Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/May 1895/Race Mixture and National Character

1228639Popular Science Monthly Volume 47 May 1895 — Race Mixture and National Character1895Lewis Reifsneider Harley



THE term "nation" as used at the present time involves much confusion in thought; and an eminent writer, in order to fix clearly the meaning of this term in the mind of the student, has defined the nation as a population of an ethnic unity, inhabiting a territory of a geographic unity.[1] This high development of the nation has scarcely been reached in any part of the world, but as the geographic and ethnic elements tend to coincide, the national character grows stronger, and resolves itself into a political form called the state. In order to attain this high ideal, the territory must be separated by natural barriers, so that the national unity may not be disturbed by foreign influence, and in the development of ethnic unity there must be, first of all, a common language, so that men may understand each other and agree upon certain views. The introduction of the large number of foreigners into our country leads us to inquire whether there is such a thing as national character in the United States. Bancroft describes all the colonial traits as coming from the English or Anglo-Saxon. The Germans are often spoken of in the sense of being local, yet there is no better illustration of national unity than in the German empire. The English are often looked upon as being extremely practical, but the Puritan Commonwealth was ideal. It seems to have been an original principle in the political psychology of the Anglo-Saxons to evolve the national idea, and thus give to the world the strongest political organization, at the same time offering the widest range of liberty. It is generally admitted at present that there should be some restriction upon immigration. The influx of foreigners, being measurable by statistics, is wonderful. Since 1820 we have had statistics on immigration, which form a very important study. In the first decade, ending with 1830, there were 143,439 immigrants to the United States, while in the decade ending with 1890 the number had reached 5,246,613. In the census of 1850, statistics were for the first time obtained concerning the number of persons of foreign birth in the country. The proportion which each of these elements bore to the total population in 1850 was 90·32 per cent native born to 9·68 per cent foreign born, while in 1890 the proportion was 85·23 per cent native born to 14·77 per cent foreign born. Before 1820 immigration was trifling in amount, but in 1847 it set in upon a wonderful scale, and the famines in Ireland at that time led to a migration to this country which has been continued to the present day. The total immigration since 1820 amounts to 15,427,057, and of this number 40·42 per cent came from Great Britain and 29·20 per cent from Germany. Thus Great Britain and Germany have furnished 69·62 per cent of all the immigration to this country, while Norway and Sweden have supplied but six per cent. But the past decade furnishes statistics of special significance. Between 1881 and 1890 only 27·88 per cent came from Great Britain and 27·69 per cent from Germany. The immigration from Norway and Sweden has increased very much; while almost all the Hungarians, Italians, and Poles have come during the past decade. Indeed, it is said that in 1890 two thirds of the entire emigration movement of the world was directed toward the United States. The distribution of the foreign element is confined almost entirely to the Northern and Western States. In the North Atlantic division 22·34 per cent of the population is foreign born, the proportion ranging from 3077 per cent in Rhode Island to 11·94 per cent in Maine. In the North Central division 18·16 per cent of the proportion is foreign born, the extremes being North Dakota with 44·58 per cent, and Indiana with 6·67 per cent. In the Western division the proportion of foreign born is 25·46 per cent, ranging between 32·61 per cent in Montana to 7·33 per cent in New Mexico. The South Atlantic division has been affected but very little by immigration, only 2·35 per cent being foreign born. Of this group of States, Maryland has the largest proportion, 9·05 per cent, and North Carolina the smallest, with 0·23 per cent. In the South Central division the foreign element is also very slight, being only 2·93 per cent, the greatest proportion being in Texas, where it is 6·84 per cent, and the least in Mississippi, 0·62 per cent. A study of the eleventh census shows that the States which a generation ago attracted foreigners still attract them in almost the same degree. Immigration was thus turned to the North and West by economic and climatic conditions. On account of the slave system in the South, there was no inducement for immigrants to locate there; thus the ideas of this section were never modified by foreign influence; again, the Germans and other immigrants from the northern part of Europe were attracted to the Northwest on account of the climate. Accordingly, the movement of population was westward along the parallels. The institutions of the South remained unmodified by the influx of foreigners, and the sections became more and more estranged, making the civil war possible.

