Conservatives and libertarians adore President Calvin Coolidge for his commitment to limited government and free market values. In light of the current confusion over the application of conservative principles to immigration policy, it would be wise to go back and see how President Coolidge felt about expansive immigration.
President Coolidge took office at the end of the great wave of immigration and signed the law that dramatically cut back all immigration. There were definitely a number of people at the time who garnered some anti-immigrant sentiments. Reading through some of the floor speeches in the Senate, I’ve seen some pretty awful things espoused by some of the elected officials. But Coolidge was not one of them. He rejected racist provisions, and even said that he would have vetoed the provision that completely banned Japanese immigration had that been in its own bill.
However, Coolidge enthusiastically supported the broader bill, which was designed to slow down the flow of immigration in order to assimilate the huge group of immigrants that had already come over the previous 25 years. That legislation passed almost unanimously and was very popular with the American people. Despite a few superfluously racial provisions in the bill, which were definitely uncalled for, the bill was a smashing success. It allowed that group of southern and eastern Europeans to assimilate into the American fabric and become part of the foundation for what America is today.
We now stand at the cusp of doubling the baseline of an even larger wave of immigration, with even worse problems pertaining to patriotic assimilation. What would Coolidge say if he were alive today? Well, fortunately, we have the luxury of viewing his statements on immigration during a very similar period of time:
“Restricted immigration is not an offensive but purely a defensive action. It is not adopted in criticism of others in the slightest degree, but solely for the purpose of protecting ourselves. We cast no aspersions on any race or creed, but we must remember that every object of our institutions of society and government will fail unless America be kept American.
Accepting the Republican Presidential Nomination
August 14, 1924
The Mind of the President p. 216-217
“We are all agreed, whether we be Americans of the first or of the seventh generation on this soil, that is not desirable to receive more immigrants than can reasonably be assured of bettering their condition by coming here. For the sake both of those who would come and more especially of those already here, it has been thought wise to avoid the danger of increasing our numbers too fast. It is not a reflection on any race or creed. We might not be able to support them if their numbers were too great. In such event, the first sufferers would be the most recent immigrants, unaccustomed to our life and language and industrial methods. We want to keep wages and living conditions good for everyone who is now here or who may come here.
“As a nation, our first duty must be those who are already our inhabitants, whether native or immigrants.”
To Immigrants, October 16, 1924
The Mind of the President p. 222
“We ought to have no prejudice against an alien because he is an alien. The standard which we apply to our inhabitants is that of manhood, not place of birth. Restrictive immigration is to a large degree for economic purposes. It is applied in order that we may not have a larger annual increment of good people within our borders that we can weave into our economic fabric in such a way as to supply their needs without undue injury to ourselves.”
Messages and Papers of the Presidents- p. 9526
“Those who do not want to be partakers of the American spirit out not to settle in America.”
Adequate Brevity p. 50
“We have certain standards of life that we believe are best for us. We do not ask other nations to discard theirs, but we do wish to preserve ours. Standards, government and culture under our free institutions are not so much a matter of constitutions and laws as of public opinion, ways of thought and methods of life of the people. We reflect on no one in wanting immigrants who will be assimilated into our ways of thinking and living. Believing we can best serve the world in that way, we restrict immigration.”
Calvin Coolidge Says December 13, 1930