Foreign Immigration to The United States
Immigrants Landing at Castle Garden. Drawn by A. B. Shults. Harper's Weekly, 29 May 1880. GGA Image ID # 1482c22ab1
Is busy New York perhaps the busiest spot during the spring months of 1880 has been the Rotunda of Castle Garden. It is a polyglot exchange, the meeting-place of the tribes of the sons of men.
Here they are to be found in all costumes, from the white sheep-skin jacket of the Hungarian to the thick woolen wraps of the Hollander.
Grouped in every possible attitude— some, exhausted by a long voyage, sleeping on the floor, with such chance head-roots as can be found, some cooking, some smoking, some sitting and looking out on what they can see of the New World with wondering eyes—they are n study for an artist.
The servants and officers of the Commissioners of Emigration are on the alert, directing the now-comers how to proceed, and helping them off to their destinations, whether the States nearby or the far West. As many as four thousand have been received and dispatched in a single day.
The volume of immigration to the United States for 1880 promises to be enormous. In 1879 the number of arrivals of aliens at the port of New York was 179,589; in 1878, 129,866; in 1877, 109,055. In the first four months of 1880 the number of arrivals has reached 81,262, or nearly half of the total of 1879.
In April of this year more foreigners landed at our port than were ever known to arrive in one month. Of the countries represented, Germany stands first, then Ireland, England, and Sweden. Reckoning England, Scotland, and Ireland together, the total of immigrants coming from Great Britain in 1879 was 50,206. In supplying us with population our mother country leads the rest of the world.
It is for the political economists to reckon the money value to the country of each immigrant Some have fixed it at $800, some as high as $1200.
When it is considered that the foreigner who comes to us is usually in the prime of life, and has many years of productive labor before him, the higher estimate does not appear excessive. But this is a very imperfect way of determining the benefit which we derive from the inflow of European populations.
Some of the nations of the Old World owe a large part of their prosperity to their friendly reception of foreigners driven from their homes. For nearly two centuries a constant stream of persecuted Protestants poured from the Continent into England, bringing with them arts and manufactures in which they excelled the world.
Two hundred and fifty thousand of the most moral and industrious of the population of France were exiled by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In the sixteenth century, upon the arrival of the news of an intended invasion by Alva, one hundred thousand Nether landers left their homes within a few days.
Historians tell us that "many of the arts and manufactures which had been most distinctively French passed in the eighteenth century to Holland, to Germany, or to England."
Twenty thousand French Protestants, "attracted to Brandenburg by the liberal encouragement of the Elector at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, laid the foundation of the prosperity of Berlin and of most of the manufactures of Prussia."
To reckon the value of immigration accurately, therefore, wo must take into the account what it adds to our wealth in the establishment of new industries, and the strengthening of industries not new. By importing the artisans of Europe we import the arts of Europe, domesticate them, and find in them sources of enduring prosperity.
It is not easy to ascertain the number of foreigners who arrived in the United States prior to 1819, no statistics being collected till that year. It is supposed, however, that it did not exceed 250,000. In 1820 the whole number was only 8385; in 1854 it reached 427,833.
Immediately before the civil war and during the war there were a great falling off. When peace was restored the volume of immigration increased again, so that in 1869, 595,922 foreigners came to the United States.
During the years of our recent panic immigration almost entirely ceased. From the foundation of our government to 1870 we added to our population from this source 7,803,605 persons; from May 5, 1847, to December 81, 1879, 5,857,025 arrived at the port of New York alone.
Famine, war, oppressive military systems, the desire to own land, the prospect of better wages, the preference for a free country, will bring the common people of Europe to us in such multitudes as have never before been known. What the end will be no prophet can predict.
The increase of the facilities of transportation must induce many to migrate who would otherwise shrink from the venture. Those now arriving are said to be superior in quality, and to average in money sixty dollars each.
But where do they all go? One answer to the question must be made—not to the South. Excepting Texas, nothing can induce the immigrants to turn their faces toward the Southern States. To the offers of welcome there and cheap land on easy terms they turn deaf ears.
Scenes of Immigrants at Castle Garden. Drawn by A. B. Shults. Harper's Weekly, 29 May 1880. GGA Image ID # 14b373418d
They are a peaceable folk and dread the too ready knife and revolver. Just now Minnesota absorbs the largest proportion of the strangers; then Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas. About forty per cent, remain in the East; some because they are too poor to go farther, others because they meet with good offers of work as artisans, miners, or domestics.
