On Immigration and Immigrants: No less an American than George Washington had something to say on this subject. When it was proposed to bring over here the faculty of a Genevan university to take charge of an American university, he objected. He said he was against importing an entire “seminary of foreigners for the purpose of American education.” Neither did he favor sending our young men abroad to be educated. He feared what experience has shown he had cause to fear. He said they “contracted principles unfriendly to republican government and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind.” George Washington also had ideas about immigration that are good to-day. “My opinion with respect to immigration,” he said, “is, that except of useful mechanics and some particular descriptions of men or professions, there is no need of encouragement; while the policy or advantage of its taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be much questioned; for by so doing they retain their language, habits, principles, good or bad, which they bring with them. Whereas, by an intermixture with our people, they or their descendants get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws; in a word, soon become one people.”
“It remains to be seen,” he declared, “whether our country will stand upon independent ground. . . . A little time will show who are its true friends, or, what is synonymous, who are true Americans.”
MAKING THE FOREIGN-BORN FAMILIAR WITH THE AMERICAN SPIRIT By George S. Tilroe, Syracuse, NY published 1918 New York Education.
AMERICANIZATION of the immigrant to-day involves the two outstanding forces of world-wide human interest—the material and the spiritual. It is demanded that we judge their merits and determine which shall predominate as our national characteristic.
In teaching the immigrant, we have commonly regarded our work as an effort to make him a more valuable material asset in the community. We have taught him the English language to help him get a better job and to answer the questions of the Naturalization Court. The instruction has been essentially to meet material needs. Materially, we have accomplished our purpose.
The big problem to-day, however, is not material. Our work of Americanization is a spiritual task. It requires an exercise of personality, enthusiasm and thoroughness unparalleled in the history of the republic. It demands that we arouse in the immigrant a spirit of loyalty, a spirit like that which has ever led this nation on to victory.
The spirit of the American people is the most striking difference the immigrant sees between foreign and American life. It is the spirit we point to with pride, the spirit of liberty, of freedom and independence—the Spirit of 76! It grips the foreigner on first acquaintance and the longer he lives here the better he likes it. It throws a magnetizing influence over him. It is our spirit he is acquiring during the process of his assimilation, therefore, in such degree as we display traits worthwhile, in that degree is the immigrant becoming a worth-while American. This means that we are doubly responsible for the making of good Americans. We must be good Americans ourselves, if we would hope to get the American spirit across to the immigrant. We must illustrate the American spirit by setting before our alien population examples worthy of emulation.
Unfortunately, we have run the material Marathon at such a pace that we have heard hours of such rot as that, some of them have rather disregarded the intrinsic spirit of our laws and institutions and obscured the meaning of the American ideal. Meanwhile, the alien has debated the question of American citizenship, considering whether he shall become one of us. It has been difficult for him to differentiate between liberty and license, while our material manner of looking at the situation has rather confused him. We have not imbued him with the American spirit sufficiently to get him out of the alien class, consequently we have almost over-burdened ourselves with a conglomeration of crude humanity that is now the object of no little concern in some quarters.
The world war, a leveler of peoples, a spiritual prod, a national awakener, has done us immeasurable good. We have learned more in the last year than in half a century previous. We have learned the danger of spiritual lethargy and the value of national brotherhood. During the coming months, our American spirit is doubtless due for further quickening with its natural effect upon the immigrant.
Under these circumstances it is worthwhile to take invoice of our stock of Americanism. Most of us have acquired the American spirit through study of our great men and through visiting places of historical significance. Certain leaders and their heroic deeds stand out boldly. They were part of our education. When barely out of the cradle we learned about the hatchet and the cherry tree, about Honest Abe, the rail splitter. We have also learned about millions of common folk, living the simple life, who went to the front when duty called, but we seem to have overlooked the meaning of our nationality, for, it is said that “More than 50 per cent, of us have less than a 50 per cent, knowledge of the principles underlying the foundation of our government.”
Materially minded schemers have helped load us up with the problems now confronting us. They have victimized thousands of immigrants, many of them so many times that they have become distrustful of well intentioned persons who approach them with a sincere desire to help them. Meantime many of our better classes, rich and poor, have stood by, indifferent to the proceedings. We have declared that we need these folk to do our drudgery, to dig our ditches, to do our dirty work! Material selfishness has befogged the issue of American patriotism! We have led thousands of our immigrants no farther than the slums with harmful results. The American spirit withers in the hovels and dark passageways of the tenement sections. Many aliens, however, have swallowed the bitter pill of social ostracism and appeared here and there as leaders of influential colonies. Although many have not risen above the level of the common laborer, they have acquired enough of the spirit of genuine democracy to return to their native lands and spread American ideas. Some of our immigrants are sitting in legislative halls, others are spreading sedition and treachery!
