The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America/Foreword


It is not uncommon for casual thinkers to assume that the United States of America is practically a continuation of English nationality. Our speech is English and the English played so large a part in our beginnings that it is easy to fall more or less consciously into the thought that the history of this nation has been but a continuation and development of these beginnings. A little reflection, however, quickly convinces us that at least there was present French influence in the Mississippi Valley and Spanish influence in the southeast and southwest. Everything else however that has been added to the American nationality is often looked upon as a sort of dilution of more or less doubtful value: peoples that had to be assimilated as far as possible and made over to the original and basic type. Thus we continually speak of Germans and Scandinavians, of Irish and Jews, Poles, Austrians and Hungarians; and, with few exceptions, we regard the coming of the Negroes as an unmitigated error and a national liability.

It is high time that this course of our thinking should be changed. America is conglomerate. This is at once her problem and her glory—perhaps indeed her sole and greatest reason for being. Her physical foundation is not English and while it is primarily it is not entirely European. It represents peculiarly a coming together of the peoples of the world. American institutions have been borrowed from England and France in the main, but with contributions from many and widely scattered groups. American history has no prototype and has been developed from the various racial elements. Despite the fact that our mother tongue is called English we have developed an American speech with its idiosyncrasies and idioms, a speech whose purity is not to be measured by its conformity to the speech of the British Isles. And finally the American spirit is a new and interesting result of divers threads of thought and feeling coming not only from America but from Europe and Asia and indeed from Africa.

This essay is an attempt to set forth more clearly than has hitherto been done the effect which the Negro has had upon American life. Its thesis is that despite slavery, war and caste, and despite our present Negro problem, the American Negro is and has been a distinct asset to this country and has brought a contribution without which America could not have been; and that perhaps the essence of our so-called Negro problem is the failure to recognize this fact and to continue to act as though the Negro was what we once imagined and wanted to imagine him—a representative of a subhuman species fitted only for subordination.

A moment's thought will easily convince open minded persons that the contribution of the Negro to American nationality as slave, freedman and citizen was far from negligible. No element in American life has so subtly and yet clearly woven itself into the warp and woof of our thinking and acting as the American Negro. He came with the first explorers and helped in exploration. His labor was from the first the foundation of the American prosperity and the cause of the rapid growth of the new world in economic and Social importance. Modern democracy rests not simply on the striving white men in Europe and America but also on the persistent struggle of the black men in America for two centuries. The military defense of this land has depended upon Negro soldiers from the time of the Colonial wars down to the struggle of the World War. Not only does the Negro appear, reappear and persist in American literature but a Negro American literature has arisen of deep significance, and Negro folk lore and music are among the choicest heritages of this land.

Finally the Negro had played a peculiar spiritual rôle in America as a sort of living, breathing test of our ideals and an example of the faith, hope and tolerance of our religion.


By Edw. F. McSweeney, LL. D.

In a general way, the Racial Contribution Series in the Knights of Columbus historical program is intended as a much needed and important contribution to national solidarity. The various studies are treated by able writers, citizens of the United States, each being in full sympathy with the achievements in this country of the racial group of whom he treats. The standard of the writers is the only one that will justify historical writing;—the truth. No censorship has been exercised.

No subject now actively before the people of the United States has been more written on, and less understood, than alien immigration. Until 1819, there were no official statistics of immigration of any sort; the so-called census of 1790 was simply a report of the several states of their male white population under and over 16 years of age, all white females, slaves, and others. Statements as to the country of origin of the inhabitants of this country were, in the main, guesswork, with the result that, while the great bulk of such estimates was honestly and patriotically done, some of the most quoted during the present day were inspired, obviously to prove a predetermined case, rather than to recite the ascertained fact.

From the beginning the dominant groups in control in the United States have regarded each group of newer arrivals as more or less the “enemy” to be feared, and, if possible, controlled. A study of various cross-sections of the country will show dominant alien groups who formerly had to fight for their very existence. With increased numerical strength and prosperity they frequently attempted to do to the later aliens, frequently even of their own group, what had formerly been done to them:—decry and stifle their achievements, and deny them opportunity,—the one thing that may justly be demanded in a Democracy,—by putting them in a position of inferiority.

To attempt, in this country, to set up a “caste” control, based on the accident of birth, wealth, or privilege, is a travesty of Democracy. When Washington and his compatriots, a group comprising the most efficiently prepared men in the history of the world, who had set themselves definitely to form a democratic civilization, dreamed of and even planned by Plato, but held back by slavery and paganism, they found their sure foundations in the precepts of Christianity, and gave them expression in the Declaration of Independence. The liberty they sought, based on obedience to the law of God as well as of man, was actually established, but from the beginning it has met a constant effort to substitute some form of absolutism tending to break down or replace democratic institutions.

What may be called, for want of a better term, the colonial spirit, which is the essence of hyphenism, has persisted in this country to hamper national progress and national unity. Wherever this colonial spirit shows itself it is a menace to be fought, whether the secret or acknowledged attachment binds to England, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Greece or any other nation.

Jefferson pointed out that we have on this soil evolved a new race of men who may inexactly be called “Americans”. This term, as a monopoly of the United States, is properly objected to by our neighbors, North and South—yet it has a definite meaning for the world.

