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I do not dwell upon these facts merely because they afford a spectacle and a problem which may well claim the attention of the whole civilized world. They have a peculiar meaning and pertinency for us here in the United States; they must affect our future prosperity, whether for good or ill, far more even than that of Great Britain. It is to our shores, not to those of Great Britain and Ireland, that this great Irish exodus is directed. These exiles are coming to us, mostly in a state of great destitution, bringing with them Irish habits, and Irish willingness to live in squalor upon the smallest pittance that will support life. Already they constitute, either by themselves or in connection with the Germans, almost the whole class of our menial or domestic servants in the non-slaveholding States, and of rude laborers in the construction of railroads and other public improvements. Cheapness of provisions is not the attraction that brings them here; at this moment, all the common articles of provisions are as cheap in Ireland as in the Atlantic States of this Union; many of them are cheaper. Nor is it comparative freedom from taxation which they seek; for the annual amount of Irish taxes is only about ten shillings a head, which hardly exceeds the burden of government here in America. But they come in quest of constant employment and higher wages. These are the tangible tokens of our prosperity, the causes of the general well-being of our people; and these have made the United States a harbor of refuge for the poor of the civilized world. And we have proof that the Irish have succeeded in obtaining in America what they came to seek, — wages which should suffice, not only to support life, but to enable them to effect considerable savings. The remittances which they are making to alleviate the misery of their relatives and friends at home, or to enable them to emigrate to this country, have reached an amount that hardly seems credible, though the statistics of the subject, collected by the British government, cannot be questioned. It appears that the amounts remitted from America to Ireland through the banks, exclusive of sums sent by private hands, amounted, in 1848, to £ 460,000; and that they steadily increased, till, in 1853, they reached the prodigious sum of £ 1,439,000, or about seven millions of dollars. It is probable that a portion of this sum is remitted for investment, a favorable opportunity being afforded for the purchase of land by the proceedings of the Commission for the Sale of Irish Encumbered Estates. Thus the Irishman comes to America as a pauper, and in a few years collects the means of returning, if he sees fit, to his native country as a land-owner.
Wages depend, as the English Political Economists are fond of remarking, upon the ratio of population to capital and employment. They ought to rise, then, as the numbers of the people diminish, though trade and manufactures should only, to vise an expressive phrase, "hold their own"; and they should rise still more rapidly, if, at the same time, trade and manufactures be remarkably prosperous, and capital be steadily increasing. But it is a surprising fact, that although Ireland has lost during the last ten years over two millions of her people, being one fourth part of her whole population, and though there has been a considerable influx of capital into the country, owing to the settlement and improvement of the Encumbered Estates, "very little improvement, if any, has occurred in the rate of wages of labor in the districts most depopulated by emigration." This is the language of the Irish Poor Law Commissioners, in their Annual Report made in 1853. "In January last," they say, "we obtained returns from our Inspectors, relating to nearly the whole of Ireland, showing the comparative rate of wages in the present year and in several past years, summaries of which" are given in the Report. "In very few departments of labor does the money rate of wages appear to have been higher in the beginning of 1853 than it was in 1845, the year before the commencement of the famine." True, the condition of the peasantry had improved, as the same amount of wages would purchase a greater quantity of provisions, as employment could be more constantly obtained, and as the number of paupers was much smaller, this last result being directly attributable to the emigration. The fact that money wages have not risen, can be explained by the previous great redundancy of the laboring population, owing to the narrowness of the field of employment caused by the almost exclusive devotion of the people to agriculture. We have here a strong corroboration, then, of our previous doctrine, that a country cannot become wealthy whose inhabitants are chiefly or altogether occupied in tilling the ground, whatever may be the fertility of its soil or the favorableness of its situation.
The history of Ireland shows the inevitable consequences of free trade with a country having so' vast an aggregate of capital as Great Britain, and reaping the fruits also of the skill and experience acquired during a strict enforcement of the protective policy for two centuries. The legislative union of the two countries, at the beginning of the present century, broke down the few barriers which formerly limited their intercourse, and left them to compete on what the English Economists consider as equal terms. Till this epoch, whatever political evils Ireland may have endured, her social state was not in any marked degree inferior to that of England. The habits of her people, it is true, were not so neat and industrious; but wages were not reduced to a starvation limit, and her cottiers generally had enough to eat and to spare. But unrestricted intercourse with England stifled the small beginnings of her manufacturing industry; for her people could purchase from the sister country even all the products of the small mechanic trades and arts cheaper than they could, at the time, manufacture them for themselves. They bought in the cheapest market, forgetting that they had nothing but the cereal grains, pigs, potatoes, and butter, to offer in exchange, and that the production of these articles would not afford employment to half the industry of the people. Manufactures could never gain a foothold among them, save in the North, where a colony of canny Scotch introduced the culture of flax, made linen, and have since kept themselves out of the abyss of poverty into which the rest of the island has been plunged. So feeble were the means of the native Irish for keeping up trade by exportation, that their consumption both of domestic and foreign goods dwindled almost to nothing. Mr. Martin, one of the latest and ablest statistical writers upon Irish affairs, cannot suppress his astonishment, that "the consumption of British manufactures in Ireland is not more than one guinea per annum for each inhabitant, whereas the negroes in the West Indies consume each five pounds' worth annually." But the reason is obvious enough; the negroes in the West Indies have sufficient employment for their industry in the production of sugar, coffee, and pimento, in regard to which they are not exposed to Transatlantic competition. Having enough to sell, they are consequently able and willing to buy. But the Irish have nothing to sell except the provisions which they take from the mouths of their children. So they have gone on, constantly exporting a larger share of their pigs, potatoes, and butter, till they have at last ceased to preserve any to satisfy their own hunger. "The most remarkable thing," says Mr. Martin, "is, that, even during the recent famine, there were large exports of provisions from Ireland." While this famine was at its height, upwards of three millions of persons were fed at one time by public charity* If these are the consequences of free trade with England, and exclusive addiction to agricultural pursuits, we may well call for the restoration of a protective policy here in the United States.
