“No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President;”
The United States Constitution
If Joseph Ellis were asked to choose an alternative title for his book The Founding Brothers perhaps he would have picked The Naturalized Americans. All the Founding Fathers of the United States were naturalized as citizens of the new country they had created on the day the Constitution of the United States was ratified on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention. Immigration laws in various forms were in place since that day.
The Founding Fathers had immigrated to the new nation from the British Empire as did later all the rest of the colonial Americans whose states subsequently had all ratified the U.S Constitution before the country’s first president took his oath of office in 1789. The framers had deliberately waived the requirement to be born in the United States for themselves to become president. And four of them did, in succession: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The natural born condition did not figure as being necessary for any other political office.
The United States has been in the throes of a pitched immigration debate since the days of the Bush 43 administration, particularly in reaction to 9/11 and then the economy. Trust became a social rule of thumb, a heuristic, rather than a matter of the law. The concern is not as much the numbers of the migrants, which is small compared to the native born populations, but the unknown fealties of the new comers to the New World.
Fealty to the United States is an enlightened concept. The country was founded by enlightened elites, deeply influenced by the intellectual ferment in 18th century Europe but pragmatic enough to apply those ideas to create a state that had never been conceived before in the history of civilization.
They, having just formed a new nation, which was both racially and religiously homogeneous but for personal, denominational and branch differences within the Christian faith, could have made Christianity the state religion. After all, European Enlightenment had not precluded faith, but had abstracted the law of man from the law of God, placing just as much faith in reason as it did in religious faith. But they had separated the state from all religion. They had created a state that had transcended any particular faith, realizing full well that faith for reasonable men was as much a choice as anything else. The Enlightenment had freed up the people from the tyranny of the entitlements of birth and the institutions of faith, but not from faith itself.
The freedom to worship God the way every man chose for himself, as an individual, free from the strictures of religious institutions was the essence of enlightenment liberalism. The individual choice of the path to God was secularism, not the separation of faith not only from the state but from the society itself as it had come to be known about a century later because of the rise in the belief in machines and mechanisms after the beginning of the technological and industrial tumult of the Industrial Revolution.
The irony of the Industrial Revolution had been that the first machine of significance in Europe, the printing press, had engendered the Lutheran Protestant Reformation in Germany with the printing of the Gutenberg bible in the 15th century almost in parallel with the ongoing Renaissance in the princely states of modern day Italy to the south, freeing the average Christian from the illiteracy imposed by the Vatican across Europe. Three hundred years later, the democratization of literacy had lit the flames of the Enlightenment across much of Western Europe, eventually crossing the Atlantic.
Reason had naturalized the Americans to the ways of human nature in both its knavery and nobility. Its conscious awareness was the necessary condition for the appropriate governance of a polity of the people, by the people, for the people to ensure social justice, the raison d’être of the state.
Immigration to America and fealty to it, therefore, does not require the sacrifice of individual choice, either of faith or culture, but the accommodation of many faiths and cultural heritages. As long as those leaving their lands of origin understand this and Americans, born and raised in the United States do not forget their identity rooted in their naturalized foundings, the process of admitting new Americans will remain enlightened.