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Horace Greeley on Immigrant Quality

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Immigration to the United States increased steeply through the middle decades of the nineteenth century: on a population of 17 million in 1840, immigrant numbers totaled 1.7 million in the 1840s, 2.6 million in the 1850s, and, notwithstanding civil war, 2.3 million in the 1860s. Coinciding with this mass inflow was a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, manifested in a nativist political movement (the Know Nothing party). Migrants of particular national origins were singled out for denigration, such as Germans and Irish and later (on the West coast) Chinese.

In an 1870 essay simply titled “Immigration,” Horace Greeley, an ardent protectionist, broadly welcomed migrants of any nationality. “That population is a main element of national strength… can scarcely need demonstration,” he begins, and ends, in high rhetorical flight: “our immigration in the future [will] wholly eclipse and belittle the grandest realizations of the past.” But beyond sheer numbers he points to the significance of migrant quality. There are those whose “coming would add largely to our numbers, but nothing at all to our strength, our worth, or our happiness.” At a minimum, settlers must show willingness to work; artisans and mechanics are better acquisitions. Most valuable of all are those rare persons displaying high entrepreneurial skill and inventiveness.

Horace Greeley (1811–1872) was the founder (in 1841) and for 30 years the editor of the New York Tribune, the first nationally distributed newspaper in the United States. His editorials, written in a clear and vigorous style, brought wide attention to his views on the causes he espoused—anti-slavery, labor unions, tariff protection, women's rights, and many others. His generally reformist positions on social and economic policy are expounded in a late work, Essays Designed to Elucidate the Science of Political Economy (Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1870), in which the piece on immigration appeared. The excerpt below is from pp. 317–320.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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