts and not their own power of reproduction kept these cities from decay. Our modern cities contain certain districts that are called slums. But the old cities were all slums. The great increase of modern city life is due not to the degeneracy of the race, as is often foolishly supposed, but to improved sanitary conditions and improved health. The modern city grows by its own productive force as well as by immigration and has ceased to be a death trap for the people.

Rapid increase of population is due to cleanliness, thrift, intelligence, prosperity, contentment, and happiness, because these things preserve and lengthen life. As a rule, civilized people are apt to be blessed in these particulars even when their birth-rate is somewhat low. But it is not true, as is often supposed, that the more civilized have necessarily a low birth-rate. Ireland and Greece are countries of an inferior order of civilization, and their birth-rates are respectively 2·77 and 24 per thousand inhabitants; while the birth-rate of England is 33·3 per thousand, and of Holland 34·8.

But we must not rest the question on mere generalizations. Civilization includes many things and is a broad term. Increase of population is accomplished by different causes, and not in every instance by the same cause. Each instance should be considered in all its surroundings before any general principles are applied. Mere sentiment, opinions, and ideas often affect the growth of population as much as the price of corn and meat. The failure of the French to increase rapidly is generally believed to be caused by an almost morbid desire on the part of French parents to start their sons in life with a fortune and give their daughters a dowry on their marriage. The size of these portions becomes a matter of pride, and great importance is attached to them even among the middle classes. The fewer the children the larger the portions. This condition is generally believed by modern French statesmen to have been brought about by the law of 1793 which restricted the freedom of leaving property by will and compelled parents to divide their estates evenly among their children. On the other hand, the English feeling is just the reverse of this. The Saxon race has always been remarkable for its love of facing life single-handed, and battling with the chances of the world. English parents of all classes have seldom any hesitation, and often a pride, in bringing up more children than their fortune will enable to live with ease. The thought that the eldest child will have all their money and the rest have to begin life anew, or that all will have to make their own way in the colonies, which would fill a French family with horror, is rather pleasant to English parents.

Any one who will read the history of the Know-Nothing movement in pamphlets, speeches, and deeds of that time can hardly fail to be convinced that hundreds of thousands of native Americans were rendered despondent, hopeless, and desperate by what they saw around them. Men do not fight in mobs and destroy churches and houses and form themselves into complicated secret orders for nothing. Whatever we may think of their mistakes of policy and rashness, there is no question that the native Americans received a severe shock, not only to their sentiments and feelings, but to their opinions and principles. The nation that they supposed was their own seemed to be given over to others. Their high patriotism, their pride and interest in their country were wounded and hurt. Nor was the wound any the less severe because the majority of those who received it were of the class in life that is not trained to express its feelings in writing.

What else was there in the general condition of affairs in the United States between the years 1830 and 1860 which would cause the rate of native growth to decrease? It could not possibly have been the growth of luxurious habits of living. There were none at that time. Any we possess have been acquired within the last twenty years, and most of them within the last ten years. The country at that period, so far as concerned room for development, was as new as it had been in 1750. Our people still lived in a fringe along the Atlantic seaboard. The buffaloes were ranging the prairies east of the Mississippi. The whole valley of that river was practically unsettled. The West was a great unknown. There was no crowding; and as for opportunities, they were greater than ever before. The arts of life and the comfort and health of living were all improving. Manufacturing industries were springing up. Commerce was increasing, new inventions were being perfected, occupations were becoming more numerous and varied, the people were happy, prosperous, jubilant in their successful nationality, and in 1830 railroads began. All things which enable population to increase were present, and population had been increasing rapidly until suddenly, coincident with the great increase in immigration, the rate fell, and has been falling ever since.

From that period down to the present hour all the facilities of business have improved, new occupations have been created, the medical and surgical sciences have improved, their improvement is more generally distributed, sanitary conditions are better, and as a consequence the average human life has been lengthened by two years.

After the civil war came to an end in 1865 the same condition existed. The West was still unsettled. The Union Pacific Railroad was not finished until 1869. The next ten years, with increasing facilities for reaching all parts of the country, gave the grandest opportunity for rapid growth that was ever known. Yet not only the rate of the native whites kept falling, but the rate of the whole population, with the greatest immigration added, kept steadily falling.

What shall be said of the last decade, 1880-'90, when the increase of the whole population, with a still greater immigration added, has fallen to a rate which is four per cent lower than the rate of the native whites during the Revolution? Is this a crowded country? We have sixty-five millions in a territory which every one admits can easily support four hundred millions. Is this a luxurious, worn-out, jaded country? Where, how, and by what? Possibly among a fraction of the population in a few great cities. But they do not constitute the country. Look at the small towns, the great country districts, the masses of the people, and where are the signs of the luxury that enervates? Fashionable society has grown in recent years; but even admitting that it has grown to the fullest possible extent, and that it is guilty of all the folly with which it is charged, it has not yet become one fortieth part of the population.

Spain is said to be an old, worn-out nation, but during the ten years from 1880 to 1800 she increased the annual rate of her growth from 35 per thousand to 54 per thousand. Even France, though her rate had fallen very low in 1870, has steadily increased it in the last twenty years, and raised it from 7 per thousand inhabitants in 1870 to 37 per thousand in 1890. England has steadily increased her rate in the last twenty years. So has Russia, whose rate is very high, being 105 per thousand in 1870, 130 in 1880, and 140 in 1890. Holland, a very old and closely settled country, has increased her rate in almost the same proportions, 80 per thousand in 1870, 118 in 1880, and 135 in 1890. Belgium's rate is not far behind.[4]

Of all these countries none are superior to the United States in natural fertility and resources. Most of them are much inferior, and have a larger proportion of people to the square mile. The United States has only 21·31 to the square mile;[5] but Russia has 42, Spain 86, Great Britain 184, France 320, Holland 350, and Belgium 530.

