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Sunday, February 04, 2018

An American Tradition

Apparently, controversies over immigration are as American as apple pie, for both the pie, and the complaints about immigrants, precede America itself:

"Why should the Palatine boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and, by herding together, establish their language and manners, to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us?"
-- Benjamin Franklin, circa the 1760's.

When reading about Franklin, what is most interesting is the intersection of his life and the formation of America. I dare say he embodies 1700's America, a one-man version of the entire country: pulling himself up by his bootstraps, toppling old rules and assumptions, showing singular potential and ingenuity, forewarning a new age.

And while much has changed in those nearly three centuries, some things look like just the same. The politics of immigration, with the 'old' migrants worrying about the voting power of the 'new' ones, as this snapshot of Franklin's times in politics show us:

This [the excerpt I quoted above] was reprinted now to injure
him [Franklin] with that people, and succeeded only too well.
Yet, though the Irish and German votes were thus
united against him, - a combination almost unfailingly
successful in America, - and though he was pelted with
pamphlets, broadsides, and caricatures impugning his
every public act and laying bare his private life, his
hold was so great with the masses that he would have
been reelected but for an error of judgment in the party
managers. A graphic account of the struggle was
written by a Pennsylvanian :

"The poll was opened about 9 in the morning, the 1st of
October, and the steps so crowded, till between 11 and 12 at
night, that at no time a person could get up in less than a
quarter of an hour from his entrance at the bottom, for they
could go no faster than the whole column moved. About 3
in the morning, the advocates for the new ticket moved for a
close, but (O ! fatal mistake ! ) the old hands kept it open, as
they had a reserve of the aged and lame, which could not
come in the crowd, and were called up and brought out in
chairs and litters, &c., and some who needed no help, between

 3 and 6 o'clock, about 200 voters. As both sides took
care to have spies all night, the alarm was given to the new
ticket men ; horsemen and footmen were immediately dis-
patched to Germantown, &c., and by 9 or 10 o'clock they
began to pour in, so that after the move for a close, 7
or 800 votes were procured ; about 500 or near it of
which were for the new ticket, and they did not close till

3 in the afternoon, and it took them till 1 next day to count
them off."

The incident is one of peculiar interest, because it is
the only time Franklin ever failed of an election, and,
indeed, his political success was so uniform that a
Quaker demanded of a mutual acquaintance, "Friend
Joseph, didst thee ever know Dr. Franklin to be in a
minority?". Yet, though defeat is hardest to the most
successful, he seems to have taken it well. "Mr.
Franklin," continued the above narrator, "died like a
philosopher" ; and writing of his opposition to the
Paxton rioters, and of the resulting political effect, the
defeated assemblyman said: "I had, by this transaction,

made myself many enemies among the populace ;
and the governor (with whose family our public dis-
putes had long placed me in an unfriendly light, and
the services I had lately rendered him not being of the
kind that make a man acceptable), thinking it a favorable

opportunity, joined the whole weight of the proprietary
interest to get me out of the Assembly ; which
was accordingly effected at the last election, by a majority of
about twenty-five in four thousand voters."

So after complaining of the newer arrivals, Mr Franklin was voted out of office - a bit like the GOP establishment of today fearing the new immigrants may be a Dem's trojan horse, and the resistance among many to giving Dreamers a path to citizenship (and vote).

The analogy is so good, it holds for the backlash to the above incident too:

The triumph to the proprietary party was more apparent than real: though they had succeeded in defeating Franklin, they had not been able to beat his party,
for " the other Counties returned nearly the same
members who had served them before, so that the old
faction " had "still a considerable majority in the
House." The Assembly, therefore, when met, chose
Franklin its agent to go to Great Britain with a petition to the king that he end the proprietary government;
so all his opponents had accomplished was to place him
in a position to do them infinitely more injury than would
have been possible had he been reelected to the Assembly.


Which is a bit like ignoring anti-immigrant voters for a while, only to have them doing infinitely more damage by electing Trump.


Bret said...

An interesting comparison (Franklin to Trump) except Trump is on a rather bigger scale (Franklin lost by 25 in 4,000 versus Trump losing the popular vote by millions!).

I have been (and continue to be) fairly pro-mexican immigrant, but I have to admit I'm less comfortable with muslim immigrants. Harry could rightfully call me a bigot (not a racist in this case since we're generally of the same race) for that, but my ancestors were warring with muslims' ancestors thousands of years ago and will, in my opinion, likely be warring with them thousands of years in the future (assuming any jewish descendants still live) and I'd rather not war with them here in america.

I think that a dynamic country needs a constant infusion of new blood (ideas actually), but some ideas I think are likely better than others.

Clovis e Adri said...


If I had my way, I would make Brazil get far more immigrants per year, Muslims included. Call me an optimistic, but I think many islamic countries will grow out of anti-semitism and terrorism in a few more decades. Just look at how the relations of Israel with neighbors improved considerably the last few years.

As for Franklin, I was surprised at how his worries are similar to the ones we hear about LA immigrants today - and Germans and Irish were not even brown.