Part II: New World Beginnings
Economic want, political tyranny — either calamity would have been reason enough for leaving; but often, problems travel in pairs, so that when Slovakians were struck with the devastating cholera in 1873 at a time when debilitating hunger was widespread many felt compelled to search out a better life in the new world. As they reviewed their plight, the prospect of paid earnings became a further inducement in deciding to venture out of the homeland and to seek prosperity elsewhere. They realized that they had little hope of improving their lot at home. Many of them tilled small plots of soil that was thin and poor. The land was held mostly in great estates and was administered by manorial practices under the control of the upper fifth of the inhabitants. About seven tenths of the entire territory was peopled by peasants reduced to a level of near-starvation. When the iron plow replaced the wooden, there was some improvement in farming methods but the lot of the average family did not improve noticeably.
Those who followed a trade or managed a cottage industry like weaving did not fare much better. Often they traveled near and far as journeymen searching for improved fortune and finding it rarely.
When the situation grew desperate, there were two equally disastrous alternatives. One was the possibility of taking out a loan at prohibitive rates: from seven to eight percent, often soaring to fourteen percent. It even happened that for a short loan, fifty percent was the imposed rate. Obviously, borrowing with usury of this kind was a ruinous measure, and as the economy declined, emigration figures rose.
The other alternative was for harvesters and agricultural workers to resort to strikes as a means of redress. This could have benefited the laboring class to some extent, but in 1898 a law was passed forbidding workers to strike. As a result, emigration became the natural sequel to labor problems. These figures bear some relevance in studying the gravity of the economic situation:
|Time Period||Number Emigrating|
|In 1908 alone||52,942|
|In 1909 alone||113,315|