Sunday, January 29, 2017

When Alexander Hamilton Called Unrestricted Immigration a "Trojan Horse" Threatening Our Liberty and Sovereignty

Yesterday, I wrote of Thomas Jefferson's anti-immigration arguments in his Notes on the State of Virginia. My intention was not to argue that Jefferson was consistently anti-immigrant (he obviously wasn't), but that anti-immigration arguments of the sort that some today would no doubt label "un-American" or even "fascist" were perfectly normal and acceptable parts of political debate in the Founding Era and were often made by many of the Founders themselves, including Thomas Jefferson.

Sixteen years later Jefferson would appear to change his tune, arguing in his first Message to Congress that restrictions on naturalization - there was a fourteen year waiting period - should be eased:
[S]hall we refuse to the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?
He then went on to seemingly contradict his skepticism in Notes about admitting people with different civic habits and values, in favor of a more optimistic assessment:
[M]ight not the general character and capabilities of a citizen be safely communicated to every one manifesting a bona fide purpose of embarking his life and fortunes permanently with us?
I say "appear" and "seemingly" because debates about immigration in these times often grew out of larger differences between Federalists and Republicans. These differences threatened to cause secession or even civil war with (it was feared) the involvement of foreign powers. It's not that one party was necessarily more pro-or anti-immigrant than the other. Rather, it often depended on whether the potential immigrants were seen to be allies or enemies of one or the other side.

So it actually wasn't completely inconsistent for Jefferson to be, say, against French emigres when he believed them to be monarchists but in favor when he believed them to be radical republicans (although obviously Jefferson didn't exactly put it that way or admit it). For Jefferson, the French had gone from being bad guys to good guys - a little revolution had occurred in the interim.

The anti-immigrant sentiments expressed by Alexander Hamilton, writing as "Lucius Crassus" in the New-York Evening Post of January 12, 1802, as a reply to Jefferson's first Message, should be understood against this background.

Hamilton first reminds Jefferson (of course!) of his earlier views:
The opinion advanced in the Notes on Virginia is undoubtedly correct, that foreigners will generally be apt to bring with them attachments to the persons they have left behind; to the country of their nativity, and to its particular customs and manners. They will also entertain opinions on government congenial with those under which they have lived, or if they should be led hither from a preference to ours, how extremely unlikely is it that they will bring with them that temperate love of liberty, so essential to real republicanism?
"Lucius Crassus" then goes on to employ language that would seem to fit only the most paranoid nativist:
The United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; it has served very much to divide the community and to distract our councils, by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others. It has been often likely to compromit the interests of our own country in favor of another. In times of great public danger there is always a numerous body of men, of whom there may be just grounds of distrust; the suspicion alone weakens the strength of the nation, but their force may be actually employed in assisting an invader.
And here's the sort of "common-sense" view on immigration that one might easily imagine a "build the wall" advocate employing today:

By what has been said, it is not meant to contend for a total prohibition of the right of citizenship to strangers . . . But there is a wide difference between closing the door altogether and throwing it entirely open.
Hamilton would end by claiming that unrestricted immigration was a Trojan Horse (or in those days they said "Grecian Horse") for the United States:
To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens, the moment they put foot in our country, as recommended in the Message, would be nothing less, than to admit the Grecian Horse into the Citadel of our Liberty and Sovereignty.
It's not clear that Jefferson had quite said or meant precisely that, but this was a public political debate among strong antagonists, not a philosophical disputation in a salon.

Tomorrow: At the same time Jefferson was becoming more "pro-", George Washington was becoming more "-anti"...

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