Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/May 1903/The Slavic Immigrant




EVERY new factor of our immigration is looked on with suspicion. It is the right and duty of every American to criticize justly the raw material for future citizenship passing within our gates and to insist that this material shall be measured and weighed, measured by the standard of humanity, weighed in the scale of justice, and if found wanting sent back without ceremony or sentiment whence it came. But too often the criticism is blinded by race prejudice and ignorance of the immigrant. Every race that has figured prominently in our immigration statistics has had to bear the brunt of attacks by well-meaning pessimists, who, in many instances, never saw an immigrant in the rough. In this regard the Slav is not more fortunate than his predecessors, the German, the Irishman and the Scandinavian.

One of the most striking facts shown by recent immigration statistics is the rapid increase of Slavic arrivals. From almost nothing before 1868, it has grown progressively year by year, until it now constitutes nearly one fourth of our total immigration. In view, therefore, of the fact that the desirability of Slavs as immigrants is in question at the present time, and that they constitute such a large proportion of our total immigration inflow, a consideration of the Slavonic immigrant seems pertinent.

Eastern Division. width=200 1. Great Russians.
2. Little Russians.
3. White Russians.
Balkan or Southern Division. 1. Croats
(a) Croatians.
(b) Slovenes.
2. Serbs.
3. Bosnians.
4. Montenegrins.
5. Bulgars.
Western Division. 1. Poles.
2. Slovaks.
3. Czechs.
(a) Bohemians.
(b) Moravians.
4. Lusatian Wends.

The Slavic race may be conveniently divided into three great divisions according to their geographical distribution in Europe: an eastern division, embracing all the Russian Slavs; a southern division, the Slavic inhabitants of the Balkan states, and that portion of Hungary south of the Danube; and a western division, comprising those Slavic peoples whose progress westward in Europe has formed a Slavic wedge, separating the Germans of upper and lower Austria from the Germans of Saxony and Brandenburg. The above table indicates a simple geographical classification.

The unshaded portion of the map shows the territory in Europe occupied by Slavs.

Since of the many subdivisions given in the preceding table only five furnish us with more than one thousand immigrants a year, and since these five races aggregate ninety-seven per cent, of the total Slavic immigration, a consideration of them practically covers the whole field. The following table shows the numerical strength of the Slavic arrivals for the year ended June 30, 1902.

Poles 69,620
Slovaks 36,934
Croats 30,233
Ruthenians 7,533
Czechs 5,590
All other Slavs including Russians, Bulgars, Serbs, Montenegrins, etc. 5,879
Total Slavs 155,789

The Poles.

The lot of the Polish peasant has always been unhappy. When Poland at the zenith of her power ruled White Russians, Ruthenians and Lithuanians, when her dominion extended from the Oder to the Don and from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the position of the Polish serf was as unenviable as it is to-day. Poland was an oligarchy in which the ruling nobles and their miserable serfs had no bond of sympathy. There was no Polish middle class to carry on commerce and trade, to serve as a connecting link between the two widely separated classes. Commerce and trade were in the hands of foreigners, chiefly Jews. The Pacta Conventa (1572) or, as it has been called, the Polish Magna Charta, was in no sense a charter of the liberties of the people. It is true that it curtailed the power of the king and made him a mere figurehead, but it greatly increased the power of the nobles and, if anything, added to the misery of the peasants. These conditions made impossible a universal national feeling, and paved the way for Poland's downfall.

No doubt Russian treatment of Polish landowners and nobles has been unjust, even cruel, but it must be remembered that the first real freedom the Polish serf ever enjoyed he received from his Russian masters. Russia abolished serfdom and, after the Polish insurrection of 1863, the Czar sought to conciliate the Polish peasant class by certain agrarian reforms. By these measures the peasants settled upon land and were made owners, the government compensating the landlord and exacting from the peasant a small sum yearly until the amount advanced was paid. Following the suppression of the revolt, wholesale confiscation placed upon the market thousands of acres of good farming land, and in a great measure broke up the large estates which kept the peasant a serf, even after he was declared free. Unfortunately for the Polish peasant, he was usually too poor to buy any of the land thus placed in the market.

But the conciliatory policy of Czar Alexander II. is not favored by the present ruler. His efforts at Russification are aggressive and persistent. It is to America that the Pole looks as the only land likely to give him a chance. The Polish immigrants possess the general characteristics of the Slavs. They are of medium height or very slightly below it, very strongly built, with the broad face and brachycephalic head of the Slav type. Their complexion shows all gradations from the blue eyes and light hair in the Slavs of the north to the pronounced brunette type of the southern Poles. Five sixths of the male Polish immigrants are unskilled laborers. They are very willing to work and are especially useful in the mines, mills, manufacturing concerns and great works of construction.

