Opposition to immigration is nothing new. The opinion piece from a September 1843 edition of the Baltimore Sun reads as a current discussion piece for the politics of our present time – excepting the references to territorial acquisition fouynd at the end of the column.


A RADICAL ERROR. — They err greatly, who are opposed to the introduction into this country of the surplus population of other lands.

[1]  Nor is there error a venial one; on the contrary, being radical in principle, fundamental in character, it is the more deeply mischievous.  Its tendency is, to produce evil by the negative process of prevention.  It opposes itself to the means by which good may be affected, and attempts to justify itself by the plea, that evils it seeks to prevent are certain, the anticipated good doubtful and improbable; the former of great magnitude, the latter insignificant at best, and appertaining more to the immigrant than to the country of his adoption.  The illiberality which is the chief ingredient of this error, is as clearly out of keeping with the genius of our country and the spirit of our civil institutions, as its practical operation would assuredly prove it to be the spirit of a bad policy — unwise as touching our country’s substantial interest, and inhuman in respect to its effects upon those against whom it would necessarily be directed. Nor would it aid the cause of liberty either here or elsewhere; on the contrary, it would affect it injurious leak everywhere. The spirit of exclusiveness which would circumvallate [sic] the country, and prevent the entrance of the foreigner desirous of casting his lot with us, could not fail in time to affect our own social character, and separate us more effectually than at present, into classes, sections, cliques, and every other supposable, or at least practical species of subdivision; each of which would be shut up within its own special enclosure, to avoid the contamination of contact with others or any of them. Hence would be seen to arise great diversity of feeling, thought and sentiments, opposition of interest and bitter conflict of opinion. The elements of discord thus growing up and flourishing, man alienated from his fellow by arbitrary distinctions and artificial lines of separation, what guarantee would liberty have for the long continued safety, not to say perpetuity of the civil institutions that constitute in their aggregate our system of government?  None.  Even now, dangerous elements of division and dissension are by far too abundant, too actively operative and too evidently on the increase, to be viewed by the patriot without some feeling of apprehension; how much greater then would be the danger under the influence of a multiplication and increased magnitude of the causes calculated to produce the apprehended mischief.

But the professors in the school of national illiberality have not ventured yet to preach the doctrine of entire exclusion. They know that time is not yet right, for that. Not a few of their pupils, however, are less prudent; and these rapidly running to the extremes which are avoided by their more polite preceptors. These last would admit the immigrant, but they would admit him only as a machine or a bale of goods, not as a man. They would “give him leave to toil,” and hold him responsible to the laws of the land for his conduct; but they would give him no right to aid in the making of those laws, which would affect his person and the fruits of his point. Some, it is true, would grant him, as a boon, the rights of citizenship after the lapse of a number of years, that would in most cases amount to an entire denial of them; others again would withhold them in all cases whatsoever. They would take the benefit of the immigrant’s labor and of his capital too, should he have any, but he should have no civil rights safe to claim protection — no right to unite with his fellow beings in saying what should be the amount or character of that protection, of the price he should pay for it, or the terms of which he should become entitled to it. They would admit him, it is true; but then it is equally true that he would not seek admission on the terms offered. He would not — supposing him to be intelligent, and desirous of enjoying the privileges and exercising the rights of man is understood here — he would not essay to escape from one form of tyranny and oppression, only to subject himself to another.  In fact, those who would admit him to the right to toil, and yet either refuse him the rights of citizenship entirely, or withhold them until time should render them valueless, cannot justify themselves either to their country or to him. They practically concede all that is asked for by those of more liberal principles, in respect to the substantial value of the immigrant addition to the productive industry of the country, yet for certain political reasons, and perhaps some others analogous to them, and for these only, they would deprive the country of the benefits to be deprived from this fertile source; for certainly they must be aware of the fact, that a definition must necessarily take place in the amount of foreign labor and capital introduced into this country, in proportion to the diminution of facilities according to the immigrant, who is in search at once of a new home and of those civil rights which he could not enjoy in the land of his nativity.

Touching the consistency of those exclusion lists, it is clearly on a par with their liberality and patriotism.  To prove this, it is sufficient to state the fact, that as a body (there may be exceptions) they are opposed to the immediate occupation of the Oregon Territory by any act of our government; assigning as their chief reasons for leaving the British in possession of it, that we have more territory now on the side of the Rocky mountains [sic] than we can people in many years, may for centuries to come . They contend that we ought first to develop all our resources East of those mountains, before we even dream of asserting our rights west of them; yet they would postpone that consummation to as distant a period as possible, by destroying one of the important auxiliary agencies through which its accomplishment can be accelerated. — It is their political vocation, however; and this explains their conduct, however much they may endeavor to give a different aspect to their ostensible motives.[2]

If the spirit of the pernicious error which we have been considering, or confined in its operations to the sphere already indicated, the case would not only be bad enough, but too bad by far; it has, however, a more exclusively domestic field in which it essays to labor, but which we cannot explore today.[3]  As the novel is sometimes say, it deserves a chapter to itself, and the next chapter will therefore be dedicated to it.

The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) September 8,1843.  Page [2][4]

[1] “Emergence of the Know-Nothing Party” Robert McNamara. [accessed from the web 22 August 2015. http://history1800s.about.com/od/immigration/a/knownothing01.htm]


“Several small political parties espousing nativist doctrine existed, among them the American Republican Party and the Nativist Party. At the same time, secret societies, such as the Order of United Americans and the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, sprang up in American cities. Their members were sworn to keep immigrants out of America, or at the least, to keep them out of mainstream society.”

[2] “Establishing Borders: The Expansion of the United States, 1846-48” Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. [accessed from the web 22 August 2015. http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/borders/essay3.html]


“As with Texas, popular opinion over the Oregon Country was divided. Whereas Texas territory would have added proslavery representation in Congress, any potential states formed from the Oregon Country would be free states. Accordingly, Northerners were the chief advocates of acquiring as much Oregon Country as possible.”

[3] Slavery is the institution to which the author alludes.

[4] Transcribed by John Peter Thompson. 22 August2015.