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The Americanization of the Finns

John Wargelin, A.M.,

President of Suomi College and Theological Seminary

Chapter I.  Introduction. Meaning of Americanization Discussed.
Chapter II.  Historical Background of the Finnish Race.
Chapter III.  Causes of Immigration from Finland.
Chapter IV.  Finnish Immigration to America.
Chapter V.  Distribution and Occupations of the Finns.
Chapter VI.  Cultural Life of the Finns. a) School.
Chapter VII.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). b) Press.
Chapter VIII.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). c) Church.
Chapter IX.  Cultural Life of the Finns (continued). d) Societies.
Chapter X.  Naturalization and Political Life.

Chapter III.
Causes of Immigration from Finland.

Fairchild in his book on Immigration (p. 146) divides the causes for immigration into natural and unnatural causes. Among the first he names the superiority of the economic conditions in the United States over those in the countries from which the immigrants come. It is essentially today an economic phenomenon. Under the unnatural causes he names the religious and political causes. These have played a great part in the past. Then we are told by no less an authority than the Commissioner General of Immigration of the United States in 1909, that large numbers have been induced to come by the transportation companies and labor agents. We shall study this phase of our problem on the basis of the facts as published in Finland, where the reasons should best be understood.

The first cause for immigration from Finland has been, with the first comers from Norway and Sweden, as well as with the later ones, meager earnings and uncertainty of subsistence. This can be readily seen from the rise and fall of immigration according to financial conditions in America.

The second important cause has been the compulsory military service law which was enacted in 1878, just about the time that immigration from Finland began to grow. An explanation for this is not that the Finn is afraid to fight, - on the contrary it must be said that he is a great warrior, as the histories of the Thirty Years War, Turko-Russian War of 1877, The World War, The Red Rebellion of Finland in 1918 etc. prove - but naturally peace-loving he has seen too much of war. His country has been a battlefield for centuries in the struggle for supremacy between the Slavs and the Scandinavians in the Baltic countries. He has shed his blood on nearly every foreign battlefield where nations have assembled. As a result of this, there is instilled into the mind of the Finn a dread and abhorrence of war. This sentiment has been instilled in him by his mother while he was being taught his nursery rhymes. No, a Finn is not a coward where a righteous war is necessary, but as he could not quite sympathize with the plans of the old Russian regime for military aggrandizement, he left his country in order to avoid unpopular military service.

An important cause is also found in the restless, dissatisfied mind of youth, the so called "wanderlust". No other reason can be attributed to the emigration of so many young men and even married people, who are not moved by any financial pressure. These reasons are given by M. Tarkkanen, "Immigration, Its Cause and Results".1

A study of our Table No. IV shows that immigration increased about 400 % in 1899 until it had risen to about 700 % in 1902 from that of 1898. The reason for this is not difficult to find. It was in 1899 that Czar Nicholas II declared his "February Manifesto" against Finland, taking away many of the constitutional rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Finland and approved by the emperors under solemn oath. A bitter and dark epoch followed in the political life of Finland. The country arose in opposition to such violations, expressing the general opinion through the Press and through the right of appeal to the Czar, but to no avail. The more active political leaders of the opposition were exiled from the country by the Czar, and a period of general suspicion directed against peaceful citizens resulted. This drove thousands and thousands away from their homeland "to the land of the free, and the home of the brave". It looked for a while as if the country would be either depopulated, or lose all signs of its independent position. Today, however, Finland is an independent Republic with one of the most democratic forms of government found anywhere.

Prof. O. H. Kilpi, in his book on Immigration and Economy of Finland during the 19th Century, (p. 31), discusses the question of immigration in a scientific way. He says that the causes for immigration have presented one of the hardest problems for economists and statesmen to solve. He does not seem to give the "wanderlust" theory much weight, although it has been made much of by writers on the immigration of the Germanic and Romanic tribes. Neither does he seem to agree with the Malthusian doctrine of surplus-population as having any basis in the immigration from Finland.2

On the contrary Kilpi shows that the number of acres yield in 1910 of wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc. was larger per person than a century before. Agricultural progress in Finland has not only kept pace with the increase in population, but has even exceeded it. Commerce and other productive technic has also developed very rapidly. The old time individual agricultural implements have given way to modern machinery, dairy implements have been installed on a very large scale, and improvements have been made along other lines. Factories have also increased in number, especially paper and pulp mills, so that the exports from Finland during the last two years have been much larger than the imports. A few years ago, however, the imports surpassed the exports because the country was passing through a period of transition from hand-labor to that of machinery. But although the country does provide for its population just as well as in the past, the fact remains that seasonal conditions in farming, long months of more or less idleness during the severe winters, and increase in the cost of living, have tended to create dissatisfaction not only among the agricultural population of the north, whence the majority of the immigrants have come, but also among those engaged in industrial pursuits.

