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ment. Reconstructing the history of mine accidents. Dr. Hourwich showed that
tlu'ir incidence varied with the output of industry rather than with the character
of the labor force: and a comparison of mtnes in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and
Alabama, which employed very few innnigrants, with those of Pennsylvania
where the bulk of the miners were immigrants exposed clearly the falsity of the
Commission's views. The Commission, eager to reach its own conclusions, con-
sidered none of these types of evidence.

« Report I, p. 530.

« Report I, p. 500.

« Report X, pp. 123, 124.

•"> Report I, p. 537.

« Report I, pp. 538 ff., VI, pp. 209 ff.

■•'Isaac A. Hourwich, Immigration and Labor (2d edition. New York, 1922) pp. 458 ff.


The conclusions of the Commission also loiiliiin nuiiicrou-s misccllaui'ons stal(!-
ments as to the deterioration of tlie conditions of labor and of wa.ws as the
results of immigration. In this connection, it is only necessary to emphasize
again the fact that the Commission had no evidence whatsoever to support these
contentifuis. Such evidence could only have come by a comparative historical
study which would actvially trace the development of labor conditions over a
substantial period. The Counnission made no such study. The hyiJothetical
and speculative nature of its conclusions may be seen in the followini; example.
Acknowledging that tbere was no evidence that immigrants actually woiked at
lower wages, the Commission went on to say :

"It is hardly opeu to doubt, however, that tlie availability of the large supply
of recent immigrant labor prevented the incr(>ase in wages which otherwise
would have resulted during recent years from the increased demand for labor." ^^

{(1) Neic imlKsfricx. — The Commission drew an unfavorable comparison be-
tween the old and the new innnigration. The conung of the latter "has not
resulted in the establishment of new industries of any iiiij)ortance." But, "by-
way of contrast, it will be recalled that a large proportiim of the earlier immi-
grant laborers were originally induced to come to this country to contribute their
skill and experience toward the establishment ol new industries, such as mining
and textile, glass, and iron and steel manufacturing." ■"" This assertion springs
from the unreal fantasy to which the Counnission clung, that the old immigra-
tion was largely made up of skilled artisans. (See above, p. IS.) It disregards
also the ol)vious difference between the industrial conditions in the United States
in 1840 and 1900. It was indeed easier to create new industries at the earlier
date ; but that retiected the luideveloped economy of the country rather than the
quality of the immigration.^"

(e) UnemiHoynient avd depressions. — The ccjnclusions of the report also con-
tain a number of statements implying a relationship between the new immigra-
tion and unemployment and depressions." These are nowhere proven. In any
case, as elsewhere, the Commission found it unnecessary to show that the old
immigration had stood in a diiferent relationship ; it took that for granted.

(/) Agriculture. — It was the same with the report on the conditions of immi-
grants in agriculture. The body of that report consisted of a fairly sympathetic
survey of many communities of recent immigrants. But the summary of the
report was preceded by an introduction, not particularly related to the report
itself, which drew an invidious distinction between the old and new immi-
grants with regard to the likelihood of their entry into agriculture.'^ The
comments there made disregarded two critical factors. First, the number of
farmers increased with the duration of a group's life in the United States ; this
was revealed quite clearly in the Commission's data wliich showed that for all
groups there was a greater percentage of farmers among the second than among
the first generation." Furthermore, the context of the American economy had
changed after 1890. With industrialization there came a general growth of
urban at the expense of rural population; even the sons of native farmers were
being drawn to the city. Whatever difference existed between the old and the
new immigrants, was not the product of their inherent characteristics but of
the conditions they found and the length of time they had lived in the United

Jf. Education and literacy.

The current agitation of the literacy test gave particular importance to the
Commission's discussion of the problems of literacy and education, and to its
attempt to establish a difference, in this regard, between the old and the new

The background was established in the account of emigration conditions in
Europe, which clearly indicated a substantial difference in the rate of illiteracy
between the newcomers to the United States from the countries of old innni-
gration. The original report examined the various reasons for the high rate
of illiteracy in Southern and Eastern Europe and concluded, "But probalily the
most apparent cause of illiteracy in Europe, as elsewhere, is poverty. The
economic status of a people has a very decided effect upon the literacy rate."

« Report I, p. 540.

*■' Report I, p. 541.

