Mr. Sargent to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Berlin, March 12, 1883. (Received March 29.)
Sir: A remarkable agitation in Germany for months past has attracted my attention, and I have several times thought of laying the subject before you, with the arguments pro and con which are advanced, and such reflections as occurred to me thereon. I regret that want of time may prevent these latter from being as thorough and philosophical as I might desire. I refer to the matter of German colonization, which is strongly advocated on the one hand by influential statesmen, university professors, colonization societies, and a large part of the press, and opposed by some incisive voices, perhaps less clamorous, but aided by the difficulties in the way of realizing the wishes of those who favor organized colonization, and the vis inertia that always impedes great social and political undertakings. Professor Treitschke, the great historian, who has great following among the students of the Berlin University, is strong in his lectures for the idea that the want of colonies is the pressing need of Germany, and that if this country would grow it must have these, by peaceful methods if possible, if not, by other means. In his lectures, South America and Africa are mentioned as possible acquisitions. He lays stress upon the fact that emigration in its present unorganized form takes away continually the young and competent, the expense of whose education, he states, the Government estimates at $2,000 per head, and of all this, he complains, America gets the principal benefit. Two other strong men, Professors Schmoller and Wagner, leading political economists, are teaching the same doctrine. Among the names of those who attended and who sent approving letters to a recent colonization society meeting, held at Berlin to promote this object, the counterpart of similar societies at Frankfort and elsewhere, were Count Yon Moltke, the president of the Reichstag, Levzow, Duke Ratibor, Prince Radziwill, Dr. Stephan, the postmaster-general, and other eminent persons.
The Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung recently published an article on “The Burning Question, Colonization,” in which it said that the climate of Samoa and the lands between the tropics invite German colonization, and that the climate is not more unhealthful for the northerners than that of many countries of Southern Europe. If work there is an exertion, one-fourth of the work required elsewhere will produce the same result. It asserted that Germans can work without risk on coffee and tea plantations. This is but a specimen of the continual teaching of the press, and is in the line with the motives which made England an early and France a late colonizer, the former securing such foothold around the globe that it is everywhere at home and in the most eligible situations, the latter directing its efforts to secure as much as possible of the remaining unoccupied, uncivilized crust of the earth, as in Africa, Madagascar, and elsewhere.
Judging by such study as I am able to give to the subject, I find three kinds of interests pressing here for the gaining of colonies:
- Trade and industry seek commercial stations, in which regions slightly possessed by European culture, may, through cultivation, be [Page 350] opened for the exchange of German products for the products of other climates.
- A vast emigration seeks lands for colonial agriculture: lands on which German workmen may settle and profitably till the soil.
- The state seeks colonies for her criminals, to save the expense of penitentiaries, and to give to the criminals a chance to keep themselves and others by their work.
The second point is the most pressing. Germans go abroad and are absorbed in other nationalities, and entirely lost to the fatherland. Hence it is held that the most momentous of all needs is that of colonies for agriculture, to which workers of all classes can go without severing their connection with the home country and losing themselves in foreign interests. It would seem that such a colony is only possible under a suitable climate—one adapted to the northern nature of the German laborer 5 and very little of such territory is now left, it having been appropriated by other peoples. The great and fruitful regions fit for agriculture are already occupied, and it could only be exceedingly small portions that could now be found, useful perhaps to a few emigrants, but not worth the exhibition of the German flag, or the name of a separate colony. From year to year the extent of non-possessed coast line diminishes, under the peculiar covetousness of modern times, that divides the last bits of earth. With England and France rivaling each other in bringing under their respective control the remainder of the globe, the aspiration of the German mind for lucrative colonies is difficult to realize; so that it would seem the Germans going abroad must still become, as now, the guests of foreign states, and the gains of their labor inure to the stranger.
The surplusage of German population reaches 600,000 polls yearly. The friends of colonization say that the best possible use of the acreage of the Empire, with the most perfect organization of labor, will prove inadequate to nourish this yearly accretion to the population. “Yet,” say these, “where will there be a bit of ground to be found in 1900, upon which the flag of some other nation will not wave? Shall we forever let our sons go out among other foreign peoples, while other European countries send their children to their own colonies? Shall we go about the world begging at foreign doors for an opportunity to go in, only on condition that we give up our nationality?”