The Commissioners of Emigration, who have had charge of the landing of immigrants for more than thirty years, have perfected a system which works with mathematical precision. Precision is needed, for six hundred and ninety foreign steamers, bringing precious human freight, land at this port each year.
Castle Garden, as every New- Yorker knows, looks out upon the bay. As soon as a ship arrives, the luggage of the immigrants examined by Custom-house officers, and transferred in barges to the landing depot When the passengers reach the Rotunda, which is spacious enough to shelter several thousand, they are carefully registered.
Every important particular— birthplace, age, point of departure from Europe, occupation, destination—is noted down. For some, friends and relatives are in waiting. Loud calls are soon heard, announcing the names of friends and the persons waited for.
The officers of the Commission supervise these meetings, to make sure that no fraud is practiced. For some of the newly arrived strangers' packages of money have been sent to pay their fares inland; after proper identification, these are handed over.
Clerks are ready at desks to write letters in any language of Europe, and a telegraph operator is nearby, with instruments and battery, to forward dispatches to any part of the continent.
A restaurant under the roof furnishes plain food at moderate prices; cooking-stoves, with fires burning, enable families to prepare, if they wish, their own food. A missionary, whose ready tongue can change instantly from one language to another, flits to and from giving counsel and distributing religious books.
Such as are sick are removed to a temporary hospital on the premises, where they have the best of medical attendance. Those who are seriously ill are carried by boat to Ward's Island.
Hut the immigrant is all this time only on the edge of America. Indeed, he has not yet touched the continent; lie has hut set foot on one of the outlying islands. He can hear the roar of New York outside, but dare not trust himself alone to the streets.
The great railway lines have offices inside the Garden, where he can buy his tickets for the far West under the inspection of the Commissioners. his baggage is weighed, and a memorandum given him explaining the amount of extra weight, and the exact charge thereon.
At a broker's desk he exchanges his foreign money for current American funds. Steam-tugs convey the westward-bound to the railway stations, so that they are not brought into contact with the dense crowds of the city.
Those who will tarry in New York are sent to boarding-houses kept under regulations prescribed by the Commissioners of Emigration.
But bow as to work? The abundant work and good pay of America have drawn the foreigner here. How shall he find his way to an employer? The Labor Bureau inside the premises brings the workman and the employer together in a very few minutes.
A blackboard in this department tells the wants of the day in English, German, and French. It may announce today: 44 Weavers wanted, especially families. Miners wanted. Two hundred farm laborers wanted."
What varieties of labor the motley groups in the Rotunda can supply may be guessed from the fact that, in 1879, 1635 professional men landed at Castle Garden, and 21,834 skilled workmen.
Among the professional persons were 847 engineers, 17 journalists, 50 physicians, and 28 clergymen. There were only three lawyers, however. Our home legal fraternity need not dread at present the importation of competitors from abroad. The demand for domestic servants is continually beyond the supply.
The immigrants are not by any means an inviting crowd when they arrive. They bear the marks of the rough life of the steerage.
They are the world's poor, but their condition is much above abject poverty. Despite the begrimed and tumbled look of their persons and household goods, they are full of hopefulness.
The charitable work of the Commissioners of immigration for their benefit is something gigantic. All is done without charge to the immigrant. Originally the expense was met from the payment of head-money—not less than one dollar and a half, or more than two dollars and a half, for each passenger—by the ship-owners engaged in this trade.
The Supreme Court of the United States in 1876 declared the law of New York requiring the payment of this sum to be unconstitutional Since then the Legislature of the State has made an annual appropriation of not less than $150,000 for the expenses of the Commission.
This is a temporary expedient only: the charge should be borne by the National Treasury. The service rendered at the chief ports of entry to immigrants is a service rendered to the whole country. But for this watchful care many of them would never find their way to the great fields of the West New York stands at the principal gate of entrance and superintends the forwarding of the living freight to the sister States.
Surely, they should not begrudge the payment of the necessary expense out of our common funds. A bill has been before Congress since January, 1877, which places the service now rendered by the State Commissioners under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, and provides an " Immigrant Fund," from which the cost may be defrayed.
But Congress is busy with President making. We shall have a President in due time —made by the people; and Congress would do well to give some thought to the living tide of wealth which in ever-increasing volume is pouring into our favored land.
"Foreign Immigration to the United States," in Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, New York: Harper & Brothers, Vol. XXIV, No. 1222, 29 May 1880, pp. 341-342.