In 1788, Virginia was debating whether or not to ratify the newly drafted Constitution of the United States. James Madison, the principle architect and ardent proponent of the new federal system, was anxious to convince the Virginia legislature of its wisdom and prudence.
Of course, not all Virginians were excited to adopt this system, and among the many specific details argued in the Constitutional Convention of 1788 was the issue of federal imposts or taxation. Along with this argument, interestingly, came the argument of population, immigration, and demographics, resulting in one of the first American nativist-identitarian arguments.
Opponents of the new Constitution did not like new taxing powers granted to the Federal government; proponents – like Mr. Madison – argued that while taxation may for a while increase, the stronger federal government will allow for a more rapid expansion in population, and will therefore offset the increase in taxation, and eventually cause the burden per capita to decrease.
How would this population increase? One argument made by Federalists like Mr. Madison was that such a government would encourage Europeans to look at America as their new home and emigrate to her.
And while this argument seemed sound to many, not everyone was a fan of immigrants from Europe coming to invade the lifestyle and culture of their newly-formed confederation of states.
William Grayson, a lawyer from Virginia, was among these, and rejected the pro-immigration stance of the Constitutional Federalists.
“It is said that a strong government will increase our population by the addition of immigrants,” Grayson said on June 12, 1788. However, he also wondered, “From what quarter is immigration to proceed? From the arbitrary monarchies of Europe? I fear this kind of population would not add much to our happiness or improvement.”
In reading the speech in context, one can almost imagine his voice dripping with disdain for those peoples of non-republic countries, and how their monarchical ways would totally infect the culture of America. To tolerate this kind of immigration was tantamount to selling out the American identity to appease foreign values. Sound familiar?
Even though proponents countered with the condition that a great number of immigrants would be coming from Holland, Grayson had this to say about them:
“Holland has been called a republic, and a government friendly to liberty. Though it may be greatly superior to some other governments in Europe, still it is not a republic or a democracy… If we look at their history, we shall find that every mischief which has befallen them has resulted from the existing confederacy.”
No, not even the citizens of the Dutch Republic were good enough for Grayson.
Of course, we know the end of the story: Madison and the other cuckservatives Federalists won the debate, and European immigration did indeed increase, which mixture of cultures has resulted in perhaps a more distinctly American flavor than there was in the 18th century.