MoboReader > Literature > The Way to the West / and the Lives of Three Early Americans: Boone—Crockett—Carson

   Chapter 6 THE IRON TRAILS

The Way to the West / and the Lives of Three Early Americans: Boone—Crockett—Carson By Emerson Hough Characters: 42392

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

At the time of the discovery of gold in California, there had been built up a splendid Western population, hardy, self-confident, able to shift for itself, wholly distinct from that population that it had for a generation left behind at the old starting places of the trails. These trails across the continent, wavering, tortuous, yet practicable, had been fully established. So far as might be within the horizon of those days, all was now ready for the epoch-making event that was to change all the methods of America, that was to make Westerners by wholesale and to draw them swiftly from every corner of the earth.

The great state of California alone was cause and sufficient reason for the swift development of the remoter American West. There can not be denied the tremendous effect produced by the sudden growth of California, coming as it did hard on the time of the annexation of Texas and the widening of our national territory in the far Southwest. As to the discovery of gold and the swift growth of California being unmixed benefits, there may exist at this later day something of a sober doubt.

California marked the beginning of the feverish, insane, excitable type of American, who wishes to do everything at once-and does it! Without California and the Civil War we should to-day still be settling the West. With California we are settling the islands of the Orient. The high-geared life of to-day is part of the corollary of washing a year's income out of the ground in an hour's work, of crossing the continent in a week instead of a season, of tearing down mountains by machinery instead of building up homesteads deliberately. Stimulation and destruction do not go so far apart. California gave to the world the spectacle of a nation drunk with energy, using with maddened zeal for a time powers made three-fold, employing an imagination under whose concept naught under Heaven seemed impossible-or was impossible!

This was revolution. There was a demand for revolution of an even pace in all lines of allied industry. It was time for the railroad, and the railroad must now perforce come swiftly. We built better steamships to get out into our new, feverish, golden West. We used the old trails, but they would no longer serve. We employed the old mountain passes, the old grazing and watering places, but neither would these serve. No time now for hoof or wheel, or for the way of the ship upon the sea! No time now for the wayside ranches along the Platte, for the old posts of Laramie and Bridger and Hall! The golden country clamored all too strongly. Therefore, with a leap, the old trails straightened out and shortened. New passes over the Great Divide were found. The long thin line of rails connected the East with a West now swiftly grown mightier than itself. All American morals and manners underwent swift reconstruction. The United States, plus California, plus the Western railways, became a different nation.

It is not necessary to take up in detail the chronological or geographical study of the building of the transcontinental railways. They have done their work. The commercial history of America is sufficiently well written to-day on the face of every country of the globe. We have built our own railroads, and to-day we build and sell railroads and equipment for the Himalayas and the Sudan. We shall build the railroads that will make Africa another America. We shall build the railroads that will at length bring the Anglo-Saxon face to face with the Slav, in that struggle that shall pit the American West against the Russian East.

The West of the midway district between the Missouri and Pacific was largely settled by reflex. The mines of California spilled back men, great, splendid men, to the eastward again, to exploit all those ranges of the Rockies whose wealth the trappers had not suspected. Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada-all these might be called a part of the scheme of California. New and splendid empires were founded, new standards of civilization were erected in the recent wilderness. The grand and alluring story of the West went on apace for yet a little time.

But these times were not to endure. There came swiftly the Western rush of population, which swept off the map the free lands of all our Western empire. The vast American public, mad with the lust of land, raped the Indian reservations from those that had frail title given them in the honor of a great nation; so that thus one more bar was broken between the East and the West. Home-building, farm-making man came close on the heels of trapper and trader and nomad cattle driver. The hordes of the land seekers held their lotteries even in the desert once dreaded by the travelers of the old Santa Fé trail. Incipient cities were built in that waterless waste where Jedediah Smith, the first transcontinental traveler, lost his life in mid-continent. Never a bit of open land was left in all the West; or if there were such land remaining, it was of a quality that would once have been viewed with contempt.

