FEBRUARY 1, 1954
NEW YORK, Sunday—I have just received a letter from Palm Beach, Florida, which the writer addresses to "Dear Eleanor" and signs "Ethel." Unfortunately there is no address and I do not recognize the handwriting, and since I would like to answer her I shall have to do so through my column.
The writer says: "Your heading, 'All Americans were foreigners once,' should be followed by 'America is now no more such as when occupied once by people born here before the immigrant gate was opened.' Now it is fast becoming a European slum," and she underlines the last five words.
"It would seem," she continues, "that since Franklin was elected the first time both you and he catered to the ordinary type of beings far, far too much. Why not spend the remainder of your few years on earth and try to teach the people (this last word is underlined) politeness and manners of which we have none in this great (?) America." The question mark is the writer's.
First of all, I would like to enlighten the dear lady and explain that columnists do not write the headings of their columns. It is true that I said "Once we were all foreigners," and I am sure that if she will read our history she will see the point. Even those of us who came here before we encouraged mass immigration, to help us develop a great continent, were foreigners, since we came from other lands. My ancestors came here from Ireland, Scotland, France, Holland and probably other countries that I do not remember. And even though she may not have so many different strains, hers must have come from some foreign country. Otherwise she would be an Indian, and none of us knows just exactly where our Indians came from.
Now we have closed our gates almost entirely to immigration, and I would suggest that my correspondent take a little better look at our country. Slums are rapidly disappearing. Small homes are the order of the day, and they look very comfortable and neat and are constantly being improved. I would not put a question mark after the word "great" in speaking of the United States. I think this is a great country, and that we can be proud of it and of our people, even those who came during the mass immigration years. Without them, there would be no railroads across this continent and our natural resources would not have been developed. We might have been still a backward country.
As to the question of politeness and good manners, I am sure you will agree with me that manners today vary from country to country as do customs and habits. But one thing never varies, and that is kindness. It is the basis of all good manners everywhere in the world, and I have found that the people of the United States, whether rich or poor, are very apt to have great natural kindness. They have dignity, too, and that is a part of good manners. This dignity stems from a sense of independence, from the power to control their own destiny which is greater perhaps in this country than in any other country in the world. I have been in the homes of many people, the very great and the very simple, and I have found good manners and politeness in both.
Your judgment of the American people, my dear Ethel, may have been made from rather superficial contacts. Perhaps, when you know them better as a whole, you will like them better.