Amazing articles on just about every subject...


The Human Element

( Originally Published 1918 )



The land-plus-man unit. The basic factors of American industrial development with which we started are the land and the men the land, with its various natural qualities, and the men, with their various inborn or acquired characters the land, capable or incapable of affording to man such resources as he needs for living, and the men, capable or incapable of developing what the land can afford them. Always the unit of production is, we repeat, land plus man.

The men. But now we have made a broad survey of the land and its resources, and before we try to picture our national industrial development it is necessary to render some account of the human element of the problem. We now know what sort of a land the men had to deal with ; and it is time to consider what sort of men there were to deal with the land. Our next topic is, therefore, the character of our country's population.

Human races. The peoples of the earth differ from one another in several respects : color, stature, shape of head, and otherwise. On the basis of these differences they have been classified into different races.

The white immigrants. Except for the Indians, we are all immigrants to this country ; but some of us are native-born and some are not. The ancestors of some of us have been native-born for a long way back ; those of others of us were foreign-born not many generations ago. Let us try to get some idea of the stream of white immigration as it has flowed, mainly from Europe, into this country.

The first settlers. The first settlers in this country were pre-dominantly from the most highly civilized states of western Europe : England, Scotland, France, Holland, and Germany. This was an excellent beginning, especially since the conditions of the time were such that the immigrants represented the best stock of these advanced countries. For the motives to migration were ambition to improve material conditions of life ; independence of judgment and unwillingness to submit to intellectual or religious oppression ; and other motives that spoke well for the quality of the men and women in question. Not all the immigrants were of this type, naturally enough ; there were ruffians and scoundrels ; and there was a whole class of paupers or kidnaped parties who sold themselves into temporary slavery in order to pay for their passage. But in the main the early immigration drew from the best existing sources, and the quality of the population was high. Circumstances, as we shall see in the next chapter, conspired to give this population some very desirable qualities ; but circumstances could have done little without the original good material to work on. The immigrants were, for the most part, serious, thrifty, industrious people, intelligent, well educated according to the standards of the time, quite strict in their moral codes, and, what is of the utmost importance in such cases, remarkably adaptable to the new conditions in which they found themselves. The resourcefulness of the " Yankee " began with the first settlers. In brief, they represented excellent human material to be applied to the development of the new land.

Mid-century immigration. The stream of immigration which was to form the population of our country continued to be of this general type up to the Revolution and after. As a matter of fact, however, the growth of population was due chiefly to natural increase, for up to 1820 the stream of immigration was a rather thin one. But because of the building and completion of the Erie Canal, the planning of the first railroads, and other enterprises, there was created a demand for labor which the native population could not supply, and the arrivals rapidly increased. Small parties of Scandinavians began to arrive ; around 1850 many Germans fled hither from political discomfort and oppression at home; and the potato famine in Ireland, in 1845, drove many Irish settlers to our shores. The Germans as a rule went West and took up farm lands ; while the Irish generally lingered in the Eastern towns or drifted into construction camps.

Later immigration. Up to 1882 the incomers to this country were from western Europe. They were often poor and sometimes turbulent, but they managed to get along together and to unite in forming what was essentially a single type the American. They were not too far apart in their national ways and civilization to be able to understand one another. Those who came in poverty often rose, in a few generations, to prominence in the community. There is no manner of doubt as to the value of the mid-century immigrants for the development of industry.

Immigration since 1882. But in 1882 another stream of immigration began to make itself felt one originating in southern and eastern Europe, chiefly, at first, from Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. In the year mentioned came the first inclusive Federal immigration law, and. also the first Chinese exclusion act. Astonishingly large numbers began to arrive, the maximum occurring in 1907, in which year we received 1,285,349 foreigners within our boundaries. People began to wonder whether we could turn all this mass of foreigners into Americans, however effective our " melting pot." In 1896, for the first time, the incomers from Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia outnumbered those from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Scandinavia.

Character of recent immigrants. We shall try to sum up some of the main facts about the nature of our later immigration. The incomers are predominantly male and of middle age or younger, and physically they are selected specimens, for they have had to pass physical tests in order to be allowed to enter the country. If it were merely a question of having a number of able-bodied males to do rough work, these facts would be favorable. But if it is desirable for immigrants to settle down and found homes, then the lack of female immigration is unfortunate. This immigration of recent decades is evidently not one of families, as it was in the earlier days. Still more unfavorable is it that the new immigration shows a large percentage of illiteracy, and that the great majority of the immigrants can, for a while at least, do nothing better than common, unskilled labor. Many of them wish only to become rich, go back home, and live in luxury there.

Can all the immigrants be made into Americans ? It is perfectly plain that the newer immigration is not of as high a type industrially as was the old. The fact of the matter is that the new immigrants do not come to us well adapted to fit immediately into our life. This is due to the fact, undoubtedly, that they have lived in Europe under conditions so different from ours that their habits and ideas are very different from our own. To a large degree this can be remedied by education, and has been repeatedly so remedied in the case of the young ; but it is always hard to learn new ways, especially for older people, and if the immigrants are going to come in such masses, it is a question whether we shall educate them in time to prevent them from altering our system in the direction of their own. The question is as to the capacity of the " melting pot." One thing is certain : we cannot take them as they come to us ; something has to be done with them if they are going to become Americans and enter into our social and industrial system as part of it and as factors to develop and improve it. The older immigration came along, settled down, and practically took care of itself ; it melted naturally into the type which we call American, and presently began to contribute to the advancement of our national industrial prosperity. All these newer immigrant races have their good points ; and if they do not come in such numbers as to swamp us, by unremitting effort we can mold them toward our type.

Importance of the immigration question. These questions about the human element in our national development are matters which ought to be realized and, as far as possible, understood by every young American. We have all got to work together if we are going to succeed ; and to work together we must be and must think pretty much alike. Our national resources, of which we have seen something in the preceding chapter, cannot be developed with success unless the quality of the men corresponds with the quality of the materials. The land element in production is favorable to prosperity of the highest type ; we have plenty of men and shall be able to get all we need ; the great question now is as to the quality of our population, and whether it will come to work together as a unit in the development of national wealth out of abundant natural resources. We are a medley of races, the " mixing ground of the nations," but the medley should always be melting into a single race and nation, as it did in the older times.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com