While on the job as a Border Patrol Agent, one of the first things I was taught about was how to detect if someone is lying or not is that most people lie through omission. It’s sort of like a soft lie in their minds rather than a hard lie. Plus, if caught, they can make some weasel-like answer such as, “But, you never asked me that.” Which came to mind when I read Free immigration Is Core American Value by Fiona Harrigan [Tweet her] [Reason magazine, February 20, 2023], a crude attempt to capitalize on Presidents’ Day—actually George Washington’s Birthday.
This Presidents Day, it's worth remembering the Founding Fathers' efforts to build an open immigration system in the young United States. https://t.co/YRMx6CxjKn— reason (@reason) February 20, 2023
Now, most readers never get past the headline, and those who do read only the first paragraph or two. Well, I did read Harrigan’s whole article, hoping I’d learn something. I did. The Founders’ comments on immigration must be read in the context of the time in which they lived.
Tops on Harrigan’s list of citations: the Declaration of Independence, which attacked King George III because he “endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.”
But the settlers the Founding Fathers had in mind were British whites, their own people. Harrigan omits that little fact, thereby implying that anyone was welcome to settle in the future United States.
Harrigan fast forwards to the debates over the U.S. Constitution in 1787, when convention delegates shot down a proposal from Gouverneur Morris that would have required someone to have been a citizen for 14 years before becoming a senator. One of the Founders, James Wilson, was dead set against it. Born in Scotland, he settled in the colonies in 1766, just 10 years before the outbreak of the American Revolution. It’s just possible that Wilson was acting in his own interest, but not necessarily in the interests of his adopted nation.
Harrigan then cites the Cato Institute, which is funded by the demonic George Soros. In 1700, Cato claims, the British Parliament “limited the colonies’ ability to grant naturalization and other group rights because it believed that colonial naturalization policies weakened English citizens’ trading positions” [A Brief History of U.S. Immigration Policy from the Colonial Period to the Present Day, by Andrew M. Baxter and Alex Nowrasteh, August 3, 2021].
So the evidence is clearly stacking up: The Founders were pro-immigration. “Please replace us,” they must have been saying.
Harrigan also mentions the Naturalization Act of 1790, “imperfect by today’s standards,” and a notoriously “racist” law, the Treason Lobby says, because it limited naturalization to white people of good moral character. Yet it was supposedly the most liberal naturalization act of its day. Most people lived under aristocracies that considered them subjects and not citizens, so it wasn’t that hard a thing to come up with an open naturalization act by those standards.
George Washington also favored open borders, Harrigan writes, something of which I was not aware.
In correspondence with a Dutch minister and emigrant, George Washington wrote that he’d ”always hoped that this land might become a safe & agreeable Asylum to the virtuous & persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” In a 1783 letter concerning Irish arrivals, Washington stressed that America was ”open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions.” He once again praised America’s promise ”to afford a capacious asylum for the poor & persecuted” in a 1788 letter to Thomas Jefferson. [Links in original.]
At times, Harrigan goes on, Jefferson “wrote skeptically about immigrants, particularly their ability to assimilate,” and “worried about the ‘heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass’ of a population that might result from ‘as great importations of foreigners as possible.’”
Then again, Jefferson wanted to revise the nation’s naturalization law, which he viewed as too restrictive, Harrigan wrote. “Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?” Jefferson asked in his first State of the Union Address.
So Jefferson worried about the world’s huddled masses a century before Emma Lazarus!
Harrigan does acknowledge that there was no great consensus among founders on immigration. Ben Franklin worried that German immigration was “so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them.” And Franklin preferred “the lovely white” immigrants to the “all blacks and tawneys” for immigrants. Ben, you racist you!
Harrigan closes by talking about Abraham Lincoln (not a Founder), and uses the half phrase of “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”.
But reading a document properly requires considering the intended audience and the historical context. The intended audience of the Declaration was the King. With “all men were created equal,” the upstart colonists told him, “Hey, you’re no better than us.” Jefferson did not write the secession document, then stroll over to the slave quarters to declare, “Hey listen up, we’re all created equal.”
Besides, the exact sentence is “we hold these truths to be self evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Jefferson was not saying that all men are created equal in every way, but only in the way that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He mentions nothing of the right to immigrate to the United States. That is not in there.
As well, Harrigan omitted a few other things, not least the preamble to the constitution.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” [emphasis added].
What?! You mean the Founders actually cared about themselves and their own children!!! What horrible people. They were supposed to be making this country for everyone else! Or least that’s what the libertarians over at Reason magazine want you to believe.
