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with fervent devotion to the principles of liberty. They built our nation to be a combination of th

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Founding Fathers open borders immigration Alexander Hamilton Thomas Jefferson


By John F. Di Leo - 

As we debate the ongoing question of immigration – not just who and how many to allow in, but also when, if ever, to allow them to vote – it might be helpful to remember the thoughts of our Founders on the issue.

It is now common for one side of the debate to say “we’re a nation of immigrants,” giving rise to the assumption that we always believed in open borders in the past, so this current concern about a wave of cultural invaders is something new… but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

215 years ago today, in fact, one year into the Jefferson administration, this very issue was in the headlines, as Federalist Party leader Alexander Hamilton assailed the President in a published op-ed, known as “The Examination, Number VIII,” for Jefferson’s political flip-flop on the matter. 

The People of the Founding Era

Our Founding Fathers were indeed a mixture of people. We had politicians whose families had been in the Colonies for generations, like the Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Adamses.  Many were scions of families that had been in their respective colonies for a century or more; many Founders traced their roots back 150 years to the Mayflower and other early settlements.

Similarly, some of the Founders were politicians who were themselves relatively new arrivals from abroad, like Thomas Paine from England, James Wilson from Scotland, and Alexander Hamilton from the Caribbean.

These statesmen all participated in the Revolutionary Era, in support of what was then known as The Glorious Cause of Independence, with fervent devotion to the principles of liberty. They built our nation to be a combination of the freedom philosophy of the Enlightenment and the incarnation of the ethics of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition… their very ambitious goal was indeed to make our new country the culmination of Western Civilization, a City on a Hill.

They knew that this would be a challenge, not only to design but to maintain. Virtually 100% of the Founders were united in their belief that government should be severely limited, only big enough to protect the people’s liberty. There were disagreements on how best to get there, but no disagreement about the goal.  Hence the split between federalists (the supporters of the Constitution) and anti-federalists (the Constitution’s opponents) during the ratification debate… a divide that soon materialized into two separate parties, first known simply as the Federalists (the ancestors of today’s Republicans) and the Jeffersonians (the ancestors of today’s Democrats).

On immigration, then as now, one of the divides was between those whose immigrant roots were recent and those whose roots were distant.   People who were recently arrived might better remember how incredibly different things are in other countries – how different the thinking, how different the culture, how different the people’s expectations from government and the government’s expectations from the people.  

People whose ancestors fled England, Holland, France or Ireland a century ago might have forgotten their grandparents’ stories (if ever they’d heard them at all) about how hard life was in the country their ancestors left.

As we forget our roots, perhaps, we forget that our ancestors had to learn a new worldview when they arrived on these shores.   That, at least, is the heart of today’s debate.  Not every immigrant is a fully-minted Hamilton, Paine or Wilson, the day they arrive. 

In the late Phyllis Schlafly’s last major project – her scrupulously-researched study on the voting patterns of immigrant groups – she demonstrated that immigrants tend to be so pre-disposed to the governmental philosophy of their homelands that it takes a century before their descendants begin to vote majority-Republican. The statist impulse is that difficult to shake.

Yes, even in people who fled that foreign country for America.

It’s not really much different from our intrastate and interstate migrations today… those of people who flee the city for the safer and more honest suburbs, or who flee Illinois and California for better-managed Texas and Florida, arrive in their new homes and tend to vote for the very policies that wrecked the places they left behind. And this pattern is all the more embedded in people who arrive from another country.

Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia

In 1781, during the War of Independence, Thomas Jefferson received a set of questions about Virginia from a foreign acquaintance, and the questions so intrigued him that he wrote much more extensive answers than expected; enough in fact to fill a book.

Here’s a selection of comments that Thomas Jefferson wrote about the risks to a republic of a substantial influx of new immigrants, in 1781, as quoted by Mr. Hamilton:

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