During the Great War one aspect of war duty was to direct the labor activities growing out of the war, to divert labor from “non-essential” to “essential” industry and to arbitrate and mediate on wage matters. It was found necessary to study and to analyze the greatly feared, but infrequently discovered “enemy alien”; and as a preparation for this duty, with the assistance of several hundred local agents, the population of Massachusetts was separated into naturally allied groups based on birth, racial descent, religious, social and industrial affiliations. The astonishing result was that, counting as “native Americans” only the actual descendants of all those living in Massachusetts in 1840, of whatever racial stock prior to that time, only two-sevenths, even with the most liberal classification, came within the group of colonial descent, while the remaining five-sevenths were found in the various racial groups coming later than 1840. More than this: While the “Colonial” group had increased in numbers for three decades after 1840, in 1918 they were found actually to be fewer in number than in 1840, a diminution due to excess of deaths over births, proceeding in increasing ratio.

Membership in the Society of Mayflower descendants is eagerly sought as the hallmark of American ancestry. In anticipation of the tercentenary of the Mayflower-coming in 1620, about a dozen years ago a questionnaire was sent to every known eligible for Mayflower ancestry, and the replies were submitted to the experts in one of the national universities for review and report. When this report was presented later, it contained the statement that, considering the prevailing number of marriages in this group, and children per family,—when the six-hundredth celebration of the Pilgrims’ Landing is held in 2220, three hundred years hence, a ship the size of the original Mayflower will be sufficient to carry back to Europe all the then living Mayflower descendants.

The future of America is in the keeping of the 80 per cent. of the population, separate in blood and race from the colonial descent group. Love of native land is one of the strongest and noblest passions of which a man is capable. Family life, religion, the soil which holds the dust of our fathers, sentiment for ancestral property, and many other bonds, make the ties of home so strong and enduring, and unite a man’s life so closely with its native environment, that grave and powerful reasons must exist before a change of residence is contemplated. Escape from religious persecution and political tyranny were unquestionably the chief reasons which induced the early comers to America to brave the dangers of an unknown world. Yet that very intolerance against which this was a protest soon began to be exercised against all those unwilling to accept in their new homes the religious leadership of those in control.

It is not necessary to go into the persecutions due to religious bigotry of the colonial period. While the spirit of liberty was in the free air of the colonies and would finally have secured national independence, it is not possible to underestimate the support brought to the revolting colonials because of the attitude of Great Britain in allowing religious freedom to Canada after it had been taken from the French. After the victory of New Orleans, a spirit of national consciousness on a democratic basis was built up and the narrow spirit of colonialism and of religious intolerance was to a great degree repudiated by the people, when they had become inspired with the American spirit,—only to be revived later on.

The continued manifestation of intolerance has been the most persistent effort in our national life. It has done incalculable harm. It is apparently deep-rooted, an active force in almost every generation. Present in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, stopped temporarily for two decades by the Civil War, it has recurred subsequently again and again; revived since the Armistice, it is unfortunately shown to-day in as great a virulence and power of destructiveness as at any time during the last hundred years.

After the 70’s, as the aliens became numerically powerful and began to demand political representation, movements based on religious prejudice were started from time to time, some of which came to temporary prominence, later to die an inglorious death; but all these movements which attempted to deprive aliens of their right of freedom to worship were calculated to bring economic discontent and to add to the measure of national disunion and unhappiness.

Sixty years ago[1] the bigoted slogan was “No Irish need apply.” During the World War, the principal attack was on the German-American citizens of this country, whose fathers had come here seeking a new land as a protest against tyranny. To-day the current attempt is to deprive the Jews[2] of the right to educational equality. In short, while there have been spasmodic manifestations of movements based on intolerance in many countries, the United States has the unenviable record for continuous effort to keep alive a bogey based on an increasing fear of something which never existed, and cannot ever exist in this country.

For a hundred years the potent cause which has poured millions of human beings into the United States has been its marvellous opportunities, and unprecedented economic urge. Ever since 1830 a graphic chart of the variations in immigration from year to year will reflect the industrial situation in the United States for the same period. In 1837, the total immigration was 79,430[3] After the panic of that year it decreased in 1838 to 38,914.[4] In 1842, it increased to 104,565[5] but a business depression in 1844 caused it to shrink to 78,615.[6] Thus the influx of aliens increased or decreased according to the industrial conditions prevalent here. The business prosperity of the United States was not only the urge to entice immigrants hither, but it made their coming possible as they were helped by the savings of relatives and friends already here.

The English were not immigrants, but colonists, merely going from one part of national territory to another. With few exceptions, the majority of the early colonists came from England. The first English settlement was made in Virginia under the London Company in 1607. It took twelve years of hard struggling to establish this colony on a permanent basis.

The New England region was settled by a different class of colonists. Plymouth was the first settlement, in 1620, followed in 1630 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which later absorbed the Plymouth settlement. Population, after the first ten years, increased rapidly by natural growth, and soon colonies in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut resulted from the overflow in the original settlements.

While this English settlement was going on North and South, the Dutch, under the Dutch West India Company, took possession of the region between, and founded New Netherlands and New Amsterdam, later New York City. Intervening, as it did, between their Northern and Southern colonies, New Netherlands, which the English considered a menace, was seized by the English during a war with Holland, and became New York and New Jersey.

Early in the seventeenth century there was a substantial French immigration to the Dutch colonies. There was a constant stream of French immigration to the English colonies in New England and in Virginia by many of the Huguenots who had originally emigrated to the West Indies.

