Making Free Men and Women

Richard Samuelson’s timely Claremont Review of Books essay, “The Genius of American Citizenship,”  presents the Founders’ argument for the citizenship of American exceptionalism, as opposed to the cultural and economic arguments that have dominated today’s debate over immigration. As Jefferson feared then, citizen identity without a sense of political duty will produce a “heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass”—the conditions for centralized bureaucracy we are seeing ever more realized today.

The great shift in American thinking—manifested in Jefferson’s own shift between his “Summary Rights of British North America” and the Declaration of Independence—is the identification of Americans with the rights of all men, not the rights of Englishmen.

[T]he colonists had to choose between being British subjects and retaining their rights. The Americans chose their rights. As a result, American citizenship would be based upon the rights of men rather than the rights of Englishmen. The penchant for universals, and for the robust discussion of them that has been so long remarkable in American history, was affirmed and established.

Oddly, our seemingly democratic adherence to being born on American soil (but see the strong case of Ted Cruz) is actually based on British standards we rejected and violates the real standards for citizenship. Thus, Wong Kim Ark and Plessy v Ferguson are cut from the same cloth, a shrunken view of the 14th amendment.

Samuelson uses the case of America’s welcoming of Jewish immigrants to illustrate these principles. Calvin Coolidge stated this admirably:

Our country has done much for the Jews who have come here to accept its citizenship and assume their share of its responsibilities in the world. But I think the greatest thing it has done for them has been to receive them and treat them precisely as it has received and treated all others who have come to it.

If our experiment in free institutions has proved anything, it is that the greatest privilege that can be conferred upon people in the mass is to free them from the demoralizing influence of privilege enjoyed by the few.

This is how the country should welcome immigrants, not for future electoral purposes or in order to tax them on account of their ancestors (e.g., London Mayor Boris Johnson). The older, prevalent “dirt” argument needs to be eclipsed by a “spirit” argument—coincidentally recalling the two accounts of the creation of man in Genesis.

Samuelson also notes how big government’s emphasis on group identity means in turn membership in groups that produce faction. Note how the HHS mandate drives a wedge (a “hyphen”) between Catholic religious obligation and alleged political obligations. The citizen disappears or becomes identified with activist or taxpayer. The more regulation, the more a centralized command-and-control pluralism, and then an “end of American exceptionalism.”  American exceptionalism requires a sense of citizen obligation that strengthens the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

In sum, there is no better brief introduction to the vital issue of citizenship today than Richard Samuelson’s instructive essay.

Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He teaches in graduate programs in political science for Johns Hopkins University and for the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University. He has edited Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, co-edited The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, and co-authored and co-edited several other books on American politics and political thought. In addition, he has worked ten years in the federal government as a speechwriter and on policy issues, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was a special assistant to Chairman Clarence Thomas, and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

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  1. gabe says


    The “dirt’ argument has always troubled me as it did some of the supporters of the legislation. Yet, as with so many other issues, it was left ambiguous. There was no clear definition of the phrase, “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” as evidenced by comments from some Senators during debates on the amendment (if my failing memory serves me).
    Yet, in the past, as you know, we did manage to effectively instill “the spirit” into immigrants. Regrettably, this no longer appears to be the objective and we find both Democrat and Republican parties pandering for votes without the slightest apprehension of what it means, or should mean, to accept American citizenship or when it should be conferred.

    This is downright disgraceful!
    It would be stretching the text of the amendment to assert any congressional power to require something more substantive than mere birth on our soil as a grounds for citizenship. Further, the Black Robes would probably overturn it.
    At one time, I thought that the “jurisdiction” requirement could be used to at least prevent “anchor babies” but have since concluded that is a folly.

    What then is to be done when parties create factions in the hope of winning them over with promises of free “gold”. At least, when my grandfather came here, the “gold was (alleged to be) in the streets” but he still had to work to pick it up!

