No. 693.
Mr. Fish to Mr. Blaine.

No. 398.]

Sir: Consul Mason, at Basle, on the 22d instant, transmitted to me his dispatch to the Department No. 36, with a letter asking my approval of his action in interfering to prevent the emigration of a man by the name of Camastral, whom he described as a dissolute, weak-minded inebriate and ex-convict, who had been recently released from confinement, and started for the United States by the authorities of his native commune, in the canton of the Grisons. In view of the provisions of §§ 241 and 286 of the Consular Regulations, I felt bound at once to approve the course pursued by Mr. Mason, notwithstanding the objection raised by this government to our interference with the emigration of a similar emigrant reported in my No. 181.

In the absence of instructions modifying the above-mentioned paragraphs of the Consular Regulations—and I certainly do not favor or advise any such modification—I should deem it my duty to report any consular officer within my jurisdiction who, with knowledge of the facts, failed to interfere to prevent the emigration of such persons as Sebastian Camastral, under the circumstances described, for willful neglect of duty and disobedience of instructions. In view of Consul Mason’s telegram of the 23d instant, I returned his dispatch No. 36 to him. He has since informed me that the commune guilty of this outrage was Mazein, and not Thusis, as he was led to suppose from the fact that the contract was signed in the latter place. Mr. Mason has, I believe, likewise reported to you his action in giving to the press the true version of the shipment and return of the two prostitutes from Bottstein. His action in so doing has had a most beneficial effect already, and I trust that it will meet with your approval.

It is most gratifying to learn that the emigration agents co-operated in full accord with Mr. Mason to effect Camastral’s return. Their firm (Zwilchenbart & Co.) is one of the largest in Switzerland, and if we can secure its co-operation in preventing improper emigration it would be a powerful assistance in stopping the abuses.

I take much pleasure in testifying to the fact that the new Swiss law appears to give us a remedy in preventing the forwarding of such emigrants as Camastral (article 10, sections 1 and 3), unless it should be maintained that the emigrant was not incapable of work, and that a man of that description with thirty francs ($5.79) in Chicago would not [Page 1148] be considered as arriving there devoid of resources. The law has certainly been beneficial in rendering the emigration agents less desirous to forward such emigrants, and the recent sending back of the Böttstein women, and other unfit emigrants, has had a powerful effect in deterring them from such shipments.

Camstral’s case is a striking evidence of the propriety of employing a detective for the purpose of bringing to light similar cases of objectionable emigrants. It can hardly be expected that the consul at Basle should be called upon to frequent the emigrant boarding-houses and drinking saloons for the purpose of such detection. I therefore renew the suggestion made in my No. 373 of the 23d ultimo. The employment of such a detective would save the United States the expenses of reshipment in very many cases, and the Böttstein case is evidence that detection and reshipment, as in that case, is both costly and uncertain. Moreover, every objectionable emigrant landed on our shores is a positive and pecuniary injury to the United States. The State Board of Charities of New York estimate the average cost of an alien pauper at $2,250 a head (14th annual report). The calculation is based on an average of life of only 15 years. If we take an average of life of 20 years, which, in the case of immigrants, would be nearer the correct average, it will be seen that the average cost of an alien pauper immigrant to the United States is $3,000.

In my dispatch No. 322 I showed that under the census of 1870 there was an undue preponderance of foreign-born, blind, insane, in prison, and receiving support. The preponderance of the foreign born in those different categories was, in 1870, as follows:

Excess of foreign-born blind 231
Excess of foreign-born insane 5,800
Excess of foreign-born in prison 3,958
Excess of foreign-born receiving support 11,672
Total 21,661

A total of 21,661 helpless or obnoxious persons for whom (at the low estimate of $150 a head per annum) the people of the United States have an annual burden of $3,249,150 cast upon them, which properly belongs to other countries. Converted into capital at the present rate of government securities this represents a debt of about one hundred millions of dollars which is due to objectionable emigration, without counting the increased cost of police supervision and proceedings, the increased prison accommodations, and the augmentation in the number of the judiciary necessitated by the influx of foreign criminals and vagabonds leaving their country for their country’s good, with the connivance, and often with the assistance, of the authorities on this side of the water. You will soon be able to judge from the statistics of the census of 1880 how the continued emigration of the past ten years has affected this burden resulting from uncontrolled immigration.

In the New York Times of the 6th instant, I noticed an account of a recently arrived immigrant, whose journey to New York bad been paid by his native commune of Birmensdorf, in the canton of Zurich. I instituted an inquiry, from which it appears that the emigrant in question, Feliz Trachsler, after squandering apportion of his money in loose company, and rendering himself ill by excesses, was discharged by the farmer who had employed him at 4 francs (77.2 cents) per week; that he then applied to be admitted to the hospital at the expense of his commune. This request was refused by the poor-board on the 12th of December. It further appears that from that time on he led a vagabond [Page 1149] life, working a little here and a little there; and that the poor-board authorities now are of the opinion that he committed various petty thefts, of which they were then ignorant; that on the 1st of March he applied to the poor-board to help him to emigrate, and that they favorably recommended his petition to the commune, and that the latter assisted him to reach New York provided he should have some means of subsistence on landing. A relative at Zurich contributed 50 francs towards the emigration, a sum which was paid him on his arrival at New York. The commune made up the balance, and he was started. He reached New York on Saturday April 2, and on the following Tuesday he came begging to the authorities at Castle Garden. Fortunately the latter, if the newspapers are correct, promptly directed his return to Switzerland. I invite your attention to the letter from the poor board at Birmensdorf as an extenuation of their action in the premises, and as a justification of the theory of the Journal de Genève that the United States is the reformatory for European delinquents.

