Sunday, April 06, 2008

George Washington Supported Open Immigration

Dear Tali,

I have come across a book by Richard Brookhiser titled What Would the Founders Do?: Our Questions, Their Answers, originally published in 2006, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2007 paperback edition).

On pages 175-76, it points out that George Washington was an avid supporter of open immigration. He did not mind at all that a competent immigrant might "steal the job" of a native-born American. As Brookhiser details,

In 1784 George Washington was in the market for a carpenter and a bricklayer. He asked Tench Tilghman, one of his wartime aides, to scour a boatload of Germans that was due to land in Baltimore for the proper workmen. "I would not confine you to" Germans, he added. "If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christian of any sect -- or they may be atheists." Washington was laying it on for comic effect; he is saying, hire anybody who can put boards or bricks together. But there is no reason to think that if Tilghman had found a Muslim bricklayer, Washington wouldn't have hired him.

Washington wrote those words to Tilghman from Mount Vernon on March 24, 1784. You can see the PDF of that letter here. It says,

I am informed that a ship with Palatines [Germans] is gone up to Baltimore, among whom are a number of tradesmen. I am a good deal in want of a house joiner [carpenter] and brick-layer who really understand their profession, and you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each for me, if to be had, I would not confine you to Palatines [Germans]; if they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists. . . . I do not limit you to a price, but will pay the purchase money on demand.

There you have it. Open immigration was good enough for the Father of this country.