Instead of consigning the alien to the slums, let’s open up to him not only the opportunities of our industrial centers, but also the advantages of the rural regions where fresh air and sunshine are plentiful, and clannishness is short lived. It is our duty to teach of all our resources and how they may be used for the common good. Before we can do much teaching, we must solve the problem of reaching these people. We must have funds and we must get our pupils into well equipped school plants where the American spirit is exemplified in all the surroundings. The American eagle can’t scream well cooped up in a foul cage.
Heretofore, in our immigrant education campaigns, we have used every available means to fill our evening schools. We have opened classes near immigrant homes, used posters, letters, missionaries and moral suasion. We have reached many through social activities and helped them because we appealed to their human, spiritual side, but definite results have been disappointing. We have not reached the masses.
In many of our cities, immigrants who have been in this country many years, have not taken advantage of instruction offered gratis in our night school. In some cities much less than 10 per cent, of the total foreign population is attending. In New York state are more than 3,000,000 foreigners ten years of age and over. Thirteen per cent, of them are illiterate as compared with 1 per cent, of the native born.
The showing is not quite so bad throughout the nation as a whole for, among children of foreign-born parentage, there is less illiteracy among the whites than among children of native born parents. Fully 50 per cent, of our children drop out of the elementary school into material activities, foreigners to greater degree than natives. A comparatively small percentage of all go through high school. In the high school and colleges, however, the native-born boys and girls outstrip immigrant children, showing an advantage over the flow from the elementary schools into material avenues of life employment. If they learn to exercise their minds along thought channels, young men and young women of the high schools and colleges are the hope of perpetuating in this country a race of thinking, reasoning human beings. It requires more than a machine to perpetuate the American spirit.
There is yet much to be done and it must be done through the greatest Americanization agency in the world—the American public school.
The work must be centralized here. It should not be scattered among various institutions and organizations which produce only indefinite results. The American spirit is nourished in the public schools and in them we must provide the proper kind of Americanism. There must be no taint of enemy propaganda anywhere in our educational system!
Raw material for the schools is available in this country to the extent of some 13,000,000 foreign-born people. One fifth of them cannot speak the English language and a much larger number have not yet grasped the American idea otherwise. It is our duty to teach them and their duty to try to learn. We owe it to them, they to us and all of us to our country. We must emphasize co-operation to preserve our democracy, for without it, democracies fail.
The old Athenian democracy, which produced a grand example of virtuous, civilized manhood, went to pieces. It had one fault. The people had no capacity for working together, consequently stronger, warring peoples, by using might, gobbled them up. But many of the good qualities of the ancient Greeks survive. They are the qualities showing the spirit of the people. Pericles emphasized the cultural side of their nature and did a lasting service to mankind.
Even old Greece had its alien problem. The spirit of that age drew a contrast between the principles of democracy and those of foreign, barbarian folk. The Greeks had to battle against evil influences of brutal, savage tribes of northern Europe, influences of two thousand years ago which are cropping out to-day. Thus, in so far as civilization in the finer sense is concerned, our problem is like that of Pericles’ time.
The spirit that prompted Pericles prompted the founders of this republic. It led to the adoption of the Constitution, the foundation of Americanism. If our immigrants become familiar with this they will have in its first paragraph the keynote of the American spirit in these words, “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union.” In this union, we escape the fault that caused the downfall of the mother of democracies and secure a guarantee of national strength. We Americans have been brought up under the spirit of this Constitution, while in Europe, for several centuries, there has been a material existence of undemocratic characteristics. Our immigrants, with few exceptions, were trained under this autocratic system of education. In America, we have used a democratic system, although we have allowed autocratic features to creep in, some innocently and others deliberately. Definite steps have been taken not only to disrupt the nation, but also to put foreign features into our education system. It is not a matter of language; it has to do with the introduction of European ideas. It concerns the fostering of materialistic principles which, in an autocracy, have produced a generation of common people now subservient machines manipulated by rulers who command barbarism which the educational training of the masses enforces them to practice. We have no place in America for any part of an educational system that trains immigrant children or alien adults for any such subserviency as this, yet here is what I read in a volume published in America six years ago: “Germans made many struggles to introduce and foster their language in our schools, taxed themselves for the maintenance of German schools, and fought in the press, the legislature and on the stump. There was Scheib in Baltimore, Feldner and Schneck in Detroit, Engelman and Herflinger in Milwaukee, Heilmann in Louisville, Conrad Krez in Wisconsin,” and scores of others. The author regrets that credit has not been given these men for their pioneer work in establishing a German normal school in Milwaukee and in devoting their energy and means to the preservation of German in this country. This was published six years ago. What do you think of it to-day? We have not only permitted ourselves to be exploited by foreigners but many of our own educators have gone abroad to gather up foreign ideas for American consumption. Some may be good and some bad, but, considered from the viewpoint of America First, there must be Americans able to devise Yankee substitutes for those worthwhile.