While there are but few newspapers that would have the boldness of the Journal de Gèneve to claim us as their reformatory as a matter of right, there is a very widely extended sentiment in Europe that we are such a reformatory. I may sum the sentiment up in the following expression, “What is not good enough for Europe is plenty good enough for America.” We find traces of this sentiment in nearly every country of Europe. There are but few families in Germany, or in Switzerland, without some relative in America who has gone there because at home he was a failure or a burden to his family. Very many of these on reaching the United States have been able doubtless to effect the desired reform; the remainder of them are numbered among the 21,661 burdens mentioned in the census of 1870, or are still undergoing the trying and uncertain trial between honest toil and criminal contamination to which the “reformatory” of emigration naturally exposes them. Will they stand the test? If not, who is the sufferer?

The people who neglected their early education, who later did not restrain them in their tendency to vice, or who, perhaps, by mistaken care, encouraged and aided them in their evil ways, have lost all interest in the solution of the problem once the ocean is between them. The respectable, honest, and industrious emigrants, and the people and tax-payers of the United States, are the ones who have to support the consequences of those too often unsuccessful attempts at reformation of European delinquents.

If I have cited German and Swiss families it is because I have lived for a number of years among the people of those countries and have a personal knowledge of such cases. The average German or Swiss emigrant, with the exception of those who are assisted by the authorities to emigrate, is the equal of any that we receive.

The abuse of assisted, emigration extends in my opinion to every European country from which we receive a considerable immigration, and wherever it is, the axiom of the “Journal de Genève” will find numerous, though often tacit, advocates.

In the London Times of the 21st instant, a political economist, in discussing the Irish land bill, prescribes as a panacea for Ireland’s woes, “emigration and the drainage of wet lands.” The writer says that he has had much experience on these two points, and that it is a pity they should be lost sight of. Under the head of “emigration,” he says:

Forty years ago the south of Munster was as much overpeopled as Connaught is now. * * * After 1846 nearly all left the land and ended in emigrating. It was [Page 1150] the most wonderful clearance that ever was known. There was no pressure of landlords or any one else. It was mere necessity. They were dependent on potatoes; when the potatoes failed they had to find another way of living.

He then describes the effects produced in the district from which this wholesale emigration took place as being most beneficial:

It is not only the poor people that emigrated that prospered; they made room for more prosperity for others who staid at home. Wages rose much. Shopkeepers throve. Rents were well paid. Everybody did better.

The emigration thus described was spontaneous, and, as a rule, free from the assistance of poor-house authorities, and notwithstanding the fact that it consisted in a large degree of the very poorest classes, it furnished us a valuable contingent of honest and industrious workmen, whose labor has contributed largely to the prosperity and welfare of the country, many of whom lived to be valuable and worthy citizens of the country of their adoption. But listen now to the same writer’s recommendation based on subsequent experience and the altered condition of affairs:

The subject has never been thoroughly examined, but the general statistics of Munster and Connaught prove my assertion. I believe there is no other way in which it is possible Connaught can improve. It is quite a mistake that only the strong and able emigrate. Many such go. Why should they not? But a great number of bad and worthless go too. The better wages of America are the attraction. With us all who would otherwise help to make up the criminal class go. Every one who gets into any trouble, social, criminal, or any other, goes at once, women as well as men. I could give a great number of cases in my own knowledge. That 96,000 persons went in 1880 is enough; some of these, however, in the bad times in America [sic], had to come back to Ireland, and returned in 1880. Only the door should be set open more widely than now; officers should be at the ports to help and protect emigrants, and provide them with food and lodging at the lowest cost while waiting for their ships, instead of leaving them to be preyed upon by sharks. * * * Boards of guardians in Ireland have power now to assist emigration, but this power needs some arrangement and extension to make it more practical. If a union has many emigrants, it may need a moderate loan to prevent the present burden being too heavy. A pauper costs £6 to £7 per annum in workhouses, and a passage to America costs only £4 or £5. It is plain unions can afford such loans and secure them well.*

Here we have an open admission of the existence of, and a strong appeal in favor of, the development in Ireland of the systematic emigration of the pauper element, which the Journal de Genève, while protecting the deportation of prostitutes, claims does not exist in Switzerland. The cases of Camastral and Trachsler, and others of a like nature, will enable you to judge how far that claim is well founded.

I have the honor to be, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 398.]

Mr. Mason to Mr. Fish.

Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith to your legation dispatch No. 36 from this consulate to the Department of State, giving the details of my interference to prevent the emigration to America of a dissolute, weak-minded inebriate and ex-convict who had been recently released from confinement and started for the United States under a contract made by the commune authorities of Thusis, canton Graubundten.

Accompanied by my clerk, Mr. Hofaker, I found Camastral at his hotel, where his eccentric conduct had attracted general attention, and in the course of a long and [Page 1151] thorough examination I found him to be practically an imbecile. He is afflicted with goiter, and, by his own account, has been twice imprisoned—once for licentious abuse of a servant-girl, and again (nine months) for incorrigible drunkenness and cruelty to his wife. He manifested constant and frequent symptoms of a disordered mind, although he was at the time entirely free from the influence of stimulants. I was shown a telegram from the emigration agent in Thusis, explaining that drink made Camastral insane; and as it further appeared that he had been sent away at the expense of his commune, immediately after being released from his second term of confinement, I deemed the case one justifying interference, and I therefore informed the manager of Zwilchenbart & Co., who submitted the matter to me for decision, that Camastral was not a proper person to emigrate, alone and destitute, to the United States. In this the agent readily concurred, and Mr. Camastral has been to-day returned to his commune.

Hoping for your approval of my action in this case, I have to report that the conduct of Messrs. Zwilchenbart & Co. has been, in respect to this entire matter, honorable and commendable, and gives evidence of the salutary influence of the new Swiss emigration law, which took effect on the 8th instant.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 7 in No. 398.]

Mr. Syz to Mr. Fish.

Sir: * * * The authorities of Birmensdorf, in answer to my investigations of the Felix Trachsler emigration, send me the inclosed letter.

I hereby return the two newspaper clippings, of which a copy is filed at this office.

I have, &c.,

United States Vice-Consul.
[Inclosure 10 in No. 398.—Translation.]

The poor-board of Birmensdorf Canton Zurich to Mr. Syz.

Honored Sir: In reply to your esteemed favor of the 20th of this month, concerning Felix Trachsler, I have to inform you as follows:

Felix Trachsler, a day laborer, was, as is shown by the inclosed certificate, employed by a farmer of this place, as farm-boy, for about 1½ years. Previously he had a comfortable property, which, however, he dissipated in frequent visits with loose company in drinking saloons in Aussersihl, and especially by his senseless eating of “sugar and candies.” In consequence thereof, at Christmas he suffered from a stomach-ache and was forced to call in a doctor, and on that account had to leave his employer’s service. At that time he appeared for the first time before the poor-board of this place with the request that he might be taken into the hospital at the cost of the commune. The poor-board, on the 12th December, 1880 (see minutes, page 220), determined “inasmuch as F. Trachsler, according to his own statement, still has property amounting to 150 francs, and the commune cannot give assistance to such as still have property, his request is refused.” From that time on Trachsler worked a little here and a little there, but led rather a “vagabond” life.

On account of his passion for sweets, and because, as I afterwards learned, on account of his petty thefts, although he was never arrested or punished therefor, he found it difficult to find a new situation, especially as it is well known even the best workmen lack employment and the strongest fellows find no work. Then Trachsler voluntarily determined to emigrate to America, as he had heard that day laborers and farm hands were well paid there. On the 1st of March, therefore, he appeared before the poor-board with the statement that he desired to go to America if the commune would aid him in so doing (minutes, page 225).

The poor-board decided to recommend his proposition to the favorable consideration of the commune. Trachsler’s property amounted then to 100 francs, and a relative in Zurich promised him 50 francs additional. The balance the commune was willing to pay, on condition that on his arrival at New York he should be provided with some means of subsistence. Therefore, 50 francs were to be paid him there, which was actually done. Therefore, Trachsler was in no respect sent off by the commune against his will. He had never been assisted by the commune except in the single case of a [Page 1152] portion of the expense of his emigration being paid, so far as his own property did not suffice.

Trachsler is positively not insane, but rather crafty. Probably he regrets his emigration, and therefore, perhaps, has feigned in the manner reported from over there. ‘We are confident that Trachsler could, if he had wished, made his way very well; his intelligence was not lacking, but rather, as it appears, his will and the requisite energy. We, as officials, strongly protest against the reproach being made as if we had sent off to America, against his will, an insane individual, incapable of work, who was supported by the commune, although we readily admit that we should have felt glad if Trachsler had remained in America and had there sought his subsistence, as we hoped that he might there give up his evil habits, which are all due to his giving up work for the purpose of eating sweet things, and did not show himself trustworthy and responsible in little things.

Respectfully, in the name of the poor-board,

The President,

EUGSTER, Clergymen.
[Inclosure 11 in No. 398.—Translation.]

Certificate of Jacob Baur, farmer, respecting Felix Trachsler.


The undersigned hereby certifies that Felix Trachsler was in his service for a year and a half, viz, from July, 1879, to Christmas, 1880, and did his work satisfactorily, receiving therefor, summer and winter, 4 francs (77.2 cents) per week wages.


  1. Letter of Mr. M. Bence Jones to the London Times, dated Athenæum Club, April 20, 1881. The italics are mine.—N. F.