    • John Ashman says

      “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” simply is a way of omitting ambassadors, diplomats and other loyals subjects of other countries who are temporary visitors and have no desire to have an American child. They are not subject because they do no wish to be and had no intent to be while visiting.

      • gabe says


        My reading suggests that it had something more to do with those “citizens” of the rebellious states who had not yet submitted to a loyalty oath as it qualifies the phrase “born in the United States” – although it clearly covers diplomats, etc.

        • John Ashman says

          I couldn’t find anything like that when I looked into it, do you have any back up on that?

          We really can’t have a situation where the government says “sorry, you’re not subject to our jurisdiction because we think you might be secretly a communist sympathizer”

          • gabe says

            No, but if you know that someone is indeed hostile to our interests and way of life, you should exclude them. You seem to think that people have a natural right to immigrate into the US. Clearly, they do not.
            If someone does not wish to be part of a compact, they are certainly free to not enter it AND not enter the United States NOR should we be compelled to accept them into our compact.
            Moreover, as they are not US citizens, they are NOT entitled to the same rights and protections as is a US Citizen because they do not incur the same responsibilities as you or I do as citizens.
            Surely, you do not intend to apply our constitution to the world without so much as a “by your leave” to the inhabitants of other sovereign nations. Unless, of course, you are Justice Ginsburg!

        • John Ashman says

          Gabe, people who are hostile to our way of life really don’t intend to come here and live. Why would they? It seems to be the fear of nothing. It’s like a man with a phobia of being desired by lesbians. It’s POSSIBLE, but really not a big risk.

          Migration is a natural right of man, because it existed long before government, certainly all animals do it, and is prohibited by government simply due to fear and xenophobia. Our government simply decided to infringe upon this right because it was scared of the Chinese and their “strange” culture. Being anti-immigrant is like saying “we got her first!” We talk of “they’re taking our jobs” or “we don’t have enough space” or “we don’t have enough resources”. It’s an unenlightened, regressive way of approaching things, because it asserts that you’re only equal if you were born in the US, or if you first bow down to a government that won’t even follow its own constitution.

          It’s not the Constitution that applies to everyone, it’s the natural rights upon which it was created that apply to everyone.

          My challenge remains open – $1T to anyone who can find the power over immigration in the Constitution.

  2. John Ashman says

    One of the many amazing misuderstandings of the anti-immigration right AND left is that belief that the Framer’s debate surrounding citizenship privileges, voting and governmental participation meant that they believed in controlled immigration. Clearly they did not at the time, for very many reasons, including the primative aspect of raw bodies to actualize the power of defense. And the obvious sense of infinite land to colonize.

    Had there been 300 million people at that time, it is possible they would have given the Federal government some control over immigration. But there wasn’t, and they did not. They simply wanted to ensure via the Naturalization Clause that those who voted, those who participated and had the few privileges of citizenship used them wisely and for the interests of Americans, not for the interests of foreign powers. There was plenty of suspicion that King George would attempt to return or influence America through infiltration because he failed to keep it through force of arms.

    It is an enormous educational failure that both the left and right alike point to the Naturalization Clause as the bona fide power for immigration control, not even understanding that the NC only allowed for applied standards, not centralized application and enforcement of those standards.

    • gabe says

      John: (submitted for your consideration)

      “The migration and importation clause of the U.S. Constitution permits the migration or importation of people to the U.S.. Congress is not permitted to prohibit such entry prior to the year 1880, but can impose a tax or duty on such importation for an amount not exceeding ten dollars for each person. This clause does not confer any power but on the contrary restraints the exercise of certain powers that is been conferred to Congress. Thus, this clause is restrictive in nature.” This clause is referred under USCS Const. Art. I, § 9, Cl 1. The provision reads as:

      “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person”.

      So while it may be correct that there was no serious intent by the founders to limit immigration, there may nevertheless be an implied power to do. This is only prudent, wouldn’t you think?

      I suspect that you would agree with the opinion which leads my post, whereas I would look to the text and think that the Congress does have such power.

