Maurice G. (Maurice Garland) Fulton.

National ideals and problems; essays for college English online

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Moreover, these immigrants, peasants at home, become city-
dwellers here. The city is the heart of our body social. It is the
home of education, amusement, culture, crime, discontent,
social contacts and power. The immigrant, even in the gutter
of the city, is often nearer to the main currents of our national
life than is the average resident of the country. His children
are more literate, more restless, more wide-awake.

With such numbers, such qualities, and such a position within
the social network, one might imagine that the immigrant


would gradually transform us in his own likeness. But no such
direct influence is visible. As a nation we have not learned polite-
ness, although we have drawn millions of immigrants from the
politest peoples in the world. Our national irreverence is not
decreased, but, on the contrary, is actually increased, by the
mass of idols, of good old customs, memories, religions, which
come to us in the steerage. Nor is the immigrant's influence in
any way intentional. Though he hopes that America will make
him, the immigrant has no presumptuous thought of making
America. To him, America is a fixed, unchanging environmental
thing, a land to browse on.

This very passivity of the newly arrived immigrant is the
most tremendous of influences. The workman who does not
join a union, the citizen who sends his immature children to the
factory, the man who does not become naturalized, or who main-
tains a standard of living below an inadequate wage, such a one
by contagion and pressure changes conditions and lowers stand-
ards all about him, undermining to the extent of his lethargy
our entire social edifice. The aim of Americanization is to com-
bat this passive influence. Two forces, like good and evil, are
opposed on that long frontier line where the immigrant comes
into contact with the older resident. The American, through
self-protection, not love, seeks to raise the immigrant to his
economic level; the immigrant, through self -protection, not
through knowledge, involuntarily accepts conditions which tend
to drag the American down to his. In this contest much that we
ordinarily account virtue is evil; much that is ugly is good. The
immigrant girl puts on a corset, exchanges her picturesque head-
dress for a flowering monstrosity of an American hat, squeezes
her honest peasant's foot into a narrow, thin-soled American
shoe and behold, it is good. It is a step toward assimilation,
toward a more expensive if not a more lovely standard of living.
It gives hostages to America. It makes the frenzied saving of
the early days impossible. Docility, abnegation, and pecuniary
abasement are not economic virtues, however highly they may
be rated in another category.

In still other ways this assimilation alters and limits the


alien's influence. Much is lost in the process. The immigrant
comes to us laden with gifts, but we have not the leisure to
take nor he the opportunity to tender. The brilliant native cos-
tumes, the strange, vibrant dialects, the curious mental molds
are soon faded or gone. The old religions, the old customs, the
traditional manners, the ancient lace do not survive the melting-
pot. Assimilation, however necessary, ends the charm and rare-
ness of our quaint human importations.

For this esthetic degeneration the immigrant must not be
blamed. To gain himself he must lose himself. He must adopt
"our ways." The Italian day laborer finds that macaroni and
lettuce are not a suitable diet for ten hours' work on the subway
or the Catskill dam. The politeness of sunny southern Europe
is at a discount in our skurrying, elbowing crowds. The docility
of the peasant damns a man irretrievably in the struggle to rise,
and conservatism in gentle, outlandish manners is impossible in
kaleidoscopic America. The immigrant, therefore, accepts our
standards wholesale and indiscriminately. He "goes the limit"
of assimilation slang, clothes, and chewing-gum. He accom-
modates himself quickly to that narrow fringe of America which
affects him most immediately. The Talmudist in Russia is, for
better or worse, no Talmudist here: he is a cloak-presser or a real-
estate broker. The Greek shepherd becomes an elevator-boy or
a hazardous speculator in resuscitated violets. The Sicilian
bootblack learns to charge ten cents for a five-cent shine; the
candy-vender from Macedonia haggles long before he knows a
hundred English words ; the Pole who never has seen a coal-mine
becomes adept at the use of the steam-shovel.