As someone possibly descended from a signer of Declaration (I haven’t the patience to sit down and figure out if the family tree split off before then), I find it refreshing that the Founding Fathers remembered they had kids of their own. Those evil White Supremacists were writing this document selfishly for their kin.
Did Washington favor replacing his own people? He certainly said nice things about Irish and Dutch immigrants early on—New York, after all, was once New Amsterdam.
But then Washington also said “My opinion with respect to emigration is, that except of useful mechanic’s—and some particular descriptions of men—or professions—there is no need of extra encouragement” [From George Washington to John Adams, 15 November 1794, Founders Online].
Washington wrote that line in response to an influx of Swiss immigrants. Washington didn’t want them to come in all at once and form their own enclave. Who knew that Washington like his fellow Nazi Ben Franklin was not as pro-open borders as we were led to believe?
Hey Fiona, you forgot (or omitted) that one!
Alexander Hamilton agreed, which again, Harrigan omitted. Too many immigrants even from Europe, he wrote, would “produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities” [The Examination Number VIII, 12 January 1802].
And Harrigan ignored John Jay, writing in The Federalist Papers No.2, a treatise “concerning dangers from foreign force and influence”:
Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.
It sounds like Jay must have been another racist, xenophobic, hater. How dare he deprive immigrants of the Magic Dirt!
In the beginning, America was overwhelmingly English, with a sizable amount of Irish and Scottish to boot. The new German and Swiss settlers migrated out to the frontier in such places as Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, but reached what is now Michigan by the time of the French and Indian War in 1754.
This map shows major concentrations of ethnic and racial groups living in British North America in the middle of the eighteenth century. In addition to the major concentrations shown here, numerous other pockets of diversity existed throughout the English colonies, such as Iberian Jewish communities in Rhode Island and Swedish farming districts in New Jersey. Many of these diverse groups still spoke their native languages. While the vast majority of European ethnic groups had come to the English colonies more or less voluntarily, most of those from Africa had come involuntarily, as slave laborers. Though heavily concentrated in a few regions, Africans comprised roughly one-fifth of the total population. Native American enclaves also remained interspersed among the European settlements in many areas. [American Diversity: ca. 1750, mappinghistory.uoregon.edu]
Which brings me to another point once made to me by a Polish-American friend who was also anti-immigration. We once had a frontier and room to move out on. We don’t anymore. The country is filled up. The United States is the third most populous country in the world after only China and India.
I don’t want my country getting more crowded. I like having deer, raccoons, and wilderness. When my European friends visit, they are often surprised at the wildlife here. Most wildlife has been hunted off or simply deprived of habitat in Europe. Wolves went extinct in England in the 18th century [Extinct British wildlife, Wildlife Trusts].
In researching this, I wanted to know how much of America’s historic population growth was caused by natural increase—large families. Good numbers are hard to come by, but Genealogy offered this: “There were some large families of 10 to 15 children, but the average family had six or seven” [Colonial Love & Marriage, by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, GenealogyMagazine.com, 2004].
Those are big families by today’s standards. But because so many children died in childbirth or in childhood, large broods offered a better chance of at least some children surviving to adulthood.
However, Gormley mentioned something else. Men in the colonies greatly outnumbered women. Perhaps it didn’t occur to Harrigan, but the Founders might have wanted free white persons to settle or immigrate here because so many men needed wives. And many men didn’t much care what they looked like.
“Between 1620 and 1622, about 150 ‘pure and spotless’ women arrived in Virginia and were auctioned for about 80 pounds of tobacco to future husbands,” Gormley wrote:
But, by 1625, men still comprised three-quarters of Virginia’s white population, and, by mid-century, the situation had worsened. Eligible ladies obviously remained hard to come by. On the other hand, the free women of 17th-century America found their position enviable. Regardless of looks, wit, or wealth, they had no trouble finding husbands. Many other women came as indentured servants, especially to the Southern colonies. But even they quickly fared well, often marrying the men who bought their contracts. Later, the Southern colonies attracted men with wives and children by basing the size of family land grants on the number of household members.
So no, the Founding Fathers did not favor Open Borders and unrestricted immigration. And the settlers or immigrants they did welcome were monolithically white. Contrary to what the libertarians at Reason would have us believe, the Founders did not contemplate inviting a mass invasion of the kind we see now at our southwest border—and at every U.S. airport.
As the Eagles sang in “The Last Resort,” “There are no more new frontiers, we have got to make it here.”
The author [Email him] is retired from the Border Patrol.