The story of the swift changes wrought by the iron trails is such as not to afford complete satisfaction in the contemplation; yet we may calmly review the different stages of that story. First we had the day of competitive railway building, when there were not enough railroads for the demands of a vast and unsettled region whose resources appealed to a population. Then we came rapidly to the time of too many railroads; of attempts to adjust an unprofitable competition; of combinations, of arrangements, agreements, mergers; and of popular and governmental action upon such mergers. To-day all America is districted and divided among a few great railway systems. Once we were better than our transportation; now we are not so good. Once we depended upon it; now it rules us almost without argument. The swiftness with which these tremendous changes have been brought about furnishes one of the most remarkable phenomena recorded in the history of the world.

Recently there was erected at Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a monument to a forgotten man, John Fitch, who in the year 1785 was known as one curious in experiments with steam as a motive power. Fitch built a steamboat, and had visions of many things in the way of steam locomotion. The life of this unknown man marks the extent of our backward vision in these matters; yet Fitch lived little more than a century ago. Indeed, the growth of the railroads of America has taken place in less than three-quarters of a century. And yet to-day we have more than two hundred thousand miles of railway, and as each day rolls by, we build from ten to twenty-five miles more. Railroading is a profession perfected in the hard evolution of American necessity. Our first railways were but attempts, guesses, desires, hopes, purely local propositions and not always well conceived as such. Yet they grew and multiplied, and presently, before we had time to think, they had multiplied over much. Then came the days of the railroad receiver. After the receiver there came the combiner. This man, in these bubble days of so-called prosperity, for a time undertakes to do what competition was not able to do. It is only for a time that any man or combination of men can escape the workings of the great natural law of competition. Neither monopolies nor trades-unions, neither the "trust" in capital nor the "trust" in labor can forever evade it. In time there will again be change; and meantime, ruin.

To-day there are five great centralizations or combinations of capital that control the railway situation in America. In these swift times of change these arrangements may not long remain permanent, and it is bootless to mention them specifically. The building of these thousands of miles of railway and the assembling of them together under industrial truce has been the product of a giant game in commerce, a commerce not to be confined wholly by the limits of this continent. The great ships built for the Orient are now an old story, an accepted enterprise that spells Europe on the one hand and Asia on the other.

As for our own marches, Alaska is to repeat at least in part the story of California. The Yukon and White Pass Railway is but a hint, a beginning. It is now upon the question of a railway from Circle City in Alaska to the Bering Sea, to connect there with a railway which shall eventually tap both China and Siberia! It is entirely within possibility that we shall in time see a continuous railway transportation from the Atlantic to the far-off straits that separate this country from Asia. Scientists tell us that over these straits there perhaps came once the ancestors of the aboriginal population of this continent. This population we have destroyed. There will also be destroyed all those nomad tribes of northeastern Asia that seem not useful in this great scheme which we call civilization. Alaska was long thought uninviting; yet railroad building there is feasible, and Alaska is feasible as residence for man; and railroad man is concerned with every corner of this globe that can serve as residence for human beings.

In the course of an address during the year 1901, a modern railway man[60] spoke in part as follows: "The twentieth century has been ushered into existence, and at its very dawn we find a struggle, not for the acquisition of new territory, not for the subjection of foreign countries, not a crusade to introduce a new and better religion, but a struggle between the great nations of the earth for supremacy in industrial pursuits and to supply the markets of the world. The nineteenth century has frequently been referred to as the Age of Transportation. Distribution is the handmaid of production. Bacon said: 'There are three things that make a country great: fertile fields, busy workshops, easy conveyance for men and goods from place to place.' The evolution that has taken place in the transportation of this country during the nineteenth century has been remarkable and unparalleled in the history of man. In the year 1800 it cost one hundred dollars to move a ton of wheat from Buffalo to New York. The regular rate is now a dollar and a half per ton, and it has been carried for a dollar. One hundred years ago we paid twenty-five cents per mile, traveling by stage-coach, without baggage; now we carry home-seekers from the East into California for approximately one-twentieth of the old rate.

