Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government


31. Immigration Policy

The first consideration in immigration is the welfare of the receiving nation. In a new government based on principles unfamiliar to the rest of the world and resting on the sentiments of the people themselves, the influx of a large number of new immigrants unaccustomed to the government of a free society could be detrimental to that society. Immigration, therefore, must be approached carefully and cautiously.

"I hold the right of expatriation to be inherent in every man by the laws of nature, and incapable of being rightfully taken from him even by the united will of every other person in the nation. If the laws have provided no particular mode by which the right of expatriation may be exercised, the individual may do it by any effectual and unequivocal act or declaration." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1806. FE 8:458

"Expatriation [is] a natural right, and acted on as such by all nations in all ages." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:12

"Our ancestors... possessed a right, which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as, to them, shall seem most likely to promote public happiness." --Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774. ME 1:185, Papers 1:121

"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?" --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801. ME 3:338

"It [has] been the wise policy of these states to extend the protection of their laws to all those who should settle among them of whatever nation or religion they might be and to admit them to a participation of the benefits of civil and religious freedom, and... the benevolence of this practice as well as its salutary effects [has] rendered it worthy of being continued in future times." --Thomas Jefferson: Proclamation, 1781. Papers 4:505

"America is now, I think, the only country of tranquility and should be the asylum of all those who wish to avoid the scenes which have crushed our friends in [other lands]." --Thomas Jefferson to Mrs. Church, 1793. FE 6:289

"[We wish] but to consecrate a sanctuary for those whom the misrule of Europe may compel to seek happiness in other climes. This refuge, once known, will produce reaction on the happiness even of those who remain there by warning their task-masters that when the evils of Egyptian oppression become heavier than those of the abandonment of country, another Canaan is open where their subjects will be received as brothers and secured against like oppressions by a participation in the right of self-government." --Thomas Jefferson to George Flower, 1817. ME 15:141

"Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular." --Thomas Jefferson to Hugh White, 1801. ME 10:258

"[Is] rapid population [growth] by as great importations of foreigners as possible... founded in good policy?... 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: but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.VIII, 1782. ME 2:118

"I mean not that these doubts should be extended to the importation of useful artificers. The policy of that measure depends on very different considerations. Spare no expense in obtaining them. They will after a while go to the plough and the hoe; but in the meantime, they will teach us something we do not know." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.VIII, 1782. ME 2:121

"A first question is, whether it is desirable for us to receive at present the dissolute and demoralized handicraftsmen of the old cities of Europe? A second and more difficult one is, when even good handicraftsmen arrive here, is it better for them to set up their trade, or go to the culture of the earth? Whether their labor in their trade is worth more than their labor on the soil, increased by the creative energies of the earth?" --Thomas Jefferson to J. Lithgow, 1805. ME 11:56

"Although as to other foreigners it is thought better to discourage their settling together in large masses, wherein, as in our German settlements, they preserve for a long time their own languages, habits, and principles of government, and that they should distribute themselves sparsely among the natives for quicker amalgamation, yet English emigrants are without this inconvenience. They differ from us little but in their principles of government, and most of those (merchants excepted) who come here, are sufficiently disposed to adopt ours." --Thomas Jefferson to George Flower, 1817. ME 15:140

ME, FE = Memorial Edition, Ford Edition.   See Sources.

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