      In any event, what Ken Masugi was getting at was: what should be required to “make a citizen”, not whether there should be immigration. But does it not occur to you that if congress cannot set criteria for who should be admitted then, it is completely pointless to try to “Americanize” them. Why not just send out applications for visas to al-Qaeda. Oops, I forgot, we already do that in Saudi Arabia under a program of Hillary Clinton’s called “Express Visa” whereby we let Saudi travel agents vouch for documentation. (Program was stopped and then re-started).

      take care

  3. John Ashman says

    The Migration and Importation Clause is exclusively w/respect to slavery, which is why it is often called the Slavery Clause, I believe. It is there to prevent Congress from invoking the Commerce Clause to ban the importation of slaves, because without that Clause, they’d have had to give up the Commerce Clause entirely, or accept the total loss of Souther States from Virginia on down.

    It actually has nothing at all to do with immigration.

    But, yes, this why the Naturalization Clause exists, to give people time to acclimate and Americanize themselves. It was never intended that the Feds try to Americanize people, it was always believed that America was so great that people would simply move towards it, rather than expect America to move towards them. After all, the first thing people want to do is make things more at home.

    • gabe says


      BTW, I, for one, am not asserting that it is the role of the Feds to “americanize” immigrants. Rather, as in the history of my own family that the Feds not do anything to prevent this from happening. In the past, “americanization” was left to private actors (churches, charities, fraternal organizations and YES, even employers). It worked quite well.
      However, at the present time, Fed / State regulations reduce or eliminate the impetus to become “american” by permitting (encouraging) foreign language instruction in classrooms, government, etc; generous benefits, etc etc.
      One of the means by which people the past came to feel at home in this country was via work, language and the combination of the two.
      As an example, in order for my grandfather to succeed at work, he had to speak the language. This was also necessary to engage in commerce. As a consequence, his was an English only household. This was far more beneficial than living apart from the main body of American culture as an ethnic subdivision.

      • John Ashman says

        True, but by also calling someone “illegal” and having them under constant fear of being evicted or jailed, you really segregate people from joining the American community, forcing them into small conclaves of people in similar positions, who can’t pay taxes, can’t get legal aid, can’t interact enough to learn the language, etc, but remain because they know their kids CAN if they are born here, or are able to assimilate.

        It is a chicken and egg scenario. The right screams “these people won’t integrate” at the same time they say “stay away from me” and constantly put their dreams at risk.

        You can’t integrate when you are constantly made to feel unwelcome or even hunted.

        • gabe says


          Yours is an argument that has surface plausibility. However, as my own history attests – the old way actually produced a quicker and more solid sense of citizenship to newly arrived immigrants. If you do not think that immigrants to this country at the turn of the 20th century had it hard, you should probably do a little research on it.
          I am not exaggerating when I say that there were “life and death” battles for jobs, etc during that time. As for being made to feel welcome, they were labeled suitable prospects for Margaret Sangers eugenics programs. How’s that to make you feel welcome.

          The Great grandson of a serf

          • John Ashman says

            The difference is, immigrants back then came from a tough life, often tougher and scarier than they had before. But NOW, it is difficult AND the American government, with guns and “authority” hunt them like animals and overtly disenfranchise them. 100+ years ago, you could get citizenship rather easily, you weren’t labeled illegal, the government didn’t hunt or evict you, your life was hard, but you were an AMERICAN. Now, your life is hard and you’re nobody. And the government is determined to keep it that way.

    • gabe says


      I was going to say that the text yields an “implied” power BUT then i realized I would be guilty of a trait that I so dislike in others – Cleverness!
      If i were not such a lazy dolt, the book I would write would be titled, “CLEVERNESS & THE CORRUPTION OF A CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC” – so i won’t say anything about implied powers.

      take care

      • John Ashman says

        Thank you ;^)

        Remember, according to a lawyer, the law isn’t what it says, it’s what you can convince someone it says.

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