"Our American railroads were, not a very long time since, owned largely outside the United States, but during the world's panic that occurred in 1893, our British, German and Dutch friends discovered the necessity of selling something, and the only things in their strong boxes that they could sell without too much sacrifice were their American securities. They dumped them on the American market; and, notwithstanding the financial strain and the depression from which we were suffering, our American financiers mustered pluck, courage and money enough to buy them. They were bought at bargain prices. The advance in them has been stupendous, but it is worth a great deal to feel that we are not only blessed with the most improved and cheapest transportation in the world, but that our railroads are owned by our own people. The value of the railroads of the United States amounts to over one-fifth of the total wealth of the country."

Another master in transportation,[61] in a public address delivered in 1902, gave yet further details in the vivid story of the extension of the iron trails of America: "While the railroads may have to answer for many mistakes of judgment or of intent," said he, "on the whole the result has been to create the most effective, useful, and by far the cheapest system of land transportation in the world. In England the average amount paid by the shipper for moving a ton of freight one hundred miles is two dollars and thirty-five cents; in France, two dollars and ten cents; in Austria, a dollar and ninety cents; in Germany, where most of the railroads are owned and operated by the government, a dollar and eighty-four cents; in Russia, also under government ownership, where the shipments are carried under conditions more nearly similar to our own than any other country as respects long haul, a dollar and seventy cents. In the United States the average cost is seventy-three cents, or less than forty per cent. of the average cost in Europe."

From the above comparisons this captain of transportation concludes that the railroad industries of this country are in a flourishing condition and that they should not be interfered with. Yet he concludes his comment with words that contain a corollary inconsistent with his earlier attitude, as we may later have occasion to note. He says: "For the first time in the history of this country thousands of our farmers are seeking homes in the Canadian Northwest, owing to the cheap lands offered in that country, and to the difficulty of securing such lands in the United Slates." Earlier in the same address there is this epigrammatic statement: "Land without population is a wilderness; population without land is a mob." If our Western Americans are leaving the flag of a republican government to seek land elsewhere, is not the inference fair that they do so because they have become a population without land? If this be true, assuredly it is the work of the iron trails.

We have an overgrowth, or, rather, too sudden and rank a growth, of transportation in America. It is attended with sudden changes, attended also with a certain weediness and immaturity, which we should be entitled to call un-American and undesirable, even were it not for the graver features that amount to revolutionary changes and to national menaces. Borne aloft upon a great wave of commercial prosperity, the American people is at the present time taking itself with entire seriousness as the greatest nation of the world. Its rapid industrial expansion has indeed been cause for marvel in the mind of all the world. There is a certain national comfort in these reflections, without doubt, and solace in the almost incomprehensible totals of the figures on which such assertions are grounded. Therefore it must come almost with ill grace to offer in these days of jubilation any word that might seem to indicate that perhaps, in spite of all this superficial prosperity, all may not be well with America as a nation, that all is not really well with our American man.

We are told that these are good times, the best we ever knew. It is triumphantly announced to us that we have in one year invested nearly seventy millions of dollars in foreign securities, largely in railroad bonds of Russia, in German Treasury bills, and English Exchequer loans. This is very good; it sounds well. As an offset to it one should apologize for offering the simple but multifold statements from the columns of the daily press bearing upon the greater cost of living in Western states. It is seven per cent. greater, says one dealer in statistics. It is twenty-five per cent. greater than it ever was, says another. The housewives of America, the best of all statisticians, say that in 1902 it cost thirty-three per cent. more to live than it did in 1899. These prices of bare commodities in these days of super-excellent transportation go well toward comparing with those we have shown as existing in the far-off mountain communities in the days of pack-horse and ox-team transportation. If this be so, is all well with America? The prices are the results of combinations and monopolies. The monopolies are based largely on non-competitive transportation. The iron trails are built over the hearthfires of America. The iron trails must do otherwise than thus.

We are informed that during the last year the balance of trade in favor of the United States was something like seven hundred millions of dollars. "Figures up to March twenty-first (1902), just finished," says a careful report, "are so stupendous as to be staggering. * * * Nations have generally measured their prosperity by their foreign trade."

