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When America Called for Immigrants
By Halvdan Koht (Volume XIV: Page 159)

It is a well-known but nevertheless somewhat startling fact that as the United States entered the Civil War, its government embarked upon a program to induce foreign immigrants to come to America to join in the task of settling and developing the country. Federal and state authorities united their efforts for this purpose. The most important measure -- and one of lasting influence -- was the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862, which opened vast areas of fertile soil in the Middle West to settlers, alien as well as native, on conditions of unprecedented liberality. Independently of this act, the federal government issued a call for immigrants, and state legislatures encouraged immigration vigorously. Before that time there had been in many states a vehement propaganda against the influx of aliens, a cry of "America for Americans." The Civil War created a new need for immigrants, not only because many young men were enrolled in the army, but also because the demands of warfare necessitated an increased production in all branches of industry and agriculture. Thus public authorities had the strongest possible reasons for furthering immigration.

The call from the New World met with European conditions that made emigration almost as vital to Europe as immigration was to America. In many European countries the period was one of rapid industrialization accompanied by disturbances of the existing social and economic order. This situation was notably true of Norway, where, as a consequence, agriculture became temporarily unprofitable and large numbers of laborers were unemployed or underpaid.

The representatives of the American government in foreign countries were an effective factor in the work of attracting immigrants. A diplomatic representative could not well assist actively in the encouragement of immigration from a country where he was placed to maintain friendly relations between the governments. Such action would not be regarded as consistent with the comity of nations. The consuls might better use their position for such a purpose, although even for them certain limits had to be observed. They might give information, but could not be allowed to offer direct support to immigrants. In fact, the documents I here shall present give ample evidence of the efforts and the effectiveness of American consuls in Norway and Sweden in the furthering of emigration.

It so happened that the Civil War occasioned a considerable strengthening of the United States consular service. An important reform of this service had been brought about by an act of August 18, 1856, as a result of the efforts of one of the ablest secretaries of state America had in the nineteenth century, William L. Marcy. This act was the first step taken toward a firmly established American diplomatic and consular system. After the outbreak of the Civil War, on August 2, 1861, a law was adopted "to increase the consular representation during the present insurrection." It authorized the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint consuls at any foreign ports where he should deem it advisable, and he might allow them an annual salary up to a maximum of $1,500. The primary purpose of this step was to watch and prevent the outfitting and departure of privateers, and therefore the law would be valid only until "the restoration of internal peace within the United States."

By virtue of this law, salaried consuls were appointed for the first time in Norway and Sweden. They had no occasion to be very busy in these countries in the matter of hindering the activities of secessionists. There was perhaps some need for their work in Sweden, where large factories of munitions were operating, but almost none at all in Norway, where no munitions could be had and where the sympathies for the cause of the North were still more dominant than in Sweden. The new consuls were able to exert themselves the more actively for immigration, since they had so little call to deal with secessionists.

Since Norway and Sweden at that time were united under one king, and since the United States had a diplomatic representative only in Stockholm, it was natural that both he and the American consuls in Sweden should occupy themselves with the emigration from Norway along with that from Sweden. Not a few of the Norwegian emigrants made their way to America by way of Gothenburg in Sweden. Some others went via Hamburg and even the American ministers and consuls in Denmark came to have something to do with the Norwegian emigration. Information about it may be found in American reports from all the Scandinavian countries, now preserved in the National Archives of the United States.

The first salaried consul sent to one of these countries in consequence of the law of August 2, 1861, was the German-born George Schneider, one of many Illinois immigrants who in the course of the next few years were placed in Scandinavian consulates. He was appointed consul at Elsinore on September 3, 1861. The state department still appeared to regard the consulate there the foremost one in that part of the world, though it had lost its former importance for the Baltic trade after the abolition of the Sound dues in 1857. On arriving there in November, Schneider at once found out that he could not support himself and his family on the salary he received, and he left immediately.

In his stead was appointed, on January 29, 1862, a Swiss American from Missouri, Charles L. Bernays, who arrived at Elsinore a month later. He conceived his position mainly as a center of propaganda for the national policies of the Lincoln administration, but he soon discovered that Elsinore was not exactly at the center of the world. He was called back to the United States in August of the same year to help consolidate the Republican party in his own state. His interest in immigration was of a negative character. He was alarmed by observing that in the spring of 1862 no less than 1,960 Mormons from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden sailed for the United States from Hamburg, Bremen, and Kiel, and by learning that an approximately equal number were annually converted to Mormonism in the three countries and might be expected to emigrate. He thought of this increasing Mormon population as a calamity that necessarily would create difficult problems in the States, and he wanted to discourage it. {1}

