Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 6, 1875, Volume II
Mr. Schuyler to Mr. Fish.
St. Petersburg, March 15, 1875. (Received April 7.)
Sir: Referring to the memorandum on the legal position of the Hebrews in Russia, inclosed in my dispatch, No. 21, of September 29, 1872, I have the honor to inform you that a commission is now sitting at the ministry of the interior for the consideration of some scheme for improving the condition of the Hebrews.
Prominent among the questions submitted is that of granting permission to the Hebrews to reside freely in all parts of the empire. I inclose to you, marked 1, an abstract of a report made to the commission on this question, by the member specially charged with its study, Mr. Grigorieff, a well-known orientalist, a professor in the university, and at present director of the press. This report is exceedingly interesting as showing the views of enlightened and conscientious government officials on this subject.
It is to be hoped that the commission will devise some method for relieving the ignorance and distress which certainly exist among the Hebrews of the western provinces.
I have, &c.,
Abstract of a report of Mr. V. Grigorieff, member of a commission for the improvement of the life of the Hebrews on the question of their place of residence.
The question of permitting the Hebrews to reside in all parts of the empire should be considered rather with a view to what would be the effects upon the interests of the immense majority of the Russian and other populations of the empire, than with regard to the interests of the Hebrews themselves. If, therefore, the distribution of the Hebrews throughout the empire threatens no evil consequences to the rest of the population in economical, moral, or political respects, and can, at the same time, better the condition of the Hebrews, there will be, of course, no reason for longer restricting them to the provinces where they at present reside. If it seems, however, that the contrary will be the case. The present restrictions on the Hebrews must be kept up, at least for the present. For that reason it is necessary to decide this question before any others.
The demand for an extension of the rights of residence does not come so much from the Hebrews themselves as from the local representatives of the government in the provinces where the Hebrew population is massed together, and their representations are less inspired by the thought of improving the condition of the Hebrews than by the desire to alleviate the sad condition of the native population. According to them the large number of Hebrews in proportion to the Christians has this result: that the Hebrews, not finding sufficient means for supporting themselves by honest labor, are compelled, so to speak, to earn their bread by exploiting the Christian population, or by having recourse to all kinds of underhand practices. The inference which they draw is that if the Hebrew population in Western Russia is thinned out it will be easier, both for the natives and the Hebrews, to support themselves by honest work. This conclusion, however, is illogical and impracticable. A great population is only burdensome to a country when the productive forces of that country are insufficient to nourish it; but it is impossible to say, with regard to the western provinces, that their soil, although bad in parts, is unable to feed the present population, or even one very much larger. According to the last census, the number of inhabitants to a square verst in these nine provinces was from 11 to 47, being on an average 24 7-9; but to make no comparison with much more thickly-settled foreign countries, the population in the provinces of Podolia and Kief, 47 and 40 to a square verst, is no greater than that of Kursk and Tula, while the rest are inferior in population to very many provinces [Page 1055] of the empire, which are by no means so good in soil. It will be seen, therefore, that the western provinces cannot complain of density of population. The number of inhabitants in these provinces, according to the last census, was 10,620,624, and the number of Hebrews 1,139,633. The Hebrew population was, therefore, in proportion to the Christian population, as 1 to 8⅓, though on account of the means which the Hebrews employed to avoid registration we may consider them even as 1 to 6. We find the same average relations between the Mohammedan and the Christian population in the provinces of Simbirsk, Samara, and Kazan, to say nothing of Orenburg, where Mohammedans and Christians are in equal numbers, yet no one has complained of the great numbers of Mohammedans in these three provinces, no one considers it an evil, no one accuses the Mussulman of exploiting the Christian population, and it has never entered the head of anybody for the good of the latter to insist that the Mohammedan population should be lessened by distributing it among other provinces. It is evident, therefore, that the evils arising from the numbers of the Hebrew population in the western provinces do not come from their great ratio to the Christian population, but from something else. On investigation it is impossible not to see that the cause why they and not other races are hurtful springs from the fact that the Hebrews do not wish to exist by the same means as the rest of the population.