Prof. Kilpi strikes the heart of this problem when he states that development has gone in Finland as well as in other countries from the agricultural to technical and industrial conditions. "Emigration from a country always appears, as far as time is concerned, during that period of social-economic transition which is caused by an industrial and capitalistic revolution in an old traditional agricultural community". This transition he terms "social capillarity". And he quotes Kautsky who has figured that during the seven year period from 1901-1908 5,740,000 persons from agricultural life emigrated from Europe".3 It is true that they not only leave the country but move into cities and industrial centers. Thus the "Pohjalaiset" (inhabitants of the provinces of Wasa and Oulu) have formed the bulk of the immigrants as well as of the industrial workers.

A further reason for immigration among the "Pohjalaiset" is found to exist in their nature and characteristics. They are active, possess physical vitality, and are daring and enterprising. They were found early as sailors or fishermen on the Norwegian coast, and as shipbuilders and carpenters in many cities. They thus became fortune seekers who could undergo the severities and trials of a stranger trying to establish himself amid new and strange conditions.

In 1891 it was stated in the Diet of Finland, that one who understands the conditions in Northern Europe, understands the reason for immigration to America. "As long as Finland can not pay like wages to laborers as America does, where wages are three or four times as high as ours, emigration from Finland will never cease". The large number of immigrants who return to Finland for a short stay, and those who reside permanently there, spread the knowledge of our better wages to everyone who is interested in finding out. This fact of immigrants informing others, or helping them in securing transportation tickets, is to be considered as an important factor.

Many other causes have contributed to the immigration of the Finn but they are to be considered more or less accidental rather than real, permanent causes. All these factors, taken together, have been powerful enough to separate about one-tenth of the population of Finland from their home and native land.

Effects of emigration. What, we may ask in this connection, are the effects of emigration of so many people from a country; and what are some of the effects of immigration upon the country receiving them? There are two views with regard to emigration: one unfavorable, because it is "a drain on population, reducing its economic strength and disturbing social and political relations"; the second looks upon it as a relief from over-population and a congested labor market. As a general fact, emigration has not succeeded in diminishing the population of the countries of Europe, although emigration from some of them has been very heavy. The one great exception is Ireland, where population. declined from 8,175,124 in 1841 to 4,458,745 in 1901. Emigration must be considered as being directly responsible for this condition, for about 72 % of the total population emigrated from the country between the years of 1851-1901. But on the other hand the countries of strongest emigration hitherto (England, Germany etc.) have shown practically undiminished birth and marriage rates and a steady growth in population. Doctors Richmond Mayo-Smith and T. A. Ingram, writing on the subject of Migration in The Encyclopaedia Britannica,4 conclude that "emigration may give temporary relief to congested districts, but it is not in itself a remedy for so-called over-population", for while emigration is heavy, there is usually a considerable excess of births over deaths.

This may be true, for there is no inherent check on the increase in population in the fact of emigration itself, it may rather help to raise the increase by opening up many advantages and territory to those remaining; but in a sparsely inhabited country, like Finland, it would lack this effect and might even reduce materially the rate of increase in the country.

The economic effect of emigration is more difficult to analyze closely, because so much depends upon the character of the emigrants and the labor markets. Some point out, that as the emigrants are in the most productive period of life, the country of emigration loses adults and replaces them with children, thus it bears the burden of educating them only to be deprived of their labor as soon as they are old enough to leave their native land. Then again, it is urged that voluntary emigration takes away the cream of the working class, because it is the man of energy, of ambition, and perseverance who takes the chance of success in the new country, leaving the poor, the indolent, the weak and the crippled at home. Although this may be true in a great many cases, it is not always the case, for very often the men who are doing well at home are the ones least likely to emigrate, because they have least to gain. It is unnecessary to try to weigh these arguments here, but they stand in close relation with the study of the causes of immigration, and for that reason we have pointed them out. In general it may be said that the effects of emigration appear to be negative in character upon the land losing some of its population.

