Slow as has been the rate of foreign immigration to our country in the past, the percentage of foreign element in our population is already sufficient to make the question of assimilation one of deep and growing importance. How much more must this be the case when, in greater diversity of nationality and tenfold larger, flows the stream of foreigners coming into and possessing our land ? A population lacking in national sentiment and unassimilated into a social and national fabric constitutes a grave menace to the prosperity and stability of the state, rather than a blessing. Population is essential, indeed, but with the coming of the stranger there must be brought into operation the. machinery, or rather influences, by which the process of assimilation should keep pace with the advancing tide.
No country has ever been confronted with the problem of assimilation in so extensive a form as has the United States, and no other country has succeeded so well in the work of the unifying of races, though much remains to be desired. The late Henry Ward Beecher on one occasion likened that country to a huge elephant gathering by its strong trunk the fruit, leaves and even branches of the surrounding trees, all of which were ravenously devoured, masticated, digested and rapidly incorporated into the life of the monster, contributing to its vitality and growth. This is a fitting illustratration, and yet, well as the United States has accomplished the task of digesting and assimilating the hordes of foreigners that have come to her, some, at least, of the many social weaknesses of that country are traceable to a lack of thorough assimilation. To avoid these evils we must do better work than they have done, and now is the time to make potent the agencies of unification.
At the present time the influences operating towards the assimilation of foreign people, though, perhaps, stronger than ever before, are still very weak and imperfect. The United States has received and assimilated foreigners at the rate of about fifteen thousand a year to the million of her population. At this rate we should be able to incorporate into our national system, and infuse with our spirit about one hundred and twenty-five thousand foreigners annually. It is doubtful, however, if we effectually influence those that now annually seek our shores.
The making of citizens is something very much more important than the matter of extending the, franchise to a stranger who has lived sufficiently long in our country. The process of naturalization is technically legal and formal, while in reality it is educative and sentimental. It is comparatively easy to give a foreigner all the privileges of citizen-ship when the legal requirements have been fulfilled, but it is quite another thing to infuse in him adequate ideas of what citizenship implies. His purpose is often selfish and generally personal, while the essence of true citizenship means the very opposite. It should mean, first of all, love and devotion based on an intelligent appreciation of the country whose subject he becomes. This kind of citizen cannot be made by the simple process of legal machinery, but is the product of strong assimilative processes.
Another chapter will be devoted to the education for citizenship, which is, in reality, a continuation of the present subject. It will, therefore, be more fully dealt with when that point has been reached. For the present let this serve to prepare the mind to the thought of the great necessity of these important factors in our national life and institutions. If we might anticipate for a moment, we would point out the fact that one of the best ways to solve the question of assimilation is to seek a larger share of the two hundred and forty thousand British subjects who annually migrate from their ” tight little island.”
At the present time we get an insignificant handful of these, and yet there is no country in the British Empire so near their doors and where the conditions of life are more similar to what they are familiar with. They are already loyal British subjects and would need no assimilation. The importance of this has been fully comprehended by some, at least, of those in England as well as in this country, as the following utterances may indicate : “But one condition, and one only, is made by our colonial brethren, and that is, ` Send us suitable immigrants.’ I will go further and appeal to my fellow countrymen at home to prove the strength of the attachment of the Motherland to her children by sending to them only of her best. By this means we may still further strengthen, or at all events pass on unimpaired, that pride of race, that unity of sentiment and purpose, that feeling of common loyalty and obligation, which, knit together, alone can maintain the integrity of our empire”
“Canada’s atmosphere must have the quality which transforms every receptive man who comes into it, whatever his race or nationality, into a true born Canadian. . . . There must be in Canada a unifying force able to receive racial material of every sort and to refashion it, not into uniformity, but into acceptance of the same principles of life and the same devotion and the same faith. Such must be the power of assimilation in this country that it soon becomes a matter of indifference from what country a man comes ; whether he speak the English, the German, the Italian, the Danish, or the French language. So strong must this influence be that in a brief time, if open to the influences which must play on every receptive human spirit, he will not only soon speak in the language of the country, but will speak out of a true Canadian heart.”