Another element which enters into the problem is the proportions in which the total white population is made up of native whites of native parents and of whites of foreign parentage. This is of great importance, as it presents the distribution of the native and foreign blood throughout the country. In Massachusetts 56·87 per cent of the population have one or both parents foreign born; Rhode Island, 59·29 per cent; New York, 57·45 per cent; Maryland, 30·27 per cent; Wisconsin, 74·14 per cent; Minnesota, 76·01 per cent; North Dakota, 79·74 per cent; Louisiana, 26·02 per cent; Utah, 66·75 per cent. We notice again that the white element of foreign extraction is found chiefly in the Northern and Western States. The native whites having both parents foreign should also be considered. The proportion of this element varies as follows: Massachusetts, 27·09 per cent; Rhode Island, 27·29 per cent; New York, 30·64 per cent; Maryland, 15·01 per cent; Wisconsin, 43·09 per cent; Minnesota, 39·80 per cent; Utah, 41·04 per cent. The Southern States show the usual small percentage, ranging as follows: Virginia, 1·52 per cent; Georgia, 1·07 per cent; Mississippi, 1·30 per cent; while, taking the Southern and South Central sections together, the proportion is only 4·13 per cent.

The colored element in 1890 amounted to 7,470,040, the population being distributed as follows:

North Atlantic division 1·55 per cent;
South Atlantic division 36·83 " "
North Central division 1·93 " "
South Central division 31·71 " "
Western division ·89 " "

In taking the South as a whole there was a proportional increase in the colored population up to 1840, but since then the proportion has diminished gradually. Having stated the principal elements with which we have to deal, let us now consider the various methods of dealing with the problem.

If we consider the problem from an ethnological standpoint, we shall have four races in the United States—the white, negro, Indian, and Chinese. But these races do not mingle together. The Indian is dying out, and, although the negroes mingled in the days of slavery, the offspring carried the stigma of the race. Herbert Spencer is the chief authority on the sociological theory of the mixture of races. He claims that it is a theory of evolution, and the unity that is developed is not of blood but of institutions. The historical theory does not try to determine whether there is really a mixture of blood, but it simply considers the institutions, customs, and laws, and how these have been modified. In applying this theory to the United States, the mixture of races does not mean a mixture of blood but of institutions.

The mixture of nationalities in this country has differed from that of other parts of the world. In other countries mixture has occurred by conquest, but it has been peaceful in the United States. There has been no forcing of institutions or blood, except in the case of the negro, and we thus have the unique negro problem whose solution no one can predict. The immigrants did not come here in tribes, but as individuals. If the millions of Germans had come with state encouragement in a body, the results might have been different, but they came as individuals and mingled with our people.

I have already stated the elements that are to be assimilated. For the purpose of convenience, they may be classed into four groups as follows: 1. Colored, 7,000,000, or twelve per cent. 2. Native whites of native parents, 34,000,000, or fifty-five per cent. 3. Native whites of foreign parents, 11,000,000, or eighteen per cent. 4. Foreign born, 9,000,000, or fifteen per cent.

These elements differ by blood, by parentage, and by birthplace, and they are of great importance. No other country has such important elements, and no nation has ever sought to solve such a question in a peaceful way. The native American is the element about which all others must be grouped, and they must be assimilated to this. The third element is very interesting. This class stands halfway between the foreign and the native. It represents the process of assimilation in the act. The fourth element is the foreign born, and it is the most difficult to assimilate on account of its constant renewal.

There are two ways of combining these figures. The third and fourth elements may be added together, and we will then have 20,000,000. These figures show how large the foreign element is. In regard to its distribution in New England and the Northwest, New England would have forty-seven per cent foreign population; in Massachusetts alone this element constitutes fifty-six per cent; in Rhode Island, fifty-eight per cent; in New York, eighty two per cent; in Wisconsin, ninety per cent. But it is not right to consider the second generation as foreigners. They are more American than foreign. It is best to contrast these two classes and measure their relative strength. We find in the East that the first generation outnumbers the second, while in the West the second generation is the stronger. Thus the question of foreign influence is a more serious one in New England than in the Western States.

The chief forces tending toward the assimilation of races in our country are physical environment and social environment. The physical environment means not only the influence of Nature, but also the habits of life. In this respect the influence of frontier life should be considered. From the beginning, the people along the frontier have had a struggle with Nature, and they developed self-reliance and the capacity for self-government. So the pioneer set up self-government in the wilderness, and the State Constitutions of the West and Northwest, where the proportion of immigration is so great, show no signs of foreign influence, but they all contain the fundamental ideas of American liberty. This influence of physical environment still goes on, and in subduing the wilderness the pioneer abandons the habits of the Old World and takes up those of the New. Thus the continent forced the conditions of its conquest.