A new consul at Elsinore was appointed on May 2, 1868. He was George P. Hansen, a native Dane, who had lived in Chicago since 1848. He remained at Elsinore for several years and proved a very active and efficient officer who did much to encourage Danish emigration. Before he arrived, this task had already been taken up by his colleague at Altona, in the duchy of Holstein: William Marsh, an English-born Illinoisan who came there as consul (unsalaried) in August, 1862, and who praised the Danish farmers as the best immigrants America could get -- " an industrious and hardy race of men of a lively temperament and possessing but few vices." {2}

Schneider's predecessor at Elsinore, J. P. M. Epping, another German American, had settled in the South in Charleston, South Carolina, and had been discharged from his office, obviously because he was suspected of secessionist sympathies. The recently appointed American minister in Copenhagen, Bradford R. Wood, however, testified to Epping's utmost loyalty (September 28 and October 2, 1861) and recommended him for appointment at Gothenburg or at Christiania. As a consequence, Epping was appointed consul at Gothenburg on October 22, 1861, the first salaried consul at that place. He entered upon his duties in December of the same year and there as elsewhere proved an industrious and conscientious worker. But he was not allowed to keep his position very long. If he was not a secessionist, he appeared at least opposed to the war for union. At any event, the Senate refused to confirm his nomination, and a new man was appointed in his stead in October, 1862. Since this man did not arrive until June, 1863, Epping virtually was acting consul for a year and a half, and during that time he witnessed the emigration that was under way from both Norway and Sweden. He was anything but favorably impressed. In a report of June 23, 1862, he remonstrated against the "shameful and lawless treatment of immigrants" at the port of Gothenburg; and he urged that something be done "to remedy the distressing manner in which immigrants are transported both from Swedish as well as Norwegian ports, but particularly from Christiania in Norway, from which the greatest immigration now takes place."

About Norwegian conditions he wrote: "Seven immigrant ships left Christiania and two Skien, a small port in the neighbourhood, already this spring for Quebec, full with immigrants, all bound for Chicago, Illinois. The ship-owners of Norway prefer sending emigrant vessels to Quebec, because the english colonial laws are not so stringent concerning the accommodations and treatment of the immigrants and also because of their vessels being only fit for carrying timber and lumber freights." He tells that the Norwegian shipowners, instead of building their ships in Norway, preferred to buy old vessels of all nations, principally English, American, and German, for very little money. These ships could carry only Canadian products because the insurance companies demanded such high premiums for better goods. "Should such vessels be allowed to carry human freight?" he asked.

With such impressions Epping could not be expected to become a very eager propagandist for emigration, and he himself reported {3} that his accomplishment in this respect was "very limited." The man who succeeded him in office was both more eager and more successful.

Meanwhile, on December 6, 1861, a salaried consul had been appointed at Stockholm, too. He was Charles A. Leas of Pennsylvania, a doctor who had served on the medical staff of the Russian army during the Crimean War and who later, for a couple of years, had been American consul at Reval (the present Tallinn) in Estonia. He arrived at Stockholm on March 4, 1862. Because of the ice in the Baltic he had to travel by way of Berlin and Copenhagen and took seventeen days for a voyage which in summer time could be made by sea in eighteen hours. But his labors were not rewarded. Like Epping, he probably was not a member of the party in power, and his appointment was not confirmed by the Senate. He therefore left Stockholm for America in October of the same year without having been able to achieve anything in support of emigration. He had had time only to feel the increasing pressure of people from both Norway and Sweden who were anxious to emigrate to the United States. From both countries letters flowed in to the consulate at Stockholm asking for information, advice, and assistance in the matter of going to the new country. {4} The work of giving the desired help was taken over by Leas's successor, Benjamin Tefft of Maine, who was appointed September 30 and arrived in Stockholm on November 11,1862. He was a clergyman of some literary merit, the biographer of Daniel Webster; and he had been an industrious worker for the Republican party. He now became very active for the cause of emigration and extended his assistance to Norwegians as well as to Swedes.

In Norway the American consular system was at that time in a somewhat chaotic condition. It had been established in 1809 with the appointment of Peter Isaachsen in Christiansand, the whole of Norway being his consular district. After his bankruptcy in 1820, the seat of the consulate was transferred to Bergen, where it was in the care first of Henrik Janson and then of his son Helmich Janson for thirty-seven years. Upon the resignation of the latter in 1857, he suggested that the consulate should be moved to Christiania, and in that year the American minister in Stockholm appointed Job. H. Andresen as consul ad interim in that city. The department of state seems to have taken no action on this matter, and when it started to reform the consular system for Norway, there was obviously a little confusion about the actual situation. Without informing Consul Andresen or discharging him from his position, the state department on January 22, 1862, appointed O. E. Dreutzer as consul (salaried) in Bergen, and on the same day it appointed Carl J. Kraby as consul (unsalaried) in Porsgrunn.

