The feud between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton which began on George Washington’s Cabinet and continued until Hamilton’s death by duel is one of the most famous in American history. The feud was the first major conflict under the recently created government – indeed, the feud was over the new powers of that very government – and biographers have rushed to take sides, oftentimes projecting their personal politics onto their subject. The falling-out between Jefferson and Hamilton out resulted in the resignation of both men and the exasperation of Washington, but more importantly, represented wide and deep divisions among Americans – divisions which remain to this very day.
Many Americans have probably just recently become aware of this historical episode from “Hamilton,” the breakout Broadway musical which depicts Hamilton as a plucky progressive ahead of his time and Jefferson as a cynical politico maneuvering for personal advantage. This is, unfortunately, a far cry from the aggressive, manipulative Hamilton and the philosophical, principled Jefferson of history. A much more historically accurate depiction, however, can be found in HBO’s John Adams:
Jefferson and Hamilton disagreed on nearly everything. Jefferson believed that the Constitution should be construed conservatively, as it was framed and ratified; Hamilton believed that the Constitution should be construed liberally, in order to adapt and evolve. Jefferson wanted the United States to build ties with France, their ally from the Revolutionary War in the midst of a revolution of her own; Hamilton wanted the United States to build ties with Great Britain, their mother country and a lucrative trading partner. Jefferson thought that the economy should be left alone and remain largely agricultural; Hamilton thought that the economy should be heavily controlled and rapidly industrialised. They even disagreed on their historical heroes: Jefferson admired Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke; Hamilton admired Julius Caesar.
Despite their legendary disagreement, Jefferson and Hamilton did agree on one thing – ironically, what is currently the most divisive issue of all, the problem of immigration, foreign influence, and assimilation. The Left and the Right both claim that America is “a nation of immigrants,” yet these two figureheads of the political parties of the Founding Era (the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans) show that “immigrants” meant European whites and that there was not even unanimity on whether they should be welcomed.
In his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson expressed skepticism on mass-immigration to the United States. “Are there no inconveniences to be thrown into the scale against the advantage expected by a multiplication of numbers by the importation of foreigners?” asked Jefferson. “Suppose 20 millions of republican Americans thrown all of a sudden into France, what would be the condition of that kingdom?” he continued, rhetorically. “If it would be more turbulent, less happy, less strong, we may believe that the addition of half a million of foreigners to our present numbers would produce a similar effect here.” The reason that the United States would be “more turbulent, less happy, less strong” with mass-immigration was that foreign political and cultural values were too different from American political and cultural values:
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 unbounded 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 proportion to their number, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass.
“If they come of themselves, they are entitled to all the rights of citizenship,” allowed Jefferson, “but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements.” That is, immigration was acceptable so long as it was left alone, and not part of a social-engineering or wealth-redistribution policy, as it is today.
By the way, Jefferson was not referring to immigration from the Third World (Africa, Central America, Asia, and certainly not the Middle East); he was referring to immigration from the American motherland of Europe herself. If the Francophile Jefferson regarded the French to be too different from Americans, then just imagine what he would think of the current resettlement of barbaric, backwards Somalian and Hmong “refugees” at public expense!
In his First Message to the Congress as President, Jefferson’s views on immigration had apparently changed. He was now more open, mainly on humanitarian grounds, to allowing a greater number of immigrants into the country (of course, as the law required, only “free white persons of good character,” and not today’s Middle-Eastern “refugees”) and even making citizens of them:
I cannot omit recommending a revisal of the laws on the subject of naturalisation. Considering the ordinary chances of human life, a denial of citizenship under a residence of fourteen years is a denial to a great proportion of those who ask it, and controls a policy pursued from their first settlement by many of these States, and still believed of consequence to their prosperity. And 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?
Alexander Hamilton was not pleased with his old arch-nemesis’ new view of immigration, and under the pseudonym “Lucius Crassus” (the Roman consul who expelled all aliens from Rome) argued in defense of the naturalisation laws and against mass-immigration:
The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.
The opinion advanced in the Notes on Virginia is undoubtedly correct, 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. They will also entertain opinions on government congenial with those under which they have lived; or, if they should be led hither from a preference to ours, how extremely unlikely is it that they will bring with them that temperate love of liberty, so essential to real republicanism? There may, as to particular individuals, and at particular times, be occasional exceptions to these remarks, yet such is the general rule. The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities. In the composition of society, the harmony of the ingredients is all-important, and whatever tends to a discordant intermixture must have an injurious tendency.
The United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others, it has served very much to divide the community and to distract our councils. It has been often likely to compromise the interests of our own country in favor of another. The permanent effect of such a policy will be, that in times of great public danger there will be always a numerous body of men, of whom there may be just grounds of distrust; the suspicion alone will weaken the strength of the nation, but their force may be actually employed in assisting an invader.
In the infancy of the country, with a boundless waste to people, it was politic to give a facility to naturalization; but our situation is now changed. It appears from the last census that we have increased about one third in ten years; after allowing for what we have gained from abroad, it will be quite apparent that the natural progress of our own population is sufficiently rapid for strength, security, and settlement. By what has been said, it is not meant to contend for a total prohibition of the right of citizenship to strangers, nor even for the very long residence which is now a prerequisite to naturalisation, and which of itself goes far towards a denial of that privilege. The present law was merely a temporary measure adopted under peculiar circumstances, and perhaps demands revision. But there is a wide difference between closing the door altogether and throwing it entirely open; between a postponement of fourteen years, and an immediate admission to all the rights of citizenship. Some reasonable term ought to be allowed to enable aliens to get rid of foreign and acquire American attachments; to learn the principles and imbibe the spirit of our government; and to admit of a probability at least, of their feeling a real interest in our affairs. A residence of not less than five years ought to be required.
If the rights of naturalisation may be communicated by parts, and it is not perceived why they may not, those peculiar to the conducting of business and the acquisition of property, might with propriety be at once conferred, upon receiving proof, by certain prescribed solemnities, of the intention of the candidates to become citizens; postponing all political privileges to the ultimate term. To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens, the moment they put foot in our country, as recommended in the message, would be nothing less than to admit the Grecian horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty.
If enemies as irreconcilable as Jefferson and Hamilton could agree that immigration without assimilation was dangerous to the liberty and security of the United States, then there is no reason that the Right and the Left today cannot come to an accord on the issue. The only alternative to compromise is conflict, and with the Left having taken an extreme position on immigration for the past half-century, the Right will soon have no choice but to buck the cuckolds and take extreme counter-measures.