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Special Message

May 14, 1872

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

In my message to Congress at the beginning of its present session allusion was made to the hardships and privations inflicted upon poor immigrants on shipboard and upon arrival on our shores, and a suggestion was made favoring national legislation for the purpose of effecting a radical cure of the evil.

Promise was made that a special message on this subject would be presented during the present session should information be received which would warrant it. I now transmit to the two Houses of Congress all that has been officially received since that time bearing upon the subject, and recommend that such legislation be had as will secure, first, such room and accommodation on shipboard as is necessary for health and comfort, and such privacy and protection as not to compel immigrants to be the unwilling witnesses to so much vice and misery; and, second, legislation to protect them upon their arrival at our seaports from the knaves who are ever ready to despoil them of the little all which they are able to bring with them. Such legislation will be in the interests of humanity, and seems to be fully justifiable. The immigrant is not a citizen of any State or Territory upon his arrival, but comes here to become a citizen of a great Republic, free to change his residence at will, to enjoy the blessings of a protecting Government, where all are equal before the law, and to add to the national wealth by his industry.

On his arrival he does not know States or corporations, but confides implicitly in the protecting arm of the great, free country of which he has heard so much before leaving his native land. It is a source of serious disappointment and discouragement to those who start with means sufficient to support them comfortably until they can choose a residence and begin employment for a comfortable support to find themselves subject to ill treatment and every discomfort on their passage here, and at the end of their journey seized upon by professed friends, claiming legal right to take charge of them for their protection, who do not leave them until all their resources are exhausted, when they are abandoned in a strange land, surrounded by strangers, without employment and ignorant of the means of securing it. Under the present system this is the fate of thousands annually, the exposures on shipboard and the treatment on landing driving thousands to lives of vice and shame who, with proper humane treatment, might become useful and respectable members of society.

I do not advise national legislation in affairs that should be regulated by the States; but I see no subject more national in its character than provision for the safety and welfare of the thousands who leave foreign lands to become citizens of this Republic.

When their residence is chosen, they may then look to the laws of their locality for protection and guidance.

The mass of immigrants arriving upon our shores, coming, as they do, on vessels under foreign flags, makes treaties with the nations furnishing these immigrants necessary for their complete protection. For more than two years efforts have been made on our part to secure such treaties, and there is now reasonable ground to hope for success.


Ulysses S. Grant, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/204717

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