Such appeals to national pride count for much with a martial people. But Germany has been for only a few years a nation in its present sense, and only recently has realized the need for an outlet of its people into a reservoir instead of into a stream. It has never earnestly tried colonization, and therefore it cannot be said that it does not understand and “could not accomplish colonizing. The Germans certainly understand it as well as the English did in 1600: they were the best colonizers in Europe in the eleventh, twelveth, and thirteenth centuries; and their natural resources are greater than those possessed by Denmark, Holland and Portugal, when these followed the shadows around the world, and selected from virgin wastes the most eligible spots for future empire. Unfortunately for Germany, the opportunity for selection is almost entirely closed.
As the name and individuality of the United States continually occur in these discussions, and its interests are directly concerned in the ultimate decision of the practical question, I ask your pardon if I advert to some of the considerations suggested by this German colonization problem.
Assuming that there is a great increase of population in Germany, [Page 351] a necessarily limited acreage, a consequent emigration, and extremely confined area outside of possessed regions available for colonization, are these fraught with the misfortunes to Germany commonly supposed, to avert which, colonizable possessions should be seized, as one orator has declared, “with blood and iron”?
One writer thus fills out the picture:
Increasing importation of corn and cattle, because of the German agriculturist’s inability to meet the demand; a constant decline in demand because of constant rise in prices for food, followed by a rise in everything; constant decline in wages because of constant increase in the number of work-seekers; decline of industrial product because of constant decline of national wealth; increasing impossibility to save, and consequent decline in purchasing power: in a word, rapid increase of pauperism and social distress.
This startling picture would be frightful if there were not many reasons to believe it fanciful. The population of Germany produces a considerable annual surplus unquestionably. But the increased importation of corn and cattle does not necessarily argue a gloomy future, although this is a sore point with German agricultural classes, and supplies the motive for prohibitive legislation against our products. Where there is an increased population, an increase of the importation of food stuffs is not only natural but welcome, in that it facilitates the support of the people. It may even be increased where a people does not increase as rapidly as here, if a portion of the people turns its attention to industrial pursuits, and much of the labor which was formerly engaged in the cultivation of corn and the rearing of cattle exclusively, has so turned its attention to other pursuits, and thus led to an increased consumption. Political economists hold that increase in numbers of a people has a tendency to go so far as its means of subsistence, compared to its other wants, will permit. Each expansion of the food relations draws an increase of population after it; and curtailed food supply checks increase.
There are not at present many indications of an overpopulation in Germany. If there are complaints in certain parts, as in Upper Silesia and a part of Saxony, the reasons seem to lie in the characteristics of those particular peoples who lack the disposition to emigrate to other parts of the country, and cling to the homes and trade (weaving) of their ancestors. The same inferences are legitimately deduced from the fact that the consumption of meat and bread is greater in the coal and industrial districts than in the purely agricultural districts. When the agriculturalists of Germany complain of the surplus importation, and demand prohibitory measures, they apparently do not consider the quantities of field products which are employed in other directions.
The increase in the importation of food is in itself no bad sign, but rather an indication that the people has increased its wants, and has the means to satisfy them. The fear of American production is based on the idea that the United States move on perpetually, while Germany stands still. This fear has for its basis whatever may be predicated on the influence of increasing military armaments in Europe, causing the industrial force to suffer both quantitatively and qualitatively, lessening the production and interrupting the education of the mechanic at the time when his mind is the most susceptible to instruction. Thereby, certainly, the productive equilibrium between Europe and America might in time be destroyed in favor of the latter, and bring about an emigration whose dimensions might cause exactly the reverse of the fear of overpopulation.
