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Emigration to America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1272, p. 133-134.

August 6, 1864

EMIGRATION TO AMERICA.

Within twenty-four hours of the closing ceremonial of the Session of Parliament, and in a House of Commons consisting of far less than twenty-four hearers, a speech was delivered which ought not to be allowed to pass into immediate oblivion. It contained a solemn warning, founded on facts, addressed to a class of the population of the United Kingdom whose value is acknowledged in the very circumstance of that warning. Lord Edward Howard, when he brought forward the subject of emigration to the Northern States of America, and laid bare its true conditions and incidents as at present existing, seemed almost to have felt a presentiment of the new demand for 500,000 men made by President Lincoln for the prosecution of the war which he conducts on the part of the Federal States, the news of which was within a few miles of this country when the remarkable speech of the noble Lord was spoken. In the brief debate which followed its utterance it was unanimously declared that the most effectual way of attaining the object which Lord Edward Howard had in view would be the giving the utmost publicity to his address; and pointed and distinct appeals were made to those who control or contribute to the newspapers of the day to aid in the dissemination of statements which commend themselves to the serious consideration of those to whom they were specially directed. Compliance with a request so urged, and based on such grounds of acceptation, seems to us a simple duty; and it is with a desire to do what in us lies to spread the information which was laid before Parliament in a spirit of philanthropy worthy of a representative of the people that, after the lapse of some days, we deem it no more than right to revive statements of so much importance.

As the legal representative of the youthful Duke of Norfolk, it has been the duty of Lord Edward Howard personally to become acquainted with the condition of a part of the population of Lancashire which resides in or about the great Howard property in that district. As a member of the Relief Committee at Glossop, which undertook to meet the difficulties and distresses caused by the cotton famine, knowledge of the baneful operation of the so-called emigration to America was forced upon the noble Lord. It was made manifest to him that the labouring population were suffering under a delusion, from which he has done something to awaken them. The plain fact is, that a system is in existence which, under the name of emigration, is nothing more nor less than a base and insidious scheme of recruiting for the Federal army. In the outset let it be said that, in the strict sense of the term, we attach no blame to the Federal Government. There is no evidence of complicity on the part of that Government in the infamous proceedings which have been brought to light. Indeed, it appears that the remonstrances of Lord Lyons on behalf of British subjects who have been kidnapped by false pretences into the Federal army have been attended to by Mr.Seward in an official manner; but, as everyone knows, official action at the seat of Government does not necessarily result in the redress of grievances which are connected with military organisation in a time of war, especially when it is directed towards the discharge of men from a force which loses soldiers by hecatombs and in which the demand for reinforcements is enormously beyond the supply. Still, the Federal authorities fully acknowledge the injustice and the oppression of the practices of the recruiting which is going on, which, in the very nature of things, has fallen into the hands of agents of the vilest and most unscrupulous character. The military commandant of New York, the chief recruiting dépôt, in his reports, has spoken of the circumstances under which men are obtained for service in the field in no measured terms. He says "that almost every imaginable form of outrage and deception has been developed; the outrages practised on recruits are too unjust to be borne, and in many cases too loathsome to be detailed. Many--indeed, most--of these unfortunate men were either deceived or kidnapped, or both, in the most scandalous and inhuman manner in New York city." Doubtless, these candid observations apply to men of all nationalities, including Americans; but it is in their application to the men of this country that we especially propose to consider them. It is undeniable that a regular


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agency of villainy has been established in this country, in the north of England and in Ireland particularly, by which men are induced to abandon prospects of steady though laborious maintenance in this country by representations of large wages and more than corresponding social advantages in America, who, immediately on reaching that land of promise, of freedom, and of comparative wealth, are decoyed, cajoled, threatened, and, as the last resort, drugged, until they find themselves enlisted in the Federal army. They are at once conveyed to the dépôt at Long Island, where they are, under the pretext of undergoing the training which is indispensable to military discipline and the making of a soldier, subjected to cruelties, privations, and outrages which no one has yet ventured to chronicle in writing; and as soon as possible, but not too soon for their sufferings, they are sent on to form parts of those forlorn hopes, composed of the newest arrived recruits, which are recklessly hurled at the fortified strongholds of the enemy, and to create ramparts with their dead bodies behind which the main bodies may retreat.