™ For tlio later cnntrnnitlons of new immigrants, see below.

" Report I, p. 39.

^2 Report I, p. 547 flf.

«» Report I. p. 709 ff.


It went on to predict a steady improvement in this regard.^* The summary
omitted tliis discussion and suggested strongly that the high rate of illiteracy
among the new immigrants was due to "inherent racial tendencies." '"'^

The Commission also found it possible to demonstrate that the n?w immi- ,
grants in the United States were less literate than the old. This data is nowhere
l)ronght systematically together, hut is scattered through the reports on industries
and agriculture. It is therefore difficult to analyze in detail. In general, how-
ever, it may be said, that the factor of duration of settlement is almost every-
where disregarded in arriving at the conclusion that "a much higher degree of
illiteracy prevails among the immigrants of recent years form Southern and
Eastern Europe than among those of old immigration from Great Britain and
Northern Europe.^" The importance of the factor of duration of settlement may
be gathered from the data on the literacy of employees in clothing manufacture,
which do take account of it:

Percentage of forcii/n-horn emploiiees who speak English by years

in the United States

Years in the United States : Percent

Under 5 38. 8

5 to 9 1 66.5

10 or over '83.0

1 Report XI, p. 363.

The failure of the Commission to reckon with this factor invalidates its whole

Its difficnlties with the more general problems of education were even more
impressive. The Commission had apparently thought it would be possible to
measure the capacity of the old and new immigrants to be schooled. Di.scussing
the question Jenks had pointed out :

"Any one who has observed, even in a small way, the different classes of
people that come into this country, knows that some are very much inclined
toward making the best possible use of our schools, while others make no
attempt whatever to get in touch with our educational system." "

The Commission planned to make such measurements through an elaborate
investigation of more than 2.000,000 school children to discover which races
were most likely to be retarded.

Although four volumes of tables came forth from this investigation, it proved
nothing. To begin with, the data was defective for it was based upon
questionnaires sent to teachers who did not understand them.

"In a considerable proportion of cases the teachers have assigned a cause
of retardation for pupils who are the normal age or even younger than the
noi mal age for the grade." ^

The Commission nevertheless u.sed the bulk of material gatliered, in its elabor-
ate tables on retardation, the very concept which the teachers did not understand.

The volumes of data thus reflect not the care and accuracy of the survey,
but rather, the fact that the Commission was not able to shape its material to
the conclusions it wished.

There is no basis in the data for dividing the old from the new immigrants on
the performance of their children in schools. But the information in the tables
does show a wide variation from place to place in the achievements of children
within any given group. Thus 55 percent of the German children in St. Louis
are retarded, but only 21.2 percent in Scranton ; similarly the English show 56.2
I3rcent in St. Louis, 19.1 percent in Scranton, and 13.9 percent in Worcester.^"

That might suggest that the quality of schools and the social environment was
a more significant variable than parentage. But not to the Commission.

So too, through the tables there runs a good deal of material that would em-
phasize the importance of recency of settlement, so much so, that the original
report pointed out :

"Length of residence in the United States has an important liearing ou prog-
ress of pupils. It can hardly be expected that children of immigrants who have
been in the United States only a few months or even years can make the same

"Report IV, pp. 34, 35.

" Report I, p. 176.

5" Report I, p. 443.

" Jenks, The Racial Problem in Immigration, loc. cit., p. 219.

"8 Report II. p. 43.

•^Report XXXIII, pp. 218, 386, 564.


progress as children of those who have boon here long enough to hert II. i>. 41.

•= Report I. i)p. .•',4. .SS.

« Report I. T>. ^-'i.

^ Report XXXVI, I, pp.

" Report XXXVI. p. 10.

•" Report II, p. ir.4.

25.3.56—52 117


immigration. It liad indeed no basis at all for comparison with earlier
periods. What it did was quite different. For each group of inunigrants and
for the native Americans it worked out a pattern of the distribution of various
types of crimes. Within each group it compared the incidence of each specific
type of crime with the total number of crimes in that group. When therefore
it said that the foreign-born were more prone than the natives to crimes of
personal violence, it did not mean that the foreign-born committed more such
crimes than the natives either absolutely or relative to their percentage in the
total population. It meant only that such crimes accounted for a larger part
of the total criminality of the group.