There might perhaps be other ways of measuring that prosperity. As against the above imposing aggregation of figures, I offer a simple newspaper paragraph printed in 1902, which sounds like Kaskaskia, or Alder Gulch, or the end of the Santa Fé Trail: "Potatoes have been selling for a dollar and seventy-five cents a bushel in Chicago this week," says the item. "A year ago the price was about forty cents. This enormous advance, coupled with the corresponding rise in the prices of nearly all vegetables, presents a serious economic problem for large families with small incomes." The same paper goes on to say: "The greatest sufferers from the high price of potatoes are the small wage-earners. They have learned to depend upon potatoes almost as much as upon bread. Yet, at a dollar and seventy-five cents a bushel, this staple food is out of the reach of many. The best thing they can do is to fall back on rice, which is an excellent substitute for potatoes and is still reasonable in price. Unfortunately, large numbers of wage-earners are incapable of making a sudden change in their diet. Many women that have depended upon potatoes all their lives do not know how to cook rice or hominy. They are as helpless with these substitutes as were many of the Irish people with the corn meal that was sent to them from America during the potato famine, or as Hindus, who are accustomed to rice, would be when they were given wheat flour to cook. This scarcity of potatoes is likely to cause a good deal of hardship before the proper use of the cheaper staples is learned."

And this is in America, in the zenith of the Age of Transportation! I fancy my man of pack-horse and cordelle living upon rice! I fancy Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett or Kit Carson using such diet as backing for his deeds! Meat and corn are the diet that built America. Good leaders of America, insist not over-much on this rice fare, as you do at present in these bubble days. Let weediness and immaturity, imported overmuch, be overrun and oppressed by organized rapacity, and then, one day, good leaders, you shall see the American man even yet fall to his well-learned task of leading himself.

This is in America, and in the Age of Transportation! I read of these startling changes and can scarcely believe that they have happened within a lifetime, a part of which was passed in a West where wealth and poverty, arrogance and self-denial, were alike unknown; where, if one hungered, he was free to enter the door of any little cabin he found here or there in the mountains, and to eat freely of whatever food he found, though the owner of the abode himself might be absent and might forever remain unknown; where the thought of price did not enter into the mind of either the uninvited visitor or his unknown host; where herds, wild or tame, covered a country vast, inviting and hospitable; where each man was his own leader; and where the thought of any difficulty in the simple problem of making a living never entered into the heart of man!

Those were days perhaps of not so great and apparent a national prosperity, but there comes a catch in the throat at comparing those days with these. The horror of it, the shameless waste, the destruction, the change, the ruin of it all-these can leave us little comfort as we gaze on the glittering picture of to-day. As a nation we are building for ourselves higher and higher a false castle of prosperity, blowing for ourselves wider and wider a bubble fragile at heart as any that ever met collapse in another day. "Give me back my legions!" cried the Roman general. God grant there may never bitterly rise to the lips of an American leader the unavailing cry, "Give me back my Americans!" God grant there come not too late the cry, "Give us back our America!"

"Taking it all around," says an unprejudiced writer, "the present generation in the United States reminds one of a young spendthrift just come into a fine property, accumulated by the thrift and carefulness of many ancestors. He thinks he is something out of the ordinary, and intends showing others how things should be done. In the society of flatterers, speculators and gamblers, he soon parts with his ready money and bank stock. He then sells the timber off his land. After that is spent he sells his live stock. Having thus deprived himself of the means for the proper tillage of his soil, he then sells the hay crop from his meadows until they are no longer productive. He next mortgages his property; and the last scene in the final act is the auctioneer's hammer at the public vendue."[62]

Another commentator[63] takes up the same trend of thought: "The cry of the people of the West," says he, "is rising almost to the ominous threat of revolution. The wealth of the country has increased enormously, but it is becoming concentrated in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. Only in the days of the early empire and late republic of Rome was it possible for a few individuals in a few years to amass such enormous fortunes as

they do. Having exploited the wealth of the great middle class, we are now drifting into the second stage. Small investments no longer pay. There is no Eastern or Western state that has not a score of stranded towns and villages once prosperous in small industries. The small farmer is no longer able to make a living in the competition which he meets.... All this may be progress, but it is progress over a precipice."

