The “Assisted” Irish Immigration Problem

This editorial tackling the subsidized immigration from Ireland to the United States appeared in Frank Leslies Weekly on July 7, 1883.

Our Government has not taken action a day too soon in putting a stop to the pauper immigration from Ireland. If a rigorous examination has proved that the “assisted” immigrants of the steamer Furnessia were principally paupers, is it not reasonable to conclude that rigorous examination, had it been applied, would have proved the same fact in regard to the emigrant freight of the steamer Belgravia, and of the steamers which have been arriving at Philadelphia, and of those which bore the crowds of destitute Irish against whose shipment to Boston Governor Butler of Massachusetts protested—of every steamer, in short, which has reached America from Ireland since the day Earl Spencer helped the women and children aboard the tenders and waved them a courtly adieu from the quay of Belmullet? What guarantee have we that of the Irish who have reached our shores within the past month there are not thousands in the plight of these “eighteen forced emigrants now in New Haven in destitute circumstances, only five of whom are able to work,” which Mr. Reynolds, of the Irish deputation, described to President Arthur the other day, or of the “seventy-three” who, according to Mr. Smith, of Ohio, are “a burden upon the community of Tiffin”?

We are anxious to respect England whenever and in whatever England is respectable; but we are under no obligation to palliate or apologize for England’s offenses against humanity, or to call them anything but their proper names; and when these offenses take the form of injuries to the interests of the United States, we think it is an occasion for something else than an interchange of diplomatic platitudes.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Every Irish emigrant vessel henceforth should be diligently searched in quarantine, and every emigrant who, it can be ascertained, has been “assisted” by the English Government should be prevented from landing on our shores. Our law on this point is imperfect, since it does not provide for penalties in case of infringement. But it is sufficient to enable this much to be done. It provides that any immigrant “Unable to take care of himself without becoming a public charge,” shall not be permitted to land. Every pauper or Government “assisted” emigrant comes under this head. He is “assisted” because he could not take care of himself at home; and if a man has been a public charge in his own country, of whom can it be more surely predicted that he is likely to become a public charge when he finds himself friendless in a strange land? A barefaced pretense has been set up that these people have friends in this country who will provide for them. If they have friends, they must be just as destitute as themselves. That such is actually the fact, is attested by all the disclosures of the past month.

England’s idea of governing Ireland has always been to thin out the population, and thus produce peace. The landlords make the people paupers by evicting them; the Government then ship them away. This policy is defended on the plea that Ireland is not able to support her population, and that emigration is a necessity. Any one who did not know it before had only to read Mr. Alexander Sullivan’s admirable speech in introducing the Irish League deputation to President Arthur to be convinced of the baselessness of such a plea. Ireland has 20,000,000 acres of cultivable land; yet there are only 3,000,000 of these under tillage. Another extraordinary fact is that, in consequence of the emigration, according to latest accounts, agricultural labor is scarce to an alarming degree in the north, west and south of Ireland.

But the most remarkable evidence of the rottenness of this economy has just been furnished by the British Consul-general in Hungary, Mr. Chipps. In a report which he has submitted to his Government, he states that the Hungarian Government, becoming alarmed at the “excessive emigration from Hungary, have appointed a commission to deliberate as to the best means of arresting a movement so injurious to the progress of an agricultural country and to its tax-paying capacity.” One of the principal measures adopted by this commission is exactly what is demanded of the English Government, namely, the encouragement by the Government of the colonization of state lands especially by the inhabitants of the less productive provinces or of those which have suffered by the constantly recurring inundations. Yet the emigration from Ireland during the same period was seventeen times as much as that from Hungary, though the population was only one-third that of Hungary! The number of emigrants who arrived in the United States during the month of May from Ireland was 15,169, while the number of Hungarian emigrants was only 856! What a spectacle to contemplate—the English Government of Ireland enforcing by legislation the emigration of tens of thousands of its attenuated population, while the native Government of Hungary devises measures to keep its increasing population at home!

This shipment of Irish paupers is only a part of the plan which Lord Derby, speaking for his Government, announced would be a “paying speculation.” Whether that speculation “pays” or not is no concern of America’s; but when the scheme means that England is to get rid of the responsibility of caring for the destitute and delinquent class of Ireland by shifting the burden on America, it is something about which America ought to have a word to say, and we trust our Government will not hestitate to say it.

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