In 1681, Penn settled Pennsylvania under a royal charter and thus the whole Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida became subject to England. During the colonial period, England contributed to the population of the colonies. But, by the middle of the seventeenth century, the coming of the English to New England was practically over. From 1628 to 1641 about 20,000 came from England to New England, but for the next century and a half more persons went back to Old England than came from there to New England.[7] Due to the relaxing of religious persecution of dissenting Protestants in England, the great formerly impelling force to seek a new home across the ocean in America had ceased.

In 1653 an Irish immigration to New England, much larger in numbers than the original Plymouth Colony, was proposed. Bristol merchants, who realized the necessity of populating the colonies to make them prosperous, treated with the government for men, women and girls to be sent to the West Indies and to New England.[8] At the very fountain head of American life we find, therefore, men and women of pure Celtic blood from the South of Ireland, infused into the primal stock of America. But these apparently were only a drop in this early tide of Irish immigration.[9]

No complete memorial has been transmitted of the emigrations that took place from Europe to America, but (from the few illustrative facts actually preserved) they seem to have been amazingly copious. In the years 1771–72, the number of emigrants to America from the North of Ireland alone amounted to 17,350. Almost all of these emigrated at their own charge; a great majority of them were persons employed in the linen manufacture, or farmers possessed of some property which they converted into money and carried with them. Within the first fortnight of August, 1773, there arrived at Philadelphia 3,500 emigrants from Ireland, and from the same document which has recorded this circumstance it appears that vessels were arriving every month freighted with emigrants from Holland, Germany, and especially from Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.[10]

That many Irish settled in Maryland is shown by the fact that in 1699 and again a few years later an act was passed to prevent too great a number of Irish Papists being imported into the province.[11] Shipmasters were required to pay two shillings per poll for such. “Shipping records of the colonial period show that boatload after boatload left the southern and eastern shores of Ireland for the New World. Undoubtedly thousands of their passengers were Irish of the native stock.”[12] So besides the so-called Scotch-Irish from the North of Ireland, the distinction always being Protestantism, not race, it is indisputable that thousands, Celtic in race and Catholic in religion, came to the colonies. These newcomers made their homes principally in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and the frontiers of the New England colonies. Later they pushed on westward and founded Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. An interesting essay by the well-known writer, Irvin S. Cobb, on The Lost Irish Tribes in the South is an important contribution to this subject.

The Germans were the next most important element of the early population of America. A number of the artisans and carpenters in the first Jamestown colony were of German descent. In 1710, a body of 3,000 Germans came to New York—the largest number of immigrants supposed to have arrived at one time during the colonial period.[13] Most of the early German immigrants settled in New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Pennsylvania. It has been estimated that at the end of the colonial period the number of Germans was fully two hundred thousand.

Though the Irish and the Germans contributed most largely to colonial immigration, as distinguished from the English, who are classed as the Colonials, there were other races who came even thus early to our shores. The Huguenots came from France to escape religious persecution. The Jews, then as ever, engaged in their age-old struggle for religious and economic toleration, came from England, France, Spain and Portugal. The Dutch Government of New Amsterdam, fearing their commercial competition, ordered a group of Portuguese Jews to leave the colony, but this decision was appealed to the home Government at Holland and reversed, so that they were allowed to remain. On the whole, their freedom to live and to trade in the colonies was so much greater than in their former homes that there were soon flourishing colonies of Jewish merchants in Newport, Philadelphia and Charleston.

In 1626 a company of Swedish merchants organized, under the patronage of the Great King Gustavus Adolphus, to promote immigration to America. The King contributed four hundred thousand dollars to the capital raised, but did not live to see the fruition of his plans. In 1637, the first company of Swedes and Finns left Stockholm for America. They reached Delaware Bay and called the country New Sweden. The Dutch claimed, by right of priority, this same territory and in 1655 the flag of Holland replaced that of Sweden. The small Swedish colony in Delaware came under Penn’s rule and became, like Pennsylvania, cosmopolitan in character.

The Dutch in New York preserved their racial characteristics for more than a hundred years after the English conquest of 1664. At the end of the colonial period, over one-half of the 170,000 inhabitants of New York were descendants of the original Dutch.

Many of the immigrants who came here in the early days paid their own passage. However, the actual number of such is only a matter of conjecture. From the shipping records of the period we do know positively that thousands came who were unable to pay. Shipowners and others who had the means furnished the passage money to those too poor to pay for themselves, and in return received from these persons a promise or bond. This bond provided that the person named in it should work for a certain number of years to repay the money advanced. Such persons were called “indentured servants” and they were found throughout the colonies, working in the fields, the shops and the homes of the colonists. The term of service was from five to seven years. Many found it impossible to meet their obligations and their servitude dragged on for years. Others, on the contrary, became free and prosperous. In Pennsylvania often there were as many as fifty bond servants on estates. The condition of indentured servants in Virginia “was little better than that of slaves. Loose indentures and harsh laws put them at the mercy of their masters.”[14] This seems to have been their fate in all the colonies, as their treatment depended upon the character of their masters.

Besides these indentured servants who came here voluntarily, a large number of early settlers were forced to come here. The Irish before mentioned are one example. In order to secure settlers, men, women and children were kidnapped from the cities and towns and “spirited away” to America by the companies and proprietors who had colonies here. In 1680 it was officially computed that 10,000 were sent thus to American shores. In 1627, about 1,500 children were shipped to Virginia, probably orphans and dependents whom their relatives were unwilling to support.[15] Another class sent here were convicts, the scourings of English centers like Bristol and Liverpool. The colonists protested vehemently against this practise, but it was continued up to the very end of the colonial period, when this convict tide was diverted to “Botany Bay.”