Still another observer[64] carries his conclusions yet further, and in a public address states: "The work of such men as [this monopolist] and his associates of the big combinations is preparing the minds of our people for socialism. I am not in favor of socialism, but men like these so-called captains of industry, who are opposed to socialism, are preparing the way for the rapid spread of the socialistic idea. Should some able leader take up that idea and advocate it, we shall see it spread with tremendous rapidity in America."

So much for the accomplishments of the Age of Transportation. It has already shown us the meaning of monopoly and has shown us the abolishment of the individual. It has taught us, or some of us, to believe that the establishment of an expensive university may serve as emendative of an unpopular personal career. It has taught us, or some of us, obsequiously to worship that form of wealth that soothes its conscience by the building of public libraries. Whether or not learning best grows and flourishes that has such foundation heads, library and university alike must to-day admit their impotence to answer the cry of the leader, "Give me back my Americans!"

The America of to-day is an America utterly and absolutely changed from the principles whereon our original America was founded, and wherefrom it grew and flourished. Never was there any corner of Europe, before the days of those revolutions that put down kings, worse than some parts of oppressed America to-day. It is not too late for revolution in America. There is not justice in the belief that America can to-day be called the land of the free. The individual is no more. He perished somewhere on those heights we have seen him laboriously ascending, somewhere on those long rivers we have seen him tracing. He died in the day of Across the Waters.

To-day we have labor unions, organizations that in the old West would have called forth indignant contempt in the mere suggestion. We have associations of managers to fight the unions; we have monopolies, combinations, masses, upon the one side and the other, contending, not working together harmoniously. We have become par excellence the people of castes and grades and classes. The whole theory of America was that here there was hope for the individual; that here he might grow, might prevail. It is degradation to abandon that theory. It is degradation for the American man to say of his own volition: "I am but one cog of a wheel, and my neighbor another. I can not change; I can not rise; I can not progress; I can not grow; I dare not hope." The degradation of the industry shares the degradation of the individual. The joint degradation, if it be accepted as final, spells a national deterioration and a national ruin which may be gradual and slow, or may, in these swift-moving days, be rapid and cataclysmic in its nature.

We have departed from the careful intent of that government which originally abolished for us even the law of primogeniture, a clause adopted in the state constitutions nearly throughout the Union. Our general public is more absolutely ruled by a few than is the case in any portion of the earth. Offsetting this, we boast of our "prosperity"! Let those that like call this a national prosperity. It is national fate, but there may be those that do not care to call it by the name of prosperity. Times are good when all the people are busy. Most of the people in the South were busy before the war; we called that slavery. It was as nothing compared to the industrial slavery impending over the American people to-day. It was simple by comparison as a problem. Tremendous indeed is the problem this implies, and grave and serious indeed should he be who attempts to solve it. We need statesmen, not politicians, to-day. We need men willing to do their duty in office, without regard to the question of their re-election to office.

We have promised that our study of American transportation should bring us close to the heart of things in our national life. The promise may be made good in the review of the work of the iron trails in the Age of Transportation. It would be but raving to hold the captains of transportation alone responsible for the deplorable changes that are taking place in America and the American character; yet only an equal folly could deny that too little fearless statesmanship, combined with too much politics and too much ungoverned transportation, has been responsible for many of these changes. Any candid student of American transportation and of American politics will find himself irresistibly arriving at the great question of the unrestricted American immigration.

We Americans have claimed this continent for humanity. We say that America is not to be used by the Old World as colonization ground, or for the planting ground of Old World ideas of government; and yet, even as we speak these words, we vitiate doctrine even wider than the Monroe doctrine-the doctrine of common sense. We throw open the gates of America and invite the sodden hordes of worthless peasantry to flock hither and pillage this country, the choicest of the continent, without let or hindrance, without requiring of them the first standard of fitness for American citizenship; without asking of them even the slightest educational test as to their fitness to enter into and enjoy a part of the once splendid heritage of this American people. The only price we ask is a ticket and a vote.

