“Born in the U.S.A.”: Damon Root’s Reminder of our Proud Exceptionalism

From Damon Root’s “Hit and Run” blog over at Reason, a splendid reminder of how open-minded (and open border) the United States was in the 19th century. Imagine Republicans standing up and arguing that the Chinese and all other immigrants have a “natural right” to migrate wherever they choose. And the Republicans preserved the right of their children to be here as full-fledged citizens born on U.S. soil. (They lost the 1882 debate over Chinese entry into the USA but correctly predicted that the Exclusion Act would be remembered as a “blot” on our civilization).

From the Fourteenth Amendment (1870):

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Excerpt from Root’s “Born in the U.S.A.”:

“[T]he Radical Republicans of the 39th Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 over the president’s veto. As Sen. Lyman Trumbull (R-Ill.) declared from the Senate floor, “the child of an Asiatic is just as much a citizen as the child of a European.”

Today, the GOP is on the other side of this issue as they try to repeal the “birthright citizenship” clause of the 14th amendment. The business wing of the party (those who read the Wall Street Journal) might counter with a utilitarian argument that the net benefit of immigration (and resulting citizenship) outweighs costs. But consider how surprised I was at the arguments in the 1880s that “We [Republican opponents of immigration exclusion] claim that the right to liberty is a natural, inherent, God-given right, and his liberty is imperfect unless it carries with it the right of expatriation. . . .” Those sentiments echo in the immigration debates I chronicled in Race and Liberty: The Essential Reader.

Those earlier Republicans also rejected the religious prejudice that then motivated so many, first against the Irish (Catholics) and then against Asians. In the midst of the debate over the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Republican minority quoted from Senator Oliver Morton (R-IN): “Absolute religious toleration was regarded by our fathers as of vital importance. Not only were the different sects of Christians to be tolerated, but the deist, the atheist, the Mohammedan, and the Buddhist were to be free to express and enjoy their opinions. . . .”

My, how far the Grand Old Party has come to be so short sighted. And how farsighted were those in the 19th century who recognized that the Chinese were just as intelligent, hard working, and useful to America as any others. So will it be with today’s immigrants after the scare mongering dies down.

Earth to race hustlers in the GOP: The 14th amendment is here to say. Get used to it!

Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, Race & Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.
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