Is America A "Proposition Nation"?

[Peter Brimelow writes: Former Congressman Tom Tancredo is an American hero. He makes here the point that America is not a “proposition nation” but (ahem) a nation, albeit assembled with unusual speed. (Which raises the possibility that it can be unassembled with equally unusual speed—so immigration policy must proceed with care.) This “proposition nation” nonsense is obviously something liberal intellectuals really want to believe. One of my first posts for VDARE.com was about what I believe is the earliest “Proposition Nation” sighting, absurdly imputed to Germany, although Germans have been stolidly on the Rhine since before Christ.

Tancredo’s column originally appeared on WorldNetDaily under the title Were the Founders pro-immigration? (September 30, 2011) but we think our trademark hyperlinks help a lot.]

Lynn Holland, who apparently teaches something called "comparative politics" at the University of Denver, says, "Tancredo misunderstands the fundamental nature of American citizenship."[U.S. Citizenship Is Based on Principles, Not Heritage, History News Service, September 8, 2011]

My offense? I urge Americans "to be proud of our Western civilization." I say "Western civilization is our history." And I warn that "The countries of Western Europe are being invaded by 'Islamo-fascists,' while here in the United States we face 'multiculturalism' that blocks immigrants from assimilating American values."

My plea: guilty–along with the overwhelming majority of the American people. For example, 87 percent of Americans told Rasmussen Reports last year that English should be the official language of the United States. How multicultural is that?

Holland [Email her] claims that "in this country, citizenship is not about cultural identity; it is about constitutional principles. From the beginning, Americans embraced a new definition of citizenship and a new process of naturalization that set the nation apart from its European heritage."

Bunk. This is simply a myth invented by anti-national liberal intellectuals in hysterical reaction to the trauma of World War II.

In contrast, back in the 18th century the founders explicitly said, in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, that their purpose was "to secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity"–their posterity, not the people of the world but the posterity of a specific, essentially British, community that–in the case of New England, for example–had grown rapidly through natural increase with essentially no immigration for nearly 200 years.

Similarly, John Jay's first essay in The Federalist Papers, written as part of the campaign to get the Constitution ratified, explained that the federal experiment could work precisely because Americans were "one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs … a band of brethren. …" [my emphasis]

So much for Holland's contention that "from the beginning, Americans embraced a new definition of citizenship and a new process of naturalization that set the nation apart from its European heritage."

In fact, the falsity of Holland's claim is evident from her clumsy attempt to bury the embarrassing but devastating fact that the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to "free white persons."

She blusters that this made the act "meaningless to African-Americans." But in fact what it actually makes meaningless is her claim that the founders intended to "set the nation apart from its European heritage."

Moreover, although it is possible to cherry-pick pro-immigration quotes from the founders, as Holland does, it is clear that on balance they were deeply skeptical of immigration. This George Washington wrote in 1794: "My opinion, with respect to emigration, is, that, except of useful Mechanics and some particular descriptions of men or professions, there is no need of encouragement."

And in fact immigration remained very low until the late 1830s. This was one of many such lulls, both in number and in composition, in American immigration history. All have been crucial to the process of assimilation. Unfortunately, no such lull is in prospect now–given the demographic structure of the handful of Third World countries that have been able to monopolize legal slots, because of the perverse working of the disastrous 1965 Immigration Act.

This is no mere theoretical issue. Over time, Americans have widened the boundaries of their federal experiment and successfully admitted groups well beyond anything the founders envisaged. But always with extreme care.

When the influx appeared to be disproportionally Irish Catholic, in the 1840s, the response was the rise of the nativist American Party, which destroyed the Whigs, clearing the way for the Republican Party (which many "nativists," ardent abolitionists, joined). But Irish immigration collapsed in the 1850s.

In the late 19th century, the influx appeared to be disproportionately Asian. That was cut off by legislation.

By the 1920s, the influx appeared to be disproportionately Southern and Eastern European. That was cut off by legislation too, in 1921 and 1924.

My own Italian family was affected by that legislation–as, perhaps, was Lynn Holland's. But they accepted that Americans had the right to define their national community. And that is what I assert today.

Western civilization is indeed our history. I believe that any immigrant can assimilate to it–but only if we proceed with extreme care, not with Ms. Holland's arrogant and dogmatic recklessness.

 


Tom Tancredo is the founder of the American Legacy Alliance. He is also a former five-term congressman and presidential candidate. Tancredo is the author of In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America's Border and Security.image