Effects of immigration. The effects of immigration, on the other hand, are positive, and may be spoken of under the effects (a) on population and (b) on economics. Immigration, of course, is a direct addition to the population. The statistics of the United States show that over 23 million immigrants entered the country between the years of 1820-1905. Prior to 1820 there was no official record of immigration. This addition to our population, for example, was sufficient to give us an average annual increase of 24 % between the years of 1850-1900, while the average annual increase during the same time for the whole of Europe was only 8.2 %.5 The economic gain of immigration to a new country is also evident. It adds directly to the number of adults engaged in the work of producing wealth.

We have already pointed out the fact that economists place a money value on each able-bodied immigrant who enters our country. Prof. Kilpi estimates this value as being about $1000 per person; others place it as being from $800 to $1000, this being the amount at which an adult slave used to be valued. Then again, it has been said that an adult immigrant represents what it would cost to bring up a child from infancy to a period when he would be able to take care of himself, say, of about 15 years. Ernst Engel has estimated this at $550 for a German child. The most scientific procedure, however, is claimed to be to calculate the probable earnings of the immigrant during the rest of his lifetime, and deduct therefrom his expense of living. Such efforts to put a precise money value on immigration are futile, for they neglect the question of quality and opportunity. But on the whole we may conclude that immigration is an asset to the country of immigration.

A word or two might be added concerning the political effects of immigration. A noted writer says on this point: "The influx of millions of persons of different nationality, often of a foreign language and generally of lower classes, would seem to be a danger to the homogeneity of a community. The United States, for instance, has felt some inconvenience from the constant addition of foreigners to its electorate and its population. The foreign-born are more numerously represented among the criminal, defective, and dependent classes than their numerical strength would justify. They also tend to segregate more or less, especially in large cities." But then he adds, "Nevertheless, the process of assimilation goes on with great rapidity". The influences helping in the assimilation are intermarriage and physical environment, which lead to the adoption of the same mode of life. But particularly effective are the social influences, viz., common school education and the adoption of one language, participation in political life, which is granted to all citizens after five years' residence, and the general influence of the established social standards represented by law, institutions, and customs of America". And the same writer concludes: "Doubtless immigration in the last fifty years of the 19th century had a modifying effect on American life; but on the whole the power of a modern civilized community working through individual freedom to assimilate elements not differing too radically has been displayed to a remarkable degree".6

Having studied the causes of immigration from Finland and having called attention to some of the general effects of emigration and immigration, we are ready to discuss the size of Finnish immigration in the next chapter. Then, later, we shall see how well these general principles are exemplified by the actual life of the Finns in America.

1 p. 7, in Finnish.

2 The problems growing out of population were first treated in a thorough way by an English clergyman by the name of Robert Malthus in his "Essay on the Principle of Population". His general conclusion is that in all societies of which we have knowledge there is a tendency of population to increase faster than the means of subsistence. According to Malthus this tendency rests upon: "(a) The strength of the sexual passion which in countries in which population is free to expand results in doubling the population at least in a quarter of a century; (b) the inability of mankind to increase means of subsistence forever in a like ratio. In other words, while population tends to increase in a geometrical ratio, the means of subsistence increases at not more than an arithmetical ratio". These ratios, although suggested by Malthus, were not intended to be exact, and his theory may be summarised briefly in his statement that, "It is the constant tendency in all animated life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it". It is only fair to point out that many of the preventive checks on the increase of population that go under the name of Malthusianism, were not suggested by him. See "Poverty and Dependency", J, L. Gillin, Ch. XXXVIII.

3 Vermehrung und Entwicklung in Natur und Gesellschaft, 1910, p. 8.

4 Vol. XVIII, 11th Ed.

5 See Enc. Brit., Vol XXII, p. 100, 11th Ed.

6 Enc. Brit., Vol. XVIII, p. 431, 11th Ed.

Publication: John Wargelin, The Americanization of the Finns. The Finnish Lutheran Book Concern. Hancock, Michigan 1924, 185 pages.

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