Of a truth, there would be justice in saying that we would better watch not so much South America as Castle Garden. There is where much of the degradation and depression of American life is going on. There is where trades-unionism begins, and indeed must begin. There is where monopolies begin. There is where, indeed, we are being colonized by the European peoples. For those that come here to work, to study, to learn and to grow there may be room yet in this great America. For those that come here to exist as parasites there should be no longer any room. All this is to some extent the act of common carriers in search of commerce. Behind this search there often lies all too certainly the intent of importation of a passive and semi-servile class,[65] content to accept the hardest conditions of life, and content to accept life barren of all hope, of all chance for future betterment.

Such life is un-American. Every one of these foreigners comes here with a vote in his hand. We have long allowed the vote to pay for everything; and, seeing that he had a vote, the poor foreigner though turbulent and discontented, has perforce satisfied himself with an America not much better and not much different from Europe. Assuredly, the time will come, and perhaps presently, when there must be considered with all seriousness this question of a mis-chosen and wrongfully used factor in our commercial fabric. It is not the upper branches of our model system of commerce which are wrong, nor will pruning those upper branches set that wrong right. We must go to the root of things.

Surely we have gone forward far enough in our commercial growth to learn that our country is not exhaustless. Were it so we should not to-day be considering the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to stretch the shrunken acreage of the once boundless West. Once we had enough for all, but now we no longer have enough for all. Once we could keep open house, but we can now no longer do so. There comes a time even in the question of open house when the doctrine of self preservation, greater than any Monroe doctrine, greater than any constitution, must have its place.

We, as well as Great Britain and other world powers, must eventually come to the doctrine of selfishness. Great Britain herself, a land not offering the inducements held out by America to the penniless settler, seriously contemplates the restriction of immigration along the severest lines. She fears becoming the great almshouse of Europe. Shall we in her stead become the great almshouse of the world? It is suggested by a foreign-born philanthropist, for instance, that America should forthwith throw open her doors to the five millions of persecuted Russian Jews. English authorities cheerfully believe that America could easily assimilate this great mass of new population. There are many American captains of politics and captains of transportation who would cheerfully agree in throwing this task of assimilation upon this country; but this attitude can not long remain indorsed by fearless men and thoughtful men unsodden in the mire of modern American politics, or unsmirched in the grime of headlong and heedless American commerce.

Under all this discussion and all these generalizations there lies, of course, the great, human, individual question. Back of all stands that great, pathetic figure, the man about whose neck fate has hung the destiny of a wife and children. Once there was room in America for that man. Once there was hope and a chance ultimately to be called his own. It is this man, this simple, common, plain American citizen who is to-day most vitally concerned. The man we have with us, the man of America, who has helped win and make America, is the one that ought to be protected by America, rather than the one that still has root in the Old World soil that bore him.

This is selfishness; but it is the only plan that offers hope to humanity in either world. The glory, the pride of America, the beauty and the flowering of her growth, have root in her splendid heritage, the heritage of a virile character born of a magnificent environment; but there exists no heritage which may not be dissipated, there lives no blood forever proof against continuous vitiation.

"The American people," says the governor of a Western state, "will no more submit to commercial despotism than they would to governmental despotism, and the tendency in the one case can be, and will be, as easily thwarted as the tendency in the other." Let us leave to an impartial and intelligent judgment of readers the question whether or not there exists or threatens to exist in America a commercial despotism; whether or not there exists any American people; whether or not we have, in the foregoing pages, found any causes for the changes and tendencies toward change that are to-day unmistakable phenomena-changes so rapid and elemental that any true American ought to be ashamed to say, "I belong without thought to this, that or the other political party." Perhaps we shall be all the better fortified with premises if we delve a trifle deeper into the statistics of this question of foreign immigration; for any writer deals better in undeniable premises than in ready-made conclusions.