One illustration will suffice to show the meaning of this difference. The New
York County and Supreme courts, 1907 and 1908, showed the following cases of
assault, by nativity:

Country of birth : Numier
Ireland 38

Canada 15

Poland 14

England ^8

Country of birth: Number

United States 630

Italy 342

Russia 73

Austria-Hungary 62

Germany 47

1 Report XXXVI, pp. 348-351.

This data is presented by the Commission in a table headed "Relative fre-
quency" of such offenses, as follows :

Country of birth : of total

Italy 28. 9

Austria-Hungary 15.

Poland 14. 6

Ireland 13. 7

Canada 12. 1

Russia 11. 3

Germany 9. 1

United States 8. 7

England ' 5.

1 Report II, p. 197.

The table last cited can be understood only when one remembers that "percent
of total" means percent of crimes of this category of the total number of crimes
by the nativity group concerned. In almost all such cases the low position of
natives of the United States seems due to the fact that the total number of
crimes of violence they commit is much larger than for other groups. As the
Commission presented these data, they were never very meaningful, often
misleading, and they in no case supported its general contentions."*

7. Immigration and vice

The Commission's report on the "white slave traffic" is moderate in tone and
factual in content."" It is on the whole free of the conjectural elements that
mar so much of the rest of the report. Perhaps the only objection to it is the
failure adequately to place the problem in its proper context. Dealing ex-
clusively with the immigrants, it gives the impression, unintentionally, that
prostitution was largely a product of the foreign born, although fragmentary
data in the report indicate they played only a minor role in the American

8. Immigration and insanity

The Commission did not make a tirst-hand investigation of this subject. Its
data is drawn from the census and otlier sources. While the available informa-
tion seemed to indicate that the foreign-born supplied more than their share
of the insane, it also indicated that it was the old, rather than the new, immi-
.eration that was chiefly responsible. The Irish, the Germans, and the Scan-
dinavians showed the greatest relative responsibility, or, as the I'eport put it :

"It appears that insanity is relatively more prevalent among the foreign-born
than among the native-born, and relatively more prevalent among certain
immigrant races and nationalities than among others. In general the nation-

«' The details can be adequately traced only in the full Report XXXVI.
«=» Report XXXVII.
'"Report II, p. 251.


alities furthest advanced in civilization show, in the United States, a higher
Iiroportion of insane than do the more hackward races." "

.9. Vhnnyes in bodily form aitiong the dcscotdanis of innmgrants

The Connuission considered within the scope of its inquiry the whole problem
of the physical ciiaracteristics of the immigrants. To the Dictionary of Races,
which r«'sted uiM)n information gathered from other sources, it wished to join
its own findings on the physical chai'acteristics of immigrants and their descend-
ants. This was an important question because it was theretofoi-e assumed that
such characteristics of a race as bodily form were fixed and permanent. It was
not imagined that they would change in the course of immigration ; and if they
did not, that might conspicuously affect the assimilation of the immigrants.

I'rof. Fran/, lioas, of Columbia University, the distinguished anthropologist
charged with resi)onsibility for the study, discovered surprising results however.
It apix'aied that :

"The head form, which has always been considered one of the most stable
and permanent characteristics of human races, undergoes far-reaching changes
due to the transfer of the people from European to American soil * * *
This fact shows * * * that not even those characteristics of a race which
have proved to be most permanent in their old home remain the same under
the new suri-oundings ; and we are compelled to conclude that when these fea-
tures of the l)ody change, the whole bodily and mental make-up of the immi-
grants may change * * * All the evidence is now in favor of a great plas-
ticity of human types." '"

10. Summary Evaluation of the Coinniisfiion's Findings.

The Commission was certainly surprised with these results. It perforce
quoted them — but cautiously, and with the reservation that a good deal more
study was needed before they could be accepted. " The Commission certainly
did not allow these findings to influence the materials in the Dictionary of Races
or to stand in the way of its allusion to the fixed nature of the temperaments of
the races it discussed through the body of the report.

In summary, it may be said, the Commission did not use the opportunity
afforded it, to make the open oVijective study of the problem it might have. It
began with preconceived ideas as to the difference between the old and the
new immigration. It did not have the evidence to substantiate that assumption.
But it devotes nuicli of its efforts to bending what evidence it could find to that
end. Its conclusions are largely invalidated by those distortions and offered
an un.sound basis for the legislation that followed.


