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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/346

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342
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

migrant is seldom questioned. He usually leaves Italy through the representations of friends in this country, and therefore comes here with a definite purpose, and is not at the mercy of a 'padrone.' On the other hand, the southern Italian, short of stature, very dark in complexion, usually lands here almost destitute. His intelligence is not higher than one could imagine in the descendant of peasantry illiterate for centuries. He can seldom read and write, and invariably is an unskilled farm laborer. He has little money and often has no definite purpose, and naturally must depend on some one who speaks his language. In this way he falls into the hands of the 'padrone.'

The early Italian immigrants were of the itinerant class—rag-pickers, organ-grinders, etc., but after 1870 these were succeeded by the Italian peasantry of the south, who were forced by economic conditions and poverty at home, to emigrate. They came here at first to supply the demand for unskilled laborers, occasioned by the great industrial activity following the civil war. In a majority of instances these immigrants were brought here and taken charge of by padroni and Italian bankers and were sent by the padroni in every direction where their labor was needed. The Italian peasant is peculiarly susceptible, by reason of his ignorance, to any system of blackmail or extortion. In Italy, for years the Camorristi terrorized and imposed tribute upon the ignorant peasantry, and it was natural that, following this experience, they should continue to be victims to the same practises in another form. Italians of superior educational and intellectual attainments in America have been as unscrupulous and vulture-like in the treatment of their ignorant brethren, as were the Camoristi in the zenith of their power. The extortioners in America have been known as padroni and bankers. Just when the padroni first appeared in America is open to question. He was much in evidence toward the close of the civil war, when the demand for laborers was out of all proportion to the supply. At this time contractors and manufacturers could contract in Europe for large numbers of laborers without violation of law, by reason of legislation enacted in 1864. This privilege gave the padroni their opportunity. Previous to that time their importations were almost all peddlers, organ-grinders, harpers and other itinerant musicians.

In the beginning the American employer of labor, in his anxiety to secure a large amount of cheap labor for some particular enterprise, would apply to an Italian immigration agent for a certain number of men. The agent, or padrone, in turn would secure the men through sub-agents in Italy and have them shipped across on prepaid tickets, for which he charged a liberal commission. Upon their arrival, the agent, or padrone, boarded them at immense profit, pending their distribution here, and received his compensation from the American contractor, who took it out of their prospective wages. The contract of