1914 book on immigration

"ROUGH WORK AND LOW WAGES FOR THE IMMIGRANT The fact about the modern immigrant is that he is everywhere continuing the work begun by our pioneer ancestors."

The fact about the modern immigrant is that he is everywhere continuing the work begun by our pioneer ancestors.”

They Who Knock at Our Gates A Complete Gospel of Immigration, free download at Amazon. It was published in 1914.


Here’s a (long) excerpt:

“If I ask an American what is the fundamental American law, and he does not answer me promptly, “That which is contained in the Declaration of Independence,” I put him down for a poor citizen. He who is ignorant of the law is likely to disobey it. And there cannot be two minds about the position of the Declaration among our documents of state. What the Mosaic Law is to the Jews, the Declaration is to the American people. It affords us a starting-point in history and defines our mission among the nations. Without it, we should not differ greatly from other nations who have achieved a constitutional form of government and various democratic institutions. What marks us out from other advanced nations is the origin of our liberties in one supreme act of political innovation, prompted by a conscious sense of the dignity of manhood. In other countries advances have been made by favor of hereditary rulers and aristocratic parliaments, each successive reform being grudgingly handed down to the people from above. Not so in America. At one bold stroke we shattered the monarchical tradition, and installed the people in the seats of government, substituting the gospel of the sovereignty of the masses for the superstition of the divine right of kings.

From the Declaration flows our race consciousness, our sense of what is and what is not American. Our laws, our policies, the successive steps of our progress—all must conform to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, the source of our national being.

The American confession of faith, therefore, is a recital of the doctrines of liberty and equality. A faithful American is one who understands these doctrines and applies them in his life.

It should be easy to pick out the true Americans—the spiritual heirs of the founders of our Republic—by this simple test of loyalty to the principles of the Declaration. To such a test we are put, both as a nation and as individuals, every time we are asked to define our attitude on immigration. Having set up a government on a declaration of the rights of man, it should be our first business to reaffirm that declaration every time we meet a case involving human rights. Now every immigrant who emerges from the steerage presents such a case. For the alien, whatever ethnic or geographic label he carries, in a primary classification of the creatures of the earth, falls in the human family. The fundamental fact of his humanity established, we need only rehearse the articles of our political faith to know what to do with the immigrant. It is written in our basic law that he is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing left for us to do but to open wide our gates and set him on his way to happiness.

That is what we did for a while, when our simple law was fresh in our minds, and the habit of applying it instinctive. Then there arose a fashion of spelling immigration with a capital initial, which so confused the national eye that we began to see a Problem where formerly we had seen a familiar phenomenon of American life; and as a problem requires skillful handling, we called an army of experts in consultation, and the din of their elaborate discussions has filled our ears ever since.

…What have the experts and statisticians done so to pervert our minds? They have filled volumes with facts and figures, comparing the immigrants of to-day with the immigrants of other days, classifying them as to race, nationality, and culture, tabulating their occupations, analyzing their savings, probing their motives, prophesying their ultimate destiny. But what is there in all this that bears on the right of free men to choose their place of residence? Granted that Sicilians are not Scotchmen, how does that affect the right of a Sicilian to travel in pursuit of happiness? Strip the alien down to his anatomy, you still find a man, a creature made in the image of God; and concerning such a one we have definite instructions from the founders of the Republic. And what purpose was served by the bloody tide of the Civil War if it did not wash away the last lingering doubts as to the brotherhood of men of different races?

…I do not ask that we remove all restrictions and let the flood of immigration sweep in unchecked. I do ask that such restrictions as we impose shall accord with the loftiest interpretation of our duty as Americans. Now our first duty is to live up to the gospel of liberty, through the political practices devised by our forefathers and modified by their successors, as democratic ideas developed. But political practices require a territory wherein to operate—democracy must have standing-room—so it becomes our next duty to guard our frontiers. For that purpose we maintain two forms of defense: the barbaric devices of army and navy, to ward off hostile mass invasions; and the humane devices of the immigration service, to regulate the influx of peaceable individuals.