Without any knowledge of these appointments, Andresen, on March 7 of the same year, according to the authority granted him by consular instructions, undertook to appoint a vice-consul in Bergen, and he was astonished when, a few days later, he received letters from the department for the consulate in Norway addressed to Porsgrunn, where in former days a vice-consul had resided but where at this time there was, as far as Andresen knew, no agent. Dreutzer did not know that from now on there were to be two consuls in Norway. He imagined that his district comprised the entire country and he supposed himself authorized to appoint vice-consuls in other Norwegian cities. The American ministers in Copenhagen (September 16, 1862) and in Sweden (October 16, 1862) recommended strongly the establishment of a regular consulate in Christiania, chiefly on account of the emigration passing through that city. The minister in Sweden, Jacob S. Haldeman, even wrote that he "conceived the consulate of Christiana [sic] the most important in the North of Europe in regard to emigration." On December 1, 1863, the state department finally approved the removal of the consulate at Porsgrunn to Christiania. But that action remained for many years nothing but paper. Only in 1869, after many remonstrances, was the consulate at Porsgrunn abolished, and Gerhard Gade was appointed consul in Christiania.

Dreutzer was Swedish-born and had emigrated to Wisconsin in 1841; Kraby was a native Norwegian who had emigrated in 1850, also to Wisconsin. They arrived at their posts in Norway in May, 1862, and both of them were eager to prove themselves efficient. Only Dreutzer, however, succeeded in achieving something in the task he was charged with. Poor Kraby, who had imagined that a consulate would yield income sufficient for a living, was cruelly disappointed, for he was unable to collect fees amounting to as much as $100 for a whole year. He had no means of his own and he could not pay the rent for his office. He borrowed money on the credit of his government, but his drafts on the department were never honored, his applications for assistance were regularly refused, and he was near starving. Under such conditions he could not have been expected to perform great things -- actually he had very little idea of how to fulfill his duties. He felt it impossible, in his poverty, to move to Christiania, and it seems a wonder that he could have fought his way through in Porsgrunn to as late as 1869.

At all events, from 1862 there were two consulates in Norway and two in Sweden ready to assist the emigration that was expected from these countries. In the United States some of the states, particularly in the West, had even before this time adopted measures to encourage and help immigration. Wisconsin had retained an immigration commissioner in New York during the years 1852-55; Minnesota Territory had done likewise from 1855-57; and Iowa had a similar office in 1860-62. {5} The remarkable event of the year 1862 was the action of the federal government for the same purpose. It took the form of the famous circular no. 19, which was sent out by the department of state on August 8, 1862, to all the diplomatic and consular officers of the United States in foreign countries. It was signed by William H. Seward. This document is a landmark in the history of American immigration, and it deserves to be reprinted in full. {6} The text is as follows:

At no former period of our history have our agricultural, manufacturing or mining interests been more prosperous than at this juncture. This fact may be deemed surprising in view of the enhanced price for labor, occasioned by the demand for the rank and file of the armies of the United States. It may, therefore, be confidently asserted that, even now, nowhere else can the industrious labouring man and artisan expect so liberal a recompense for his services as in the United States. You are authorized and directed to make these truths known in any quarter and in any way which may lead to the migration of such persons to this country. It is believed that a knowledge of them will alone suffice to cause them to be acted upon. The government has no legal authority to offer any pecuniary inducements to the advent of industrious foreigners.

After issuing this circular, the national administration followed up the policy therein expressed by proposing to the Congress the enactment of a system for the encouragement of immigration, in particular by the establishment of a federal bureau of immigration. The proposal was repeated in 1863. President Lincoln, in his annual message to Congress for 1863, said: {7}

Although this source of national wealth and strength is again flowing with greater freedom than for several years before the insurrection occurred, there is still a great deficiency of laborers in every field of industry, especially in agriculture, and in our mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals. While the demand for labor is thus increased here, tens of thousands of persons, destitute of remunerative occupation, are thronging our foreign consulates, and offering to emigrate to the United States if essential, but very cheap, assistance can be afforded them.

The proposal became law in 1864 and it remained in force for four years. In the meantime, some of the states joined the action -- Minnesota, for example, by the establishment of a board of immigration. {8} On February 8, 1863, the department of state sent out another circular (no. 32) to the diplomatic and consular officers abroad to direct their attention to the provisions of the Homestead Law and to the wealth of precious metals in the western territories. {9} "These facts" Secretary Seward wrote, "you are instructed to make known, in such a manner as may be considered most expedient and proper, within the district of your residence."

The war between the states in America might have evoked apprehensions in the minds of some of the emigrants as to the possibility of being conscripted according to the draft law of March 3, 1863. A proclamation of the President interpreting this act, sent out by the department of state in a circular of May 9, 1863 (no. 36), to the representatives in foreign countries, was actually of such a nature as to confirm such apprehensions. It stated that persons who had previously declared their intention to become citizens of the United States could not, by renouncing that purpose, free themselves from being enrolled in the draft. Another circular (no. 42) had to be issued on September 21, 1863, "with a view to relieve such persons from doubt or anxiety upon this subject." It explained that the former circular applied only to people who had immigrated and taken out their first papers previously to the law of enrollment. "This information consular officers are authorized to make known in such manner as they may think most expedient."

