Not too long ago, the cast of the hit musical “Hamilton” ostentatiously lectured Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in attendance, about “diversity” and “American values.” Implicit in these remarks was criticism of the incoming administration’s position on immigration.
But the comments by the “Hamilton” cast miss an important point. Although Alexander Hamilton was himself an immigrant, he was adamantly opposed to the open immigration policies that President Thomas Jefferson proposed in his first annual message to Congress in 1801. Although the incoming president had once opposed unlimited immigration, Jefferson now saw it as a way to secure the future political dominance of his own party over Hamilton’s Federalists.
Hamilton, like most Federalists, was concerned about French influence on American politics. Although the French Revolution had descended into terror and led to the rise of Napoleon, Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party persisted in their attachment to the French. Hamilton feared that Jefferson’s proposal for unlimited immigration would lead to the triumph of the radical principles of the French Revolution over those of the more moderate American Revolution.
Writing as “Lucius Crassus,” Hamilton argued: “The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits; on the exemption of the citizens from foreign bias, and prejudice; and on that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.”
Invoking Jefferson’s own “Notes on Virginia,” Hamilton observed that “foreigners will generally be apt to bring with them attachments to the persons they have left behind; to the country of their nativity, and to its particular customs and manners.” He argued that “it is unlikely that they will bring with them that temperate love of liberty, so essential to real republicanism.”