In 1619, another race was brought here against their will and sold into slavery. This was the Negro, forced to leave his home near the African equator that he might contribute to the material wealth of shipmasters and planters. Slowly but surely chattel slavery took firm root in the South and at last became the leading source of the labor supply. The slave traders found it very easy to seize Negroes in Africa and make great profits by selling them in Southern ports. The English Royal African Company sent to America annually between 1713 and 1743 from 5,000 to 10,000 slaves.[16] After a time, when the Negroes were so numerous that whole sections were overrun, the Southern colonies tried ineffectually to curb the trade. Virginia in 1710 placed a duty of five pounds on each slave but the Royal Governor vetoed the bill. Bills of like import were passed in other colonies from time to time, but the English crown disapproved in every instance and the trade, so lucrative to British shipowners, went on. At the time of the Revolution, there were almost half a million slaves in the colonies.[17] The exact proportions of the slave trade to America can be but approximately determined.

From 1680 to 1688 the African Company sent 249 ships to Africa, shipped there 60,783 Negro slaves, and after losing 14,387 on the middle passage, delivered 46,396 in America. The trade increased early in the eighteenth century, 104 ships clearing for Africa in 1701; it then dwindled until the signing of the Assiento, standing at 74 clearances in 1724. The final dissolution of the monopoly in 1750 led—excepting in the years 1754-57, when the closing of Spanish marts sensibly affected the trade—to an extraordinary development, 192 clearances being made in 1771. The Revolutionary War nearly stopped the traffic, but by 1786 the clearances had risen again to 146. To these figures must be added the unregistered trade of Americans and foreigners. It is probable that about 25,000 slaves were brought to America each year between 1698 and 1707. The importation then dwindled but after the Assiento rose to perhaps 30,000. The proportion of these slaves carried to the continent now began to increase. Of about 20,000 whom the English annually imported from 1733 to 1766, South Carolina alone received some 3,000. Before the Revolution the total exportation to America is variously estimated as between 40,000 and 100,000 each year. Bancroft places the total slave population of the continental colonies at 59,000 in 1714; 78,000 in 1727; and 293,000 in 1754. The census of 1790 showed 697,897 slaves in the United States. Not all the Negroes who came to America were slaves and not all remained slaves. There were the following free Negroes in the decades between 1790 and 1860:

Table of free Negro population
1790 ............... 59,557
1800 ............... 108,435
1810 ............... 186,446
1820 ............... 233,634
1830 ............... 319,599
1840 ............... 386,293
1850 ............... 434,495
1860 ............... 488,070

Immigration of Negroes is still taking place, especially from the West Indies. It has been estimated that there are the following foreign-born Negroes in the United States:

Table of the foreign-born Negro population
1890 ............... 19,979
1900 ............... 20,336
1910 ............... 40,339
1920 ............... 75,000
In 1790, Negroes were one-fifth of the total population; in 1860 they were one-seventh; in 1900 one-ninth;[18] to-day they are approximately one-tenth.

With the beginning of the national era—1783—all peoples subsequently coming to the United States must be classed as immigrants. During the first years of our national life, no accurate statistics of immigration were kept. The Federal Government took no control of the matter and the State records are incomplete and unreliable. A pamphlet published by the Bureau of Statistics in 1903, Immigration into the United States, says, “The best estimates of the total immigration into the United States prior to the official count puts the total number of arrivals at not to exceed 250,000 in the entire period between 1776 and 1820.”

From 1806 to 1816, the unfriendly relations which existed between the United States and England and France precluded any extensive immigration to this country. England maintained and for a time successfully enforced the doctrine that “a man once a subject was always a subject.” The American Merchant Service, because of the pay and good treatment given, was very attractive to English sailors and a very great enticement to them to come to America and enter the American service. However, the fear of impressment deterred many from so doing. The Blockade Decrees of England against France in 1806 and the retaliation decrees of France against England in that same year were other influences which retarded immigration. These decrees were succeeded by the British Orders in Council, the Milan Decree of Napoleon, and the United States law of 1809 prohibiting intercourse with both Great Britain and France.

In 1810, the French decrees were annulled and American commerce began again with France, only to have the vessels fall into the hands of the British. Then came the War of 1812. The German immigration suffered greatly from this condition of affairs, as the Germans sailed principally from the ports of Liverpool and Havre. At these points ships were more numerous and expenses less heavy. In December, 1814, a few days before the Battle of New Orleans, a treaty of peace was concluded between the United States and England and after a few months immigration was resumed once more.

In 1817, about 22,240 persons arrived at ports of the United States from foreign countries. This number included American citizens returning from abroad. In no previous year had so many immigrants come to our shores.

In 1819 a law was passed by Congress and approved by the President “regulating passenger ships and vessels.” In 1820, the official history of immigration began. The Port Collectors then began to keep records which included numbers, sexes, ages, and occupations of all incoming persons. However, up to 1856, no distinction was made between travellers and immigrants.

Immigration increased from 8,358 in 1820—of which 6,024 came from Great Britain and Ireland—to 22,633 in 1831.[19] The decade of the twenties was a time of great industrial activity in the United States. The Erie Canal was built, other canals were projected, the railroads were started, business increased by leaps and bounds. As a consequence, the demand for labor was imperative and Europe responded. During the entire period of our early national life, the United States encouraged the coming of foreign artisans and laborers as the necessity for strength, skill and courage in the upbuilding of our country began to be realized.