Dr. Harry Laughlin's Analysis of America's Modern Melting Pot was designed
to correct the inability of the Dillingham Commi!ssi(m i-eport to demonstrate
conclusively the .social inferiority of the "new " immigrants. Laughlin's report
originates in a hearing of the House Immigration Committee (Api-il 16, 17,
192()) which asked him to study the relations of biology to immigration par-
ticularly as they bore on the problems of social degeneracy. '*

Laughlin's rei)oi-t was i)resente(l to the comndttee in November 1922. The
Honorable Albert .loluison. chaiiinan of the committee, examined the reiwrt and
certified: "1 have exanfined Dr. Laughlin's data and charts and find that they
are both l)iologicaIly and statistically thorough, and apparently sound."'*
Whatever the chairman's conq)(>tence to pass upon these matters, he was satis-
fied that tiie investigation had proved the infei-iority of the new immigrants.
Tlie opinions that were liefore long to be reflected in legislation were summarized
by Dr. Laughlin :

•"The outstanding conclu.sion is that, making all logical allowances for environ-
mental conditions, which may be unfavorable to the innnigrant, the recent
immigrants as a whole, present a higher percentage of inborn socially inadequate
qualities than do the older stocks."

T 'is conclusion v.as accompanied by the assurance that it was based upon "data
and conditions" not "sentiment or previous attitude"'"

" Report II, p. 251.

" Report II, pp. 505, 506.

" Rejtort I, J). 44.

"' Lair_'hlin Ri>i)oit, p. 731.

'-' I^auKlilin Report, p. 7.S1.

■' lyiuiglilin Report, p. 755.


Before advancing to an examination of tliose data, it will however, be worth
making note of Dr. Laughlin's own sentiments as he explicitly stated them to
the committee :

"We in this country have been so imbued with the idea of democracy, or the
equality of all men, that we have left out of consideration the matter of blood
or natural inborn hereditary mental and moral differences. No man who breeds
pedigreed plants and animals can afford to neglect this thing." "

Dr. Laughlin thus purported to be studying the "natural inborn hereditary"
tendencies of the new immigrants to the significant social disorders. His method
was to examine the distribution of various national stocks in 445 State and
Federal institutions in 1921.

Certain criticisms of this procedure immediately suggest themselves. Most
important is the fact that commitments to public institutions do not measure
the hereditary tendencies Dr. Laughlin presumes to be measuring. In the case
of insanity, for instance, this is a most inadequate standard, since the avail-
ability of facilities in various sections varies greatly, as does the willingness
of certain social, economic, and ethnic groups to make use of those facilities
in preference to private institutions or to home care. All the generalization
based on such data must be dubious.

Furthermore Laughlin's sample was faulty and he treated his material crudely,
failing to make corrections for occupational, age or sex distribution. His
critical statistical device, "the quota fulfillment plan of analysis" was based
tipon a comparison of committal records of 1921 with the distribution of popula-
tion in 1910, although the census data of 1920 was available to him. By this
means he certainly magnified the relative number of the immigrants among the
socially inadequate.

Bi;t all these methodological faults, grave as they are, shrink in importance
as compares with a more basic criticism. The data, faulty as they are, simply
do not say what Laughlin says they say. His conclusions can find support, of a
sort, only by throwing together all forms of inadequacy in a few gross, and
arbitrary divisions as follows :

Percent of
quota fulfillment

Native white, native parentage 84. 33

Native white, foreign parentage 109.40

Native white, mixed parentage 116. 65

Northwestern Europe immigrants 1,30.42

Southeastern Europe immigrants ^ 143. 24

1 Laughlin Report, p. 753.

But Laughlin's own materials do not support his conclusions if the various
national groups are treated separately, whether for inadequacy as a whole, or
for particular types of inadequacy. In the chart which follows the various
nationalities are ranked according to their order in Laughlin's rating of quota
fulfillment for each category and for the total. The ranking is in the order of
descending desirability, that is, those at the top are most desirable, those at the
bottom least.


1. Ireland 11. Italy

2. Switzerland 12. Great Britain

Online LibraryUnited States. President's Commission on ImmigratiHearings → online text (page 3 of 35)