National Spirit and National Character

Starting from our discussion of yesterday (January 29th) what we were able to discern is both good and bad for the United States at the same time. Furthermore, we were able to see, literally, through their eyes as they actually penned their thoughts, that America had not been attracting the more lavish of any society’s spenders. Clearly through Jefferson’s eyes we could see that he felt the country needed “useful artificers” or trades-people. In reality Thomas Jefferson was letting everyone know that America was capable of taking care of itself and as far as we’re concerned he wanted to appear responsible with immigration matters.

Moreover, we were able to see what we call “the switch” in Jefferson’s attitude and behavior toward immigration at the start of his presidency in 1801. Earlier prior to his becoming president Jefferson literally complained about immigrants not being able to stop at “temperate liberty” – being able to live in freedom, participate in government, or on the other hand, were these new immigrants whom he now referred to as “unhappy fugitives from distress;” consequently, pulling for less residency requirement and a bona fide declaration as a means to citizenship.

Jefferson’s old opponent, Alexander Hamilton, criticized this proposal in two newspaper editorials. Hamilton knew how to get buttons pushed when it came to his opponent. The very last thing that Thomas Jefferson would have wanted was another member of the elite class bringing international attention to something he was up too.

Sidebar: Going back to the election of 1800 Jefferson v. Burr there were other matters horrifying Jefferson. John Adams and his elitist New Yorkers were feeding information to the press vis-a-vie Sally Hemings whilst alleging an affair. Now for Alexander Hamilton, (yes, same person who wrote the majority of the Federalists Papers) the notion of Thomas Jefferson becoming so lackadaisical not only with immigration – but with citizenship as well from his lofty perch as president, Hamilton felt almost betrayed to think that Jefferson would give away citizenship as cheaply as Jefferson recommended in 1801.

Alexander Hamilton who had earlier been charged with the duty of getting the US Constitution ratified, therefore, being the incredible rhetorician he was used Jefferson’s own writing, Notes on Virginia on the dangers of too rapid an admixture of foreigners into America. Hamilton went further saying:

“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 the love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.

“In the recommendation to admit indiscriminately foreign emigrants of every description to the privileges of American citizens, on their first entrance into our country, there is an attempt to break down every pale which has been erected for the preservation of a national spirit and a national character; and to let in the most powerful means of perverting and corrupting both the one and the other.”

Hamilton, like the earlier Jefferson, was arguing that “real republicanism” was based on what had been established in the Declaration of Independence: namely, on “the unalienable rights of mankind,” held equally by all – can only be sustained by a “temperate love of liberty.” Furthermore, in turn, requires that immigrants leave behind their “foreign bias and prejudice” and acquire republican “opinions on government” and republican habits of moderation.

In spite of Jefferson’s call for immediate naturalization, Congress although dominated by his own party, sided with Hamilton against President Jefferson. In addition they voted to return to the pre-1798 requirement of a five-year residency before admission for possible citizenship.


About J.Paul

Academia, Constitution, Musicianship, all around Caucasian male, straight, and professes Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life. Guitars -- Classical, Acoustic, A/E, Strat, a real bassist at heart, Les Paul Standard bass.
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