The tables compiled by the United States Commissioner of Labor are conclusive. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War four-fifths of the American population could claim English as their native tongue. To-day not half our population can make such claim. There is interest in the story of the statistics.

"The number of immigrants coming into this country between 1820 and June thirtieth, 1900, was nineteen million one hundred and fifteen thousand two hundred and twenty-one. Prior to 1820 the government did not take account of immigration, but the generally accepted estimate of the total immigration between the adoption of the Constitution and 1820 is but two hundred and fifty thousand. This number is not included in the above total.

"The character of the immigration has changed in a most interesting way. From 1821 to 1850, two and three-tenths per cent. of our immigration came from Canada and Newfoundland; during the next decade, 1851 to 1860, the percentage was the same, and during the last decade only one-tenth per cent. of the immigrants was from those sections. From 1821 to 1850, twenty-four and two-tenths per cent. came from Germany, and in the next decade thirty-six and six-tenths per cent., this being the highest percentage reached by the Germans. During the last decade the Germans supplied only thirteen and seven-tenths per cent. of our foreign immigration. During the period first named, 1821 to 1850, Great Britain furnished fifteen per cent. of the immigrants, and in the next decade sixteen and three-tenths per cent. Then came a large increase from Great Britain between 1861 and 1870, the percentage being twenty-six and two-tenths; from 1871 to 1880 it was nineteen and five-tenths, while for the last decade it was but seven and four-tenths. From 1821 to 1850 Ireland furnished forty-two and three-tenths per cent. of our immigrants, and between 1851 and 1860 thirty-five and two-tenths per cent. Since then there has been a rapid decrease, and between 1891 and 1900 Ireland furnished but ten and five-tenths per cent. of our immigrants. Those from Norway and Sweden constituted only six-tenths per cent. between 1821 and 1850. The Scandinavians increased in numbers between 1881 and 1890, when their proportion was ten and eight-tenths per cent.; during the last decade it was eight and seven-tenths per cent.

"The immigration from the whole group just named, Canada and Newfoundland, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, and Norway and Sweden, shows a marked relative decrease. While the immigrants from these countries constituted seventy-four and three-tenths per cent. of the whole number of immigrants during the entire period under discussion, they furnished between 1821 and 1850 eighty-four and four-tenths per cent. of the total, and during the next decade ninety-one and two-tenths per cent., since which time there has been a rapid decrease, this group of countries during the last decade furnishing but forty and four-tenths per cent.

"These figures enable us to bring into direct and sharp comparison the immigration from countries that fifty years ago furnished hardly any increment to our population. From 1851 to 1860 Austria-Hungary sent no immigrants to this country, or not enough to make any impression upon the statistics, but between 1861 and 1870 the immigration from that country was four-tenths per cent., during the next decade two and six-tenths per cent., from 1881 to 1890 six and seven-tenths per cent., while during the last decade it was sixteen and one-tenth per cent.

"Italy, beginning with two-tenths per cent. during the period from 1821 to 1850, increased to two per cent. between 1871 and 1880, and to nearly six per cent. during the next decade, while during the last decade that country furnished seventeen and seven-tenths per cent. of our total number.

"The proportions for Russia and Poland are almost identical with those of Italy. Those two countries, taken together, beginning with only one-tenth per cent. of our total number of immigrants between 1821 and 1850, increased but slightly until between 1881 and 1890, when they contributed five per cent., and during the last decade sixteen and three-tenths per cent. These three sections-Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia and Poland-taken together, contributed during the last decade fifty and one-tenth per cent. of our immigrants, as against forty and four-tenths per cent., as stated, for the group of five countries first named; nine and five-tenths per cent. came from elsewhere.

"It is interesting to know how many of the nineteen million one hundred fifteen thousand two hundred and twenty-one immigrants coming to this country since 1821 are now living. The recent census, by its classification of population into native and foreign born, answers the question, and we find that of the total number of immigrants fifty-four and seven-tenths per cent. were living in June, 1900. In 1880 sixty-two per cent. of the whole number of immigrants at that date were living, while in 1850 forty-four and four-tenths per cent. were still in existence.

