Page images
PDF
EPUB

speaks also, and with equal truth, of "the greater delicacy and spirituality of the Celtic peoples." They are neither so hard nor so gross as the AngloSaxon races; and they have in a high degree the splendid virtues of courage and generosity. Loyalty, too, is a virtue for which the Celt has always been remarkable. Finally, the Celt is essentially a social creature, loving society and hating solitude; and this trait has determined to no small extent his career as a citizen of the United States.

It must be remembered, furthermore, that our Irish immigrants belong not only to the Celtic, but also to a conquered race. They belong to a race which for many years was subjected to a galling persecution. Our immigrants are Catholics; and for a long period the Catholic religion was proscribed in Ireland. Its priests were concealed in the cottages of the peasantry, and mass was said in hiding-places. Resistance by the Irish to England and to the government set over them by England necessarily took the form of conspiracy, sometimes of treachery. And from this long and cruel subjection the Irish character has suffered. It has acquired a quality of deceit, of unveracity, such as is always found in a race long under subjection. The Christians of the East, at this day, are notoriously untruthful. Moreover, in this country, the Irish, notwithstanding their intense love for Ireland, have always exhibited a certain shame at being Irish instead of American. Partly this may have been simply a reflection from the feeling of superiority which the native American felt and showed; but certainly the Irish brought with them a consciousness of inferiority to the AngloSaxon race, not necessarily an inferiority of nature, but an inferiority of condition. Mr. William O'Brien relates a striking illustration of this. "A great prelate," he says, "of distinguished attainments in Irish, was on his way to the visitation of a parish where almost

[ocr errors]

everybody understood that language. I asked, should we have the advantage of hearing him address the people in Irish? The answer was that nothing would give him greater pleasure, but that one could not insult an Irish-speaking congregation more effectively than by addressing them in Irish; that they would take it as a suggestion that they were a pack of barbarians who knew no English." "Paddy" is a term of opprobrium in this country, even when addressed by one Irishman to another.

Another Irish trait, often exhibited in American life, is a morbid sensitiveness, a readiness to take offense and to suspect insult or unkindness when none is intended; and this, too, is the badge of a conquered race. This failing has been shown most conspicuously in political matters. When Mayor Hewitt, of New York, refused to permit the Irish flag to be hoisted over City Hall upon St. Patrick's Day, the Irishmen of New York received the refusal with a tirade of abuse. A Democratic governor of Massachusetts once declined to review an Irish society because its members paraded under arms, which was contrary to the law of the State. This was a just and manly act on his part, and one from which he, being a Democrat, could gain no possible advantage; but the Irish, with Celtic impetuosity and with the supersensitiveness of a conquered race, overlooked the motive, and took the act as an intentional insult.

Finally, our Irish immigrants have been almost universally Catholic in religion, and to the difference in religion between them and native Americans, more than to difference of race or of temperament, is due the fact that they still form a distinct though integral part of the community. However, the American people, though Protestant, had ceased, at the time of the great Irish immigration, to be aggressively Protestant. They had also become much easier to live with, more flexible, more open-minded, than

[ocr errors]

the Englishmen from whom they were descended; and, on the whole, the two races Anglo-Saxon, American, Protestant, on the one hand, and Celtic, Irish, Catholic, on the other have lived and labored side by side with astonishingly little friction. There was, to be sure, the Know-Nothing movement of 1854-55, but that was a short-lived affair, and the present efforts of the A. P. A. are less effective, and bid fair to be equally transitory. The argument against the Irish, as Catholics, is that they owe allegiance first to the Pope, and only secondarily to the government of the United States; but if these two powers ever come in conflict, it is safe to assume that national feeling will prevail, and that the Pope will be disregarded. In the Middle Ages, the authority of the Pope was far greater, national feeling was far weaker, than is the case now; and yet the history of the Middle Ages is full of instances where the Pope attempted to carry out some anti-national policy and failed. To what, indeed, is the present isolated position of the Holy Father due except to his vain resistance of that national feeling which produced United Italy!

