AWCheney’s Forum On Immigration

Thomas Jefferson and the Immigration Debate

Thomas Jefferson has oft been cited by the proponents of lax immigration policy as a champion of their cause, quoting this passage from the Declaration of Independence:

“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.”

A history of the background of this passage can be found in the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups in the section entitled “Immigration: History of U.S. Policy, ” subsection “The Open Door Era, 1776-1881,” page 488:

“The rejection by the British government of colonial demands for a more open immigration policy to attract newcomers was one of the many grievances that led colonists to take up arms against the British in 1775. The Declaration of Independence attacked the King and the Privy Council for endeavoring “to prevent the population of these states” by refusing to recognize general naturalization acts passed by colonial assemblies and by restricting westward settlement in the Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774.”

This naturalization effort was very much a part of the effort of the colonies toward expansion with new immigrant groups at the forefront opening new territories. The British government was naturally loathe to have their colonies expanded to unmanageable proportions until such time as their control was firmly re-established in those colonies already existing, where that power was already beginning to slip. With the enormous amount of unexplored territory, and potential lands and resources available to present and future colonists, it was a logical next step, and one over which the British feared losing their control.

What is forgotten in this debate is that Thomas Jefferson was also NOT favorably disposed toward unbridled immigration or of immigrants unwilling to assimilate:

“Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular.” –Thomas Jefferson to Hugh White, 1801. ME 10:258

“Shall we refuse 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? The Constitution, indeed, has wisely provided that for admission to certain offices of important trust a residence shall be required sufficient to develop character and design. But might 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?” –Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801. ME 3:338

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July 5, 2008 1:53 am Posted by | Illegal Immigration, Immigration | , | 15 Comments