Essential Importance of the Foreign Element to the United States of America

John Francis Maguire
APPENDIX (4) start of appendix

It may be of some advantage to exhibit the importance of the foreign element to the American Republic, not alone in developing the general resources of the country, and assisting to occupy and populate, and thus make valuable, new territories; but to preserve from gradual decay, from annual wasting away, from eventual and absolute extinction, communities which were at one time hostile to the foreigner, and even haughtily impatient of his presence. This absurd hostility to the foreigner was more prevalent in the New England States than in any other portion of the Union; and in Massachusetts various 'isms' of the Native-American stamp, almost invariably opposed to the stranger, have had their origin. And yet it is beyond doubt that, only for the foreign element, or the infusion of life-blood into the failing system of this most prominent of these New England States, its population would have dwindled away, and practically would have given up the ghost! This, no doubt, is a very startling announcement, if true. But is it true? It is indisputable. There cannot be a doubt as to its truth.

The Secretary of the Board of State Charities, in his Third Annual Report, dated October 1866, makes use of, and incorporates with the first part of that Report, a document to which he attaches evident importance. It forms a portion of the Fourth Chapter, and is headed 'Inferences from Registration and Census Reports.' The paper in question is thus introduced:—

'In closing this part of my Report, I shall have occasion to avail myself of the studies of a member of this Board, formerly its Chairman, and now the Chairman of its Committee on Statistics. The patient investigations which Dr. Alien has been making for years in regard to the increase of population in Massachusetts have led him to some conclusions which to many appear novel and startling, while others recognise them as familiar to the course of their own thoughts. At my request, he has allowed me to cite from his manuscripts the following passages.'

Unfortunately there is not space remaining to do full justice to one of the most remarkable and suggestive papers ever presented to the American public; but a few extracts from it will be sufficient to show how essential to the progress—nay, the very life—of the New England States is their foreign, in other words, their Irish population:—

The increase in these ten years of those born in Massachusetts is 110,313, but a considerable portion are the children of foreigners. By referring to the table of those born in foreign lands, it will be seen that there was an increase of emigrants from Ireland in these ten years of 69,517. The number must have been considerably larger than this, as many counted foreign born in the Census of 1850 must have died between that date and 1860. The whole increase of foreign born from 1850 to 1860 was 99,205. The foreign element, next largest to the Irish, is 27,069 from British America, including persons of Canadian, French, English, Irish and Scotch extraction. Next in point of numbers are the English, German and Scotch. It should be observed that this second table gives only those born in a foreign land, and not the children of foreigners born in Massachusetts. These are included in the first table, among the 805,549 born within the State.(61)

The remaining extracts, which will be found of very great interest, are now given, and may well stand without note or comment.

II.—The Foreign Element in Massachusetts.

But in order to understand correctly the increase and the changes in our population, the history and number of those of a foreign origin must be carefully noted. The rapid increase of this class, and the changes consequent upon its future growth, afford themes which deserve the most grave consideration.

The Census at different periods returns this element as follows:—1830, 9,620; 1840, 34,818; 1850, 164,448; and 1860, 260,114. Here within 30 years, commencing with less than 10,000, we have an increase, by immigration alone, to over 250,000. It should be observed, that this does not include the great number of children born in this State of foreign extraction. The first Registration Report that discriminated in the births as to parentage was that of 1850, returning 8,197 of this class, and 3,278 mixed or not stated. In 1860, the number had increased to 17,549, besides nearly 1,000 not stated. In 1850, the foreign births were only one-half as many as the American, but they continued to gain every year afterwards upon the American till 1860, when they obtained a majority. This year will ever constitute an important era in the history of Massachusetts when the foreign element, composing only about one-third part of the population of the State, produced more children than the American. Since 1860 they have gained every year upon the American, till in 1865 their births numbered almost 1,000 more than the American.

From 1850 to 1860, the Registration Reports make the foreign births 137,146, besides 18,598 not stated, a large portion of which undoubtedly was of foreign origin. Then the number of such births from 1830 to 1850 cannot be definitely stated, but, judging by the amount of foreign population at this period and its fruitfulness at other times, the number of births would certainly come up to 50,000 or more. Now what proportion of those of this character born from 1830 to 1860, might have been living when the Census of 1860 was taken, we cannot tell; all that can be determined upon the subject is only an approximation to the truth. It is estimated, where the mortality is largest, that only from two-fifths to one-half of all those born—including both the city and the country—live to reach adult life. After making allowance for this fact, and considering that by far the largest proportion of these births occurred in the years immediately preceding 1860, we think it perfectly safe to say that there must have been over 100,000 persons of this class included in the United States Census returned as native born in Massachusetts, or, in other words, as American. This fact would change materially the Census report. It would take at least 100,000 from the American portion—970,000—and add 100,000 to the 260,000 reported as born in foreign countries. This result makes at that time almost one-half of our population strictly of a foreign origin! It is expressly stated, both in the United States and State Censuses, that the returns are made upon the nativities of the population. Judging by these facts and figures, it would seem that the foreign population is actually much larger in this State than has generally been considered.

III.—Distribution and Employment of the Foreign Population.

But this class of people do not all live in the cities. They are found scattered in almost every town and neighbourhood in the Commonwealth. The men came first to build railroads, to dig canals, cellars, and aid in laying the foundation of mills, dwellings and public buildings. Then came the women to act as servants and domestics in families, as well as to find useful employment in shops and mills. Then came parents, children and whole families. To such an extent have they increased by immigration and birth, that they now perform a very large portion of the domestic service in all our families; they constitute everywhere a majority of the hired labourers upon the farm; they are found extensively engaged in trade and mechanical pursuits, particularly in the shoe business, and compose by far the largest proportion of all the operatives in the mills.

