No. 227.
Mr. Davis to Mr. Lowell.

No. 596.]

Sir: I have to call your attention to the reported action of the Government of Her Majesty in assisting emigration of inhabitants of Ireland to the United States.

I inclose herewith for your information a copy of a dispatch from Mr. Fish, our minister at Brussels, transmitting the following extract from the Moniteur Beige, of the 6th of April last:


On Friday last the first Irish emigrants, whose journey was paid by the public treasury, and which is being conducted under the management of the British Government, sailed from Ireland.

A number of families, composing 360 persons, left the little town of Bemulet, situated in the most distressed district of Ireland, and embarked for Boston, thence to go into the varions states of the United States.

It seems doubtful whether the arrival of this sort of cargo will cause much pleasure to the Americans, for it is stated that among 47,149 persons arrested and convicted in New York in 1882, there was more than 50 per cent. foreign born, and that more than one-third of the delinquents were Irish.

Mr. Fish also forwarded a copy of the same paper to the collector of the port of Boston, who, as well as the governor of Massachusetts, [Page 423] wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury on the subject. A copy of each of the letters (which have been referred to this Department) is inclosed. I also inclose a copy of a report of our consul-general in London, giving the results of inquiries made under his direction, together with its annexes.

It may not be advisable at present, and in the absence of fuller and more specific information than is now possessed by this Government, to make such formal representations on the subject as might imply a complaint based on a conviction that the action of the British authorities amounts to an act of unfriendliness towards the United States. Still the system formally recognized and authorized by the Irish land law of August 22, 1881, and by the arrears of rent act of August 18, 1882 (Pub. Stats., chap. 49, sec. 32, and Pub. General Stats., chap. 47, sec. 18), and the occasional declarations in Parliamentary debates (Times, April 11, April 27, May 1, 2, and 5, 1883) evince a strong readiness in the Government to extend the practice which has already become very noticeable here. The circumstance that these assisted emigrants have quite recently, on reaching our shores, become a burden upon the community, is one which in the interest of neighborly good feeling should be brought to the attention of Her Majesty’s Government. It may, perhaps, be premature to pronounce a final judgment on the probable consequences to this country of a further development of the reported policy of Her Majesty’s Government, but the subject presents itself at the outset under an aspect which this Government cannot view without concern, and certain considerations may very properly be brought forthwith to your attention, and by you to Lord Granville’s notice.

The policy of encouraging immigration to the United States has been consistently followed by this Government, both as a political and economical measure, and there is how no desire to depart from it. The option of expatriation has been steadily urged as an inherent right, and, after many years’ discussion, has been tacitly recognized by most European powers, and formally admitted by some—among them Great Britain. While urging the recognition of this right, the United States threw open their doors to the inhabitants of all nations, but more particularly to the poorer thrifty classes, who were heartily welcomed to our shores, given on the easiest terms sufficient land for their support, and incorporated in our body politic. To those desirous to improve their condition in the world, those who honestly endeavor to avail themselves of the political privileges of our Republican Government, the ports of the United States have never been closed; but to the criminal and the pauper no such privileges are extended, and the statutes of the United States empower the Executive to prevent their landing. The laws prohibit the coming of those liable to become immediately a charge upon the community, but the difficulty in the present case is to apply the law to individual cases. Poverty is not in itself a valid objection to the reception of an immigrant, for many of our worthiest citizens landed without money, but, possessing industry, application, ambition, and habits of economy, they have, while improving their own condition, added to the wealth and strength of the nation. That the self-reliant poor may, through misfortune, become a charge upon the community where they seek a new home is true, but such a possibility does not furnish a valid reason for returning them to their native country immediately upon their arrival.

The policy of assisted emigration is likely to send to us many who, lacking the qualities to secure a passage to America for themselves, [Page 424] and depending upon Government aid for this, presumably do not possess the qualities to successfully cope with the adverse circumstances which must necessarily attend their first efforts in a strange country, and it is in this natural tendency of such a policy that we find a legitimate reason for objection to its enforcement by Great Britain. Honest, industrious and frugal immigrants will always be gladly received here, but this Government cannot look without deep concern upon any action by a foreign Government which tends to unloading its paupers, its “ne’er-do-wells,” its aged and infirm, its cripples and weak-minded upon us, that we may afford that support through taxation which their native country owes them.