All these acts and circulars formed the basis on which the American consuls were to carry on their activities in the interest of emigration.

The most active official agent in Norway was, as has been mentioned, Consul Dreutzer in Bergen. I shall not tell the story of his efforts for immigration here, however, for it has been told elsewhere. {10} I only have to note that Dreutzer was the first to stress the value of the Homestead Law in the propaganda for immigration. As early as August 12, 1862, long before issuance of circular no. 32, he reported to Secretary Seward that he had prepared an article for the Christiania newspaper Morgenbladet about the Homestead Law, and although this paper refused to publish it, he succeeded in having it brought out in a Bergen newspaper. {11} In the same report he reminded the government "in a respectful manner" of the necessity of some regulation for the protection of the immigrants. No doubt this report helped stimulate the state department to issue the above-mentioned circular as well as to propose a law about immigration. Dreutzer received approval of his action from the department on October 9, 1862, {12} and it ordered sent to him a copy of a similar statement prepared for publication by the American consul in Paris (John Bigelow). When Dreutzer finally retired in 1866 because the salary that had been temporarily granted him was discontinued, he felt he could be proud in leaving. "I do so," he wrote to the minister in Stockholm, "with the fullest satisfaction that I have performed my duty -- my labor has not been without beneficial effect, manifesting itself in the uncommonly large emigration of this Spring, 19 large ships being chartered from ports of this consular district: the number of immigrants is estimated between 6500 to 7000 persons." {13}

Kraby, in Porsgrunn, started with the same eagerness and enthusiasm as Dreutzer. His own reports give sufficient proof that he had no high literary gifts. Nevertheless, he translated the Homestead Law and had it published in several newspapers of the district. He also got 8,000 copies separately printed and had them distributed among people there, and he found that this publication worked remarkably well to "enliven the longing desire of the poor but honest laborers of this country to emigrate to the United States." When he noticed that the local press tried to deter the would-be emigrants with horrible pictures of the Sioux War in Minnesota, he gave to the newspapers "a true and just statement of the affairs," and he had the satisfaction of observing that the press ceased to publish false rumors of the great number of Norwegian immigrants who had been slaughtered by the Indians. In the same way he contradicted "in true but lively colours" the assertions that emigrants on arriving in America were immediately drafted for the Civil War. All this he told in a long report of December 31, 1862, and he was convinced it would have a great effect on emigration during the next few years. He also tried to direct the emigration straight to the United States instead of through Canada and he succeeded in having at least one vessel go direct to New York. In his next report, on December 31, 1863, he told how he had published circular no. 42 from the department, and he was satisfied that during the next year there would be a larger emigration from his district than ever before. But after that time his energy was completely paralyzed by his impoverished condition, and he was unable to report further activities.

The first answer from the Scandinavian countries to circular no. 19 about immigration came from the American minister in Stockholm, Haldeman, who had been appointed by President Lincoln in March, 1861. On September 18, 1862, he wrote to Secretary Seward:

My time and attention has for some period been directed to the subject of No. 19, but, confined by severe sickness the past month, have been unable to complete a statistical dispatch relating to Norwegian and Swedish emigration, which with proper encouragement may be indefinitely extended and as to Norway may literally become an "Exodus." Four thousand emigrants for the United States left the several ports of Norway from May to August inclusive, ten thousand the spring and summer of 1861. None know better the valuable character of Scandinavian settlers than the President and yourself; accustomed to liberty and self-government in their own country they readily and more easily adapt themselves to the institutions of the United States than the emigrants of other nations, they fuse and mix with our people, and have exhibited no disposition to retain a clanish nationality in the country of their adoption so often resulting in evil consequences.

The obstacles and impediments to this strong current of emigration from the North to the virgin soil of the far west, has been want of information and encouragement, except what they have received from their pioneer countrymen; the United States having no American consul in Norway (until those appointed by the present administration) they were entirely in the dark. The passage of the Atlantic in crowded rotten vessels, the impositions of ship-masters uncontrolled by proper laws and regulations, the quiet opposition of the government have all to be overcome by these people before leaving the land of their birth. Worse than all this, they land in a foreign city and on soil beyond the jurisdiction of the United States (Quebec, Canada).

