Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/September 1896/Immigration and Crime

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THE criminal influence of the alien with its steady increase can be traced back in our history for the last sixty years. So surely and yet so gradually has it grown upon us that we have now become thoroughly accustomed to a condition of things which would have been extremely shocking to our rugged ancestors as they are sometimes called.

When our system of foreign immigration first began to reach serious proportions, about the year 1820, its effect on our manners and morals soon attracted attention. The Native American party, which arose soon after 1840, based its strongest argument on the enormous increase of crime which followed the advent of the foreigners. The belief and confidence in the cheap labor of the immigrant were very strong in those days, or the people would never have been willing to go on with the system in the face of the shocking revelations of pauperism, crime, and corruption which became more and more apparent from 1830 to 1850.

The newspapers and pamphlets of that time published statistics which showed that, although the foreign population was only an eighth of the whole, yet it furnished two thousand more paupers and a thousand more criminals than all the remaining seven eighths of the people. Every thirty-two foreigners produced a pauper, and every one hundred and fifty-four of them produced a criminal; but it required three hundred and seventeen natives to furnish one pauper and sixteen hundred and nineteen to furnish a criminal.

The census of 1880 attempted to summarize the relative proportions of the foreign population which were paupers and criminals as far back as 1850. The statistics on which the calculation was based were somewhat incomplete, but so far as they go they show the same result that all other similar investigations have shown. The foreigner in proportion to his numbers furnishes by far the greater part of pauperism and crime.

Ratio to 1,000,000 of Population.

  1880. 1870. 1860. 1850.
Native 994 1,635 1,849 1,765
Foreign 3,438 4,095 7,843 5,986
Native 1,054 733 371 207
Foreign 1,917 1,568 2,161 1,074

The Massachusetts census of 1885, which was taken with great care and completeness, shows the same condition of affairs. The foreign born of that State were 27·1 per cent of the whole population, and yet they furnished 44·03 per cent of the paupers, 40·60 of the prisoners, and 36·87 per cent of the convicts.

If we take the statistics of the children of foreigners the result is almost the same. The people of foreign parentage in Massachusetts are 47·36 per cent of the whole, yet the number of prisoners with both parents foreign born was 60·30 per cent, and the number of convicts with both parents foreign born was 51·14 per cent.

The statistics of the national census of 1890 reveal the same condition. The native white element of the population is 54·87 per cent, but it produces only 43·19 per cent of the white prisoners. The foreign white element, counting foreign born and the children of foreign born, is only 32·93 per cent of the population, and yet it produces 56·81 per cent of the white prisoners.

The statistics may also be stated by ratios per million in each class so as to include the negroes, which gives a still more striking result:

Prisoners. Ratio per 1,000,000.
Native white 882
Foreign white 1,747
Negro 3,250

The negro, though born on the soil, is in every sense an alien, and if we wish to see how much crime is due to our various experiments in importing foreign populations we have only to connect the negro ratio of crime with the foreign white ratio and compare them with the native ratio. The result can be seen by a glance at the above table and is rather startling.

We hear a great deal about the crime of murder in the United States and its great increase, and it may be interesting to know the source of a large portion of it. Our population is now divided into native white, foreign white, negro, Chinese, Japanese, and civilized Indians; and the census of 1890 shows the percentage of homicide to be assigned to each in proportion to percentage of population:

Population. Percentage of population. Percentage of homicides.
Native white 73·24 44·00
Foreign-born white 14·56 16·40
Negroes 11·92 37·11
Chinese and Japanese 0·17 1·28
Civilized Indians 0·11 1·21

The natives, it will be observed, though almost three fourths of the population, commit less than half the homicides; while the aliens, including in that term the negroes as well as the foreign born, though only about one fourth of the population, commit more than half the homicides.

How many of the murders committed by natives are due to the example and presence of the foreigners can not be estimated, but it is doubtless no small proportion.

The number of murders committed by the black race is very large. Out of the 7,386 prisoners indicted for homicide, 4,425 were white and 2,739 were negroes. In point of numbers the negro population is less than a seventh of the white population, and yet the negroes commit more than half as many murders as the whites.

In counting up the cost of the foreigner, in addition to what he kills, burns, and destroys, it may be well to mention the charge we are put to in maintaining his paupers, a service which we have now performed for him for many years with great generosity in our almshouses. Census Bulletin No. 90 has it in a nutshell: "The foreign population of this country contributes, directly or indirectly, in the persons of the foreign born or of their immediate descendants, very nearly three fifths of all the paupers supported in almshouses." In other words, although the foreign element is much less than half of the whole population, it nevertheless furnishes more than half of the paupers. If we leave out the pauper descendants of foreigners and count merely the foreign-born paupers, we find that they alone outnumber the native paupers.

