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As a party movement, we regard the Native American party as contemptible. Take it as a movement of Native American citizens against foreigners who come amongst us to claim the rights and to perform the duties of citizens, it is founded on low and ungenerous prejudices, prejudices of birth, which we, as a people, profess to discard. We, as a people, recognize no nobility founded on birth; for our principle is, that all who are born at all are well-born. But what is the effort to confine the political functions incident to citizenship to native-born Americans, but the attempt to found an aristocracy of birth, even a political aristocracy, making the accident of birth the condition of political rights? Is this Americanism? Shame on the degenerate American who pretends it! He is false to his American creed, and has no American heart.
We, of course, do not oppose Native Americanism on the untenable ground, that every man has a natural right to be a citizen, and to take part in the administration of the government. The right of suffrage is a municipal right, not a natural right. But we, as a people, have adopted, with slight restrictions, the principle of universal suffrage. We, as a people, hold that the government is safest, where all the people have a voice in saying what it shall be and who shall be its administrators. We adopt universal suffrage, not indeed as a right, but as a dictate of prudence. We hold that we select better men to rule us, and enact wiser and more equitable laws, by admitting the great body of the people to a participation of political sovereignty, than we should by confining the sovereignty to one man or to a few men. We hold that the people are best governed, when they constitute and manage the government themselves. This is the political creed of the country; and he is false to his country, who would abolish it, or defeat its practical application. Foreigners, who come here, have, then, in view of the acknowledged principles of the country, a right to be admitted to citizenship, to the rank and dignity of freemen; and could rightly complain of injustice, if not so admitted.
But we are told that the Native American party does not propose to exclude foreigners from the country, nor from citizenship. It only wishes to prevent them from coming here and exercising the rights of citizens before being properly instructed in the duties of citizens. This plea is specious, but not solid. It is the public, ostensible plea; but not the private, real one. The real design is, to exclude foreigners, to prevent them from coming here, by denying them the right to become citizens. We have never conversed with an advocate of the
party who did not avow this. But take the plea as publicly offered. It is contended that foreigners, brought up under monarchical or aristocratical governments, cannot be expected, on arriving on our shores, to understand the nature of our peculiar form of government, and that it is necessary for them to serve a long novitiate before they can be prepared to enter upon the duties of freemen. The necessity of intelligence, of understanding well our peculiar institutions, on the part of every man who is to exercise the rights and to discharge the duties of a citizen, we certainly shall not dispute, whether the man was born at home or abroad. But the ignorance of the foreigners who come here is greatly exaggerated. Brought up under monarchical or aristocratical governments, one would naturally expect them to be averse to our democracy, and in favor of institutions similar to those with which they had been accustomed. But no complaint of this kind is ever made against them. Foreigners who come here and condemn our institutions, show contempt for them, and wish to exchange them for institutions similar to those they have left behind, are in general cordially welcomed, and treated with great consideration. The complaint is the reverse of this, and the opposition to naturalized citizens is, in fact, not that they do not understand the genius of our government, but that they do understand it; not that they do not adhere to it, but that they do adhere to it, and too strenuously insist on its being administered according to its genuine spirit and original intent. Their offence is in being democratic, and in wishing the government to be administered on truly democratic principles. It is not their ignorance of the real nature of our institutions, but their intelligence of them, that constitutes their disqualification in the eyes of the Natives. But pass over this. The naturalization laws, as they now are, require a foreigner to reside in the country five years before he can become a citizen, or be legally naturalized. This is five years after the man has become of full age. Now, it is fair to presume that an emigrant to this country, intending to come here and to make this his home, has before coming made some inquiries respecting the country, the character of its people, its government, and laws; and he may be judged to know as much of them as in general one of our own boys at the age of sixteen. In most cases he knows much more, but assume that he knows as much. Then he and the native-born are placed on the same footing. Each must wait five years before entering upon the discharge of his duties as a citizen; and who will pretend to say that a man from the age of twenty-one to
twenty-six cannot learn as much of what those duties are, as the boy from sixteen to twenty-one? The law, as it now stands, exacts in reality as long a novitiate of the foreign-born as of the native-born; and even on the ground of time to be instructed in one's duties, no more needs to be altered in the case of the one than of the other.
But, politically speaking, this objection is not the real one. The leaders, we mean at this moment political leaders, of the Native American party, are opposed to naturalized citizens solely on the ground that these citizens do not uniformly vote on their side. Many of them, but not the majority of them, have the audacity to vote the Democratic ticket, and for Democratic men and measures. This is their sole political offence. We do not discover that our Whig friends object to the votes of naturalized citizens when given for them, nor to naturalizing them, if they feel sure of their suffrages. Why not say so, then, and let the honest truth come out? Surely, honest men, high-minded men, the true nobility of the earth, as all our Whig leaders are, can have no objections to avowing their real intentions, and the real motives from which they act. Such men will never show false colors!
