Our Pilgrim Ancestors and Immigration

One of my interests is family history. My early childhood was spent with a 103 year old great-grandmother who had four uncles, William Drew Washburn, Elihu B. Washburne, Cadwallder Washburn and Israel Washburn, Jr. who helped found the Republican party and were rather influential in the Lincoln and Grant administration.

Through my great-grandmother I`m descended from one of the Mayflower passengers, Francis Cooke. Cooke was rather notable because he helped arrange the financing that saved the Plymouth colony from bankruptcy.

Now, Cooke has a lot of descendents today(I`d guess around 200,000 or so). Since it is Thanksgiving, I was doing a little reading on the Plymouth Colony and I noticed that George Bush shares the same Mayflower ancestor as my own(So did Franklin Roosevelt). We share the same great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, an Elizabeth Mitchell who was one of Cooke`s descendents. Now given the fact that I`ve been rather critical of the Bush presidency, I wasn`t entirely comfortable with this new knowledge.

However, the simple fact is that Francis Cooke has a lot of descendents who are politically active–and I expect we represent a pretty wide range of political opinion as is evidenced in the difference of my own politics and those of George Bush (and our common relative FDR).

Now, what I think is relevent to to the National Question on Thanksgiving: how would our Pilgrim ancestors think about the current immigration debate?

The Pilgrim had the experience of being minority immigrants in the Netherlands. Some like my own ancestor Francis Cooke even married local residents(he married a Belgian Walloon woman).

These folks were not extreme xenophobes, but were rather cosmopolitan for their time. However, when the Pilgrims started their own colony, they were extremely selective in the early years who they allowed to settle there.

That selectivity was largely around religious, ideological or meritocratic lines. One theme among the pilgrims was that although hard work was very much encouraged, substantial concentrations of wealth were deeply suspect(Professor Fischer talks about this in his book Albion’s Seed).

My own relatives were rather harsh in how they were inclined to treat wealthy plantation owners who had supported the Confederacy. I think the pilgrims would be utterly shocked at their descendants using immigration policy to help maintain huge fortunes.

The question of how America`s twenty million Mayflower descendants view modern immigration as a group is a harder one. Although this group includes minority members like George P. Bush, on the whole I expect these twenty million folks are whiter and more concentrated in rural New England and the Upper Midwest than the general population. My guess based on looking at my own and similar families is that although there is still some remnant of wealth spread among that group from being descended from early arrivals to North America, that is changing fast. It strikes me that those who have faced a lot of downward mobility compared to their parents and grandparents are among those most suspect of the elites that have replaced them-and their practices like mass immigration. The question of race is especially hard for this group.

Mayflower descendents practically invented the idea of legal equality of races (Mayflower descendents were conspicuous among the Radical Republicans).

However, today locations like Iowa in which that group are especially concentrated have the highest tendency to arrest black men of any state in the US and Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire are among the whitest states in the US. I think the key to getting this group to support immigration restriction clearly as a group will be appealing to their history of supporting law and order-and economic fairness for all Americans-and as something that will not hurt our Mexican neighbors during the transition.