It’s Time to Re-read Teddy Roosevelt on Immigration
Almost all Americans agree that Theodore Roosevelt was a great President.
That’s why his face is carved into the side of Mount Rushmore.
More than any previous president, TR grappled with the issue of immigration.
Like President Trump today, in many ways it came to define his very presidency.
“We should insist,” the ex-president said in a statement read at a meeting of the American Defense Society on January 5, 1919, the day before he died, “that if the immigrant who comes here does in good faith become an American and assimilates himself to us he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else.”
He went on to say it is, “An outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birthplace or origin.”
But, he added, “This is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American . . . we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people.”
TR was a political titan who knew how to use the bully pulpit.
He was a lion and an adventurer of a man.
His written views on immigration were perhaps best expressed in 1907 in his article entitled, On Being American.
In it he said, “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American … There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag … We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language … and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
Read the biographic trilogy by Edmund Morris, if you want to learn more about the man, his life and many accomplishments.
See: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt; Theodore Rex; and Colonel Roosevelt.
When you do — you will find that Trump agrees with Teddy.
TR advocated, as he put it for, “a Scandinavian, a German, or an Irishman who has really become an American.”
Trump has repeatedly made the same point and is certainly not opposed in the least to people of any and all creeds, colors, and backgrounds coming to America legally to help to make it great.
Remember, TR also importantly said emphatically, there is no such thing as a “hyphenated-American.”
For him it was all about allegiance.
Think about that.
We need to stop defining ourselves in “identity” political terms and return to this core belief in — citizenship.
By doing so, we can revive the important Latin notion expressed on the back of the US dollar bill.
It has actually been on our coinage since 1796.
E Pluribus Unum.
It translates “out of many one.”
It is in fact, the motto of the United States of America.
This respects our diverse origins but suggests a ‘higher calling’, namely our Americanism.
Tons of immigrants flowed into the United States from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Southern Europe, and elsewhere at the turn of the 20th century.
Jews flocked into America at the same time.
All came legally and helped to make America greater.
America would NOT be what it is without all of them!
But they were all screened and came legally.
And assimilation was the key.
TR put it plainly, “Laws,” Roosevelt added, “should be enacted to keep out all immigrants who do not show that they have the right stuff in them to enter into our life on terms of decent equality with our own citizens.”
The Immigration Act of 1907 was the first federal statute to restrain immigration on the grounds of health, moral character, and criminality.
It led to the Dillingham Commission, which recommended literacy tests and quotas for all immigrants.
Not just anyone could come.
The legislation enacted was bipartisan; Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson both backed it.
Republicans and Democrats supported it.
TR himself sought to combat xenophobic criterion or any form of racism as a basis for immigration.
He was also decidedly opposed to anti-Semitism.
He wanted all new Americans to be accepted and welcomed based on their potential for assimilation and their economic benefit to the rapidly industrializing country.
This was his definition of American Nationalism.
This is not unlike what some, including President Trump, are advocating today—a merit-based system for immigration.
Should we return to the TR notions of legal immigration rooted in citizenship?