Multiculturalism ― Reading #1



“Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.”  (1751)

Benjamin Franklin  [Excerpts]


[1] Tables of the Proportion of Marriages to Births, of Deaths to Births, of Marriages to the Numbers of Inhabitants, etc. form'd on Observations made upon the Bills of Mortality, Christnings, etc. of populous Cities, will not suit Countries; nor will Tables form'd on Observations made on full settled old Countries, as Europe, suit new Countries, as America. For People increase in Proportion to the Number of Marriages, and that is greater in Proportion to the Ease and Convenience of supporting a Family. When Families can be easily supported, more Persons marry, and earlier in Life.


[2] Europe is generally full settled with Husbandmen, Manufacturers, etc. and therefore cannot now much increase in People: America is chiefly occupied by Indians, who subsist mostly by Hunting. But as the Hunter, of all Men, requires the greatest Quantity of Land from whence to draw his Subsistence, (the Husbandman subsisting on much less, the Gardner on still less, and the Manufacturer requiring least of all), The Europeans found America as fully settled as it well could be by Hunters; yet these having large Tracks, were easily prevail'd on to part with Portions of Territory to the new Comers, who did not much interfere with the Natives in Hunting, and furnish'd them with many Things they wanted.


[3] Land being thus plenty in America, and so cheap as that a labouring Man, that understands Husbandry, can in a short Time save Money enough to purchase a Piece of new Land sufficient for a Plantation, whereon he may subsist a Family; such are not afraid to marry; for if they even look far enough forward to consider how their Children when grown up are to be provided for, they see that more Land is to be had at Rates equally easy, all Circumstances considered.


[4] Hence Marriages in America are more general, and more generally early, than in Europe. And if it is reckoned there, that there is but one Marriage per Annum among 100 Persons, perhaps we may here reckon two; and if in Europe they have but 4 Births to a Marriage (many of their Marriages being late) we may here reckon 8, of which if one half grow up, and our Marriages are made, reckoning one with another 20 Years of Age, our People must at least be doubled every 20 Years.


[5] But notwithstanding this Increase, so vast is the Territory of North-America, that it will require many Ages to settle fully; and till it is fully settled, Labour will never be cheap here, where no Man continues long a Labourer for others, but gets a Plantation of his own, no Man continues long a Journeyman to a Trade, but goes among those new Settlers, and sets up for himself, etc. Hence Labour is no cheaper now, in Pennsylvania, than it was 30 Years ago, tho' so many Thousand labouring People have been imported . . .


[6] 'Tis an ill-grounded Opinion that by the Labour of Slaves, America may possibly vie in Cheapness of Manufactures with Britain . . . The Introduction of Slaves . . . The Negroes brought into the English Sugar Islands, have greatly diminish'd the Whites there; the Poor are by this Means depriv'd of Employment, while a few Families acquire vast Estates; which they spend on Foreign Luxuries, and educating their Children in the Habit of those Luxuries; tile same Income is needed for the Support of one that might have maintain'd 100.


[7] The Whites who have Slaves, not labouring, are enfeebled, and therefore not so generally prolific; the Slaves being work'd too hard, and ill fed, their Constitutions are broken, and the Deaths among them are more than the Births; so that a continual Supply is needed from Africa. The Northern Colonies having few Slaves increase in Whites. Slaves also pejorate the Families that use them; the white Children become proud, disgusted with Labour, and being educated in Idleness, are rendered unfit to get a Living by Industry . . .


[8] And since Detachments of English from Britain sent to America, will have their Places at Home so soon supply'd and increase so largely here; why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.


[9] Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so [that is, tawny]. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.


[10] And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.


Israel Zangwill's "The Melting Pot"


1908 - Israel Zangwill's play about immigrants in America becomes one of the most successful productions in the history of Broadway. Zangwill updates the story of Romeo and Juliet. This time, instead of feuding families in a medieval Italian city, the lovers were from Russian Jewish and Russian Cossack families. Zangwill’s play emphatically claimed that America was a new country where the old hatreds had no place. For the new immigrants in America to try to keep alive their old hatreds and prejudices was pointless, evil, and probably impossible. 