On November 18, 1862, Haldeman wrote further:

From the papers I learn that the New York Chamber of Commerce recommend action on the part of the Government to stimulate immigration and advise the appointment of agents to visit Ireland and Germany. Scandinavia, but especially Norway, is by far a more fertile field and as yet almost virgin. If the Illinois Central Railway had agents, American citizens speaking the language (of which that state has hundreds) in whom the Norwegians would place confidence in the inducements and representations held forth to emigrate, I have no doubt notwithstanding many obstacles the emigration for the year A.D. 1863 might be increased to not less than twenty thousand. I myself at any time without effort within the last seven months might have sent from three to five thousand ablebodied young men (and their example would have spread like prairie fire) to the United States, I or others advancing passage money, they entering into an agreement to enter the army of the United States, giving an order on the proper authorities for the advance, or apprenticing themselves in any manner that might be suggested as security. The advance would not exceed fifty-five to sixty-five dollars per emigrant, extra's included, by the Hamburg steamer. If New York, Philadelphia or Boston wish emigrants or substitutes on terms like the above, modified to suit particular notions, they can be had here. I have no doubt that with proper effort Sweden and Norway would send more emigrants (and of the best character, most fitted for our climate and institutions) to the United States than France and Germany combined annually for the next three years. To all this they acquire our language in a short time, being kindred tongues.

As has been pointed out above, the ministers accredited to foreign governments necessarily had to maintain a prudent reserve in encouraging emigration, and in particular they could not venture to finance emigrants. Their task was rather to advise their own governments about measures to be adopted for the purpose, and of course they might give information to anyone who asked for it. The real propaganda work had to be left to the consuls. In Stockholm it was taken up by B. F. Tefft.

At first Tefft was not without a special problem of a rather perplexing character. So far from being deterred by the war in America, many people wanted to go there as volunteers for the Union army. At any rate, they thought that by volunteering they would be enabled to get across the Atlantic without cost. After two months in Stockholm, Consul Tefft reported on January 9, 1865:

My office is overrun with applicants, from Sweden and Norway, who wish to go to the United States and enter the Army. I am constantly receiving letters to the same effect. Had I the means of sending such applicants to America, I believe I could send a thousand per month for a year or two to come. I have had, sometimes, from ten to twenty Swedish and Norwegian soldiers, with their uniforms upon them, together seeking a way to get to America for the above purpose. . . . What shall I do in relation to these numerous, increasing, and already troublesome applications? Having had experience in our Army, I can say that these applicants are equal in intelligence and education to our own volunteers, and some of them appear to be persons of very marked ability.

On April 4, 1868, Tefft continued:

I have written one hundred and twenty nine letters in reply to gentlemen in all parts of Sweden, Norway, and Finnland, who have sought information on the subject; and I have kept a record of more than two thousand applications made personally at the consulate for the same purpose. These persons do not wish to go to America as ordinary emigrants, but as soldiers.

The department of state, however, discouraged this form of emigration, since the war department objected to recruiting men for the army within the limits of any foreign territorial jurisdiction.

Consul Tefft therefore had to direct his efforts to purely civilian emigration, and he became so interested in this activity that, after having sent one, two, or three large parties of emigrants every month to America, he gave up his consular position in order to work for emigration in a private capacity. He left Stockholm on October 4, 1863, and after his return to America he addressed himself to the Maine legislature to obtain state support for foreign immigration. On February 11, 1864, he presented a memorial on this topic and on March 4 he was allowed to speak on it before a joint convention of the two houses. Before the end of the month a bill was adopted by which a foreign emigration association of Maine was granted a subsidy of $25 for every emigrant who was brought from the north of Europe to Maine and who remained in that state for at least a year. {14} It must be remembered that Maine had suffered most from the emigration from the eastern to the western states. As to the limitation to emigrants from the north it may be of interest to quote a letter from another man of Maine, Consul W. W. Thomas in Gothenburg, written just at that time, April 5, 1864, for the encouragement of immigration, "Besides all other reasons, I believe these honest, pious, plodding Swedes would form an excellent balance to the fickle, merry, light-hearted Irish, who are now crowding in such goodly numbers to our shores."

When Minister Haldeman heard of the action of Maine, he felt highly impatient about the still undecided administration proposal for a federal bureau of immigration -- "delay on a subject of such vast importance is to me most inexplicable, second only in importance to success in the field." And he urged again the necessity of sending to Christiania "an active, prudent, intelligent and paid consul" to take care of the emigration from Norway. "I have no doubt," he wrote on May 17, 1864, "that under the impetus of assisting laws the emigration from Scandinavia, especially Norway, will be immensely increased. The only obstacle at present moment is the passage money which removed or advanced will be cheerfully repaid from the first fruits of labor in America. The Norwegians emigrate in families and by villages, their domestic affections are strong, and when they change their sky, they wish to take all their household goods with them."

The bill for the bureau of immigration was enacted less than a month after the arrival of this letter, on July 4, 1864. It was immediately followed by the organization of the American Emigrant Company, which sent agents to Europe and imported thousands of immigrants under labor contracts. {15} As early as the beginning of May, 1864, Dr. Tefft had returned to Stockholm as the agent of the Maine association and of the Lake Superior copper mining companies and advertised for emigrants. His action raised some vivid objections both in the Swedish press and by the minister of foreign affairs because he had not yet been formally replaced as American consul. {16} The newspapers charged him with being a recruiting officer for the United States army. The attacks on him ceased, however, when it became evident that he accepted whole families; and in the month of July he sailed away with five hundred Swedish emigrants, two hundred for Maine, three hundred for the Lake Superior mines. His son and successor remained in Stockholm only until October, 1865, when the salary for the consulate was terminated, and he at no time proved so active for emigration as his father had been.

