Whatever else might be said about our American ancestors, one thing is beyond dispute: Their position on immigration was diametrically opposite from that of Americans living today.
Just think: Open immigration, a concept that, with the exception of libertarians, no American alive today would even come close to endorsing. Except for a cursory health inspection at Ellis Island to ensure that immigrants didn’t have tuberculosis, which could easily be spread to others, everyone who came to America via New York was free to enter and stay, no questions asked.
That is one radical position! One might even say that it’s exceptional because it would be difficult to find very many other nations in history that have had such an extraordinary immigration policy.
The border was even more open on America’s Southern border. After the United States voluntarily and eagerly absorbed the northern half of Mexico in the Mexican War, including all the people living there along with their laws, customs, traditions, and city names (such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, El Paso, and San Antonio), the new border between the two countries remained totally open. There wasn’t even a health inspection. Mexicans could freely cross into the United States (into what had been their country) and tour, work, and even open businesses. (As further evidence of how unusual our ancestors were, they also didn’t require licenses to open businesses.) By the same token, Americans were free to cross into Mexico to tour, work, or open businesses, and many of them did.
It was the same on the West coast. Chinese and Japanese immigrants were fleeing their homelands and freely entering the United States, a country where everyone knew that the government was prohibited from taking care of people. (Further reflecting the unusual political and economic mindsets of our ancestors , there was also no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, drug laws, welfare, education grants, farms subsidies, or welfare, income tax, IRS, paper money, or Federal Reserve.)
Why were so many people fleeing their countries around the world and coming to a country where the government wasn’t taking care of people? Various reasons, but two of the biggest ones were war and poverty. Like the refugees fleeing the violence and chaos of war in the Middle East today (much of which has been caused by the U.S. government’s violent interventionism in the Middle East), many of the immigrants were escaping from war-ridden societies and the conscription that came with them. By the same token, like the immigrants fleeing the poverty of Latin America today, many of the immigrants just wanted to come to a land where they had a good chance of prospering and bettering their lives through labor and economic activity.
To get a sense of the type of people our American ancestors were welcoming with their policy of open immigration, read carefully the following words of Emma Lazarus in her poem “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Focus on those adjectives: “tired,” “poor,” “huddled,” and “wretched refuse.” Those words describe people who are at the bottom of life’s political and economic ladder. They describe people who much of the world would prefer to get rid of or, if they’re foreigners, reject.
Not our American ancestors. While there was always anti-immigrant sentiment among some Americans (including against Italians, Irish, Germans, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants), the official policy for some 100 years was: Keep our borders open! Our ancestors essentially sent out a message to the people of the world telling everyone that if they were suffering from war, oppression, tyranny, or starvation, there was one country in the world they could come to, one whose government would not reject them (as U.S. officials are currently doing to Middle East refugees) or repatriate them (as U.S. officials are currently doing to Central Americans refugees.)
Of course, open immigration, no income taxation, no central bank, no drug war, no Social Security, no Medicare, no Medicaid, no central bank, no paper money, and no welfare were not the only things that were exceptional about the political and economic system established by our American ancestors. They also rejected a national-security establishment, a vast standing army, a military-industrial complex, a CIA, and a NSA. Thus, unlike the America of today, their U.S. government was not sending troops abroad to bomb, shoot, kill, maim, torture, abuse, and humiliate foreigners (all of which is the root cause of the current European refugee crisis).
Unlike the America of today, the concept of our ancestors was to limit the federal government’s jurisdiction to the United States and unleash the private sector to work, produce, travel, and interact with the people of the world. Thus, although unfortunately there were protective tariffs (and much worse, slavery), there were no sanctions, embargoes, or other restrictions on the freedom of the American people to travel around the world and trade with others. Why, this unusual group of people didn’t even believe in passports, which is why they lived without them.
You can disagree with their political and economic philosophy, including on immigration. You can criticize or condemn it if you wish. But one thing is indisputable: The political and economic philosophy of our American ancestors was totally different from the statist philosophy that now holds our nation in its grip and that has held the world in its grip throughout recorded history.