Such, then, was and is the character of our immigrants from Ireland: Celtic in race, with the faults of a conquered and oppressed nation; Catholic in religion; agriculturists or "unskilled laborers" by occupation. They have come to us mainly since about the middle of the present century. From 1820 to 1830 the immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland averaged only 6000 per annum; but about the year 1832 the number began to increase, and when the Irish famine of 1846 occurred it suddenly became enormous. It reached a climax in 1854, when the total immigration to this country, about half of it being Irish, was 427,833.1

1 Then there was a decline; but after the civil war the Irish immigration began to increase again, until, in 1883, it reached the number of 81,486. After 1883 it fell off somewhat. For 1895 it was 46,304. Of the foreign

The early emigration, between 1846 and 1855, was attended with a vast deal of suffering. The emigrants crossed the sea, it must be remembered, not in steamships, but in sailing-vessels, and the average length of the voyage from Liverpool to New York was about thirty-five days. In the winter of 1849-50 several emigrant-ships were forced to put back after having been out for seventy days, and their passengers, being soon transferred to other ships, sailed upon a second voyage, weakened and demoralized by the hardships of the first. Ship fever soon broke out among them, and carried off many. In some cases the provisions were exhausted, and there was famine upon the sea as well as upon the land.

The London press fired parting maledictions at the fleeing emigrants: "Ireland has no snakes or vermin except among its peasantry and clergy." "Ireland is boiling over, and the scum flows across the Atlantic." Such were the gentle words with which these emigrants, flying from famine, were speeded on their way. And what was their reception in this country? We permitted them to land. If any were imbecile, crippled, or helpless, we sent them back. To the able-bodied we gave a fair field, but no favor and no assistance or even advice. They arrived in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia (at least three quarters of the whole in New York) with little or no money. As a rule, they knew how to till the soil, and they knew nothing else. Land in unlimited quantities, rich farm land, was lying idle at the West, and could these immigrants have been transported thither, with some aid, perhaps, from temporary loans of money, their prosperity would have been assured, and a source of great danger to our Eastern cities removed. In this emergency, what

born population in the United States, the Irish are now only about 20 per cent, whereas in 1850 they were over 40 per cent. This decrease affects the power of the Irish vote, a subject touched upon later.

[ocr errors]

was done by the national government or by the state governments concerned? Nothing. The Irish seem to have been overlooked even by the philanthropists, though one voice, at least, was raised in their behalf. In a series of interesting letters (afterward published in a pamphlet) dealing with the Irish immigration, the Rev. E. E. Hale wrote in 1851: "Here in Massachusetts we writhe and struggle. . . lest we return one fugitive slave who can possibly be saved from Southern slavery; but when there come these fugitives from Irish Bastilles, as they call them, we tax them first, and neglect them afterwards."

[ocr errors]

This was our first great mistake in dealing with the Irish: we gave them no opportunity to do that for which they were best fitted, to become farmers. Lacking money and skill and information, they remained largely in the great cities where they landed. The Irish who came later have followed a similar course. Partly from necessity and partly from choice, -the Celt being, as I have said, eminently a social creature, they have become dwellers in cities; and a great proportion of them are found in the chief cities of the Atlantic seaboard. In this tendency the Irish are surpassed only by the Italians. Nearly two thirds of our whole Irish population are in the five States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; and more than one quarter of the whole are found in five large cities, namely, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Boston. The only Western State which has a considerable percentage of Irishmen, 3.25, is Illinois; and this percentage is due to the Irish population in Chicago.