In some ways imitating the elder Tefft, changing like him from consul to emigration agent, only still more extensive in his activities, was the consul who was appointed for Gothenburg on October 23, 1862 -- William W. Thomas, Jr., of Maine. He had only recently gone as American consul to Galatz in Romania, and after a voyage of four months he reached Gothenburg in the middle of June, 1863. He was at that time only twenty-four and full of enthusiasm for his task. He learned quickly to understand and speak Swedish, and he laid plans for a large emigration of both Swedes and Norwegians. In his first report to the department of state on this subject he told both of his experiences and of his plans: {17}

GOTHENBURG, Feb. 12, 1864

I have the honor to inform the Department that the subject of the immigration of these Scandinavians into the United States has occupied my attention from the time of my first setting foot in Sweden.

Many a time when overtaken by darkness on an afternoon's hunt, and forced to put up for the night at a peasant cot, I have seen every eye in the family circle brighten as I told of the plenty in the poor man's home in the New World; and as I looked on their stalwart forms and witnessed their never-flagging industry, I have envied Sweden the possession of such a sturdy race.

During my residence here, I have diffused information tending towards immigration in every way in my power; but being accredited to His Majesty, King Carl, who wants all his subjects at home, I have, of course, to work with much circumspection.

I now see, by the President's message and the public papers, that it is the wish of our country to immediately augment the stream of immigration flowing onto our shores to the greatest possible degree.

The one great obstacle to immigration is the inability to pay for a passage on the part of those who would otherwise most willingly hasten to America.

I therefore beg leave to communicate to the Department a plan to overcome this obstacle, as far as this country is concerned, in the most economical manner.

I propose that a government agent should charter sailing vessels, with roomy between-decks fitted up for immigrants, to proceed to Gothenburg and take hence cargoes of iron and immigrants to America.

The distinguishing feature of this plan, and which renders it most economical is the fact that a vessel can take very nearly a full cargo of iron and of immigrants at the same time, owing to the little room taken up by the iron, and the comparatively little weight of the passengers and food.

The iron serves to ballast the emigrant-ship, and at the same time will nearly pay the expenses, of the voyage.

A freight of iron for America is always obtainable at this port at an average rate of $5. & 5/0 per ton. The Department can therefore judge how nearly the freight would cover the expenses; in my opinion it ought to pay for everything, except food for the immigrants.

Government can therefore, by this most trifling outlay, give an indefinite number of Swedes free passage to the United States. I would further recommend that two or three unaccredited agents of the Government, who speak Swedish and are acquainted with this country, be sent with the first vessel, to make known the offer of terms of the Government to the people; who I am sure would at once flock by thousands to be taken to the E1 Dorado in the New World.

The agents, just spoken of, should I think be placed under the orders of either the consul in whose district they may be employed, or of the Minister at Stockholm.

If Government should deem proper, this offer of free passage might only be extended to able bodied young men; in this case a proper officer might recruit them on ship-board on their passage to America.

I can assure the Department that there are no better people to fight or work than these descendants of the Vikings and of the soldiers of Gustavus Adolphus, and I believe it would be for our country's good to transport as many of them as possible to our shores.

Much of what was said in this dispatch obviously passed beyond the limits of the activities allowed to a consul. Thomas himself was well conscious of that fact; and when the department prepared the dispatch for printing, it was careful to strike out all references to governmental action and to military service.

The idea of using ships with iron cargoes for the transporting of emigrants was not a new one. In fact, it had been practiced in earlier years. But the vessels employed for this trade were too frail, and when in hard winter storms in 1859 no less than seven of them were lost with cargo and crew, the traffic was discontinued. {18} Thomas continued to urge his plan in later dispatches, and without waiting for an answer he managed to put it into practice in a single instance. On June 30, 1864, the American ship "Free Trade" sailed from Gothenburg for Boston with a full cargo of iron and 210 emigrants. {19} Besides, he endeavored to induce some of the Gothenburg merchants to charter sailing vessels for taking emigrants direct to the United States, since the Dano-German War had dosed the usual way via Hamburg. But he found that "the people of this place are so slow and have such a horror of going out of the beaten track" that he did not succeed in his plan. {20}

The end of the Dano-German War placed before him the same problem that had met Consul Tefft in Stockholm in the winter of 1862-63. The volunteers coming back from Denmark wanted to go to America and continue fighting there. Thomas solved the problem without asking his government for directions. He arranged with the captains of the Hamburg steamers to take these soldiers across the ocean at half price, and together with some friends he "made up a little purse" with which they could be sent to Hamburg. "I am well aware," he reported to the department, "that as consul I can have nothing to do with enlisting soldiers, but no international law can prevent me from paying a soldiers passage from here to Hamburg out of my own pocket." {21} In the course of the following winter Thomas induced more Swedish soldiers to go to America.

