Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint


Posted by M. C. on July 27, 2019

“[N]o endeavor”, he said, “should be spared to detect and suppress” this sort of im- migrant. (2) So much for blind liberality. Not every immigrant is a friend of America. Jefferson was no fool. He had other concerns too. Steven M. Farrell

You and I are “melting pot” people; citizens, that is, of that country set apart by Heav- en to receive those in search of the good life–those from from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. As such, we, of all people, ought to recognize the value of a liberal [generous, not strict] immigration policy.

President Thomas Jefferson, a descendent of immigrants, presiding over a nation of immigrants, thought so. In his first annual message, dated, December 8, 1801, he asked of those who thought to impose an extremely arduous course to citizenship for the im- migrant (a 14 years residency requirement), a few probing questions:

    “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 op- pressed humanity find no asylum on this globe? The Constitution, indeed, has wisely provided that, for admission to certain offices of important trust, a resi- dence shall be required sufficient to develop character and design. But might not the general character and capabilities of a citizen be safely communicated to eve- ry one manifesting a bona fide purpose of embarking his life and fortunes perma- nently with us?” (1)

The advocates of today’s liberal immigration policies, or of far more radical proposals for open borders, might feel inclined to thus quote Jefferson, and feel justified.

Yet they had better do so with caution. President Jefferson also suggested that America balance her open arm policy “with restrictions, perhaps, to guard against the fraudulent usurpation of our flag; an abuse which brings so much embarrassment and loss on the genuine citizen, and so much danger to the nation of being involved in war”.

“[N]o endeavor”, he said, “should be spared to detect and suppress” this sort of im- migrant. (2) So much for blind liberality. Not every immigrant is a friend of America. Jefferson was no fool. He had other concerns too.

In his Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), Jefferson reflects:

    “It is for the happiness of those united in society to harmonize as much as possi- ble in matters which they must of necessity transact together. Civil government being the sole object of forming societies, its administration must be conducted by common consent.
    “Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours perhaps are more peculiar than those of any other in the universe. It is a composition of the freest principles of the English Constitution, with others derived from natural right and natural reason. To these nothing can be more opposed than the maxims of abso- lute monarchies. Yet from such we are to expect the greatest number of emi- grants.” (3)

Jefferson warns, nearly prophetically:

    “They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an un- bounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In pro- portion to their numbers, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its directions, and render it a heterogeneous, in- coherent, distracted mass.” (4)

There is theory; and then there is reality. Jefferson was schooled in both. He knew that, to every liberal law, there were some reasonable limits.

We need artisans, he admitted, but not enemies. We want true freedom seekers to come, but without “extraordinary encouragements.” (5)

What would Thomas Jefferson, therefore, think of an immigration policy today that, with flashing lights invites the non-working masses of the world to come–to come from countries that hate us, to a feast of “free” food, “free” health care, “free” education, “free” social security benefits, and free and instant voter registration cards? It is hard to see Jefferson calling it anything but extraordinarily unwise, and extraordinarily rev- olutionary. Jefferson would have proposed something better–a policy liberal in its ex- tension of the blessings of liberty to those who desired it, and conservative in its eco- nomic and political common sense.

Be seeing you



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