The Irish immigrants, being unskilled and uneducated, naturally took their place at the very bottom of the social

1 The immigrants who settle in our large cities are, of the Irish, 45 per cent; of the Germans, 38 per cent; of the English and Scotch, 30 per cent; of the Italians, 60 per cent.

ladder; and they have done the hard
manual work of the country. They be-
gan to come at an opportune time, when
our mining and manufacturing industries
were ready to receive a great accession
of workmen, and when railroads were
beginning to be built. Since 1830 one
hundred and fifty thousand miles of rail-
road have been constructed in the United
States, and doubtless the greater part of
the rails were laid by Irishmen. Irish
girls took the place of Yankee girls in
the cotton-mills of Lowell and Lawrence;
and in the course of a few years the do-
mestic service of the country was revo-
lutionized by the substitution of Irish for
native-born servants. In the case of the
men this answered well enough. The
typical "hired man" of New England,
the man employed in towns and villages
by people of moderate means who keep
a cow, a horse or two, and have a small
garden, has been for many years an Irish-
man; and barring an occasional spree, no
more faithful or pleasanter servant could
be desired. In the case of the women the
results have not been so good.
has an almost innate knowledge of a
horse, a cow, and a garden; but Bridget,
having never been taught, knows little of
cooking or neat housekeeping. Then,
too, the difference of race and of reli-
gion creates more friction between women
than it does between men. But Bridget,
despite the fact that her shortcomings
have been the theme of comic papers for
half a century, has some excellent quali-
ties. She breaks contracts, but she does
not steal; and if the little people of the
country were interrogated upon the sub-
ject, I am sure that they would declare
in her favor. Now, a servant to whom
a whole nation safely entrusts its house-
hold property and its children is not ut-
terly to be condemned.

Patrick

What became of the native American

2 These are the largest five cities in the country, except that St. Louis should stand in the fifth place, that city having about 3000 more people than Boston.

servants and mill hands who were displaced by the Irish it would be hard to say. Of the men, many emigrated to the West, and many were employed in shops, or as foremen and superintendents in factories, foundries, and stables, and as brakemen, conductors, and the like upon railroads. Of the women, many became shop-girls and seamstresses. In recent years, the Irish, in their turn, have largely been displaced. They have abandoned to the French-Canadians the woolen and cotton factories of New England. Where one used to see Irishmen digging up the streets one now sees Italians; and the imps of the sidewalk in New York and Boston, the newsboys and bootblacks, are now more often Italian than Irish. In the coal regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Irish have given way to Hungarians, Poles, and Russians. Many Irish are at present employed as salesmen in shops; and no doubt the influx of other nationalities, especially in the last five or ten years, has raised the Irish in the social scale, but a large proportion of them are still unskilled laborers or domestic servants.

Of the children born in the United States of Irish parents, according to the census of 1880,1 there were occupied in dustrially 978,854 persons, distributed as follows: rendering personal service, 415,854; in mechanical and mining industries, 284,175; in agriculture, 140,307; in trade and railroads, 138,518. Thus it will be seen that only a very small proportion are engaged in agriculture, and a very large proportion are servants of one kind or another.

Despite the small number of Irishmen who are engaged in agriculture, the Irish as a whole, and especially the Irish immigrants, have shown a fondness for land. When an Irishman acquires a piece of

1 The corresponding figures for the census of 1890 are not yet available.

2 Between 1880 and 1890 the city population in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont showed a greater increase

real estate, even in a city or a large town, it is hard to dislodge him from it. The very fact that in Ireland it was almost impossible for him or for any member of his class to obtain land may be the reason why he is so ambitious of owning it in America. In the Northwest, the Irish farmers have done exceedingly well, and in New England, since the civil war, many farms that were thrown on the market or abandoned by their American owners have been taken up by Irishmen. In the Northwest, the Irish of the second generation usually remain upon the land; but in New England the children of the Irish are just as prone as children of native Americans to exchange country for city life.2 Norwegians, Swedes, and even Italians are taking their places.