Russia, including also the western provinces, is an agricultural country, and the great majority of the inhabitants must get their living by cultivating the ground. We should consequently expect that the most of the Hebrews who live in Russia would occupy themselves with agriculture. Were this the case the Hebrews would be no burden on the rest of the population, however numerous they might be. In spite of this the Hebrews, not only in the western provinces, but wherever they are, never become agriculturists. It is well known that the many and various attempts of the government to make them farmers have always failed, not because the measures themselves were badly taken, hut because the Hebrews absolutely refused to carry them out. The Hebrew says that he is weak in body and unfit to be an agriculturist, but can be profitable to the country in other ways, as, for instance, as an artisan. It is, however, false that the Hebrew is any weaker than a peasant of White Russia, worn out by years of cold and oppression; but when such a peasant cannot feed himself and his family at home, he goes for hundreds and thousands of versts for agricultural labor and works satisfactorily. Did it ever come into the head of any Hebrew to support himself in this way? Did any Hebrew community ever ask to be allowed to emigrate into Great Russia for this reason? As to being an artisan, that is only an excuse for avoiding heavy labor. Are there any Hebrew artisans who are stone-cutters, or carpenters, or smiths, or, in general, laborers working under the open sky, with considerable loss of the muscular strength? Even as artisans the Hebrews prefer to be tailors, hatters, shoemakers, turners, watch-makers, and jewelers. In these branches of trade there are certainly very many skillful and industrious workmen among the Hebrews, but it would he strange if a whole million of inhabitants should desire exclusively to work at these trades, and then complain, as the Hebrews do, that there are not buyers enough for their productions, and that therefore they are hungry and cold. Are such complaints well founded or worthy of attention? The Hebrews have great musical capacities, and many of them are living by being wandering musicians, but it would be absurd if the majority of Hebrews should ask to earn their living only by this means, and yet their desire to limit themselves to certain trades is very similar to a demand of this kind. There are numerous poor populations throughout Western Europe, but where they wish to exist by honest labor they invent new trades and industries, which, although not very great, still bring them in bread, such as the manufacture of tin-ware in the Carpathians, wood-carving in the Tyrol, and the manufacture of wooden clocks in Switzerland; but the poor Hehrews have invented nothing of this kind.
The Hebrews might with profit to themselves and to the western provinces occupy themselves with manufactures. The concentration of capital in the hands of some of them gives them every possibility of carrying on the working-up of local raw materials. Western Europe is supplied with hemp which comes from the western provinces, or through them. Why could they not introduce rope-works? The same question might he asked with regard to linen manufacture, which supports tens of thousands looms abroad. The country is rich in forests, yet no one has ever opened a cabinet manufactory, such as exists in Riga, or a manufactory of cheap furniture, which is so dear in Russia, and would have such an excellent sale. Instead of manufactures of this kind the Hebrews have occupied themselves in White Russia only with the distillation of spirits, and that not so much for the business itself as for the possibility of obtaining illegal gains through it.
The only industry by which the Hebrews wish to live, and by which the greater part of them do live, and for which they are abundantly qualified, is that of being factors and middlemen. As such they have acquired an amount of influence which renders both buying and selling impossible without their aid. It appears in this way that the Hebrews wish to exist, and do exist, in great part only by absorbing the fruits of [Page 1056] others labor and by producing almost nothing themselves, in consequence of which they are a burden to the provinces where they settle greater in proportion to their numbers. The economical injury which they cause to the local population is incalculable. The existence of middlemen is frequently an evil, but how much more so when these middlemen constitute a caste having nothing in common with the rest of the population either by origin, religion, or language, a caste which desires to know nothing in the world except their fellow-believers and their benefit, considering Christians as their born enemies, a caste petrified in their isolation, often following fanatical leaders and regarding the laws of the country in which they live as only externally binding on them, avoiding compliance with them by all possible means, and always in every matter acting together.
The economical evil, however, which the Hebrews work to the natives is only one of the ways in which they injure them. They not only ruin but they corrupt the native population. In order to exist in these conditions, outside of winch the Hebrews do not wish to exist, they must necessarily have recourse to unlawful and criminal acts, more especially because, first, they do not consider the laws of the state binding on their consciences; and secondly, because their close union and the way in which they all stand up for one gives them the possibility of escaping punishment. Then the Hebrew population living on the frontier almost always occupies itself with smuggling, thus diminishing the government revenues. Hebrews here are often also sellers of stolen goods. Into criminal acts of this kind they also entice the native population which would not be so easily led astray were it not so throughly dependent upon them. They see also the ease with which the Hebrews escape punishment.