If we are right in believing that the lowering of the rate of native growth was due to the increase of foreigners, then immigration has not materially increased, but, on the contrary, has somewhat decreased the American population. If the native population had kept up an increase per decade of only 34 per cent, which was less than it had in the twenty years 1790 to 1810, and immigration had ceased, the white population would now be more numerous than it has become with, the assistance of immigration.

If we take the native white population of 5,745,348 in the year 1810 and give it an increase each succeeding decade of 34 per cent, with 28 per cent for the decade that included the civil war, we have for the year 1890 57,048,753, which is 3,064,863 in excess of the 54,983,890 total whites as given by the census of that year. In other words, the natives multiplying at less than their old rate would outnumber the present native and foreign white population by over three millions.

The rate of 28 per cent for the decade that included the civil war is lower than the rate of native increase during the Revolution, and the Revolution lasted seven years, while the civil war lasted only four. The rate of 34 per cent for the other decades is also quite conservative. For twenty years, when immigration was at a minimum, the natives had exceeded this rate, and as their rate was steadily rising there is every probability that they would soon have exceeded 35 per cent, and reached 36 or more before 1890. An average rate of 35 per cent, with 28 for the civil war, would have given 60,098,117 whites in 1890, which is 5,114,227 in excess of the total whites as reported by the census, and lacks only about two millions of equaling the whole aggregate population of black, white, Chinese, Japanese, and civilized Indians.

The estimates of Jeiferson and others by which they prophesied a great increase for the future were based on rates much higher than this. The country was new, with ample room for development, and growing more and more prosperous. European countries with dense populations and inferior natural resources have increased their rate within that time, and why should not the United States?

Some of these old countries increase their rate in spite of the fact that thousands of emigrants are leaving them every year. We have a new country, not half developed, with immigrants pouring into us, and yet our rate has been steadily falling for sixty years. Since 1830 the rate of increase of the whole aggregate population, black, white, Chinese, Japanese, and civilized Indians, together with all the immigrants that have been poured upon us and the accessions from the new territories, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and California, has seldom been appreciably higher, and is in most cases considerably lower, than the old rate of increase of the native whites from 1750 to 1830, when immigration was at a minimum. All the immigrants and all their increase can not make up for the loss of the old rate of increase of the natives.

The following table shows that in only two decades, 1840 to 1850 and 1850 to 1860, was the rate of increase of the whole population higher than it had been among the natives alone before 1830. In the first of those decades, 1840 to 1850, the rate was abnormal because the Mexican War brought us a sudden large accession of black and white population from the conquered provinces of Texas, New Mexico, and California. The rate in the second decade, 1850 to 1860, was also abnormal. The people who were not counted in California in the census of 1850, owing to the burning of part of the returns, were counted in 1860, and increased the rate for that decade:

Aggregate population. Per cent of increase. Correction for census of 1870.
1830 12,866,020 33·55
1840 17,069,453 32·67
1850 23,191,876 35·86
1860 31,443,321 35·57
1870 38,558,371 22·62 24·62
1880 50,155,783 30·07 28·07
1890 62,622,250 24·85

During the last twenty years immigration has reached enormous proportions. For the decade 1870 to 1880 the arrivals at ports, without counting those that came in over the Canadian and Mexican borders, were 2,834,040, and for 1880 to 1890 the same sort of arrivals were 5,246,613.[6] Added together they make for the twenty years 8,080,653, which is more than half of the total immigration since 1820. Yet with this enormous influx the rate of increase of the whole population has sunk lower and lower; and the twenty years which saw this huge immigration saw the lowest rate of increase since 1750.

From the year 1750 to 1830 the native population without the assistance of immigration never increased less than 33·17 per cent each decade except during the Revolution, when it went down to 28·81 per cent. But now, with a larger immigration than was ever known, the increase of our aggregate population is only 24·85—almost 4 per cent lower than the rate of increase of the native whites during the Revolution.


The mopane tree of eastern Mashonaland, Africa, is described by W. A. Eckersley, of the railroad surveying party, as rarely attaining a height of more than twenty-five feet. "When first its leaves make their appearance they are bright red; this soon changes to a rich autumnal brown; passing through some further shades of that color, they finally assume a green of equal brilliance to the spring leaves of some of our English trees. Masses of these trees in the various stages of change form a remarkably picturesque effect; the strong contrast in which the brilliant reds and greens stand out against the background of the blue-gray granite is particularly striking."
  1. Franklin's Works (Sparks's edition), vol. ii, p. 319.
  2. Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics (1892), article Population, p. 442.
  3. Seaman's Progress of Nations (First Series), p. 550. See also Worcester's Problem of Religious Progress, passim and Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics.
  4. Mulhall's Dictionary of Statistics, article Population, p. 442.
  5. The average of 21-31 per square mile for the United States is calculated on the total land area, exclusive of Alaska and Indian Territory.
  6. Report of Superintendent of Immigration (1892), pp. 13, 30.