Meanwhile he had planned to enlarge his propaganda for emigration considerably. On February 29, 1864, he wrote to the department: {22}

I have the honor to ask for a leave of absence from this Consular district, but not from this Kingdom, for three months; my absence to commence about the middle of May next.

My design is to visit the mines in the interior of Sweden and Norway, and to see and talk with the people of this country in their own homes.

One of the chief objects of my expedition will be to encourage all whom I meet to emigrate to the United States.

In every hamlet where I pass the night, at every post-station where I await fresh horses, I shall scatter such information as I have found by experience to be best calculated to promote the emigration of these Scandinavians to our own land.

It is my intention on my return to report the results of my expedition to the Department, giving special attention to the subject of immigration, stating what impediments still exist, and the best means of overcoming them.

Hon. J. S. Haldeman, Minister Resident at Stockholm, has authorized me to mention that he warmly approves of my intended journey.

The department, too, approved. It granted, on March 26, the leave of absence Thomas had applied for. But when this permission arrived, he was so busy arranging his other plans that he decided to postpone his trip until the next year. Towards the end of June, 1865, he set out on the journey he had planned, taking with him the text of the Homestead Law and other documents printed in the language of the country, proposing to sow this good seed broadcast all along his way. {23} In fact, the journey came to embrace Norway almost exclusively. There Thomas attended, together with Minister Haldeman, the international exhibition of fisheries in Bergen in the beginning of August. He was away from Gothenburg for two months, returning there on August 22. On August 31 he sent his report to the department of state, a document that deserves to be reproduced here in full: {24}

As my route lead [sic] principally through Norway, I will in this dispatch confine myself to that portion of the United Kingdom.


The new Government roads of Norway are most excellent, and will soon be completed over all the main lines of traffic. They are graded with almost the same exactness as rail-roads drained and macadamized in the best manner, and remain even and hard through all weathers. As an instance of the natural difficulties to be overcome, and the manner of overcoming them, I will state that at Qvamskleven, on the northern route between Bergen and Christiania, the road for two miles is blown out of the side of a perpendicular precipice of solid rock, at a cost of 36,000 species, or over $37,000.


Considerable quantities of copper and iron ores are found in Norway, and several English companies are engaged in mining them. I found a sort of mining fever prevailing. Several parties of English capitalists and geologists were scouring the country, examining and purchasing promising metalic districts; while everywhere we were met by peasants offering us mineral specimens.

Norway however labors under one very serious [dis]advantage. It has no coal. And this fact will prevent its mines from competing with those of the United States or any other country, where the coal lies side by side as it were with the ore. The first question that arises in commencing mining operations in Norway is, whether it is cheaper to send the ore from Norway to England, or bring the coal from England to Norway. The Kaafjord Co. bring the coal to Norway and smelt the ore on the spot; most of the other companies ship their ores to England.

The mines of Norway however are as yet of comparatively minor importance. Those of Kaafjord, the largest in the country, produce but 150 tons of pig copper per annum.


One of the chief objects of my expedition was to diffuse knowledge tending towards emigration, and whether driving over the fjelds, scaling mountains, resting at stations, or coasting along the shore in steamers, I everywhere preached an immigration crusade to the laborer's paradise in the New World. I spoke of our homestead law -- the fertility of our soil -- the length of our summer -- the richness of our immense mining districts, but I found nothing so telling as the simple description of the condition and prospects of the working man in the United States of America.

Of fifty odd postillions I had along the road, all promised me to immigrate to the United States next Spring, save one; he, I ascertained, had been in England for nine months, and, judging all foreign countries by the one he had visited, concluded, perhaps wisely according to his light, to remain at home.

But on the steamers along the coast I had the best opportunities of coming in contact with the people. Going forward and entering at first into conversation with one or two, I soon had 100 to 150 deck passengers eagerly listening to all I told them of America. I found that interested parties had been sedulously instilling into their minds the fallacy, that although labor was many times better paid in the United States than in Norway, yet that all the necessaries of life were dearer in proportion, so that in point of fact the proceeds of a day's labor in the United States would buy them less than the proceeds of a day's labor in Norway.

This sophism I exposed by calling their attention first to the fact that cotton, pork, petroleum, tobacco, etc. were imported from the United States, and then making it clear to them that they were paying the United States price plus freight, duties and extra profits.

There was in fact, I told them, but one thing dear in America -- labor -- and this was the very article, the only article, they had to sell. Was it not good policy to take their goods to the best market?

Sometimes some Norwegian proprietors, not liking perhaps the tendency of things, would commence a discussion in presence of the deck-passengers. I found it very easy to refute all their arguments. When driven from every other point they invariably took refuge under the palladium of patriotism -- love for Gamle Norge. To this I replied, that I recognized no love of country, not connected with love for our countrymen; if then, as they had been constrained to admit, the Norwegian laborer bettered his condition by immigrating into the United States, true patriotism should assist him to go, not hinder him from going.

