Richard Samuelson

Richard A. Samuelson is Associate Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino. He has held fellowships or teaching appointments at Princeton University, Claremont McKenna College, the University of Paris VIII, the National University of Ireland, Galway. Although he has published on a range of subjects, his principal works focus on the political and constitutional ideas of the American founding era. Dr. Samuelson is currently completing a book on John Adams’ political thought, "John Adams and the Republic of Laws". He received his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia

Can America Remain a Nation of Immigrants in the 21st Century?


We often call ours “a nation of immigrants.” It is a peculiar and paradoxical phrase. A “nation,” as generally understood, is a tribal, ethnic, or historical group. In the era of the American Revolution, a nation, a people, a tribe, and a race were often interchangeable terms. Nation, as the word is usually used by scholars, often retains some of that heritage. Hence a noted academic like Ernest Gellner could write in his book Nations and Nationalism (1983) that “nationalism uses the pre-existing, historically inherited proliferation of cultures or cultural wealth.” Nationalism presupposes some sort of historical unity. Meanwhile, immigrants are…

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Immigration Bolsters American Freedom

There is much to agree with in Richard Samuelson’s essay. My disagreement arises from three main sources. First, Samuelson undervalues how important relatively freer immigration is for maintaining American values and institutions. Second, his view of the country’s past assimilation of immigrants is too rosy. Third, his pessimism concerning the assimilation of current immigrants is…

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The Past, Present, and Future of American Immigration

Richard Samuelson has provided us with a thoughtful discussion of immigration in modern America, focusing on its philosophical meanings and its place in American society. He defends the idea of America as a “credal” nation built upon the political principles of the Founding era and sees the assimilation of immigrants to that Founding creed as…

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Assimilation is a Brutal and Necessary Bargain

Let me begin by acknowledging that I share Professor Samuelson’s concern that many immigrants today are not assimilating to “classic American values of thrift, hard work, and cooperation in civil society.” I, too, am uneasy at the prospect of immigrants being influenced by “trans-national” elites to the point where they, and especially their children, may…

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On Adam, Eve, Tribes, and Nations

The prospect of Scottish independence has spurred a great deal of discussion here and elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that the Act of Union of 1707, which drew England and Scotland together, factored into the story of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and other colonists believed that each colony had the same relationship to Britain in the 1770s that England and Scotland had to each other before the Act of Union: as an equal state with a common monarch.[1]

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Entropy in the Executive

The Massachusetts Constitution’s Declaration of Rights says, in its conclusion, that:

In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.

That constitution, providing for a lower house, a Senate, and a governor armed with a (qualified) veto was, in many ways, the model for the federal Constitution drafted a few years later.

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Peace, Peace, When there is no Peace

Recent events have led me back to Henry Adams’ great work on U.S. history.  There is a side of the American mind that wishes the world could be different than it is: Few men have dared to legislate as though eternal peace were at hand, in a world torn by wars and convulsions and drowned in blood; but this was what Jefferson aspired to do. Even in such dangers, he believed that Americans might safely set an example which the Christian world should be led by interest to respect and at length to imitate.  As he conceived a true American policy, war…

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Time to Rethink the Chevron Doctrine


These are interesting times, constitutionally speaking. In the past two weeks, federal courts have ruled both ways on Obamacare. In the D.C. Circuit, a panel ruled that the law allows for subsidized health insurance in exchanges created by state governments, but not in the “backstop” exchange created by the federal government. Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit says that the statute allows subsidies in both.

Who is right?

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Fix Our Partisan Civil Service

irsAs most U.S. history textbooks teach, Congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Act not long after a disgruntled office-seeker shot and killed President Garfield in 1881. The goal was to create a competent and politically neutral civil service. I wonder if, over a century and a quarter after America went down that road, the old problem is returning in a new guise, as we now have a highly partisan civil service, albeit one that has civil service protections.[1] 

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Celebrating Independence

On July 2, 1776, two hundred and thirty-eight years ago today, the Continental Congress voted that "These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." John Adams, who more than any other single individual, helped push the resolution through Congress, was elated. The next day he wrote home to Abigail twice. "Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony "that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent…

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Here the People (are supposed to) Rule

ClintonAs she hawks her new book, Mrs. Clinton is saying provocative things. Her assertion that “American political system is probably the most difficult, even brutal, in the world” has raised eyebrows across the country.

In a world in which violent coup d-etat are still relatively common in many parts of the world, that’s a striking claim. American politicians are toppled by elections, not by violence. The parties hurl invective at each other, not ordinance. As John Adams reflected to Thomas Jefferson in 1823, “I should like to see an election for a President in the British empire or in France or in Spain or in Prussia or Russia by way of experiment. We go on pretty well—for we use no other artillery than goose quills: & our ink is not so deleterious as language & grape.”*

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The Age of Enlightenment?

A Captain in the LAPD has responded to critics of general surveillance by saying that Americans objected to street lights when they were first installed because they made it easier to see what people were up to at night. There is, of course, a rather large difference between allowing for people to see what goes on in public areas and recording everything that goes on there. The difference is, perhaps, akin to the difference between the Providential God who might be anywhere but is not necessarily in any given place at any given point in time and the Pantheist God…

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The Fog of Pragmatism

Jonah Goldberg, as is his wont, notes that the Lefties always seem to think that "ideology" is what other people have. People who agree with them are "reasonable" and "practical." The latest example of this conceit is Ezra Klein’s new blog. As Goldberg notes, Lefties: Cheat by denying their ideological motivations — even to themselves. Indeed, it is a constant trope of liberalism to believe — dogmatically, ideologically — that they are just empiricists and fact-finders doing what is right and good in a battle against dogmatic ideologues on the right. The more honest approach would be to simply admit your…

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