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THE CAUSES OF IMMIGRATION
Escape from Religious or Political Persecution
In our school histories all American children read that their forefathers in the colonial days fled from Europe to America to escape religious or political persecution. In later and more complete text-books mention is likewise made of the fact that certain of the colonists were influenced by the motive of commercial advantages, and that still others, criminals or paupers, were shipped from their home country against their will for that country's good. So much emphasis, however, has been laid upon the desire of our forefathers to escape from religious or political persecution, that in the minds of most Americans that influence remains as explaining the chief incentive for our early immigration.
So much sympathy was later aroused, especially during the revolutionary days of 1848 in Europe, for those who, struggling for a constitutional government in their home countries, failed and were obliged to emigrate, in order to escape political punishment, that this motive for immigration seems to most of us a force with greater influence than it, in fact, has exerted. It is probably the fact that, with the exception of the Pilgrim Fathers, possibly the Palatines, some of the Scotch-Irish in the early part of the eighteenth century, and here and there a relatively few political refugees, the great mass of immigrants
throughout the entire course of our history have come to this country influenced primarily by the economic motive. Even with the Palatines and the Scotch-Irish, the economic motive was often promi
Up to very recently, a very large number, especially of the Russian Jews were refugees from persecution, primarily religious. A much smaller number of Finns, thwarted by the old Russian Government in their attempts to secure or maintain political freedom were moved to turn their backs upon their home country. The new régime in Russia gives hope that these days of persecution for both Jews and Finns are passed, which will undoubtedly have important effects upon the immigration of these races. In Roumania and Turkey, and in scattered cases in other countries, still others are found, who, suffering on account of their religious or political beliefs, prefer to leave their home country for one which they believe will afford them freedom. In many instances, doubtless, these people who feel themselves persecuted are political idealists, or religious extremists, whose views will scarcely meet with approval in this country, but who nevertheless will be much freer here to make political propaganda, and whose views may in many instances well have an educative influence; but there doubtless remain, when they are taken individually, large numbers of persons who are really in need of escape from persecution, either religious or political, that is genuine and severe.
At Present, Motive Primarily Economic
Taking them, however, in the mass, and comparing this number with the very much greater number of those who are influenced by the economic motive, it is
scarcely too much to say that at the present time the influence which is bringing so large a number of immigrants is the economic motive rather than any other. This economic motive, too, has to do primarily with the improvement of the living conditions of the immigrant, and not with an escape from a condition of threatened starvation. In the 40's, at the time of the potato famine in Ireland, many of the thousands who came to this country were in serious danger of absolute starvation if they remained at home. Practically none of our immigrants of the present day are in such a condition.
Wages and Standards of Living Much Lower in Europe than in the United States
The contrast in conditions between the parts of Europe from which most of our immigrants come today and the United States, is perhaps most noticeable in agricultural districts. Our farmers and farm laborers are, on the whole, the most prosperous and comfortable of our so-called laborers, with the exception of our skilled artigans. In Russia, where the change from a condition of serfdom has not always resulted in greater comfort for the people, a crop failure is likely to result in a famine. In other countries the methods of cultivation are often so primitive, the markets so difficult of access, the taxes so high, that the margin of profit is very low. A bad crop or two, the death of a wage-earner, or even a serious quarrel in the family that involves a separation, often means disaster-emigration, where that can be attained.
The money wages in southern and eastern Europe,
from which more than 80 per cent. of our present immigrants are coming, are indeed very low as compared with those in the United States-often not over one-third as much. Moreover, the assertion often made that, owing to lower prices in Europe, the low wages will furnish practically as good living conditions as those in the United States is a mistaken one. While the peasants or workmen may live on those wages, the standard is far below that of the United States as regards houses, which are often mere huts with earth floors; or clothing, which is scant or coarse as compared with that of the corresponding classes in the United States; or food, in many cases the people being rarely able to afford any food but the simplest vegetables, meat being tasted only on an occasional feast day, or among the better classes perhaps on Sundays.
It is to improve these conditions that most of the immigrants leave their country, often with the thought of making a home in the new country to which they can later bring their families, if they are unable to take their families with them. But often, too, they take the risk of breaking up their homes temporarily with the thought that by rigid economy and hard work for three to five years in the United States, they can send enough money home to purchase land, so that they may improve decidedly their economic and likewise their social status in the home country, and become, instead of mere laborers, peasant proprietors, with the opportunity of placing their children in a class distinctly above their own.
In some countries, also, where military service is compulsory, the opportunity of escaping that service for two or three years at the time when life's tasks are just beginning is a motive that helps to emigration. This motive, too, has an economic phase, since frequently the entrance upon military service would mean the postponement of marriage or the interruption of a steady employment that would prevent saving for at least the period of the service itself.
The result of this economic pressure in the home country is that the United States is likely to receive as immigrants the most enterprising and the strongest of the hand-workers, whatever the occupation may be. The weaker and less ambitious less often have the energy or means to go to America, altho they go now much more easily and oftener than formerly.
Effect of Emigration upon European Countries
The effect of emigration upon the European countries has both an evil and a beneficial aspect. Naturally the different governments do not wish to lose the military service of the young emigrant, and in most cases, unless that service has been performed, the emigrant is likely to be held responsible whenever he may wish to return to his home country, even for a visit. Moreover, the removal from the labor force of the nation at the period of greatest ambition and energy, if not of skill, of hundreds of thousands of their workers, can not but be detrimental, provided those workers leave to become citizens of the new country.
In a very large percentage of instances, however, especially in later days, the emigrant, after a period