It is one of the more commonly used cliches of the political establishment.

“We are a nation of immigrants.”

Most Americans just buy that bill of goods and never think about what it actually means. After all, they reason, their people came here from somewhere.

This is true, but this is simply reflexive group think of the worst order.

The vast majority of Americans were born here and come from families that go back for generations. The same was true of the founding generation. Many of the men from that greatest generation of Americans–sorry Tom Brokaw–were fourth or fifth generation Americans whose families had settled in the British North American colonies on their own hook.

No government handouts awaited their arrival.

More importantly, these people, even those who arrived from the British Isles, were different. Most spoke English, but their idioms, dialect, and usage widely differed. So did most of their customs, from marriage to child-rearing to views of liberty and order.

That is still true today. Go to Massachusetts see what kind of reaction you get if you said this: “I’m fixin’ to go to the store and get a buggy. I’ll need it for my sweet tea and grits.”

You’ll be viewed as an alien. And rightly so. You would be.

We can’t be a “nation” because of a “nation,” by definition, is a people with similar language, customs, traditions, religion, etc. Northern and Southern Americans certainly have some things in common, maybe many, but their differences are often night and day. Everyone knows it, they just don’t understand why that is important.

America, both then and today, is a collection of republics wedded together for the “general welfare” of the Union, not a “nation” of people. That only included commerce and defense. All else was to be left to the States.

Which brings me to immigration, the hottest issue in America now. The pink hatted ladies and their “nasty” march were trumped by Trump.

President Trump promised action and immigration and he delivered. The founding generation would have agreed in principle. Just read the debates at the Philadelphia Convention about “naturalization.”

But this is a complex issue that involves the nature of the Union. While the general government certainly can–and should–look seriously at the issue of how to become an American citizen, the States can–and should–look to ratchet up their own “immigration” laws.

You see, immigration was long considered a State issue. Jefferson said as much in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. A State like Texas could, at least according to the original Constitution, build its own wall and craft its own strict rules on immigration and state citizenship. That includes voting. The Constitution is clear that States determine who can vote as long as the distinction is not made on the basis of race, sex, age over 18, and the requirement of a poll tax. They can prohibit aliens from voting.

On the other hand, if Californians do not think the same way, they could allow all the immigrants they want into their “sanctuary State.” Or they could just secede. That would be the better and more preferable option. As Michael Goodwin of the New York Post wrote last week: “I say we take their wine and let them go. If California secedes and its 55 electoral votes come off the board, Dems will never win another American election. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton could become president of the breakaway state and the rest of us would be free of the Clinton stain.” Sounds good to me. But they can keep their wine. They’ll need it.

And it seemed clear at the Philadelphia Convention that States had vast leeway on the issue.

At the same time, the Congress could make it exceedingly difficult to become an American citizen. We should make it tough. This is the legal and preferable course. Trump’s executive orders could simply be reversed by the next man up. As Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania said in 1787 (anyone that knows me knows that I am no fan of Morris, but on this matter he is correct), “We should not be polite at the expense of prudence.”

In other words, we should not conflate “naturalization” with “immigration.” That was the ingenious creation of nationalist SCOTUS judges in 1876, almost all of whom were appointed by Lincoln or Grant. Diversity.

Originally published at

Brion McClanahan