Strangely enough the movement for colonization in France is urged for exactly opposite reasons from those advanced in Germany. The call [Page 352] for a more active emigration there to French colonial possessions under supervision of the state, is made to avert depopulation. Colonization is to counteract the decrease of population. French advocates of this remedy show that the population of England has increased threefold, although it had populated America and Australia; and that, since the time of Alexander I, the Russian population has doubled, as also that of Germany, in spite of emigration; and they attribute the acknowledged small increase among the French to their repugnance to emigration, and their objection to a division of paternal estates. It is alleged that the birth of a second son in the French provinces is looked upon as a calamity. Hence elbow-room is required to be made by colonization, to stimulate a greater increase; and the surplus is to be hoarded in colonies which may send a reflex tide of population in case of need, and feed home trade from patriotic motives. However problematical the latter result may be, the scheme involves the fundamental truth that the increase of a people is regulated partially by the more or less easily acquired means for their support, and that the room made by emigration is soon again filled out, providing the means of subsistence is thereby made easier. These theorists are apt to overlook the fact, however, that the emigrant to a foreign land is apt to go under, unless he takes with him or develops more energy and activity than his old surroundings required him to exert; for, nowhere is the struggle of life a more bitter one than in securing the foundations of a new home in foreign lands.
Colonization organized by the German Government would, in the opinion of its friends, not only prevent overpopulation, but would react favorably upon the fatherland, and make ample returns for the sacrifices of the states if the colony remained attached to this country. I find here grave matter for doubt. The cost of emigration consists in the outlay for transportation, the purchase of lands to be cultivated, the implements of agriculture, and the expenses of the temporary maintenance of the emigrant until he is able to support himself, probably for a full year. To defray all this the people remaining at home must be taxed, and the capital is in fact lost to them. Emigration, even without the aid of the Government means, is, in this view, an enormous loss to the national wealth. As a rule absolutely poor people cannot emigrate; and if from any district more than ordinary emigration takes place, it is almost evident that want in its broader sense was not the reason, but rather that the emigrants were recruited from those who were not paupers, but those who, with the assistance of money saved, hoped to improve their condition abroad. Social and religious motives may induce some such movements; but usually they spring from substantial interests. Legal obstacles to acquiring real estate, as in Mecklenburg, or a too great division of large estates, as in some parts of Germany, also have driven vast numbers of the German peasantry to America, causing a great loss of capital to Germany. But such loss by no means compares with the expenses that would be involved by an emigration at the cost of those who remained at home. The smallest number necessary to be sent abroad annually to avert overcrowding is estimated at 300,000. To carry these abroad would involve an expenditure that means bankruptcy. In 1823 England paid £22 per head for emigrants to settle in Canada. Accepting that sum as normal—and it is not an overestimate in the present day—the outlay for the experiment would beabout 150,000,000 make annually.
But the friends of organized colonization meet this imposing array of figures by pleading the necessity of the case, and by the confident [Page 353] assertion that the annual loss to the country would be balanced by the commercial intercourse of the colony with the fatherland. This is obviously a delusion. Colonies are governed by the self-interest that induced the emigrant to leave his native country to better himself elsewhere. The colonist will trade with the mother country so long as it is for his interest, and no longer. The colony will even interpose the barrier of a protective tariff against the mother country, as against all the world; and, if hard pushed or treated contrary to its interests, it will rebel, as did the United States and the American colonies, and as would the British colonies if every concession were not made, even to their sensitiveness. In fact a colonist regards his mother country only so far as it gives to him material and moral support. He asks of it capital, labor, means of communication, protection, &c.; but he offers nothing in return, and seeks the best market for his needs and products.
The advocates of organized colonization believe that the most eligible place left for a grand scheme for German colonization is the La Plata states; thereafter the southern part of Brazil, the Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catharina, Parana, Uruguay, Argentine, Chili, Northern Patagonia, and also Paraguay. It is lamented that the immense stream of German emigration which flows into the United States had not been directed at the beginning to South America, for then a mighty German Empire, called the “United States of South America,” would be the consequence. As it is, their wealth, their labor, their industry, their productive and consumptive power, are lost to Germany forever. It can easily be supposed that in the course of time the “United States of South America” would have assumed an attitude to Germany similar to that taken by the United States to England, and La Plata would have as little remained a Rhine as the Hudson a Thames. The interests of that problematical southern community would scarcely have been identical with those of the fatherland, in spite of kinship of language and descent. Trade is cosmopolitan in its habits, and goes where it finds the best markets. Although the Argentine Republic formerly belonged to Spain, and in spite of its Spanish character and language, it has a fivefold greater trade with England than with its former country, while its traffic with Germany is quite as large as with Spain. The controlling test in all such cases is found in the ability of the mother country to compete with other countries in furnishing its colonies; and its advantages are as great in furnishing the colonies of other countries as in furnishing its own. Hence, to my mind, the whole proposition is built upon a fallacy.