From 1831 the number of immigrants steadily increased until from September 30, 1849, to September 30, 1850, they totaled 315,334[20] The largest increases during those years were from 1845 to 1848, when the famine in Ireland and the revolution in Germany drove thousands to the shores of free America. These causes continued to increase the number of arrivals until in 1854 the crest was attained with 460,474[21]—a figure not again reached for nearly twenty years.

From September 30, 1819, when the official count of immigrants began to be taken, to December 31, 1855, a total of 4,212,624 persons of foreign birth arrived in the United States.[22] Of these Bromwell, who wrote in 1856 a work compiled entirely from official data, estimates that 1,747,930 were Irish.[23] Next comes Germany,[24] with 1,206,087; England third with 207,492; France fourth with 188,725.

The exodus of the Irish during those famine years furnishes one of the many examples recorded in history of a subject race driven from its home by the economic injustice of a dominant race. Later, we see the same thing true in Austria-Hungary where the Slavs were tyrannized by the Magyars; again we find it in Russia where the Jew sought freedom from the Slav; and once again in Armenia and Syria where the native people fled from the Turk.

After 1855, the tide of immigration began to decrease steadily. During the first two years of the Civil War, it was less than 100,000.[25] In 1863, an increase was noticeable again and 395,922[26] immigrants are recorded in 1869.

During all these years up to 1870, the great part of the immigration was from Northern Europe. The largest racial groups were composed of Irish, Germans, Scandinavians and French. About the middle of the nineteenth century French-speaking Canadians were attracted by the opportunities for employment in the mills and factories of New England.

The number of Irish coming here steadily decreased after 1880 until it has fallen far below that of other European peoples. Altogether, the total Irish immigration from 1820 to 1906 is placed at something over 4,000,000, thus giving the Irish second place as contributors to the foreign-born population of the United States. The Revolution of 1848 was the contributing cause of a large influx of Germans, many of whom were professional men and artisans. From 1873 to 1879 there was great industrial depression in Germany and consequently another large immigration to America took place. Since 1882, there has also been a noticeable decline in German immigrants. From 1820 to 1903, a total of over 5,000,000 Germans was recorded as coming to the United States.[27]

In the period from 1880 to 1910 immigration from Italy totaled 4,018,404. It will be remembered that the law requiring the registration of outgoing aliens was not passed until 1908, and it may, therefore, be estimated that 3,000,000 represents the total number of arrivals from Italy, who remained here permanently.

After 1903, up to the outbreak of the Great War, the number of alien arrivals steadily increased. In 1905, it was more than 1,000,000; in 1906, it passed the 1,100,000 mark and in 1907 the 1,200,000 mark; in 1913 and 1914, the total number for each year exceeded 1,400,000.[28]

During the ten years from 1905 to 1915, nearly 12,000,000 aliens landed in the United States, a yearly average of 1,200,000 arrivals. These alone form more than 37 per cent, of all recorded immigration since 1820 and make up about 88 out of every 100 of our present total foreign-born population.[29] Until interrupted by the European War, the immigration to the United States was the greatest movement of the largest number of peoples that the world has ever known. Of course, there have been economic upheavals from time to time which have noticeably affected this movement. The Civil War, as before noted, and financial panics and industrial depressions in our country interrupted the incoming tide repeatedly. The Great War with its social and economic upheaval had a tremendous effect on our immigration. The twelve months following the declaration of war shows the smallest number of alien arrivals since 1899. The number was slightly over 325,000. The statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Immigration show that by far the greater part of the immigrants who come to the United States are from Europe. Of the 1,403,000 alien immigrants who came here in 1914, about 1,114,000 were from Europe; about 35,000 came from Asia; the remainder, about 254,000, came from all other countries combined, principally Canada, the West Indies, and Mexico. Eighty out of every 100, therefore, came from Europe. As many as sixty of that eighty came from the three countries of Italy, Austria-Hungary and Russia. Italy sent 294,689; Austria-Hungary was second with 286,059; Russian contributed 262,409. From all of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales came only 88,000 or about 6 out of every 100; and from Norway, Sweden and Denmark came about 31,000 or 2 out of every 100.

Greece, France, Portugal, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Spain, Turkey, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Roumania contributed virtually all the remainder of our 1914 immigrants from Europe, given in the order of importance.

However, we should bear in mind always that the country of origin or nationality or jurisdiction (as determined by political boundaries) is not always identical with race. Immigration statistics have followed national or political boundaries. Take the immigrants from Russia. The statistics say that 262,000 arrived from that country in 1914. But of this number, less than 5 out of every 100 are Russians; the rest or 95 out of every 100, are Hebrews, Poles, Lithuanians, Finns and Germans.

Austria-Hungary was another country made of a medley of races. The Germanic Austrians who ruled Austria and the Hungarian Magyars who ruled Hungary were less than one-half of the total population of the one time Austria-Hungary.

The record of alien arrivals from Poland is not accurate because it is divided into three national statistical divisions—Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The best estimate is that the total Polish arrivals to the United States since 1820 approximates 2,500,000.

The Slav, the Magyar, the German, the Latin, and the Jew were all in Austria-Hungary and moreover, these were all numerously subdivided. The most numerous of the Slavs are the Czechs and Slovaks. These gave the United States in 1914 a combined immigration of 37,000. Poles, Ruthenians and Roumanians also came here from northern Austria, and from the vicinity of the Black Sea came Roumanians more Latin than Slavic. Besides these, the one time dual kingdom sent Jews, Greeks and Turks.

