Hamilton’s Actual View on Immigration

Mackubin Thomas Owens, Providence Journal, December 20, 2016

He Not too long ago, the cast of the hit musical “Hamilton” ostentatiously lectured Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in attendance, about “diversity” and “American values.” Implicit in these remarks was criticism of the incoming administration’s position on immigration.

But the comments by the “Hamilton” cast miss an important point. Although Alexander Hamilton was himself an immigrant, he was adamantly opposed to the open immigration policies that President Thomas Jefferson proposed in his first annual message to Congress in 1801.

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Hamilton, like most Federalists, was concerned about French influence on American politics. Although the French Revolution had descended into terror and led to the rise of Napoleon, Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party persisted in their attachment to the French. Hamilton feared that Jefferson’s proposal for unlimited immigration would lead to the triumph of the radical principles of the French Revolution over those of the more moderate American Revolution.

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Invoking Jefferson’s own “Notes on Virginia,” Hamilton observed that “foreigners will generally be apt to bring with them attachments to the persons they have left behind; to the country of their nativity, and to its particular customs and manners.” He argued that “it is unlikely that they will bring with them that temperate love of liberty, so essential to real republicanism.”

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Hamilton concluded: “To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens, the moment they put foot in our country, as recommended in [Jefferson’s] message, would be nothing less than to admit the Grecian horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty.”

Sovereignty is the critical issue here.

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As a sovereign state, the United States has plenary power to determine the conditions for immigration, as set forth in Article I of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.”

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Tolerance of varying points of view, especially religion, has been a hallmark of American republican government. But as George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport in 1791, tolerance in return “requires …; that they who live under [the protection of the government] should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” To do otherwise would be, as Hamilton put it, “to admit the Grecian horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty.”

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