I happen to know the history of one farm situated about twenty miles from Boston. Thirty years ago it was sold by the American owner, to whom it had descended through his ancestors for two hundred years back. He moved to Boston and opened a shop. The purchaser was an Irishman, who made the farm profitable, and, when he became old, retired with a competence to a house in the village. His sons grew up and went to the city, one of them becoming a coachman; and the farm is now owned by a Norwegian. His children will probably sell it, perhaps to an Italian. In many cases the Irish immigrant and his sons have done well in business, acquiring a good deal of property; and it is noticeable, but not surprising, that in almost all of these cases the business is of what might be called a gregarious kind. Irishmen prefer, and succeed best in, those occupations where a man can be lively and sociable and can move about, and especially where he can have to do with horses. Contractors, blacksmiths, stable

than did the total population of these States respectively; so that in these States, from 1880 to 1890, the rural population actually decreased.

keepers, and hackmen are largely Irishmen. Some of the most noted trainers and drivers of trotting horses have been Irishmen. I know one Irishman who began life as the driver of a coupé for a liveryman. Before long he had a horse and coupé of his own. Then he bought another horse and coupé, and hired a man. And from this small beginning he has become, in twenty years, the owner of a large stable and of much valuable real estate. He still attends vigorously to business, but indulges himself in the ownership of a few running horses. This is not an isolated case of prosperity. Saloon -keepers are notoriously Irishmen; and what more social occupation could there be than keeping a saloon! In the Boston Directory are the names of 526 persons who sell liquor at retail, and of these names 317 are unmistakably Irish.1

The same principle holds good in an Irishman's choice of a profession. Very seldom does he become a doctor: the severe course of study is repugnant to him, and the practice of medicine, though it involves seeing people, does not involve seeing them in a sociable way. On the other hand, there are many Irish lawyers. To become a really good lawyer does indeed require hard study; but a man can make a creditable appearance before a jury without knowing much law, and it is easy for an Irishman to be eloquent and quick at repartee. In some cases, where sound judgment and the power of application are united with Celtic liveliness and eloquence, we find Irish lawyers of the first rank; and these men have a suavity and courtesy of their own. But they are not numerous. Nei ther in the professions, nor in politics, nor in trade does the Irish-American

1 The stranger passing down Broadway, in the city of New York, finds himself in a desert of dry-goods merchants, who seem to be all Jews: Elias Brothers, Solomon Isaacs, Hamerstein, and the like are the names which decorate the signs. And yet there is an oasis in this

often rise to a high position. A recent traveler in the West, whose object was to procure investments for foreign cap‐ ital, states that he found very few Irishmen at the head of industrial enterprises. The managers of such concerns were usually native Americans, Scotchmen, or Englishmen.

The herding of the Irish in our large cities, and their sudden contact with new social and political conditions, have made the average of pauperism, crime, and mortality very high among them. For example, in the year 1890 the number of white paupers born in the United States, but having both parents foreign-born and both parents of the same nationality, was, so far as it could be ascertained, 3333. To this number the Irish contributed 1806, whereas the Germans contributed only 916, although the Germans in this country outnumber the Irish by more than a million. A table which indicates, not the pauper, but the criminal element is even more significant. In 1890, the number of white prisoners who were born in the United States, but who had both parents foreign-born and both parents of the same nationality, was 11,327. These were distributed, so far as the Irish and Germans are concerned, as follows: Irish, 7935; German, 1709.

However, in this matter one need not resort to such unsatisfactory evidence as statistics. It is plain from observation and experience that, on the whole, the Irish in America, of the second generation, degenerate. The children of Irish birth, born and brought up in this country, are morally inferior to their parents. This is a hard saying, and perhaps it bears harder upon Americans and upon American institutions than it does upon the Irish. Perhaps, also, it

desert, for about halfway down one comes suddenly upon a liquor saloon, and above it stands the familiar name "John Flynn."

2 The Jewish element among the Germans accounts in part for their low average of pauperism.

« PreviousContinue »