But the objection to foreigners is not exclusively political, nor chiefly political. The Whig leaders are opposed on political grounds, because a large portion of foreigners are supposed to vote for the Democratic party. But below this is another objection, which operates chiefly amongst the laboring classes. The mass of the people, especially of those who live on from father to son in the same position and pursuit, retain almost for ever their primitive prejudices. The great mass of what may be called the common people in this country are of English descent, - for we are all of foreign extraction; and they have inherited from their ancestors, and still retain, two strong prejudices,contempt of the Irish and hatred of the French. There is no use in disguising the fact. The assistance the French rendered us in the Revolution has mollified our feelings somewhat towards them, but we still bear them no real good-will. But the national English contempt for the Irish has been reinforced in America. The Yankee hod-carrier, or Yankee wood-sawyer, looks down with ineffable contempt upon his brother Irish hod-carrier or Irish wood-sawyer. In his estimation, "Paddy" hardly belongs to the human family. Add to this that the influx of foreign laborers, chiefly Irish, increases the supply of labor, and therefore apparently lessens relatively the demand, and consequently the wages of labor,
and you have the elements of a wide, deep, and inveterate hostility on the part of your Yankee laborer against your Irish laborer, which manifests itself naturally in your Native American party.
But this contempt of the Irish, which we have inherited from our English ancestors, is wrong and ungenerous. The Irish do not deserve it, and it does not become us to feel it. It is a prejudice disgraceful only to those who are governed by it, and no words of condemnation are sufficiently severe for the political aspirant who would appeal to it. Every friend to his country, every right-minded man, must frown upon it, and brand as an incendiary, as a public enemy, the demagogue, whether in a caucus speech in old Faneuil Hall or elsewhere, whether admired by the whole nation for his transcendent abilities or not, who should seek to deepen it, or even to keep it alive. It is a sad day for the peace and prosperity of the country, when your Websters and Archers can so far lay aside their senatorial dignity, and so far belittle themselves, as to appeal to this prejudice; and, to avail themselves of it for political purposes, raise the standard of Native Americanism. The country, humanity, have a right to demand something better of these men, and, if they do not retrace their steps, and atone for their dereliction from justice and prudence, they will not only be stripped of their hard-won honors, but sent down to posterity amid the scorn and hisses of every man in whose bosom beats an American heart.
But, after all, the competition, which our Native American laborers so much dread, is far less than they imagine. The foreign laborers do not, in general, come directly into competition with them. A great part of the labor they perform is labor which the native Americans could not or would not perform, themselves. Then, the increased demand for labor in other branches of industry, caused by the works carried on mainly by the labor of foreigners, fully compensates, perhaps more than compensates, the native American laborers for any loss they may sustain in the few cases of competition which there really may be. Viewed in all its bearings, the influx of foreign laborers has very little, if any, injurious effect on our own native laborers. The immense internal improvements completed or in process of completion would never have been attempted, if the reliance had been solely on native labor, and, consequently, none of the additional labor employed in the various branches of industry, which these improvements have stimulated, would have been in demand. The laboring class, as a class, has
really gained in the amount of employment by the increase of laborers, and of course, then, in the price of labor. Labor begets the demand for labor. Individuals may have suffered somewhat, in some particular branches, but upon the whole the laboring class has been benefited.
But the real objection lies deeper yet. The Native American party is not a party against admitting foreigners to the rights of citizenship, but simply against admitting a certain class of foreigners. It does not oppose Protestant Germans, Protestant Englishmen, Protestant Scotchmen, nor even Protestant Irishmen. It is really opposed only to Catholic foreigners. The party is truly an anti-Catholic party, and is opposed chiefly to the Irish, because a majority of the emigrants to this country are probably from Ireland, and the greater part of these are Catholics. If they were Protestants, if they could mingle with the native population and lose themselves in our Protestant Churches, very little opposition would be manifested to their immigration or to their naturalization. But this they cannot do. They are Catholics. They adhere to the faith of their fathers, and for which they have suffered these three hundred years more than any other people on earth. Being Catholics, they hold religion to be man's primary concern, and the public worship of God an imperative duty. They accordingly seek to settle near together, in a neighbourhood, where the Church may rise in their midst, within reach of the altar where the "clean sacrifice" is offered up daily for the living and the dead, and where they can receive the inestimable services of the minister of God. Hence, they seem, because in this respect their habits differ from those of our Protestant countrymen, to be a separate people, incapable even in their political and social duties of fraternizing, so to speak, with their Protestant fellow-citizens. Here is the first and immediate cause of the opposition they experience.
But deeper yet lies the old traditionary hatred of Catholicism. The majority of the American people have descended from ancestors who were accustomed to pray to be delivered from the flesh, the world, the Devil, and the Pope; and though they have in a great degree rejected the remains of faith still cherished by their Protestant ancestors, they retain all their hatred of Catholicism. If they believe nothing else, they believe the Pope is Antichrist, and the Catholic Church the Scarlet Lady of Babylon. When the Catholic Church is in question, all the infidels and nothingarians, to use an expressive term, are sure to sympathize with their Protestant brethren.