Another limit to the immigrant's influence is due to the fact
that the America to which he adapts himself is the America
that he first meets, the America at the bottom. That bottom
changes as America changes from an agricultural to an industrial
nation. For the average immigrant there is no longer a free
farm on a western frontier: there is only a job as an unskilled
or semi-skilled workman. For that job a knowledge of his letters
is not absolutely necessary. Nor is a knowledge of English.
There are in America today a few millions of aliens who cannot


speak English or read or write their native tongue, and who,
from an industrial point of view, are almost mere muscle. The
road from bottom to top becomes steeper and more inaccessible.
Stratification begins.

Because of his position at the bottom of a stratified society,
the immigrant especially the recent immigrant does not exert
any large direct influence. Taken in the mass, he does not run
our businesses, make our laws, write our books, paint our pictures,
preach to us, teach us or prescribe for us. His indirect influence,
on the other hand, is increased rather than diminished by his
position at the bottom of the structure. When he moves, all
superincumbent groups must of necessity shift their positions.
This indirect influence is manifold. The immigration of enor-
mous numbers of unskilled "interchangeable" laborers, who can
be moved about like pawns, standardizes our industries, facili-
tates the growth of stupendous business units, and generally
promotes plasticity. The immigrant, by his mere presence, by
his mere readiness to be used, speeds us up ; he accelerates the
whole tempo of our industrial life. He changes completely "the
balance of power" in industry, politics, and social life generally.
The feverish speed of our labor, which is so largely pathological,
is an index of this. The arrival of ever-fresh multitudes adds to
the difficulties of securing a democratic control of either industry
or politics. The presence of the unskilled, unlettered immigrant
excites the cupidity of men who wish to make money quickly
and do not care how. It makes an essentially kind-hearted people
callous. Why save the lives of "wops"? What does it matter if
our industry kills a few thousands more or less, when, if we wish,
we can get millions a year from inexhaustible Europe? Immigra-
tion acts to destroy our brakes. It keeps us, as a nation, transi-

Of course this transitional quality of America was due partly
to our virgin continent. There was always room in the West; a
man did not settle, but merely lighted on a spot, like a migratory
bird on its southern journey. Immigration, however, intensified
and protracted this development. Each race had to fight for its
place. Natives were displaced by Irish, who were displaced in


turn by Germans, Russians, Italians, Portuguese, Greeks,
Syrians. Whole trades were deserted by one nation and con-
quered by another. The peoples of eastern Europe inundated
the Pennsylvania mining districts, displacing Irish, English,
and Welsh miners. The Irish street laborer disappeared; the
Italian quietly took his shovel. Russian Jews revolutionized the
clothing trade, driving out Germans as these had driven out
native Americans. The old homes of displaced nations were
inhabited by new peoples; the old peoples were shoved up or
down, but, in any case, out. Cities, factories, neighborhoods
changed with startling rapidity. Connecticut schools, once
attended by descendants of the Pilgrims, became overfilled with
dark-eyed Italian lads and tow-headed Slavs. Protestant
churches were stranded in Catholic or Jewish neighborhoods.
America changed rapidly, feverishly. That peculiar quiet rest-
lessness of America, the calm fear with which we search with
the tail of our eye to avoid swirling automobiles, the rush and
recklessness of our life, were increased by the mild, law-abiding
people who came to us from abroad.

There was a time when all these qualities were good, or at
least had their good features. So long as we had elbow-room in
the West, so long as we were young and growing, with a big con-
tinent to make our mistakes in, even recklessness was a virtue.
But today America is no longer elastic, the road from bottom to
top is not so short and not so unimpeded as it once was. We
cannot any longer be sure that the immigrant will find his
proper place in our eastern mills or on our western farms without
injury to others or to himself.

The time has passed when we exulted in the number of grown-
up men, bred at another country's expense, who came to work
for us and fertilize our soils with their dead bones. The time has
passed when we believed that mere numbers were all. Today,
despite night schools, settlements, and a whole network of
Americanizing agencies, we have teeming, polyglot slums and
the clash of race with race in sweatshop and factory, mine and
lumber-camp. We have a mixture of ideals, a confusion of
standards, a conglomeration of clashing views of life. We, the


many-nationed nation of America, bring the Puritan tradition,
a trifle anemic and thin, a little the worse for disuse. The immi-
grant brings a Babel of traditions, an all too plastic mind, a
willingness to copy our virtues and vices, to imitate us for better
or for worse. All of which hampers and delays the formation of
a national consciousness.