Several questions arise right here. Should not American educators investigate the subject and weed out objectionable foreign features that have gotten into our schools? If European systems of education produce a people in the condition of subserviency in which we believe Teutonic peoples to be living, do we want this kind of education in America? Do we want our people to be mere material machines or do we want them educated to enjoy life as it should be lived in a free democracy? Do we want them fitted only for work or do we want them prepared not only to work intelligently but also able to employ their leisure hours happily and profitably? The material was never intended to consume the whole day nor even one-half of it.
No less an American than George Washington had something to say on this subject. When it was proposed to bring over here the faculty of a Genevan university to take charge of an American university, he objected. He said he was against importing an entire “seminary of foreigners for the purpose of American education.” Neither did he favor sending our young men abroad to be educated. He feared what experience has shown he had cause to fear. He said they “contracted principles unfriendly to republican government and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind.” George Washington also had ideas about immigration that are good to-day. “My opinion with respect to immigration,” he said, “is, that except of useful mechanics and some particular descriptions of men or professions, there is no need of encouragement; while the policy or advantage of its taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be much questioned; for by so doing they retain their language, habits, principles, good or bad, which they bring with them. Whereas, by an intermixture with our people, they or their descendants get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws; in a word, soon become one people.”
“It remains to be seen,” he declared, “whether our country will stand upon independent ground. . . . A little time will show who are its true friends, or, what is synonymous, who are true Americans.”
The acid test of our Americanism is now on. Immigrants and natives are showing their colors. Our history teaches us that true Americans are held in reverence; traitors go to ignoble graves!
Whispering ” Tis well,” George Washington died, mourned by a nation.
Benedict Arnold went out a penitent, despised by everybody.
Among his many benefactions, Washington left us a suggestion that fits nicely into our scheme of Americanization. He favored a plan to spread systematic national ideas throughout the nation. In this way immigrants may learn the workings of the American spirit and what sort of men have guided our destiny. Illustrations are plentiful. The Pilgrims came here for freedom of worship. From the belfry of Old North Church a lantern signaled Paul Revere to begin his famous ride before Lexington and Concord. Seven thousand patriots gathered at Old South Church for that great American camouflage, the Boston Tea Party. Washington prayed for success at Valley Forge. John Adams recited every night the prayer his mother taught him as a boy. Ethan Allen appeared at Ticonderoga in the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress. This sort of spirit was back of the American revolution!
In Civil War days, Abraham Lincoln said, “Let us strive to deserve the continued care of the Divine Providence, trusting that in future emergencies He will not fail to provide us with the instruments of safety and security.”
And there is the Gettysburg address! It was the American spirit that gave us these: “With malice toward none, with charity for all;” “Give me liberty or give me death;” “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” In all this there is something higher than the material. It is powerful enough to repel a foreign foe. It has never tasted defeat.
This kind of Americanism taught to our immigrants has been the only force directly counteracting the spread of foreign propaganda in this country during the past twenty-five years! Its effect is seen on European battlefields to-day!
Fully one-third of the volunteers for the regular branches of the army, navy and marines this year are of foreign birth or parentage. In industrial centers they have volunteered in a ratio of 3 to 1 as compared with native sons. Many of them learned Americanism in our night schools. I saw some of them clad in khaki, march away. I went to the railway station with them. I was proud of them. I met others before the draft boards, accepting service without claim of exemption. I was proud of them because the chairmen of the examining boards told me they were showing a remarkable spirit in that they volunteered when they might claim exemption on the ground of being aliens. It was ample reward for fifteen years’ effort to get the American idea across. During the past three years the government has come to help us in this service. It has started a campaign of Americanization. We welcome the movement. It will help us continue the transformation of immigrants into highly respected and prosperous American citizens. We know many who have traveled this road. We are in touch with all nationalities, some of whom are scattered to all parts of the world. In America, we hope to cement this material into one spiritual union. The press, the pulpit and our law-making bodies can aid this work by considering such propositions as these:
1. Suppression of foreign language newspapers.
2. Supervision of societies of foreigners.
3. Scattering of colonies of foreigners.
4. Licensing of persons acting as interpreters.
5. Deportation of foreigners who refuse to declare their intentions after one year’s residence, unless registered.
6. Licensing of those who assume to prepare aliens for the Naturalization Court.
7. Compulsory attendance at evening schools of foreigners who cannot speak English.
8. Government control of public Americanization agencies centralized in the public schools.
9. The teaching of foreign languages in our schools by Americans.
Through education and legislation we must work together in that unity outlined in the Constitution, not forgetting that the genuine American spirit is one of right living under the Golden Rule. We have achieved success in a material way and enjoy many inventions, but no invention has yet approached the splendor of the spiritual. We are ringing a change on the materialistic tendencies of several centuries. The spirit of Christian brotherhood is getting hold of us. We are getting to be more like human beings. This humane spirit is a feature of democracy. May all nationalities be so imbued with it that “This nation, under God, shall not perish from the earth.”