God, Zangwill claimed, was using America as “a crucible” to melt the “fifty” barbarian tribes of Europe into a metal from which He can cast Americans. Today, the melting pot metaphor is often taken to refer to soup, or perhaps fondue, into which cheese is melted. This robs Zangwill’s message of much of its power. Zangwill’s “crucible” was a much more violent idea. A crucible is used in metallurgy to reduce ores and metals to their liquid form so they can be purified, mixed, and poured in castings. Zangwill was telling his audience that they were being molded in the fires of the Almighty into a new thing: the American. And they loved it. 


Zangwill’s religious interpretation of America was not new. The Pilgrims thought that the New World was divinely provided 250 years before "The Melting Pot." Americans had referred to their country as the New Jerusalem for many years. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address explained the terrible price of the Civil War as the punishment of a just God for the sin of slavery. But Zangwill had found exactly the right metaphor to translate the urban immigrant experience into American Exceptionalism. If they would but suffer to be melted in the pot, then they would become just as American as anyone else.


The Melting Pot: A Drama in Four Acts, Israel Zangwill, 1909



As a Jewish immigrant who had seen the worst of the pogroms against Jews in Russia, David Quixano, the main character of the play, has tremendous faith in America, his new land. He sees America as a place where the religious, national, and ethnic differences that had torn Europe apart can be overcome. Throughout the play, David, who is a composer, articulates his vision of America as a crucible or “melting pot.”  When he meets Vera Revendal, a young Russian settlement house worker who is Christian, difficult issues of identity and prejudice arise as the two are attracted to one another, as can be seen in the excerpt here.


Vera: So your music finds inspiration in America?

David: Yes, in the seething of the Crucible.

Vera: The Crucible? I don’t understand!

David: Not understand! You, the Spirit of the Settlement!

[He rises and crosses to her and leans over the table, facing her.]


Now understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, When I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand [graphically illustrating it at the table] in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to—these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all!  God is making the American.


As much as Zangwill wanted to communicate the creation of a single American identity, his characters also struggle with the difficulties of overcoming both ethnic identity and the prejudice of others. Here Mendel, David’s uncle, astonished to hear David say he will marry Vera, points out the importance of maintaining a Jewish identity


Theodore Roosevelt

“Hyphenated Americans” (1915)


Today, Americans who are hostile to immigration or suspicious of new arrivals often quote Roosevelt’s negative comments about “hyphenated Americans.” But people quoting this speech rarely note when it was given— in 1915, when the country was trying not to be dragged in to the war in Europe— nor do they quote the second half of the speech, calling for “the elimination of race and religious prejudice.” This was actually considered a pro-immigration speech in 1915, and Roosevelt was seen as a friend to immigrants in his day.


[1] There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts “native” before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as anyone else.


[2] The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic. The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.



[3] The foreign-born population of this country must be an Americanized population—no other kind can fight the battles of America either in war or peace. It must talk the language of its native-born fellow-citizens, it must possess American citizenship and American ideals. It must stand firm by its oath of allegiance in word and deed and must show that in very fact it has renounced allegiance to every prince, potentate, or foreign government. It must be maintained on an American standard of living so as to prevent labor disturbances in important plants and at critical times. None of these objects can be secured as long as we have immigrant colonies, ghettos, and immigrant sections, and above all they cannot be assured so long as we consider the immigrant only as an industrial asset. The immigrant must not be allowed to drift or to be put at the mercy of the exploiter.


[4] Our object is to not to imitate one of the older racial types, but to maintain a new American type and then to secure loyalty to this type. We cannot secure such loyalty unless we make this a country where men shall feel that they have justice and also where they shall feel that they are required to perform the duties imposed upon them. The policy of “Let alone” which we have hitherto pursued is thoroughly vicious from two stand-points. By this policy we have permitted the immigrants, and too often the native-born laborers as well, to suffer injustice. Moreover, by this policy we have failed to impress upon the immigrant and upon the native-born as well that they are expected to do justice as well as to receive justice, that they are expected to be heartily and actively and single-mindedly loyal to the flag no less than to benefit by living under it.


[5] We cannot afford to continue to use hundreds of thousands of immigrants merely as industrial assets while they remain social outcasts and menaces any more than fifty years ago we could afford to keep the black man merely as an industrial asset and not as a human being. We cannot afford to build a big industrial plant and herd men and women about it without care for their welfare. We cannot afford to permit squalid overcrowding or the kind of living system which makes impossible the decencies and necessities of life. We cannot afford the low wage rates and the merely seasonal industries which mean the sacrifice of both individual and family life and morals to the industrial machinery.