Let it be well understood that every day, by means of the grossest false pretences, married men, the heads of families, are going out to America in the hope of avoiding distress at home, who in a few weeks help to swell the fearful lists of the dead which are reported from time to time from the seat of war about Richmond. According to the statements of Lord Edward Howard--the authenticity of which cannot be denied--men are sought out and offered work, as first-rate mechanics, in Canada, at large wages, an undertaking is given to pay their passages out on the condition (the insidiousness of which is to be observed) that such expenses are thereafter to be deducted from their wages; and they find themselves at the end of the voyage landed at New York, where, penniless and friendless, they fall an easy prey to the recruiting shark. Of the numerous devices to bring about this end it is only necessary to mention drugging, which has been before alluded to, the result of which is that the men awake from a stupor and find themselves in the uniform of the Federal army, and with the usual attestations of enlistment complete against them; contrivances to get them into the hands of the police, who, acting in fraudulent unison with the recruiting agents, threaten and cajole them into enlisting; while, in the last extreme, the simple method--borrowed from the practices of, and perhaps carried on by, slave-traders, changing only the type of man whom they deal in, is adopted, and they are compelled by mere physical violence to enlist. So complete is the organisation of the system, that in the vessels of all kinds which run between this country and New York agents pass to and fro regularly, who ingratiate themselves with emigrants who have not been entrapped at home but are voluntarily seeking new--and, as they believe, better--fields for their labour; and in the result they land under the auspices of these persons, and are led straight into the pit which gapes for their ingulfment. As a rule, the men are enlisted in false names, so that inquiries after them under their real designations are practically useless; and, even if they should pass unscathed through the perils of a war which is almost one of extermination, nothing can be heard of them until that period, so illusory and so hopeless, shall have arrived when peace is re-established in America. In the event of a man once enlisted attempting to desert, he is shot as a matter of course. The vigorous simplicity of this proceeding is obvious.

But, assuming that an English emigrant escapes from or does not fall into the net of the recruiting agent; that he finds himself on the shores of America under the conditions which attach to him as a working-man seeking employment more remunerative and affording him a prospect of more immediate comforts and greater future prosperity than he could have hoped for at home, how does it really and truly fare with him? Is it the fact that he is in a land where ample work, high wages, and abundance of the necessaries of life are accessible at low prices? The very reverse is the case. In the first place, a labouring man, if he obtain employment, which is anything but a certainty, is paid in dollars--that is, in the notorious green-backs, and he has been led to suppose that a dollar is equivalent to 4s. 4d. of English money. Now, the truth is, that a dollar is worth something less than 1s. 6d., so that a man nominally earning eight or nine dollars a week is receiving in value not more than fifteen or sixteen shillings; and, as several workmen writing to their friends at home have stated, they are doing worse in mere money-getting than they were in England, while the high prices of all sorts of provisions, fuel, and clothing still further depreciate their gains, and they find that they have exchanged, perhaps, a struggle in their own country for positive pauperism in another and a strange land, which is in the agonies of civil war, of revolution, and may be ere long in a state of anarchy.

Such are the prospects of emigration to America at the present moment; and it is well that every effort should be made to bring this knowledge clearly to the minds of those whom it most concerns. This is no case for rhetorical artifice; it is not necessary to dress it up with fanciful garniture before it is presented to the consideration of the public. There is an eloquence in the facts which will sufficiently speak to the judgments of those whose duty it is (as in cases like that of Lord Edward Howard it is their pleasure) to contribute to the well-being of the working classes. The agency for evil and for wrongdoing in this particular matter is widespread, active, unscrupulous. Why should not some counter-agency be set up to meet and to neutralise the vile operation which is notoriously going on in this country? The law, trammelled by the rules of evidence, is, in the main, powerless to deal even with detected offenders. The Executive Government can only act by means of the law; but there is, as we think, a remedy to be found in the adoption of that great principle of association for philanthropic purposes which, almost peculiar to this country, has so constantly supplemented and aided the law. Even a small association for the dissemination in a readable form of the facts which Lord Edward Howard laid before the House of Commons might do much. Why should it not be tried?

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