The geographical distribution of Poles arrived in America during the year ended June 30, 1902, is shown below:

State Number of Poles Ratio to
Total Poles Landed.
Pennsylvania 21,929 32 per cent.
New York 14,364 21 "
Illinois 8,818 11 "
Massachusetts 5,916 8 "
New Jersey 5,689 8 "
Connecticut 3,299 5 "
Ohio 2,502 4 "
Michigan 1,899 3 "
Wisconsin 1,059 2 "
All other states 4,225 6 "
Total 69,620 100 per cent.

The Slovaks.

There are two factors that more than any others tend to preserve the purity of a race. They are the inaccessibility and the uninviting nature of the country it inhabits. Thus, races occupying a barren mountainous country or a country covered by trackless forest and impassable marshland are apt to be of purer racial type than the races living upon the great natural highways of commerce and trade or occupying territory rich enough to be inviting to covetous eyes. These factors have had much to do with the preservation of the purely Slavic type as represented by the Slovaks. This people occupies the rough mountainous country on the Hungarian side of the Carpathians, well back from the valley of the Danube.

The Slovak is very closely allied racially to the Bohemian or Czech. Their languages are similar, the Slovak being the more primitive and more like the old Slav. Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Slovaks used the Bohemian language for all printed or written forms, but about that time a separatist movement began and an effort was made to develop a Slovak literature. This movement was unfortunate for both Czech and Slovak, because they had to resist the same natural enemies—aggressive Pan-Germanism on the one side, and the ever-intrusive Magyar on the other.

Physically, the Slovaks are a sturdy stock, a little taller than the Poles. The great majority of the men are unskilled laborers. The following table indicates how the Slovaks were distributed for the year ended June 30, 1902:

State Number of Slovaks Ratio to
Total Slovaks Landed.
Pennsylvania 19,930 54 per cent.
New York 4,904 13 "
New Jersey 3,479 9 "
Ohio 3,153 9 "
Illinois 2,114 6 "
Connecticut 1,025 3 "
All other states 2,332 6 "
Total 39,934 100 per cent.

The Croats.

The Croatians and Slovenes occupy the two large provinces to the south of Hungary, Croatia and Slavonia, that lie between the Drave and Danube rivers on the north and the Save River and the Bosnian boundary line on the south. A large number of the same race also come to America from the adjoining provinces of Carniola, Carinthia, Styria, Istria and Dalmatia.

Croatia and Slavonia formed part of ancient Pannonia. The Slavs took possession about the seventh century after Ostrogoth and Hun had come and gone. They recognized the authority of the Emperors of the East until 1075, when their leader, Zwonimir Demetrius, threw off the Byzantine yoke and received the title of king from Pope Gregory VII. at Rome. The country was subdued by the Turks (1524) and, from the time of their expulsion some years later, has been considered a part of the Kingdom of Hungary. The Croats took sides against the Magyars in the revolt of 1848, and Austria rewarded them by making them independent of Hungary, but in 1860 Austria's attitude changed, and to conciliate the Magyars she restored them to Hungary. They are not content. Their national feeling is intense, and, though loyal to the house of Hapsburg, they desire complete autonomy, with the Emperor of Austria as their king. They detest their Magyar rulers, and there exists as a consequence a constant clashing of Magyar and Slav throughout the provinces. This race of southern Slavs presents some peculiarities when compared with the recognized Slav type. They are dark-eyed and swarthy skinned (very different in complexion from the northern Slavs). Their heads are brachycephalic, not so much from great width as from a very short antero-posterior diameter. This peculiarity is striking if the subject be inspected in profile. The line of contour from the vertex of the skull to the root of the neck is almost perpendicular. Compared with the average Pole or Russian, who is not above medium height, they are very tall. Their stature is remarkable not only because it is so unlike that of the typical Slavs, but also because it is an exception to the general rule that European races are tall in the north and short in the south.

The Croats are of slighter build than Pole or Slovak, but they have fewer physical defects than any other Slavic people.

More than seven eighths of the males are unskilled laborers, strong and willing to work. The table given below shows how they were distributed in the United States during the year ended June 30, 1902:

State Number of Croats Ratio to Total Number
of Croats Landed.
Pennsylvania 16,726 56 per cent.
Illinois 3,547 11 "
Ohio 2,923 10 "
New York 1,651 5 "
All other states 5,386 18 "
Total 30,233 100 per cent.

The Ruthenians.

The statement that nearly all Russian immigrants in America come from Austria may seem strange, but it is true. Last year 7,540 Russians came from Austria and only 1,536 Russians from Russia.