It is quite evident how the assisted emigration of such thriftless and dependent classes may at once relieve the burdens of the home community and entail corresponding burdens on a foreign community to an extent to justify international remonstrance. It is equally clear that the expedient of assisting emigration by Government aid is one only to be resorted to under circumstances which shall produce the greatest good to all alike, analogous, for instance, to an enlightened scheme of colonization. The object in view should rationally be not mere deportation of unproductive elements, but to offer to those whose home productiveness is impeded the advantages of a fresh start in life under more auspicious surroundings, such as the Great West supplies, whether in Canada or the United States. To such emigration as comes to its shores, willing, and within proper limits, able to join in the general work of production and self-sustenance, neither a fruitful dependency of the home state nor a friendly foreign state can rightly object.

Besides bringing the matter to the attention of Lord Granville, it is desirable that you examine into the subject and communicate to this Department your views thereon, together with any information you may be able to obtain on the subject of assisted emigration and its practical workings.

I am, &c.,

Acting Secretary.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 596.]

Mr. New to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

Sir: I have the honor to transmit for your consideration and for such action as you may deem proper a copy of a report from the collector of customs at Boston, Mass., dated the 20th instant, with copies of two of its inclosures, in relation to the shipment of pauper emigrants to this country under the auspices of the British Government.

Very respectfully,

Acting Secretary.

Mr. Worthington to Mr. Folger.

Sir: I beg leave to inclose herewith a communication from United States Minister Fish, at Brussels, of the 6th instant, advising me of the shipment to the United States of Irish pauper emigrants, shipped under the control of the British Government, by [Page 425] whom their journey is paid. These emigrants are reported as coming from the most distressed district of Ireland.

Accompanying this communication is an extract from the Moniteur Beige, Brussels. [See ante].

The steamship Phoenician arrived at this port on the 4th instant, having on board 420 ste rage passengers, of whom 213 were known as “assisted immigrants.”

The steamship Nestorian, which arrived on the 14th instant, brought 770 steerage passengers, of which number 538 were assisted immigrants, nearly all of whom were ticketed through to various parts of the west; some, however, being destined to the oil and coal districts of Pennsylvania.

The alien passenger commissioner represents to me that all these steerage passengers were able-bodied, and. therefore, prima facie, able to “take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.”

It is understood that the British Government supplied these assisted emigrants with money varying from £1 to £8 per family, according to the number of each family.

I regard this great influx of Irish pauper immigrants shipped under the control of the British Government as presenting a very grave question, and fraught perhaps with disastrous results, and I have deemed it my duty to transmit a copy of Minister Fish’s letter for Department consideration, and have, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 596.]

Mr. Folger to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

Sir: Referring to this Department’s letter of the 25th ultimo, transmitting a copy of a letter from the collector of customs at Boston, dated the 20th ultimo, in relation to the deportation of pauper emigrants to this country, under the auspices of the British Government, I beg leave to transmit herewith a copy of a communication from the governor of Massachusetts, dated the 23d ultimo (with its inclosure), in relation to the same subject, with a renewal of the earnest request expressed in the former letter that you will take such action with reference to this matter as you may deem appropriate.


Governor Butler to Secretary Folger.

Dear Sir: I have the honor to call your attention to a matter of very considerable importance to this commonwealth, which is perhaps as succinctly stated as it may well be, in the inclosed extract from the Moniteur Beige of April 6, 1883, of which I send you also the translation. [See ante.]

One cargo of these emigrants has already arrived in Boston, and another is momentarily expected. If I were convinced that it was in the power of this commonwealth to prevent their landing, I should deem it my duty so to do. Many of them immediately become a charge upon the commonwealth for support. As to themselves and their families, I have the strongest and deepest sympathy with these poor people, and if landed, will endeavor to see that they are humanely and properly cared for.