"... The conclusion unfortunately is unavoidable," says the statistician, "that our immigration is constantly increasing in illiteracy, and the immigrants themselves are showing higher percentage of illiteracy. Nearly one-half of our steerage immigration now presents an illiteracy of from forty to over fifty per cent. Of the three hundred eighty-eight thousand nine hundred and thirty-one steerage aliens who arrived during the year, the following totals are given for the principal countries":

Males. Females.

Southern Italian 86,929 24,396

Polish 25,466 12,170

Hebrew 23,343 19,894

German 17,238 12,442

Slavic 19,309 7,622

Northern Italian 16,202 4,158

Scandinavian 12,200 9,981

And fifty per cent. of them are illiterate! Shall we let them come? Shall we perhaps teach them to eat rice with the rest of us? Shall we divide our inheritance with them? Shall we remember only that each of them has a vote? The leveling methods of the Age of Transportation, the day of the iron trails, have made possible, and have made imperative, these very questions. Their answer lies in the future, yet perhaps no very distant future. There are not lacking those, and they constantly increase in numbers, who believe that the answer must be the putting up of the bars against all future immigration except of a closely selected sort, and preferably that bred upon this continent. America has eaten overmuch; she may yet assimilate, but she must gorge no more. We can now rear actual Americans enough to feed the world, and to defeat the world when the time shall come for the fatal shock of arms, and under a system of rest and recuperation we may become a united and strong America; while under the system of the past, and the system that now prevails, we must presently become a warring and divided, hence a weakening, land.

* * *


Mr. Paul Morton, of the Santa Fé Railroad.


Mr. James J. Hill, of the Great Northern Railroad.


Wm. F. Flynn, in "Forest and Stream."


Prof. Benjamin F. Terry, of the University of Chicago.


Rev. George C. Lorimer.


Since the above lines were written the following editorial comment appeared in a leading American daily newspaper:

"Almost every nation in the world is sending an increasing number of immigrants to the United States. Last month (April, 1903) the new-comers numbered 126,200, being 30,000 more than for April of 1902. The total for the year may reach 1,000,000, or half the population of Chicago, the second largest city in the country.

"Is so great an influx of foreigners natural or desirable? Many in a condition to know say that immigration is promoted largely by mine-owners and railroad managers, who wish to be kept supplied with cheap labor, and who do not care particularly whence it comes or whether it will be desirable material out of which to make American citizens, or whether its presence may not contribute to social or industrial disorder.

"Many of the great railroad systems approve of unrestricted immigration because it swells their profitable emigrant business. They have their agents in Europe soliciting that kind of business. The greater the number of men and women that can be induced to come to this country and to buy tickets to interior points, the more money the roads make. They offer low ocean and rail rates, which tempt the emigrant and yet are profitable to the roads.

"While some great employers favor unrestricted immigration because it gives them cheap labor, the labor unions may reach the conclusion that for that very reason unrestricted immigration must be harmful to their interests, because it will lead inevitably to a reduction of wages. When the supply of labor is much in excess of the demand the maintenance of a high wage scale becomes impossible.

"While a large percentage of the immigration is unskilled labor, it must be remembered that many unions are composed of men who do that kind of labor. Moreover, some of them will learn trades and increase the number of skilled workers. When times grow dull there will be an excess of workers and wages will go down. The labor organizations belonging to the American Federation of Labor asked the last Congress to bar out illiterate immigrants. The object was to keep down the undesirable cheap labor immigration. The steamship companies, which make money off their steerage passengers and drum up business throughout eastern Europe, and some western railroads which are extending their lines, protested against and defeated the legislation 'organized labor' petitioned for. Considering the swelling tide of immigration, much of it of an undesirable nature, the labor leaders probably will ask the next Congress in emphatic language to order the exclusion of illiterates to protect American labor and the high standard of American citizenship."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top