From whatever point we view the new America, we cannot
help seeing how intimately the changes have been bound up
with our immigration, especially with that of recent years. The
widening of the social gamut becomes more significant when we
recall that with unrestricted immigration our poorest citizens
are periodically recruited from the poor of the poorest countries
of Europe. Our differences in education, while they have other
causes, are sharply accentuated by our enormous development
of university and high schools at the one end, and by the increas-
ing illiteracy of our immigrants at the other. In cities where there
are large immigrant populations we note the beginning of a
change in our attitude toward the public schools, toward uni-
versal suffrage, toward many of the pious, if unrealized, national
ideals of an earlier period.

Fundamentally, however, the essential fact about our pres-
ent-day immigration is not that the immigrant has changed
(though that fact is of great importance), but that the America
to which the immigrant comes has changed fundamentally and
permanently. And the essential fact about the immigrant's
effect on American character is this, that the gift of the immi-
grant to the nation is not the qualities which he himself had at
home, but the very qualities which Americans have always had.
In other words, at a time when American industrial, political,
and social conditions are changing, partly as a result of immi-
gration itself, the immigrant hampers our psychological adjust-
ment to such changes by giving scope and exercise to old national
characteristics which should be obsolescent.

America today is in transition. We have moved rapidly
from one industrial world to another, and this progress has
been aided and stimulated by immigration. The psychological
change, however, which should have kept pace with this indus-


trial transition, has been slower and less complete. It has been
retarded by the very rapidity of our immigration and by the
tremendous educational tasks which that influx placed upon us.
The immigrant is a challenge to our highest idealism, but the
task of Americanizing the extra millions of newcomers has
hindered progress in the task of democratizing America.




[George William Alger (1872 ) is a lawyer in New York City. In

his own activities as a citizen he has taken great interest in labor and child
labor matters. In this article, he has in an interesting way discussed Ben-
jamin Franklin as a concrete example of Americanism.]

It is unfortunate for the fame of Franklin that most of us
form our ideas of our great historical characters from school
histories. We were introduced to him in our youth and under
the worst of auspices. For in that part of the story of the Revo-
lution where each daily lesson is full of exciting events, when
the great embattled farmers are chasing Redcoats and killing
Hessians, fighting thrilling battles and doing those interesting
things which make the story of the Revolution a schoolboy's
romance, the music seems to stop suddenly and the rapidly
moving figures of our fighting fathers are swept ruthlessly from
the stage and out shuffles an old man, with a broad, shrewd,
and homely face, queer glasses, and a head surmounted by an
atrocious fur hat Benjamin Franklin.

How can a boy see anything heroic in an old man, no fighter,
whose biography is in a footnote, which does not count in
examination? An old man, moreover, whose footnote biography
generally contains nothing exciting, or even interesting, except
the story of his kite or the ridiculous figure he made with his
three loaves of bread, one under each arm and one in his mouth
on his first entry into Philadelphia.

Every American schoolboy, as he reads the history of his
country, has born in him an essentially dramatic ambition

iFrom the American Magazine, vol. vii, p. 318 (January, 1906).

S 8


the ambition that at some far-off day, in some far-off crisis
of his country's existence, he, too, may add a thrilling page to
some schoolboy's history, may do some deed of daring like
mad Anthony Wayne may carry some post by storm, die gener-
ously like Hale or De Kalb, may scourge the seas like Paul
Jones. But what boy's ambition does the old man in the fur
hat inspire? What schoolboy knows that it was really a great
thing to finance the American Revolution?