The original native population of the United States, which fought the Revolution and built up the country for the next fifty years, was remarkably free from the habit of settling every petty dispute by homicide, and yet a large part of them were people who may be said to have passed their lives with firearms in their hands. They were hunters and Indian fighters, and they were all familiar with war, whether against the French, the Indians, or their own race in the Revolution; but in their personal disputes among themselves they seldom attempted to kill. The frontiersman of that period usually settled quarrels with his fists. In the Whisky Rebellion of 1794, which was long continued and serious enough to have an army sent to suppress it, the rioters did not take a single human life. They tarred and feathered some of their enemies, shaved their heads, and indulged in other rough treatment. Even after two or three of their number had been shot by the authorities they showed none of that anxious desire for killing that now characterizes rioters.

When the dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the possession of the Wyoming Valley had been settled by a legal decision soon after the Revolution, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act in 1787 organizing the valley as a part of Pennsylvania. A meeting of the Connecticut settlers in the valley was called to decide whether they should accept the act. There were two parties among them, one in favor of the act, the other against it, and in the heated discussion of the meeting they came to blows. After the first blow was struck each party rushed, not for their guns, but for sticks, which they cut from the neighboring trees, and for a time there was a very savage contest; but not a single shot was fired nor was there a single blow given with a knife, and after a while they came together again and passed a resolution accepting the act. Yet they were all frontiersmen, accustomed to the almost daily use of rifles and hunting knives.

About the time of the Revolution there were riots in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and much property was destroyed; but in only one, the riot in Philadelphia over the depreciation of the Continental currency, were lives taken. The same characteristics prevailed in Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts.

The first riots in which an intense desire to use firearms and kill was shown were the Catholic riots of 1844, which were begun by foreigners firing into a meeting of native Americans. From this we have gone steadily on, until we now have more rioting, bloodshed, and murder in a single year, or even in six months, than can be found in a hundred years of our previous history, and in almost every instance it can be traced to the alien element in our population.

Washington, in writing on the subject of immigration, said:

My opinion with respect to emigration is that, except of useful mechanics and some particular descriptions of men or professions, there is no need of encouragement; while the policy or advantage of its taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be much questioned. (Works, xi, p. 2.)

On another occasion he wrote:

It is not the policy of this country to employ aliens where it can well be avoided, either in the civil or military walks of life. (Works, xi, pp. 392, 393.)

Jefferson, though belonging to the party opposed to Washington, had very much the same opinion:

They will bring with them the principles of the government they leave, imbibed in their early youth, or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their numbers they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass. I may appeal to experience during the present contest for a verification of these conjectures. But if they be not certain in event are they not possible, are they not probable? Is it not safer to wait with patience twenty-seven years and three months longer for the attainment of any degree of population desired or expected? May not our Government be more homogeneous, more peaceable, more durable? Suppose twenty millions of republican Americans thrown all of a sudden into France, what would be the condition of that kingdom? If it would be more turbulent, less happy, less strong, we may believe that the addition of half a million of foreigners to our present numbers would produce a similar effect here. If they come of themselves they are entitled to all the rights of citizenship, but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements. I mean not that these doubts should be extended to the importation of useful artificers. The policy of that measure depends on very different considerations. (Works, viii, p. 330.)

The prophesy in the above passage has most certainly come true; and the last two sentences are also worth considering. "I mean not," he says, "that these doubts should be extended to the importation of useful artificers. The policy of that measure depends on very different considerations." This will at once be recognized as agreeing exactly with Washington's words where he says, "that except of useful mechanics and some particular descriptions of men or professions there is no need of encouragement." Washington, though strongly opposed to the admission of foreign officers in the army, had made exceptions in the case of certain artillerists and engineers, who he said were needed to teach us some of the fine points of gunnery and construction, and in his objection to immigration in general he made exceptions in favor of certain kinds of skilled labor.

In short, these Fathers of the Republic were entirely opposed to promiscuous, wholesale immigration, and they undoubtedly represented the opinions of a large number of our people at that time. The importation of paupers, vagrants, and criminals, together with hundreds of thousands of men and women capable only of cheap manual labor, was altogether foreign to their thoughts, or, if they contemplated it at all, it was only to revolt from it. Even Madison, who favored immigration more than any of the other fathers of the republic, and who introduced in Congress the first bill intended to encourage it, always insisted that he intended to bring over only the "worthy part of mankind," and in a letter written in 1813 he expresses almost the same opinion as Washington and Jefferson:

I am obliged at the same time to say, as you will doubtless learn from others, that it is not either the provision of our laws or the practice of the Government to give any encouragement to emigrants unless it be in cases where they may bring with them some special addition to our stock of arts or articles of culture. (Works, ii, p. 576.)

Neither Madison nor any of the others had any conception of modern immigration, and apparently never realized that their moderate and, as they supposed, well-regulated encouragement would bring it about.