…What terms of entry may we impose on the immigrant without infringing on his inalienable rights, as defined in our national charter? Just such as we would impose on our own citizens if they proposed to move about the country in companies numbering thousands, with their families and portable belongings. And what would these conditions be? They would be such as are required by public safety, public health, public order. Whatever limits to our personal liberty we are ourselves willing to endure for the sake of the public welfare, we have a right to impose on the stranger from abroad; these, and no others.

Has, then, the newest arrival the same rights as the established citizen? According to the Declaration, yes; the same right to live, to move, to try his luck. More than this he does not claim at the gate of entrance; with less than this we are not authorized to put him off. We do not question the right of an individual foreigner to enter our country on any peaceable errand; why, then, question the rights of a shipload of foreigners? Lumping a thousand men together under the title of immigrants does not deprive them of their humanity and the rights inherent in humanity; or can it be demonstrated that the sum of the rights of a million men is less than the rights of one individual?

…The Declaration of Independence, like the Ten Commandments, must be taken literally and applied universally. What would have been the civilizing power of the Mosaic Code if the Children of Israel had repudiated it after a few generations? As little virtue is there in the Declaration of Independence if we limit its operation to any geographical sphere or historical period or material situation. How do we belittle the works of our Fathers when we talk as though they wrought for their contemporaries only! …

… If we sincerely believe in the elevating power of liberty, we should hasten to extend the reign of liberty over all mankind. The disciples of Jesus did not sit down in Jerusalem and congratulate each other on having found the Saviour. They scattered over the world to spread the tidings far and wide. We Americans, disciples of the goddess Liberty, are saved the trouble of carrying our gospel to the nations, because the nations come to us….

…Right royally have we welcomed them, and lavishly entertained them at the feast of freedom, whenever our genuine national impulses have shaped our immigration policy. But from time to time the national impulse has been clogged by selfish fears and foolish alarms parading under the guise of civic prudence. Ignoring entirely the rights of the case, the immigration debate has raged about questions of expediency, as if convenience and not justice were our first concern.

…A little attention to the principles involved would have convinced us long ago that an American citizen who preaches wholesale restriction of immigration is guilty of political heresy. The Declaration of Independence accords to all men an equal share in the inherent rights of humanity. When we go contrary to that principle, we are not acting as Americans; for, by definition, an American is one who lives by the principles of the Declaration. And we surely violate the Declaration when we attempt to exclude aliens on account of race, nationality, or economic status.

…The portion of the United States territory that is covered by squatters’ claims is only a fraction, albeit a respectable fraction, of the land we govern. In the name of what moral law do we wield a watchman’s club over the vast regions that are still waiting to be staked out?

…Let the children be brought up to know that we are a people with a mission, and that mission, in the words of Dr. Eliot, to teach the uses of freedom to as many men as possible “in freedom’s largest home.” Let it be taught in the public schools that the most precious piece of real estate in the whole United States is that which supports the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty; that we need not greatly care how the three million square miles remaining is divided among the people of the earth, as long as we retain that little island. Let it further be repeated in the schools that the Liberty at our gates is the handiwork of a Frenchman; that the mountain-weight of copper in her sides and the granite mass beneath her feet were bought with the pennies of the poor; that the verses graven on a tablet within the base are the inspiration of a poetess descended from Portuguese Jews; and all these things shall be interpreted to mean that the love of liberty unites all races and all classes of men into one close brotherhood, and that we Americans, therefore, who have the utmost of liberty that has yet been attained, owe the alien a brother’s share.”


This author also wrote  The Promised Land, considered a classic at the time of publication:

Blurb: This 1912 classic of the Jewish-American immigrant experience was an instant critical and popular success. Its author arrived in Boston from Russia as a 12-year-old in the 1890s. Her moving narrative of Old and New World cultures was acclaimed by The New York Times as “a unique contribution to our modern literature and to our modern history.”

Reader Review: It is hard to believe I never was required to read this wonderful book, and I am thankful to have discovered it as a result of reading a children’s book based on it (by Rosemary Wells, also highly recommended) to my children. The circumstances of its writing are remarkable; the images luminous and the prose unbelievably beautiful for any author, especially for a recent immigrant. But it is the insight into her personality, culture and psyche which appeal to me the most. You will also like the personalities you meet through her. This book should be read by anyone who loves the English language, loves America, or just loves a window into the soul of another.

In the book From Plotzk to Boston she describes more specifically her family’s 1890 immigration to America.

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