1776: No, the Founding Fathers Weren’t Pro-Unrestricted Immigration

The Right Position to Take?

The subject of illegal immigration has been a hot topic for a while. The founding fathers expected immigrants who would build up and strengthen America. But did they believe in completely unrestricted immigration?

Do we really want to admit the Grecian horse into our citadel of liberty and sovereignty?

President Trump and Conservatives have received much controversy lately, surrounding the subject of immigration. According to the Left, President Trump must hate immigrants, due to the fact that he wishes to see a wall constructed on the Southern border. Alongside this, many Libertarians assert that Trump’s immigration policy – one that applies solely to legal immigrants who wish to benefit America – are contrary to the American founding.

With many Libertarians being on the side of open borders, they claim that it is antithetical to the American founding to maintain a strict immigration policy. Is Trump’s position opposite of what the founding fathers wanted? Moreover, is it the right position? Let’s take a look at what the founders said, in their own words.

A Trip Back in Time

What you were taught: The founding fathers embraced a very liberal / libertarian position on borders. For them, anyone who wanted to enter was welcome, with no restrictions.

Reality: Many of the founding fathers, as well as those who wished to follow their policies, embraced immigration for those who wished to follow our values and adapt to Americanism. Those who did not wish to do so were not welcomed.

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Seemingly-gone are the days when Americans could have a discussion on immigration. Today, any time someone poses a counter-argument to unrestricted immigration, they are branded a racist, white nationalist, or as anti-immigrant. Though many of the founders did wish to see a great influx of new immigrants to the states, it must be remembered that illegal immigration was not a major problem then, as it is today.

And what the founders wanted was not, as Michelle Malkin of the National Review correctly states, an attempt to greatly increase the number of voters or swell their political parties. In eras gone by, immigrants from all areas of the world – whether it be Germany, China, Ireland, Japan, or anywhere else – had respect for a country’s heritage, laws, and immigration policy. Those immigrants, though proud of their own heritage (as they rightfully should have been), respected the fact that they were about to become American.

Though still reflective of their previous nation, they understood that their new life would be one of embracing America’s Constitution and heritage. Today, an immigrant who walks into the country while waving another country’s flag and burning our own is encouraged by the Left.

The Founding Fathers on Immigration

There once was a time when immigration reserved solely for legal immigrants was widely accepted among Americans. This thought process was certainly nothing endemic to the 19th or 20th century. The founding fathers themselves knew the danger of allowing more than one cultural thought process to control a nation. Alexander Hamilton compared this to admitting “the Grecian Horse into our citadel of liberty and sovereignty.”

Benjamin Franklin held perhaps one of the most controversial positions on immigration. In Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind and the Peopling of Countries, Franklin states, “The importation of foreigners into a country that has as many inhabitants as the present employments and provisions for subsistence will bear, will be in the end no increase of people, unless the newcomers have more industry and frugality than the natives, and then they will provide more subsistence, and increase in the country; but they will gradually eat the natives out.”

Non Assimilation was not Welcomed

“Nor is it necessary to bring in foreigners to fill up any occasional vacancy in a country for such vacancy will soon be filled by natural generation.” Hamilton, one of the primary architects of both the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, said, “In the recommendation to admit indiscriminately foreign emigrants of every description to the privileges of American citizens on their first entrance into our country, there is an attempt to break down every pale which has been erected for the preservation of a national spirit and a national character.”

James Madison, who authored the Bill of Rights and some of the Federalist Papers, maintained a similar position. He stated that immigrants who did not wish to assimilate into American culture were virtually unwelcome. “It is no doubt very desirable that we should hold out as many inducements as possible for the worthy part of mankind to come and settle amongst us, and throw their fortunes into a common lot with ours.”

“But why is this desirable? Not merely to swell the catalogue of people. No, sir, it is to increase the wealth and strength of the community; and those who acquire the rights of citizenship without adding to the strength or wealth of the community are not the people we are in want of.”

Early Naturalization in Legislation

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first law in the nation to establish what it meant to be a US citizen. It is important to remember one thing: The founding fathers were not perfect. While they were ahead of their time in many respects, they were products of their time in others. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to “free White persons of good character.” Therefore, the act excluded people of color, White indentured servants, and many women.

Just because the founders did not share the view of racial equality that we do today, however, does not mean they should be vilified. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass agreed. Though Douglass did hold a certain anger towards some of the founders for their personal participation in slavery, he also admired them for their stance on liberty. Douglass actually defended the Constitution from radical abolitionists who insisted that it was a slave-holding document. It should also be noted that many of the founders either were abolitionists or believed in gradual emancipation.

In 1795, a new naturalization act was passed. A few changes were added, most notably a line stating that “good moral character” would be required of those applying for citizenship. Also changed was the waiting period, from two to five years. In 1866, however, one of the most defining pieces of legislation pertaining to citizenship would be passed.

The 14th Amendment’s True Purpose

Last year, President Trump was heavily criticized after his decision to end birthright citizenship for anchor babies. Was his decision antithetical to the 14th Amendment? Although many claimed that it was, the author of the amendment would have disagreed. Jacob Howard, a Republican senator from Michigan, drafted the 13th and 14th amendments. The 14th amendment, which liberals claim gives citizenship to anchor babies, states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”

The phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” has been long debated. If we look at Howard’s own words, however, there leaves little room for debate. Howard stated, “Every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law a citizen of the United States.”

“This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States. This has long been a great desideratum in the jurisprudence and legislation of this country.”

Democratic Senator Reverdy Johnson said this in agreeance: “If there are to be citizens of the United States entitled everywhere to the character of citizens of the United States, there should be some certain definition of what citizenship is, what has created the character of citizen as between himself and the United States, and the amendment says citizenship may depend on birth, and I know of no better way to give rise to citizenship than the fact of birth within the territory of the United States, born of parents who at the time were subject to the authority of the United States.”

America is Pro-Legal Immigration

Founding Fathers

America has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all over. For generations upon generations, immigrants from all walks of life have united on our soil to embrace our traditions, our Constitution, and our founding tenants. Recently, Americanism has been under attack. Though there are many illegals who come here simply seeking a better life, there are also many who wish to mold our nation into something that it is not.

The founding fathers wished to see many immigrants who would become part of the nation and embrace its culture, strengthen its security, and build it up to become a better place. Every nation on earth has a right to decide which people are safe to admit and which ones are not. This is not cruel, heartless, or racist. I leave you with one final thought, relating back to one of my favorite founders: Do we really want to admit the Grecian horse into our citadel of liberty and sovereignty?

Author Profile

Garrett Smith
Garrett Smith is a writer for NRN and recent graduate from Western Carolina University. He is a history major with a minor in political science. As a Conservative, Smith believes that the Left has taken over America's education system, which means they now control its history. To make their fellow Americans feel guilty, they often invoke a feeling of "American Shame" in students, indoctrinating them with radical, un-American ideas. It is Smith's goal to teach Americans the true history of America, and along with this, use its history to explain what makes us great.