Although the most important Slavic country of Europe is Russia, yet it was from Austria-Hungary that we received most of our Slavic immigrants. In 1914, as many as 23 out of every 100 of our total immigration were Slavic, and the larger part of this racial group which reached 319,000 that year, came from Austria-Hungary.

That mere recording of country or origin does not give accurate racial information is illustrated in the case of the many Greeks under Turkish rule, and the large number of Armenians found in almost all large Turkish towns. The Armenians are probably the most numerous of the immigrants from Asia. In 1914, the total immigration from Turkey was about 20,000, but the actual Turkish immigration was only 3,000. The remaining 27,000 were Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Montenegrins, Syrians, Armenians and Hebrews.[30]

The “country of origin” tells us almost nothing about the large Hebrew immigration which comes to the United States. The Jew comes from many countries. The greater part of all our recent Jewish immigration comes from Russia, from what is called the “Jewish Pale of Settlement” in the western part of that country. Other Jews come from Austria, Roumania, Germany and Turkey. In 1914, the Jews were the fourth largest in numbers among our immigrants, nearly 143,000.[31]

We must also bear in mind that all of these millions who came to America do not remain with us. There is a constant emigration going on, a departure of aliens back to their native land either for a time, or for all time. Up to 1908, the Bureau of Immigration kept no record of the “ebb of the tide” but since that time vessels taking aliens out of the United States, are obliged by law to make a list containing name, age, sex, nationality, residence in the United States, occupation, and time of last arrival of each alien passenger, which must be filed with the Federal Collector of Customs.

The first year of this record, 1908, followed the financial panic of October, 1907, and due to the economic conditions prevalent in the United States a very large emigration to Europe was disclosed.

The records show also that the volume of emigration, like that of immigration, varies from year to year. Just as prosperity here increases immigration, bad times increase emigration from our shores.

There was a time when emigration was so slight that it was of little importance, but since the early nineties it has assumed large proportions. After the panic of 1907, for months a larger number left the country than came into it, and thousands and thousands swarmed the ports of departure awaiting a chance to return home. In the earlier years, the immigrant sometimes spent months making the journey here. Besides the difficulty of the trip, ocean transportation was more expensive. Therefore, the earlier immigrants came to remain, to make homes here for themselves and their children. The Irish, the Germans, the early Bohemians, the Scandinavians, and in fact all the early comers brought their families and their “household goods”, ready to settle down for all time and to become citizens of their adopted country.

A large number of the alien arrivals of recent years come here initially with only a vague intention of remaining permanently, and these make up the large emigration streaming constantly from our ports. However, it is only fair to say that eventually many of these people come back to America and become permanent residents. Anyone who has had experience at our ports of entry can substantiate the statement that during a period of years the same faces are seen incoming again and again.

Although immigrants have come by millions into the United States, and have been the main contributing cause of its wonderful national expansion, yet opposition to their coming has manifested itself strongly at different times.

In the colonial period the people objected, and rightly, to the maternal solicitude which England evidenced by making the colonies the dumping ground for criminals and undesirables. However, these objections were disregarded and convicts and criminals continued to come while the colonies remained under British rule. After the national era, immigration was practically unrestricted down to 1875. At different periods there were manifestations of a strong desire to restrict immigration, but Congress never responded with exclusion laws. The alien and sedition laws of 1798 had for their object the removal of foreigners already residents in the United States. The naturalization laws passed that same year, lengthening the time of residence necessary for citizenship to fourteen years, were another severe measure against resident aliens. The native American and the Knownothing uprisings were still other indications of that same spirit of antagonism to the alien based on religious grounds. This religious antagonism in many of the States took the form of opposition to immigration itself and a demand for restrictions. But this all proved futile, for the National Government recognized the necessity, of settling the limitless West. Then, too, another subject loomed large and threatening at this time, and engrossed the attention of the people away from the dire evils which the Irish and the Catholics would precipitate upon “our free and happy people”. This was the State Rights, and Slavery question; and soon the country forgot immigration in the throes of the Civil War.

By an act of March 3, 1875, the National Government made its first attempt to restrict immigration; this act prohibited the bringing in of alien convicts and of women for immoral purposes. On May 6, 1882, Congress passed and the President approved another act to regulate immigration; by which the coming of Chinese laborers was forbidden for ten years. The story which led up to this Act of Congress is a long one, and the details cannot be given here. Briefly, conditions in California following the Burlingame treaty of 1868, owning to the influx of Chinese labor, resulted in the organization of a workingman’s party headed by Dennis Kearney, and forced the Chinese question as one of the dominant issues of State politics. Resolutions embodying the feelings of the people on Chinese immigration were presented to the Constitutional Convention of 1879. The State Legislature enacted laws against this immigration. Subsequently pressure was brought to bear on the National Government, a new treaty with China was negotiated, and finally the law of 1882 was passed by Congress, restricting for ten years the admission of Chinese laborers, both skilled and unskilled, and of mine workers also.