With such an influence of the Hebrews in the western provinces it is not surprising that the authorities and the local population groan under the burden and recommend to the government any measure which may relieve them. But as we have seen that the evils do not come from the absolute numbers of the Hebrews, but from their disinclination to work, the problem is, not how to diminish the Hebrew population, but how to change their condition of life so as to turn them from parasites into producers. If the Hebrews do not wish this, and desire to remain as they are, their distribution throughout Russia would only introduce into it the same evils which now weigh upon the western provinces. An example of this may be seen in the south of Russia. No further back than the end of the last century the region of New Russia was a waste where wild horses still pastured. It has quickly become settled and prosperous owing to the labor which has been given to working its virgin soil. A share in this rich soil was also alloted by the government to the Hebrews, but even there they found it impossible to work it. From, the farm houses which had been constructed for them they carried off the doors, the window-frames, everything that was movable, even to the agricultural tools with which they were provided, and ran away. The commercial city of Odessa attracted to it the Hebrew population, and they there began to get a living by day-work in the grain warehouses and by their-usual trades. With these means of subsistence they would not only have been harmless but even profitable, notwithstanding their great numbers, (in 1858 in the 104,500 population of Odessa there were 14,100, that is one-seventh,) but little by little they began to get into their hands great amounts of capital, began to become middlemen, and are at present the real commercial masters of the region, having full possession of all the grain trade so that neither producers nor purchasers can carry on their business without them, and are forced to buy and sell at the prices they fix. The country suffers from this. .The riot some three years ago against the Hebrews in Odessa was not so much the effect of religious fanaticism as it was a protest against their rule.
Hebrew distillers and Hebrew artisans are allowed in all parts of the empire, but nowhere have they by any means distinguished themselves in their trades. Distilling serves only as a pretext for cheating the excise; and, under the guise of artisans, vagabonds of all kinds come, who by their presence immediately increase the percentage of crime in the districts where they settle. Wherever there are two or three Hebrew families there immediately begins a trade in all sorts of old rubbish, which quickly passes into a traffic of stolen goods, coin immediately disappears, and not uncommonly counterfeit money begins to circulate. The Hebrews, for themselves or through their wives, obtain confidence by proposing their services to unwary people, giving small sums on loan, taking all kinds of things in pledge, and in a short time both masters and servants get entangled in their nets to such a degree that they cannot extricate themselves. If such is the evil brought by the Hebrews into Great Russia, where they are found in relatively insignificant numbers, what will it be if we open the doors wider to them?
The supporters of the idea of promoting the Hebrews’ entrance into Great Russia say that there they will not be dangerous, because the Great Russian peasant has a much stronger and more independent character than the White Russian. This, however, makes little difference. Even the Greeks, who were noted for their commercial talent, have been pushed out of business at Odessa by the Hebrews. The only place where the settlement of the Hebrews would not be dangerous is among the Russian sectarians, [Page 1057] who have a similar organization to the Hebrews; but the sectarians constitute such an insignificant percentage of the population that they could not be taken into account in considering this question. It must not be left out of view that the better part of the Hebrew population is already allowed admission to the rest of the empire. However burdensome the Hebrews may be to the western provinces, it is much better that one part rather than the whole of the body-public should suffer, especially as the strength of the Hebrews is great and increases daily and hourly. In the society known as L’ Alliance Israélite, the Hebrew race has its own government, which exercises pressure on any government that is not strong enough to stand against it. Many ask why it is harmless for the rest or the population that Hebrews have civil and political rights in England, France, and Germany. This harmlessness is easily explained; on one hand, by the great civilization and intellectual development of those countries, by which the Christian population better understands its interests and can better protect them, and, on the other hand, by the relative smallness of the Hebrew element. In Great Britain there are not more than 40,000, and in France 100,000. But even in those parts of Western Europe where the Hebrew inhabitants constitute a considerable percentage of the population, they are a burden to the country, call out general complaint, and threaten a state of things similar to that which exists in our western provinces. In Vienna, for example, the Hebrews have got into their hands all the banking-houses, all the newspaper press, and the best part of the real estate of the city.
In view of all that has been stated, the unconditional permission to the Hebrews to immigrate into Great Russia would be an experiment dangerous in the highest degree, and not offering the slightest profit, or bettering the present condition of things. In a word, while the Hebrews remain what they are, it is impossible for the government to act toward them as toward the other nationalities of the empire, or give them the same rights that others enjoy. That can only be allowed when all possible measures have been tried for first making them productive and profitable citizens in the places of their, present residence, and when these measures have met with full success. There is no reason to despair of finding and applying such measures. The Hebrews were not always such as we see them now in the western provinces, and are not such everywhere now. The great cause of their present position is chiefly owing to their selfish, ignorant, and fanatical leaders. Freed from their oppression, the mass may become re-educated and renewed. To show how this end may be accomplished is the problem of our commission.