I however always treated these Norwegian gentlemen personally with the greatest respect. In no case did one discussion descend to altercation, and no unfriendly words were ever used.

Immigration for 1865.

I compute our immigration from Norway for the present year at 6000 souls; thus

Bergen district 
Christiania & other ports 


The immigration from Sweden will undoubtedly reach 4000, as follows

Gothenburg via Liverpool 
" other routes 
Rest of Sweden 


Giving a grand total of 10,000 immigrants this year to the United States from Sweden and Norway.

I have arrived at these estimates after careful investigation, and believe that they will prove rather under than over the truth.

Shortly after this propaganda trip through Norway, the consular activities of Thomas came to an end. At the beginning of November, 1865, he received notice from the department of state that, under the act of Congress, it was not authorized to continue his salary any more. Consequently he resigned and left for his home state.

A few years later he returned to Sweden, however. In Maine he became, in 1870, a member of the immigration commission, virtually its leading member, and in that year he went to Sweden, brought a whole colony of Swedes back to America, and founded New Sweden in the northern forests of Maine, where he himself spent the better part of the next four years. Sweden remained his great love; he married a Swedish girl; and he was American minister to Sweden and Norway, with some brief interruptions, from 1883 to 1905.

The activities of the "war consuls" of Lincoln and Seward occupied the years 1862-65. In the Scandinavian countries, particularly in Norway and Sweden, these consuls became primarily agents of emigration, and because their appointments coincided with a strong movement for emigration in these countries, their action to promote it proved highly effective.

With their withdrawal the federal interest in immigration did not cease completely. The bureau of immigration, which was established by the act of 1864, remained in existence for four years. Reports from the American minister in Stockholm show that in the winter of 1869-70 he received from Washington packages of the reports of the land office, giving information about the functioning of the Homestead Law, which he arranged to have distributed by the consulates. But in general the immigration propaganda was left to the separate states.

Secretary Seward's successor in the state department, Hamilton Fish, in 1869 took the initiative in concluding with most of the European nations mutual treaties for the protection of immigrants. He put forward the very interesting idea of instituting international control of the vessels carrying emigrants across the ocean. His proposal was laid before the Scandinavian governments, among others, but met so many technical or legal difficulties that it could not be put into effect. It was another proof, however, of the interest of the national government in the problems of immigration. What was begun in the form of temporary measures during the Civil War came gradually to exert a lasting influence on American national policies.


<1> See Bernays, report of June 9, 1862. Archives of the Department of State, National Archives.

<2> See his report of September 2, 1862. Archives of the Department of State, National Archives.

<3> On November 12, 1862. Archives of the Department of State, National Archives.

<4> See reports of August 20 and 25, and September 17, 1802. Archives of the Department of State, National Archives.

<5> Theodore C. Blegen, "The Competition of the Northwestern States for Immigrants," in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 3:3-29 (September, 1919); Marcus Lee Hansen, "Official Encouragement of Immigration to Iowa," in Iowa Journal of History and Politics, 19:159-195 (April, 192l).

<6> It was printed in the Papers relating to Foreign Affairs, 1868, p. 1365. The original can be seen in the Archives of the Department of State (National Archives), Volume of Circulars, 1787-1874.

<7> Abraham Lincoln, Complete Works, Nicolay and Hay, eds., 2:447 (New York, 1894).

<8> Blegen, in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 3: 3-29; and "Minnesota's Campaign for Immigrants," in Swedish Historical Society of America, Yearbook, 11:3-83 (1926).

<9> Papers relating to Foreign Affairs, 1863, p. 1399.

<10> Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 409-412 (Northfield, 1940).

<11> Bergensposten, November 14, 1862.

<12> Archives of the Department of State, Record A, July 3-November 20, 1862. National Archives.

<13> Letter of March 16, 1866, enclosed with dispatch of March 28 from Minister Campbell to the department of state. National Archives.

<14>Journal of the Senate of Maine, 1864, 43d Legislature, p. 151, 216, 218, 282, 288, 290.

<15> See George M. Stephenson, A History of American Immigration 1820-1924, 134-140 (Boston, 1926).

<16> The commission for his son, George V. Tefft, did not arrive until two weeks later.

<17> Archives of the Department of State, Gothenburg, vol. 4. National Archives.

<18> See the report of Consul Epping, June 3, 1862.

<19> Report of July 6, 1864.

<20> Report of March 8, 1864.

<21> Report of September 16, 1864.

<22> Thomas to Seward, February 29, 1864, in Archives of the Department of State, vol. 4. National Archives.

<23> Report of June 20, 1865.

<24> Thomas to Seward, August 31, 1865, in Archives of the Department of State, Gothenburg, vol. 4. National Archives.

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