I recognize, and rejoice in the theory upon which our Government was founded, that America should be a home for the oppressed and down-trodden everywhere. We welcome, therefore, all, however humble, who come to us of their own free will, aided by their energy, enterprise and resources. Such people, whether men, or women and their children, are a source of wealth to the country. But by this I by no means recognize the right of the Government of Great Britain to deport all its paupers to our shores, as if we were, though not a penal, yet a pauper colony of that Empire. By laws that trench very nearly on the penal, they have made these poor people of Ireland paupers, and then to get rid of feeding them, at governmental expense, send them to us, perhaps after they have selected the best of them to be sent to their own colonial dependencies. England ought not, in my judgment, to be permitted to empty her almshouses into the United States, nor ought she to be permitted in Ireland, where she has [Page 426] not almshouses to care for the people that her laws have made paupers, to impose them as a burden upon State charities.

May I ask of you, Mr. Secretary, therefore to take such means as to your good judgment may seem legal and proper to prevent the landing of such deportations at least within the limits of Massachusetts, and I promise you whatever aid in that regard the executive of the State may be able to give.

If it so happen that the laws of the United States may be ineffectual to hinder the landing of these forlorn creatures, certainly it is within the scope of the diplomatic power of the United States to make such representations to the Government of Great Britain as will prevent their being sent here against the will and wish of our Government. If the latter is the only way in which the evil can be reached, may I beg of you to present the matter to the President for his Consideration and intervention diplomatically if he shall see cause?

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 4 in No. 596.]

irish distress and emigration.

Report by Consul-General Merritt, of London.

The reports published on both sides of the Atlantic relative to the extent and alarming character of the present distress among the Irish peasantry have been so conflicting and exaggerated that I have deemed an inquiry into the real facts of the situation would be of service to philanthropists, who too often give where charity is uncalled for and mistakenly withhold where it is needed. But aside from this consideration Irish distress means increasing emigration to the United States, and it includes many political questions into which it is not my province to enter. Wholesale emigration aided by Government is looked upon in many quarters as the only relief from the periodic famine, and measures are now on foot to send thousands of poor families from the “congested districts” of Ireland across the Atlantic.

Considering the subject in these aspects one of legitimate inquiry, on the 28th of February last I addressed a circular letter to the members of the United States consular corps in Ireland, asking them to make investigation in their respective districts and to report on the following points:

Whether the published accounts of the distress were substantially correct or were exaggerated.
Whether the prospects of amelioration in the immediate future were encouraging.
To what extent will the existing conditions tend to a more rapid emigration to the United States or the English colonies.
Whether the Government, the guardians of the poor, or associations are engaged in sending paupers to the United States.


The reports submitted in reply to the first question, while admitting the gravity of the situation, generally agree that the distress prevailing at present is not exceptional in its character, and that the published accounts to the contrary are exaggerated. In the poorer agricultural districts the situation of the peasantry is miserable, and abject poverty is the rule, but sad as it is it has been the same for years and has become the normal condition of life. The partial failure of the potato crop in certain parts of Ireland has to some extent aggravated the situation. The fisheries have again been unsuccessful, and the rainy autumn and winter, while foreboding no good to the coming crops, have interfered with the work of the laborer. Consul Piatt, of Cork, says upon this point:

“While I am inclined to believe that the destitution and distress in Western and Southern Ireland are great enough and worthy of the assistance that our people are always disposed to give, there is certainly room to doubt whether the picture as it is shown to the outside world is not exaggerated. Boards of guardians and popular bodies, I am assured, are in a measure responsible for this exaggeration, as they, in their anxiety to have the poor-rates relieved by the opening of relief works by the Government, have made efforts to magnify the distress in some localities.”

In brief, it may be safely assumed that the much talked of “starvation point” has not been reached, however bad the situation may be, and that the local and Government authorities have abundant means at hand to relieve actual necessity.

