How Mass Immigration Stopped American Socialism
For centuries, Americans have worried that immigrants could overwhelm and negatively alter economic and political institutions in the United States. In 1783, at the end of the American War of Independence, even Thomas Jefferson had misgivings about too rapid an influx of immigrants, writing that 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.” John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and co-author of The Federalist Papers, thought that Catholicism was inimical to the principles of individual liberty and representative government, so he argued that the federal government should “erect a wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics.” Prominent Federalist Party member Harrison Gray Otis said, “If some means are not adopted to prevent the indiscriminate admission of wild Irishmen and others to the right of suffrage, there will soon be an end to liberty and prosperity.”
But the Founding Fathers were conflicted: Many supported an open immigration system because of their Enlightenment ideology. The newly independent United States had been recently settled by a diverse group of immigrants from Europe, as well as by African slaves. The political, legal, and economic institutions of the colonies were English, but only about 60 percent of the white population in 1790 was of English stock, while the rest were mostly Scots, Irish, Scots-Irish, German, and Welsh. Immigration had already made the United States the most ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse society in the Western world when the Constitution was written, and the founders expected it to continue.
Right-wing fears about assimilation persisted into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But there were also left-wing fears that immigration was slowing down the transformation of the United States into a unionized welfare state ripe for an eventual transition to socialism. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and their American followers warned that immigrant-induced diversity reduced worker solidarity and that this problem would continue so long as the United States had near-open borders. At the same time, many American Progressives and other immigration restrictionists embraced the ideology of eugenics and were thus worried that immigrants were bringing inferior genetic traits that would undermine American prosperity by lessening support for democratic institutions.
Today, support for immigration is associated with the political left. But back then, immigrants were a barrier to the demographic central plans of lefty reformers. Overall, the impact of immigration on American policy has done more to confirm the fears of Marx and Engels than of Jefferson and Jay. American government grew slower when the stock of immigrants was high, and union membership was lower when immigration was greater. It was only after Congress ended open immigration from Europe that the size and scope of American government expanded dramatically.
Unions Against Immigration
From 1820 to 1921, the average annual number of immigrants to the United States was equal to about 0.66 percent of the resident population. From 1922 to 1967, when immigration was most restricted in American history, the average inflow of immigrants was equal to 0.14 percent of the resident population per year—a 79 percent drop. Since 1968, when immigration law was liberalized, the average inflow of immigrants has been equal to about 0.3 percent of the resident population per year—more than double the flow of the restrictionist period but still less than half that of the open immigration period during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Friedrich Engels wrote that immigrants in the United States “are divided into different nationalities and understand neither one another nor, for the mos
Article from Latest – Reason.com