It is precisely because he is the great American whom most
of us failed to appreciate in our youth not entirely through
our fault that in this month, which contains the second
centennial of Franklin's birth, we should in our maturer years
return to a study of one who was perhaps the first great American
citizen and pay to his memory a belated tribute.

It is fortunate for Franklin that the second centenary of
his birth falls as it does, for we are realizing, year by year, the
supreme importance of the things he stood for, the supreme
importance to a country whose future is to be won through the
arts of peace and not of war, of his type of citizenship. We have
suffered from the military ideal of citizenship, for it made and
makes the citizenship of peace seem dull, tame, and not worth
while. The country has never lacked men who would die for it.
Such danger as it is in today lies in its lack of men willing to do
something for it while they are alive with their skins not in

The newspapers and magazines are full of the crooked doings
of men who are today undermining the foundations of a govern-
ment for which, in tunes of war, they would carry a gun. Our
supreme problem in these days, when so much is being said of
corruption in office and the corrupting influences of businessmen
on public life, the supreme problem is, how shall we make the
ideal of citizenship, plain everyday citizenship seem some-
thing highly important and worth striving for? The lesson which
we can learn from the career of Franklin is the tremendous,
permanent value of this type of citizenship.

In point of time he was the first great American citizen.
He was widely and favorably known and nearing the middle of


his career before Washington was in his teens. He was nearly
seventy when the crisis of the Revolution came, and when as
an old man, full of honors and years, feeble and afflicted with
gout and rheumatism, he brought France to our aid at the
critical day of our struggle for independence, and secured the
funds which made the success of the Revolution possible.

Though he was born two hundred years ago, on the i7th of
January, and the social conditions of his time were so unlike our
own, there is a marked similarity between Franklin and the
type of big businessmen of whom we complain so bitterly to-
day. For up to a certain point his career and his interests in
life were curiously like not a few of our own great magnates.

He was born poor, had little school education, and began
life with an insatiable desire to improve himself and his condi-
tion. Economy and frugality were his in a marked degree. No
man ever lived who had a greater notion of the value of time.
Sparks tells an anecdote illustrating this, which we have no
reason to consider as merely a jest. Franklin's father, like every
good old-time New Englander, said grace before meals three
times a day. One day when a barrel of pork was received at
the house, young Benjamin earnestly entreated his parent to
bless the meat in the barrel and thereby save the time spent on
blessing at each meal the portion put on the table. He worked
with enormous industry. When he set up his printing shop
in Philadelphia in partnership with Meredith, it was this in-
dustry which gave the young firm credit. "For the industry of
that Franklin," said Dr. Baird at the Merchants' Every Night
Club, "is superior to anything I have ever seen of the kind.
I see him still at work when I go from the club and he is at work
again before his neighbors are out of bed."

He lived simply almost parsimoniously and spent noth-
ing on display. Generous though he was to his immediate
relatives, to his friends, and to those in distress, he was close in
his ordinary business dealings. He allowed himself few luxuries
and saved money rigorously from his youth up. No reader of
his autobiography can help feeling sympathy with his poor
London landlady, the widow in Duke Street, "who was so lame


in her knees with the gout and therefore seldom stirred out of
her room," and who found young Franklin so interesting. He
found her equally good company, but when after patient search-
ing he discovered a boarding place which was thirty-six cents a
week cheaper, he threatened to leave and she had to "abate
him" forty-eight cents a week to keep her congenial boarder.

He certainly cared a great deal about money. He was
shrewd and long-headed hi getting it. He believed in it and
was forever writing about it, and advising young tradesmen on
"The Way to Wealth" and how to find it. Poor Richard's
Almanack is a materialist's catechism, full of wise saws on the
saving of money and the tangible advantages of industry. The
qualities which Franklin possessed, the business shrewdness and
foresight, the executive ability and the combination in him of
industry, economy and endless patience would make him a
multi-millionaire today. It made him very well-to-do hi his
own time. He left a fortune of over $150,000.