Ever since the passage of this law, the Federal Government has pursued a more restrictive and exclusive immigration policy. The next law was passed in August, 1882, prohibiting the immigration of “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” Then, in 1885, came another act known as the “Alien Contract Labor Law”, forbidding the importation and immigration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States. In 1891 came the law called the “Geary Act” which amended “the various acts relative to immigration and the importation of aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor”. This act extended Chinese exclusion for another ten years, and required the Chinese in the country to register and submit to the Bertillon test as a means of identification. In 1893 two acts were passed; one which gave the quarantine service greater powers and placed additional duties upon the Public Health Service, and another which properly enforced the existing immigration and contract labor laws. In 1902 the law of exclusion was made permanent against Chinese laborers. So, since 1875, the United States has passed laws excluding Chinese entirely and virtually excluding the Japanese, and both these races are ineligible to citizenship. In 1907, an act was passed “to regulate the immigration of Aliens into the United States”, which excluded imbeciles, epileptics, those so defective either physically or mentally that they might become public charges; children under sixteen not with a parent, etc.

A far more restrictive measure known as the “literacy” or “educational” test has been before Congress at different times and has, on three different occasions, falied to become a law. President Cleveland vetoed it in 1897, Taft in 1913, and Wilson in 1915. All three Presidents objected to this bill principally on the ground that it was such “a radical departure” from all previous national policy in regard to immigration. President Wilson’s veto of 1917 was overcome and the bill became a law by a two-thirds majority vote of both houses. This law requires that entering aliens must be able to read the English language or some other language or dialect. The one thing which the literacy test was designed to accomplish—to decrease the volume of immigration—was brought about suddenly and unexpectedly by the European War. From the opening of the war, the number of immigrants steadily decreased until, for the year ending June 30, 1916, it was only 298,826[32] and for the year ending June 30, 1917, only 110,618.[33] Then it began again to increase steadily until for the year ending June 30, 1920, it reached a total of 430,001.[34]

On June 3, 1921, an emergency measure known as the three per cent, law was passed. This act provided that the number of aliens of any nationality who could be admitted to the United States in any one year should be limited to three per cent, of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the United States as determined by the census of 1910. Certain ones were not counted, such as foreign government officials and their families and employees, aliens in transit through the United States, tourists, aliens from countries having immigration treaties with the United States, aliens who have lived for one year previous to their admission in Canada, Newfoundland, Mexico, Central America, or South America, and aliens under eighteen who have parents who are American citizens. More than twenty per cent, of a country’s full quota could not be admitted in one month except in the case of actors, artists, lecturers, singers, nurses, clergymen, professors, members of the learned professions or domestic servants who could always come in even though the month’s or the year’s quota had been used.

A well organized effort is under way in the Congress which began its session in December 1923, to reduce the quota to two per cent, of the immigrants recorded as coming to the United States in 1890. This bill, which will probably be passed, is being opposed vigorously, by the Jews and Italians who are immediately the particular racial groups to be affected, but since neither the Jews nor Italians, separately or collectively, have political strength to be a voting factor to be considered, except in a half dozen of the industrial states, the passage of the bill seems to be inevitable.

The recent immigration restriction laws make a decided break with past national history and tradition. There is little doubt that these laws are in part the fruit of an organized movement which, especially since the war, is attempting to classify all aliens, except those of one special group, as “hyphenates” and “mongrels”. These laws are haphazard, unscientific, based on unworthy prejudice and likely, ultimately, to be disastrous in their economic consequences. The present three per cent, immigration law is not based on any fundamental standard of fitness. Once the percentage of maximum admissions is reached, in any given month, the next alien applying for entrance may be a potential Washington, Lincoln or Edison to whom the unyielding process of the law must deny admission. Such laws, worked out under the hysteria of “after war psychology”, seem to be one of the instances, so frequent in history, where Democracy must take time to work out its own mistakes.

Under the circumstances, there is all the more reason that the priceless heritage of racial achievement by the descendants of various racial groups in the United States be told.

The United States has departed a long way from the policy which was recorded in 1795 by the series of coins known as the “Liberty and Security” coins, on which appeared the words “A Refuge for the Oppressed of a Nations”.

Prepared by the Bureau of Statistics and published in 1893 by the Government Printing Office.
Countries Whence Arrived 1821 to
1831 to
1841 to
Dec. 31,
Jan. 1
30, 1870
1871 to
1881 to
1891 and
Austria-Hungary ... ... ... ... 7,800 72,969 355,719 151,178 585,666
Belgium 27 22 5,074 4,738 6,734 7,221 20,177 7,340 51,333
Denmark 169 1,063 539 3,749 17,094 31,771 88,132 21,252 163,769
France 3,497 45,575 77,262 76,358 35,894 72,206 50,464 13,291 379,637
Germany 6,761 152,454 434,626 951,667 787,468 718,182 1,452,970 244,312 4,748,440
Italy 408 2,253 1,870 9,231 11,728 55,759 307,309 138,191 526,749
Netherlands 1,078 1,412 8,251 10,789 9,102 16,541 53,701 12,466 113,340
Norway and Sweden 91 1,201 13,903 20,931 109,298 211,245 568,362 107,157 1,032,188
Russia and Poland 91 646 656 1,621 4,536 52,254 265,088 192,615 517,507
Spain and Portugal 2,622 2,954 2,759 10,353 8,493 9,893 6,535 5,657 49,266
Switzerland 3,226 4,821 4,644 25,011 23,286 28,293 81,988 14,219 185,488
United Kingdom                  
England[a] 22,167 73,143 263,332 385,643 568,128 460,479 657,488 104,575 2,534,955
Scotland 2,912 2,667 3,712 38,331 38,768 87,564 149,869 24,077 347,900
Ireland 50,724 207,381 780,719 914,119 435,778 436,871 655,482 111,173 3,592,247
Total United Kingdom 75,803 283,191 1,047,763 1,338,093 1,042,674 984,914 1,462,839 239,825 6,475,102
All other countries of Europe 43 96 155 116 210 656 10,318 4,954 16,548
Total Europe 98,816 495,688 1,597,502 2,452,657 2,064,407 2,261,904 4,721,602 [b]1,152,457 14,845,033
British North American Possessions 2,277 13,624 41,723 59,309 153,871 383,269 392,802 [c] 1,046,875
Mexico 4,817 6,599 3,271 3,078 2,191 5,362 1,913 [c] 27,231
Central America 105 44 368 449 96 210 462 576 2,310
South America 531 856 3,579 1,224 1,396 928 2,304 1,344 12,162
West Indies 3,834 12,301 13,528 10,660 9,043 13,957 29,042 5,673 98,038
Total America 11,564 33,424 62,469 74,720 166,597 403,726 426,523 7,593 1,186,616
Alien Passengers from October 1, 1820, to December 31, 1867, and Immigrants from January 1, 1868 to June 30, 1892.