But the danger in this country is still greater, owing to the immense influx of foreigners who are attracted hither by the higher wages of industry, and whose presence and competition with the native operatives are likely to effect a general and great depreciation in the price of labor. Besides the natural rapid growth of our population, an annual addition to our numbers of over 400,000 immigrants, all of them, except an insignificant fraction, being of the poorest class, cannot but produce a marked effect of some kind, even if the field for the employment of industry here were widening under the most favorable circumstances. Many of these exiles are Irish, who have been accustomed to regard six shillings ($ 1.50) a week as liberal wages for the father of a family, even when they could get employment only for half of the time.f
* " Neither ancient nor modern history can furnish a parallel to the fact, that upwards of three millions of persons were fed every day, in the neighborhood of their own homes, by administrative arrangements emanating from, and controlled by, one central office." — The Irish Crisis^ by C. E. Trevelyan, Secretary to the Treasury.
f Seven years before the occurrence of the Irish famine, that wild genius, Mr. Carlyle, beheld the inevitable effect, upon the wages of English workmen, of the influx of the Irish into England, and thus, in his quaint fashion, wailed over it: —
"Crowds of miserable Irish darken all our towns. The wild Milesian features, looking false ingenuity, restlessness, unreason, misery, and mockery, salute you on all highways and byways. The English coachman, as he whirls past, lashes the Milesian with his whip, curses him with his tongue', the Milesian is holding out his hat to beg. He is the sorest evil this country has to strive with. In his rags and laughing savagery, he is there to undertake all work that can be done by mere strength of hand and back, for wages that will purchase him potatoes. He needs And yet these poor Celtiberian Irish brothers, what can they help it? They cannot stay at home and starve. It is just and natural that they come hither as a curse to us. Alas! for them too it is not a luxury. The time has come when the Irish population must either he improved a little, or else exterminated Every man
Though the number of Irish who have crossed over into Great Britain probably does not equal one fourth of those who have found a refuge in the United States, Mr. J. S. Mill, who generally opposes the interference of government on any occasion, makes this extraordinary admission : — " If there were no other escape from that fatal immigration of the Irish, which has done and is doing so much to degrade the condition of our agricultural, and some classes of our town population, I should see no injustice, and the greatest possible expediency, in checking that destructive inroad by prohibitive laws."
But the field for the employment of industry in the United States is not widening. An alteration of the tariff in 1846 paralyzed for a time the chief branches of manufactures, and brought down the prices of bread-stuffs and other provisions, for several years, to a point which gave the farmer no temptation to raise more of them than were necessary for home cononly salt for condiment; he lodges to his mind in any pig-hutch or dog-hutch, roosts in out-houses; and wears a suit of tatters the getting off and on of which is said to be a difficult operation, transacted only on festivals and the high tides of the calendar. The Saxon man, if he cannot work on these terms, finds no work
who will take the statistic spectacles off his nose, and look, may discern in town and country, that the condition of the lower multitude of English laborers approximates more and more to that of the Irish competing with them in all markets; that whatsoever labor, to which mere strength with little skill will suffice, is to he done, will be done, not at the English price, but at an approximation to the Irish price; at a price superior as yet to the Irish, that is, superior to scarcity of third-rate potatoes for thirty weeks yearly; superior, — yet hourly, with the arrival of every new steamboat, sinking nearly to an equality with that." — Chartism, by T. Carlyle.
Mr. De Quincey, in his "Logic of Political Economy," observes: "The true ruin of Irish pauperism to England and Scotland is not of a nature to be checked by any possible Poor Bill. This ruin lies, first and chiefly, in the gradual degradation of wages, English and Scotch, under the fierce growth of Irish competition; secondly, in the chargeableness of Irish pauperism, once settled, upon funds English and Scotch. In Scotland, the case is even worse at present than in England." At Paisley, in 1842, "the sheer impossibility of feeding adequately the entire body of claimants, coerced the humane distributors of the relief into drawing a line between Scotch and Irish. Then it was that the total affliction became known, — namely, the hideous extent to which Irish intruders upon Scotland had taken the bread out of her own children's mouths. As to England, it has long been accepted as a fair statement, that 50,000 Irish interlopers annually swell the great tide of our native increase"; or about half as many as now annually come to the United States, and about one eighth part of our total foreign immigration.