At the height of his business career he was, in his chosen
calling, the best as well as the most successful printer in the
Colonies, earning annually four tunes as much as his most
fortunate rival. He was editor, composer, publisher, bookbinder,
stationer; he made lamp-black and ink, dealt in rags, sold soap
and live geese feathers and "very good sack at six shillings a
gallon." He had the best jobs of printing of New Jersey, Mary-
land, Pennsylvania, and by partnership in Virginia, New York,
the Carolinas and Georgia. He published schoolbooks and hand-
books in medicine and farriery. Poor Richard's Almanack had
to go to press in October, so as to be ready for the New Year,
so great was the demand for it. He was postmaster-general
and clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and earned by
all these separate irons in these different fires $10,000 per year.
At forty-two he was a free man, for he had an estate of $3,500
per year. He had earned leisure, that leisure which Poor Richard
describes as "the tune for doing something useful. This leisure
the diligent man will obtain, the lazy man never."

Thus much has been said of Franklin in his character as a
businessman, because it is the substructure of his character as a


public man. He was the original American businessman in
public life. It should be borne in mind that it was while he was
actively and laboriously engaged in a pursuit which he loved,
that of making money, he found time to perform those many
acts of wise citizenship which form the substantial foundation
of his later career as a statesman. He could do successful
business and still find time for public service.

He was particular about the way of doing that business,
moreover. He was particular about the way in which he made
his money. He was not of that too familiar type of big business-
men who square extortion and oppression by philanthropy.
He took no rebates. When he first started his newspaper in
Philadelphia, his rival was Bradford, who, in addition to pub-
lishing a paper, was postmaster-general of the Colonies. Brad-
ford used his authority as postmaster-general to practically
exclude Franklin's papers from the mail by forbidding the post-
riders to carry them. Franklin shortly after succeeded Bradford
as postmaster-general. Here was the opportunity to build a
monopoly and crush his old rival. But the thought never seems
to have entered his head that the newspaper business of the
Colonies belonged to him. He says of Bradford in his attempt
to crush Franklin's newspaper: "I thought so meanly of him for
it that when I afterward came into his situation, I took care
never to imitate him."

He believed hi fair competition, in freedom for others as well
as himself, and cared more for his personal independence in the
conduct of his business than for the business itself. The story
of the sawdust pudding should be known in every newspaper
office in the country. When he first started his Gazette, he made
some free comments on certain public officials, and some of the
influential patrons of the paper resented it and tried to stop it.
He invited them to dinner. When they came they found noth-
ing on the table but a pudding made of coarse meal and a jug
of water. They sat down. Franklin filled their plates and then
his own and proceeded to eat heartily, but his guests could not
swallow the stuff. After a few moments Franklin rose, and,
looking at them, said quietly: "My friends, any man who can


subsist on sawdust pudding as I can, needs no man's patronage."
This is what the liberty of the press meant to the first great
American printer.

There is something humorous to us in these days about the
simple-mindedness of Franklin's honesty. His autobiography
affords us one unconscious example. When Braddock came over
in the French and Indian War with his British regulars, and
before he met the historic disaster which cost him his life, he
had great difficulty in getting horses and wagons to pull ordnance
and carry camp supplies, and Franklin set about helping him to
get the necessary transportation. The Pennsylvania farmers
were suspicious. They did not know Braddock, they did not
know Franklin, and insisted on his bond for the performance
of Braddock's promises. There was absolutely no reason why
Franklin should give it, for he was in no sense an army con-
tractor, but was simply trying to be of practical help in an
emergency in the war. But he gave his personal bond and ad-
vanced considerable sums from his own funds to procure the
wagons. As everybody knows, Braddock was defeated and the
wagons and horses were lost. The farmers came back to Franklin,
and he nearly had to pay twenty thousand pounds, which would
have ruined him, but a commission was finally created to adjust
and pay the claims. As for the cash advances he had made,
Braddock's successor intimated that Franklin had probably
made enough "rake off," on the transportation contracts so
that he could stand the loss of his advances, and laughed in-

Online LibraryMaurice G. (Maurice Garland) FultonNational ideals and problems; essays for college English → online text (page 6 of 39)