Herbert Spencer, in his Principles of Sociology, states that the earlier development was at the mercy of the physical environment, while civilized man has reduced Nature to subjection. As society progresses, new factors come in to modify the physical organization, which Spencer calls the super-environment or social environment. Spencer claims that the social environment is more powerful than the physical environment. The men who settled this country had a social history behind them, and the institutions that they brought here greatly influenced their children. What I said in regard to the physical environment may also be said of the social environment. The immigrants did not come in bands, but individually, and the social environment had full play. During the colonial period the immigrants were chiefly English, and the English stamp was upon the institutions which they planted here. So it has not been a mingling of institutions, but foreigners have assimilated the institutions already established here.

One of the chief influences of the social environment is education. This is very important, as so many ignorant come. It is important to know how receptive these people are to our institutions. This will depend upon their power to learn our language, and upon the standard of intelligence of the native country. Out of the 15,000,000 foreigners who landed here between 1820 and 1850, forty per cent came from English countries. This proportion is growing less, as in 1891 only twenty-two per cent came from English countries, while from all German countries the proportion is thirty-one per cent. A new difficulty may arise here, in that people of other languages may now find communities where their own language is spoken; but this can hardly be urged as an objection, for, in the case of the German immigrants, they come from a country with a high standard of education. We depend upon our school system to reach the immigrants and prepare them for citizenship. The parents can not be reached by the schools directly, so the system must exert its influence upon the children of the immigrants. The eleventh census shows that the foreign-born element of school age between five and seventeen years is 900,000. The second generation, or native born of foreign parents, is 12,400,000, and the number of immigrants foreign born above seventeen years is 8,332,000. This shows that the problem is very favorable, as, for every hundred who can not come under the influence of our schools, there are one hundred and fifty who can. In the Eastern States the second generation is less numerous than in the West. The influence of our schools is apparent, for, if we take Massachusetts as an example, we find that of the native-born population one per cent are illiterate, while of the foreign born twenty per cent are illiterate.

Another influence of the social environment is the exercise of political rights. Here the second generation can not be looked upon as foreigners, as all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens thereof. The terms of naturalization are such that the foreign born may become citizens in five years. Whatever may be the dangers of foreign influence upon our government, surely one of the best methods of assimilating the discordant elements is to make all classes feel that they have an interest in our institutions, by the exercise of political rights. If this process of assimilation had not been going on, we should be able to notice some effect upon legislation in the different States. Assimilation is promoted by the participation in the holding of property. Thousands of foreigners have availed themselves of the land grants by the homestead and other laws. Having vested interests, they are loyal to the Government, for very few property-holders become anarchists. Self-reliance and independence also tend to attach the foreigner to our institutions. Our system is not paternal in its character, but the guarantees of civil liberty are so broad that they offer the greatest measure of individual action. Every man's house is his castle, and some writer has said that, although the snow and rain may blow in, the king can not enter. The prominence given to labor in America is also conducive to the assimilation of the foreign elements. A new dignity has been placed upon labor here, and we are passing over from a political to an economic attitude, which will have its effect upon all classes. Titles and rank, which have done so much in the Old World to keep the classes alienated, are unknown here, and their absence is the means of encouraging foreigners to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. Economic influences which have frequently been overlooked, are also a potent factor in the assimilation of races. I have already referred to the dignity of labor in this country. The laborer is not regarded as depending upon a wage fund for support, but he is looked upon as an integral part of society, receiving a share in distribution. There are causes at work affecting consumption, and society is in a dynamic state. Changes in the economic order of consumption are taking place which tend to raise the standard of life. Economic conditions induce the foreigner to leave his native land and come to America. On arriving here, he is probably influenced as much by the standard of life of our people as by any other cause. He enters the field of labor and attempts to reach our standard of life, and in doing so he must abandon his old habits of life and adopt those of our country. Thus, through labor an assimilation takes place. This has been the process in our Northern and Western States, which have received that great bulk of immigration during the century.

  1. Burgess, Political Science and Constitutional Law, vol. i, pp. 1-4.