On Oct. 11, 1899, The Asheville Citizen featured the full transcript of a speech delivered by one M.V. Richards of the Southern Railway. It took place during the Southern Industrial Convention in Huntsville, Ala. The purpose of the conference was to discuss potential ways of improving the South’s economic industries and outlook.
Richards’ address, titled “Immigration to the South,” centered on both the need for and benefit of appealing to immigrant labor. Richards declared: “Immigration means an infusion of new blood; a coming in of new ideas; an augmentation of the vital forces and a general advance all along the line of development, progress and prosperity.”
But not everyone agreed with Richards’ address. A rebuttal came in the following day’s paper. The unnamed writer argued that the majority of immigrants were “unassimilable” (excluding the Scottish, Irish, English, German, Austrian, Swiss and “a few Russians”). Because of this, the author maintained, “this country is far better off without immigrants, and would be far better off if 98 per cent. of the Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Slavs and Belgians would go somewhere else.”
Talk on the matter continued into the 20th century. In 1900, the latest census was underway. On May 30 of that year, The Asheville Daily Citizen addressed the importance of completing the form. The census included questions concerning place of birth, as well as naturalization status. “To the several foreign-born elements of our population it is a matter of pride and interest to know the number of persons of their nationality in the United States and their general economic condition,” the paper declared.
The article went on to spotlight information gathered from previous censuses. This included the decline of immigrants from the United Kingdom, as well as the increasing number of those arriving by way of Austria, Hungary, Russia, Poland and Italy. According to the paper, the latter grouping rose notably over the previous four decades: between 1861-70, the five countries made up only 1 percent of the total immigration population; between 1891-99, the number jumped to 64 percent.
As more immigrants continued to arrive in the country, the issue remained a hot topic. On Nov. 8, 1903, The Asheville Daily Citizen reported that the group’s annual total would reach more than 1 million. “No wonder the subject gathers new gravity with each stage of its discussion,” the paper declared.
Throughout the piece, the article’s unnamed writer offered a farrago of opinions. Some disparaged the new wave of immigrants: “It is particularly unfortunate that many thousands are swarming from Italy, from the Levant, and from countries which do not supply the material out of which the best American citizenship is made.”
Yet within the next paragraph, the writer reminded readers: “It is, of course, unjust to impute bad morals and criminal tendencies to even a large percentage of these immigrants. As a matter of fact the positively dangerous characters are comparatively few.”
Nevertheless, the author maintained that it was the responsibility of Congress to impose “a stricter guard over immigration and of a more complete watchfulness over the criminals of the world, in order that they may not be allowed to come to this country.”
But ultimately, the writer professed optimism for the country’s future:
“[I]t is foolish to become pessimistic. Our vast country has worked out its great problems safely thus far. It passed the crisis of a civil conflict with a success such as the world has never witnessed, and it will be able to handle the problem of immigration remembering that many of our best and most successful citizens came to us from across the seas and added wonderfully to the wealth, wisdom, business expansion and progress of the nation.”
Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.