[6] We cannot afford to leave American mines, munitions plants, and general resources in the hands of alien workmen, alien to America and even likely to be made hostile to America by machinations such as have recently been provided in the case of the two foreign embassies in Washington. We cannot afford to run the risk of having in time of war men working on our railways or working in our munition plants who would in the name of duty to their own foreign countries bring destruction to us. Recent events have shown us that incitements to sabotage and strikes are in the view of at least two of the great foreign powers of Europe within their definition of neutral practices. What would be done to us in the name of war if these things are done to us in the name of neutrality?


One America

[7] All of us, no matter from what land our parents came, no matter in what way we may severally worship our Creator, must stand shoulder to shoulder in a united America for the elimination of race and religious prejudice. We must stand for a reign of equal justice to both big and small. We must insist on the maintenance of the American standard of living. We must stand for an adequate national control which shall secure a better training of our young men in time of peace, both for the work of peace and for the work of war.


[8] We must direct every national resource, material and spiritual, to the task not of shirking difficulties, but of training our people to overcome difficulties. Our aim must be, not to make life easy and soft, not to soften soul and body, but to fit us in virile fashion to do a great work for all mankind. This great work can only be done by a mighty democracy, with these qualities of soul, guided by those qualities of mind, which will both make it refuse to do injustice to any other nation, and also enable it to hold its own against aggression by any other nation. In our relations with the outside world, we must abhor wrongdoing, and disdain to commit it, and we must no less disdain the baseness of spirit which lamely submits to wrongdoing. Finally and most important of all, we must strive for the establishment within our own borders of that stern and lofty standard of personal and public neutrality which shall guarantee to each man his rights, and which shall insist in return upon the full performance by each man of his duties both to his neighbor and to the great nation whose flag must symbolize in the future as it has symbolized in the past the highest hopes of all mankind.



Immigration and the Rise & Fall of the Know-Nothing Party

Carl M. Cannon

Real Clear Politics | February 18, 2015


[1] On this date in 1856, an anti-immigration political party held a nominating convention in Philadelphia. The American Party, the group called itself, although everyone knew it as the “Know-Nothing Party.” It is instructive to look back at such events, especially in light of this nation’s ongoing divisions about immigration reform. In the 1840s and 1850s, American domestic politics was in the process of dividing, North from South, over the issue of slavery. Then a new source of angst presented itself: huge surges in immigration to the U.S. from cultures and countries considered by some more exotic than previous waves that had arrived from England, Germany, and Scandinavia.


[2] On the West Coast, influxes of Chinese and Japanese workers found a new home. Millions more arrived in the East from Ireland and Italy; most of these new pilgrims were Roman Catholics. Several secretive political organizations were formed in reaction to this development. Some of the concerned activists had been Whigs, some had previously been Jeffersonian Democrats. All professed their worry that the character of the country was changing. They expressed many fears, among them that the new settlers were more loyal to the pope in Rome than the president in Washington.


[3] There was a partisan component to the Nativist movement: In the big Northern cities, the Democratic Party had seamlessly folded the immigrants into existing political operations. Attempting to maximize their leverage, Nativist advocates kept low profiles, often denying their machinations. Asked what they were up to by reporters, these activists often replied, “I know nothing.” It may have seemed a clever dodge, but newspapermen at the time couldn’t resist this target any more than today’s media could. By 1854, when the activists allied with a rump faction of the Whig Party to run a slate of candidates on an anti-immigration platform, they were labeled the “Know-Nothing Party.”


[4] The following year, the Know-Nothings officially dubbed themselves the American Party. In 1856 they met in Philadelphia to pick a future president. That process didn’t go well. Millard Fillmore was chosen as the party standard-bearer (he would carry just one state in November: Maryland), but the seeds for the Know-Nothing’s demise were planted at their own convention. A wing of Southerners moved to pass a platform plank calling for the preservation of slavery. This alarmed many Northern and Midwestern Know-Nothings, who bolted to another newly formed political entity: The Republican Party.


[5] Echoes of conflicting cross-currents still exist in our politics today, and not only within the GOP. One comforting thought is that Abraham Lincoln, as usual, saw things clearly― and before almost anyone else. “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be?” he wrote in an August 24, 1855 letter to Joshua F. Speed. “How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?


[6] “Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid,” Lincoln continued. “As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty― to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”