The Founder’s Views on Immigration…in their own words…Posted: December 16, 2013
President George Washington in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (1788) began his noted writings on immigration, asylum, and eventually citizenship. What is specifically noted in his letter was the ideology of “would render this country the asylum of pacific and industrious characters from all parts of Europe…by giving security to property and liberty to its holders.”
It was not as if these founders were an untraveled mob. During this period of time, whilst Jefferson was the Ambassador to France and John Adams spending most of his early Vice Presidential days in England, it should be known that James Madison was putting his final draft of the U.S. Constitution together under the approval of The Committee.
Indeed Washington and most of his colleagues hoped that America might become an “asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they may belong,” and lead him to go out of his way to encourage immigration from the Netherlands.
Furthermore, he had seen a Dutch preacher recently arriving in New York and managed to write a letter to him as well (same citation, Ibid., yet on a different page).
Washington and his founding associates far more than being concerned about the immigrants character, he and many of his founding associates were very concerned about the potential problem created when too many foreigners settle at one time in one location. As such he wrote a letter to Vice President John Adams:
“…the policy of advantage of [immigration] taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body…meaning a specific place) may be much questioned; for, by so doing, they retain the language, habits, and principles (good or bad) which they bring with them. Whereas by an intermixture without people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon to become one people.”
Benjamin Franklin had worried about the problem of immigrant numbers as an obstacle to assimilation earlier in the 1750s, when large numbers of German settlers threatened to transform the character of Pennsylvania, writing:[Sidebar note:] Does any of this sound remotely familiar? Let us continue on.
“Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant stupid-sort of their own nation…Not being used to liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it…[In elections] they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two counties…In short, unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies…they will soon so outnumber us, that all the advantages we have will not in my opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious…Yet I am not for refusing entirely to admit them into our colonies; all that seems to be necessary
As it happened, restrictions on immigration from Europe did not become necessary. War between Britain and France greatly reduced the influx, and the German population stabilized at about one-third of Pennsylvania.
Does this situation involving the newly formed country even get bells ringing in your heads?
Franklin again expressed his cautions view of immigration again in “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America” (1784). When Thomas Jefferson was Ambassador to France in the late 1780s, he showed his approval of Franklin’s pamphlet by reprinting and distributing it.
Jefferson and Franklin wanted to discourage would be immigrants who were not prepared to adopt what is now called “the work ethic.”