The assumption that emigration is an unmixed loss to the mother country is too broad. For instance, German shipping interests have largely profited by it. * * * The trade has undoubtedly increased with increased emigration, and is more than an accidental coincidence. Transportation of emigrants brings about a cheaper transportation of goods, and the influence of the unceasing movement to the United States has greatly stimulated German markets. It is by no means a one-sided profit.
English emigration statistics show that the possession of colonies does not much influence the direction of the currents of emigration. Although the interests of England may be supposed to be served by its emigrants going to Canada or Australia, a large portion of them go to America. In 1871, 161,782 English went to the United States, while only 48,000 went to all other places. In 1878, owing to a panic in America, the emigration to the colonies predominated, there being 54,694 to the United States and 66,106, to other places; but in that [Page 354] year German emigration to the United States sank from an average of 107,201 to 31,058. From 1853 to 1878, 2,767,218 English subjects went to the United States, against 1,663,729 to English colonies.
This preference for the United States is natural. The emigrant finds there a well-regulated state, every facility for communication with his old home, vast resources, and a deep-rooted civilization, side by side with an ample field for future material and intellectual development. The climate is more European than in any other transatlantic country. All the advantages offer themselves at a comparatively short distance from his native country, to be reached at a slight expense. In spite of all the praises sung of South America, its prospects in every respect fall far behind those of the United States, and it is at best an exceedingly problematical refuge for the emigrant. Africa, the only other country that affords anything like an open field, is inhabited by a race that does not disappear like the Indian before civilization, but rather increases, and disputes the soil as stubbornly as hardy weeds do more delicate plants. That has been the experience of the English in South Africa.
I think the conclusion from these facts is that emigration will not be forced into any channel that does not lead to a convenient and promising goal. The emigrant does not forsake his native country from patriotic motives, but rather because his fatherland is too narrow for him, and he goes to find a new home where he may get compensation for the privations he suffered in his native land. His regard for the fatherland may be manifested in generous contributions, such as those recently sent from America for the relief of the sufferers from the inundation of the Rhine district, but when the course of trade or questions of individual interests are concerned, his thoughts take the tinge of his surroundings.
The agitation for the colonization of Samoa at public expense has again been revived, and new reasons are discovered why these islands are adapted to German colonists. Stress is laid upon the fact that the lion’s share of the trade there is in German hands, and that the natives have most confidence in them, but the scheme is quite feeble, and the assumption of superior German trade is not entirely accurate, inasmuch as the Godeffrois, the principal German merchants there, have gone into bankruptcy. Experiments have recently been made in Berlin in the production of soap from Samoan cobra, under the auspices of Professor Liebreich, of the royal laboratory, and some statements worthy the attention of a private stock company have been made. A manufactory for this soap is about to be established in Germany, but the Government seems to remain passive upon the question, not deeming the sacrifices it might be called upon to make to be compensated by any probable national gain. Except as a naval station it would be hard to see any particular advantage to Germany in planting a colony at great expense on this remote island, while some undesirable foreign complications might arise.
In conclusion, upon this whole question I may remark that there are peculiar reasons why Germany could not easily hold possessions abroad. Its geographical position forbids it. England, as an island, is secure against invasion, and can therefore send assistance to her colonies without impairing her defensive powers at home. The United States has an enormous sea-coast; its states are not separated by a sea; its peaceable and comparatively feeble neighbors give it no uneasiness, and it could support a relation to its colonies if its policy ever dictated it; but Germany has a limited coast; its navy is not calculated for extensive [Page 355] enterprises; its neighbors are dangerous at all times, and require of it occasional exertions and constant expensive military preparations that absorb its means and energies and forbid it to incur the liabilities which its self-respect would impose upon it as a colonizing nation.
I therefore believe that this agitation will be barren of important results, and that the United States will receive, as heretofore, the fertilizing stream of German emigration which has aided in its magnificent development.
I have, &c.,