The Russian Slavs are divided by philologists into three divisions: Great Russians, White Russians and Little Russians. The Great Russians occupy a large quadrangular area in Russia consisting of the central governments, from Novgorod and Vologda on the north to Kiev on the south; from Pensa and Simbirsk on the east to the Polish provinces on the west. The White Russians number less than four millions and occupy some of the western governments adjoining Poland. Great Russians and White Russians do not emigrate. The Little Russians occupy the great fertile treeless plain, the black mold belt in southern Russia, which extends from Kiev to the Black Sea. They also people the two Austrian provinces of Bukowina and Galicia. It is said that a line drawn eastward on the map from Cracow in Galicia through Kiev in Russia will divide the Little Russians from the Great Russians. The Little Russians occupying Galicia and Bukowina, Austria, are known as Ruthenians. They are also called Russniaks and Red Russians. Nearly all our Russian immigrants come from these two Austrian provinces. The Ruthenians are typical Slavs. They have a rugged, sturdy physique, and the men are almost all unskilled laborers. They were distributed in America as follows, during the year ended June 30, 1902:

State Number of Ruthenians Ratio to Total Number
of Ruthenians Landed.
Pennsylvania 4,153 55 per cent.
New York 1,594 21 "
New Jersey 746 10 "
Ohio 328 4 "
All other states 732 10 "
Total 7,533 100 per cent.

The Czechs.

From within the boundaries of the kingdom of Bohemia and the adjoining province of Moravia come each year several thousand immigrants of Slavic blood. There is little difference racially between the Bohemian and Moravian and they are usually classed together as Czechs. Bohemia constitutes the point of the wedge formed by the advance of the western division of the Slavic race into Central Europe. For this reason Bohemia has been the bulwark of Slavic supremacy, and has acted the part of a buffer in checking the progress of pan-Germanism in the Slavic states. The German element is stronger in Bohemia than in any other Slavic state, and the Bohemian Slavs are taller and more blond, possibly because of a strong infusion of Teutonic blood.

The Czechs possessed a native literature as early as the ninth century. Their country is well supplied with schools, in about one half of which the Czech language is spoken. They are far better educated than any other Slavic immigrants.

The valley of the Elbe is a rich agricultural country, and throughout the kingdom industry and manufacturing are highly developed. For this reason more than fifty per cent. of Czech immigrants are skilled laborers or mechanics—an unusually high percentage for Slavs.

The Czechs have a very wide area of distribution in this country. This is natural, for, being skilled in various occupations, they can find employment anywhere. They have scattered from New York to Nebraska and Texas. The following table shows the destination by states of the Czechs arrived last year:

State. Number of Czechs. Ratio to Total Number
of Czechs Landed.
New York 1,387 25 per cent.
Illinois 1,375 25 "
Ohio 660 12 "
Pennsylvania 571 10 "
Texas 391 7 "
Wisconsin 217 4 "
Nebraska 194 3 "
All other states 795 14 "
Total 5,590 100 per cent.

There are certain cardinal requisites in the make-up of a desirable immigrant. He must have a good physique, he must be willing to do rough hard labor, and he must be a man who intends to make this country his permanent home. Observations of the Slavic immigrants will show that they have a very rugged physique, that they are very willing to work at the most arduous labor, and that they have no desire to return to the oppression and grinding poverty of the old world. A dispassionate study of their history in Europe reveals nothing to their disadvantage. In addition their moral standard is a very high one. They are a simple, right-living people, intensely religious and mindful of family ties. They are guileless compared with the Hebrew, Italian or Levantine races, and before the Board of Special Inquiry they usually tell the plain truth.

The demand for rough unskilled laborers has steadily increased with our wonderful industrial growth. It is generally admitted that this demand cannot be supplied by native American applicants. Of all foreign laborers none is better qualified for this work than the Slavs. Eighty-five per cent, of the male Slavs are unskilled laborers, and nearly ninety-five per cent. come to this country between the ages of fifteen and forty-five, when their economic value is greatest.

These people do not crowd the tenements of our large cities, but tend to establish themselves in little homes of their own in the country or in the suburbs of manufacturing towns and cities.

The Slav is popularly supposed to be mentally slow and without energy or ambition. This is not entirely true. In comparison with the Hebrews who transact nearly all the business in Poland and Galicia, the Poles (in business acumen) seem as children. The Slovak appears mentally slow compared with the alert Magyar, but it must be remembered that the Hebrew in business makes other races than the Slav seem slow, and that, while almost all Magyars can read and write, one third of the Slovaks are illiterate. This seeming mental deficiency and absence of ambition in the Slav is due mainly to lack of education and to centuries of subjection to tyrannical masters. It is hard to conceive how a peasant in Russia under existing conditions could develop such a quality as ambition, and judgment as to the Slav's energy and his intellectual possibilities must be suspended until his children in this country have had a chance to show that American schools and American environment can quicken the slow apathy of the serf into the energetic activity of the freedman.

The Slavic immigrant fills a place in the industrial fields of this country in which he hears no call for such attributes as ambition, energy and mental brilliancy, a place which no American envies him, and where he is as necessary to American advancement as the coal and iron that by his labor are mined and made ready for the American mechanic and manufacturer.