12 August 2010


I'm still rooting through the immigration debate to shoot down some silly new ideas, but one factor that keeps coming up is the perception of difference and the difficulty of assimilation for a crop of people who do not look like us, do not speak the same language, and so on. Never mind that in some cases, these differences are ignored and overcome for many Asian immigrants in modern times, as an example.

But especially never mind that a cursory glance at the history of American nativist movements would demonstrate the same arguments are and were leveled against the Irish, Germans, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Indians, Cubans, Vietnamese, etc. I haven't seen too many nativists lately complaining about St Patrick's Day or Chinese takeout or sushi. I happen not to be a fan of sauerkraut, but if this is the best I can raise against our heritage of diversity and assimilation, I'm not so sure what anybody else can come up with that trumps the occasional personal disdain and dislike for a diverse food or language or culture. Maybe people complain about Indian accents on the phone or at the gas station or about the strangeness of Muslims migrating into our communities. But considering a German or Scottish or Irish accent is still to this day not exactly easy for an average American to deal with when confronted with such a (lovely) lilting speech, and Catholics and Jews used to be viewed exactly as Muslims are now, as interlopers upon some sort of bizarre Protestant birthright, I again don't see the distinction that somehow now this battle is different today when it was from all relevant appearances the same 200 or 150 or 100 or even 50 years ago.

But of course, I'm not the only one who didn't see those distinctions, or assumed that the Constitution was not merely a birthright of Americans, but rather a promise and a set of principles, measured in some way and found desirable and a source of aspiration and idealism by all manner of peoples, regardless of their origins, who might come to live under it.

"We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty — or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country, — with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men, — we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our prosperity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves — we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better than men in the age and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors — among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe — German, Irish, French and Scandinavian — men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,' and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as through they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world." - Abraham Lincoln.

"We now practically read it [the Preamble] 'all men are created equal, except for Negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.'" - And again...
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