[Page 427]


The prospects of amelioration of the present condition in the immediate future are most discouraging. Mr. Eccles, consular agent at Sligo, says:

“The wet weather of last harvest prevented much peat fuel being saved, and the poor suffer much from want of fire in consequence. Unless employment is given, or temporary charity be distributed until the warm dry weather comes, great distress, will, I believe, prevail; but the laborers and small farmers do not like to become the recipients of charity and are anxious to obtain employment to support themselves and families. There is no prospect at present of this employment being obtained, and the outlook is gloomy indeed.”

It is altogether unlikely that the Government will shortly commence public works in order to give employment to the people, as the policy settled upon is relief either by the workhouse or by emigration. The chief secretary for Ireland in a recent, speech said that the condition of the poorer class of farmers was more deplorable than that of any class of people living in any civilized country; that there were 67,000 farms of from 1 to 5 acres, and 160,000 of from 5 to 15 acres; and in the latter class there were not more than from 2 to 2½ acres of arable land in their holdings. Under more favorable conditions the agricultural interests in Great Britain have suffered severely, the present price of farming land being the lowest known in generations, and the oppression of bad seasons and foreign competition has reduced the Irish farmer, whether tenant or owner, to still lower depths of poverty. Trade in Ireland is extremely dull. Land is almost unsalable at any price, and the unsettled political state of the country forbids the hope of capital being forthcoming to extend manufacturing interests. From whatever point of view the subject is looked at there is little or no chance for an improvement in the immediate future.


With great unanimity the consuls agree that the present condition must act as a powerful stimulus to emigration, and many interesting facts are given in their reports to illustrate this branch of the investigation. In 1882 the emigration was 89,566, an increase of 10,847 over 1881, and the present year, at the lowest, will certainly show an emigration of over 100,000. The total numbers represented 17.2 per 1,000 of the population as it stood in 1882; 74.8 per cent. of the persons who left Ireland last year were between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five, showing that a. large majority were able-bodied. Of the 47,426 males who emigrated, no less than 32,955 were returned as simple laborers. As to farmers, the figures for the past three years are: 1880, 1,994; 1881, 2,440; and 1882, 3,140.


As to the question whether the Government, the guardians of the poor, or associations are engaged in sending paupers to the United States, some diversity of opinion exists, which may be accounted for by the difference of the localities from which the consuls write. Consul Barrows, of Dublin, says that no such practice is in operation in his district. Consul Wood, of Belfast, writes:

“I know of no organized effort for any large deportation of sufferers or paupers to the United States. No doubt many will find their way there by the aid of friends, and often in a measure by charitable funds. It is to be feared that most of such emigrants are without means, and, what is worse, without skill in trades or other occupations, and with so little money as to afford no promise of any respectable support on their arrival in America.”

Consul Livermore, of Londonderry, understands that “Government agents, with no great success, however, endeavor to induce the poor and lazy to emigrate.” Mr. Eccles, at Sligo, after saying that the guardians of the poor have scheduled out certain districts under the emigration clauses of the land act, states that in the Sligo union alone 600 applications have been made, and in the western unions considerably more. Continuing, he says:

“The bulk of these emigrants will go to the United States. They will receive £7 per head to cover cost of passage and outfit. It has been calculated that this will cost £6 each, which will leave about £1 to each on arrival. As it appears to me, the guardians of the poor are desirous to emigrate those who are likely to be in a state of chronic poverty at home and save the rates from their possible support. If these people are thrown upon the cities of the United States without provision being made beforehand for their employment, they may become burdens on the rates there also, and the country of their adoption may become a looser instead of a gainer by their influx. * * * I believe also among the families who intend to emigrate there will be infants and many children of both sexes under fourteen years; old people will try to [Page 428] get out by giving fictitious ages, and similarly also with those suffering from insanity, idiocy, and other infirmities.”

I have thus briefly indicated the nature of the information which these consular reports contain and the general conclusions to which they tend, which I believe to be worthy of serious consideration. * * * As to relieving Irish distress by contributions of money from the United States, which have always been so liberal, the charges have been so frequent in the past that much of this money has been used for other purposes, that I suggest in the future the utmost care be taken in choosing the channels through which the charity is to be administered.

In conclusion, I desire to express my sincere thanks to the United States consular corps in Ireland for their full and prompt replies to my questions on the subject of this investigation.