a^ Includes Wales and Great Britain not specified. According to William J. Bromwell′s History of Emigration to the United States, published in 1856 by Redfield of New York, 1,000,000 of this number were from Ireland, which is probably accurate. During and after the Irish famine large numbers of Irish who could not find money for the passage to the United States did find it possible to go to England to work in coal mines, factories, and in seasonal agricultural employment; the money secured from which enabled them to embark for the United States from various English ports, which explains Bromwell′s estimate.
b^ Includes 777 from Azores and 5 from Greenland.
c^ Immigrants from British North American Possessions and Mexico are not included since July 1, 1885.

  1. In the fifties it was customary for the merchants, etc., to have posted at their door a list of help wanted. Many of these help wanted signs were accompanied by another which read “No Irish need apply.” During the Civil War there was an Anti-Draft song with a refrain to the effect that when it came to drafting they did not practice “No Irish need apply.”
  2. “Americans only” in a real estate advertisement to-day usually means “No Jews need apply.” It sometimes means Irish (i. e., Catholic) also.
  3. Wm. J. Bromwell, History of Immigration to United States, p. 96.
  4. Ibid., p. 100.
  5. Ibid., p. 116.
  6. Ibid., p. 124.
  7. Commercial Relations of the United States, 1885-1886, Appendix III, p. 1967.
  8. “The Commissioners for Ireland gave them orders upon the governors of garrisons, to deliver to them prisoners of war; upon the keepers of gaols, for offenders in custody; upon masters of workhouses, for the destitute in their care ‘who were of an age to labor, or if women were marriageable and not past breeding’; and gave directions to all in authority to seize those who had no visible means of livelihood, and deliver them to these agents of the Bristol sugar merchants, in execution of which latter direction Ireland must have exhibited scenes in every part like the slave hunts in Africa. How many girls of gentle birth have been caught and hurried to the private prisons of these mancatchers none can tell. Messrs. Sellick and Leader, Mr. Robert Yeomans, Mr. Joseph Lawrence, and others, all of Bristol, were active agents. As one instance out of many: Captain John Vernon was employed by the Commissioners for Ireland into England, and contracted in their behalf with Mr. David Sellick and Mr. Leader under his hand, bearing date the 14th September, 1653 to supply them with two hundred and fifty women of the Irish nation above twelve years, and under the age of forty-five, also three hundred men above twelve years of age, and under fifty, to be found in the country within twenty miles of Cork, Youghal, and Kinsale, Waterford and Wexford, to transport them into New England.” J. P. Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, London, 1865. 2d. ed., pp. 89-90.
  9. “It is calculated that in four years (1653-1657) English firms of slave-dealers shipped 6,400 Irish men and women, boys and maidens, to the British colonies of North America.” A. J. Theband, The Irish Race in the Past and Present, N. Y., 1893, p. 385.
  10. Rev. T. A. Spencer, History of the United States, Vol. I, p. 305.
  11. Henry Pratt Fairchild, Immigration: A world movement, and its American significance, N. Y., 1913, p. 47. See also Archives of Alaryland, Vol. 22, p. 497.
  12. Charles A. and Mary R. Beard, History of the United States, N. Y., 1921, p. 11.
  13. Fairchild, p. 35.
  14. Henry Cabot Lodge, A Short History of the English Colonies in America, N. Y., 1881, p. 70.
  15. Beard, p. 15.
  16. Beard, p. 16.
  17. W. S. Burghardt DuBois, Suppression of the Slave Trade, Harvard Historical Studies, No. I, p. 5.
  18. John R. Commons, Races and Immigrants in America, N. Y., 1907, p. 53.
  19. Adam Seybert, Statistical Annals of the United States, Phila., 1818, p. 29.
  20. Young, Special Report on Immigration, Phila., 1871, p. 5.
  21. Bromwell, p. 145.
  22. Ibid., p. 16.
  23. Ibid., p. 18.
  24. Ibid., pp. 16–17.
  25. Young, p. 6.
  26. Ibid., p. 6.
  27. Special Consular Reports, Vol. 30, p. 8.
  28. Immigration and Emigration, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, 1915, p. 1099.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Reports of Department of Labor, Washington, 1915.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Reports of Department of Labor, Washington, 1918, p. 208.
  33. Reports of Department of Labor, Washington, 1920, p. 400.
  34. Reports of Department of Labor, Washington, 1921, p. 365.