Within a few years, they have become extensive owners of real estate. In the cities they have built or bought a very large number of small shops and cheap dwellings, and in the rural districts as well as in the farming towns throughout the State, they have purchased very extensively small lots of land, small places, and old farms partially run out; and (what is significant) they pay for whatever real estate they buy, and are scarcely ever known to sell any. In fact, it has come to such a pass, that they perform a very large proportion of the physical labour throughout the State, whether it be in the mill or in the shop, whether in the family or upon the farm. As far as muscular exercise is concerned, they constitute 'the bone and sinew' of the land, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to dispense with their services. Every year the Americans are becoming more and more dependent upon them for manual labour, both in-doors and out-of-doors. Should the foreign population continue to increase as they have in the past twenty or thirty years, and the American portion remain stationary to decrease, a question of no ordinary interest arises, What will be the state of society thirty or fifty years hence in this Commonwealth?

IV.—Comparative Increase of Natives and Foreigners.

From 1850 to 1866, the fifteen Registration Reports return 208,730 births of strictly foreign parentage, besides 22,376 not stated, a large portion of which must be foreign. All of these living when the Census is taken, would be considered, according to present usage, American; whereas they should be counted strictly under the foreign head. A careful analysis of the Census and Registration Reports presents the following facts:—

The increase of population in the State has been confined principally to cities and towns where manufacturing, mechanical and commercial business is carried on. In the purely agricultural districts, there has been very little increase of population. Railroads have had a powerful influence in changing the population of the State from the hills and country towns to the valleys and plains. Wherever water-power, or steam-power, has been introduced, or where trade and commerce has found advantages, there population has greatly increased. The eastern section of the State has increased far more than the middle or western districts. Population in manufacturing places has increased about five times more than in agricultural districts. It is found also, wherever there has been much or a rapid increase of population, it has been made up largely of a foreign element. Now if a line could be drawn exactly between the American and foreign population, as it respects this increase, it would throw much light upon the subject. According to the Census of 1860, it appears that two counties—Dukes and Nantucket—had actually decreased in population. There were eighty-six towns also which had diminished in population between 1850 and 1860. In a small part of these towns, this change is accounted for by the fact that some section of the place had, in the mean time, been set off to another town. The places in the State that have increased the least, or declined in population, are found to be settled generally with American stock.

A serious question here arises, Is there a natural increase in this class of the community? It is generally admitted that foreigners have a far greater number of children, for the same number of inhabitants, than the Americans. It is estimated by some physicians, that the same number of married persons of the former have, on an average, three times as many children as an equal number of those of the latter. This gives the foreign element great power of increase of population—derived not so much from emigration as from the births exceeding greatly the deaths.


In a report upon the comparative view of the population of Boston in 1849 and 1850, made to the city government, November 1851, Dr. Jesse Chickering, after a most careful analysis of the Births and Deaths in Boston, states that 'the most important fact derived from this view is the result that the whole increase of population arising from the excess of Births over Deaths for these two years has been among the foreign population.' Since 1850 we think it will be very difficult to prove that there has been any natural increase of population in Boston with the strictly American population.

Again, many towns in the State have been settled over two hundred years, and their history will include from six to eight generations. The records of several of these towns have been carefully examined with respect to the relative number of children in each generation. It was found that the families comprising the first generation had on an average between eight and ten children; the next three generations averaged between seven and eight to each family; the fifth generation about five, and the sixth> less than three to each family. What a change as to the size of the families since those olden times! Then large families were common,—now the exception; then it was rare to find married persons having only one, two or three children; now it is very common! Then it was regarded a calamity for a married couple to have no children—now such calamities are found on every side of us—in fact, they are fashionable.

It is the uniform testimony of physicians who have been extensively engaged in the practice of medicine, twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years in this State,—and who have the best possible means of understanding this whole subject,—that there has been gradually a very great falling off in the number of children among American families.

This decrease of children is found to prevail in country towns and rural districts almost to the same extent as in the cities, which is contrary to the general impression. In view of these facts, several questions naturally arise:—If the foreign population in Massachusetts continues to increase as it has, and the American portion remains stationary, or decreases, as the probabilities indicate, what will be the state of society here twenty-five, fifty or a hundred years hence ? How long will it be before the foreign portion will outnumber the American in our principal cities and towns, or constitute even a majority in the whole Commonwealth?

The cause why there should be such a difference in the number of children, between the American families now upon the stage, and those of the same stock, one, two and three generations ago, is a subject of grave inquiry. Again, why should there be such a difference in this respect, between American families and those of the English, German, Scotch and Irish of the present day? Is this difference owing to our higher civilisation or to a more artificial mode of life and the unwholesome state of society? Or can it be attributed to a degeneracy in the physical condition and organisation of females, or a settled determination with the married to have no children or a very limited number?

'Such,' says the Secretary, 'are the questions raised by Dr. Allen, and such are some of the facts which their investigation calls forth.'

With the questions raised by Dr. Allen in this Public Document, which Massachusetts has published among its State Papers, I do not attempt to deal; but I may respectfully suggest another,—namely, Does not Native-Americanism, or Know-Nothingism, or any similar 'ism,' appear intensely ridiculous and profoundly absurd, in the face of such facts as these?

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America