Benjamin Franklin’s Instructions to Future Immigrants

Gary DeMar | November 24, 2014

( – The majority of people opposed to Obama’s immigration policies are not opposed to immigration in general but to what America has become in particular. The great waves of immigration that built America happened when the government of the United States was relatively small and non-intrusive. There was no Federal Department of Education, no Great Society, no food stamps, no Medicare, no Social Security, little tax-payer funding of college education (if any), no national healthcare, and no burdening income tax that affected the middle class.

The federal income tax amendment was not passed until 1913 and affected only a very small segment of society. There was no wealth redistribution like we see today. Those who voted for the 16th Amendment believed that only the rich would be taxed. How wrong they were. 

Those immigrating to the United States 100 years ago and before could not rely upon the largess of the national government or even state governments to take care of them financially. 

In 1782, Benjamin Franklin wrote a pamphlet called “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America.” Many Europeans wanting to immigrate to America had some unrealistic beliefs about what it would be like, and Franklin set them straight. He mentions the 36th Article of the Constitution of Pennsylvania in which people who desire to reside in the state shouldn’t have any illusions of what to expect.

“[E]very Freeman, to preserve his Independence, (if he has not a sufficient Estate) ought to have some Profession, Calling, Trade, or Farm, whereby he may honestly subsist.” 

Those wanting to reside in Pennsylvania were discouraged from trying to obtain a profitable living by seeking some political position. “Wherefore, whenever an Office, thro’ Increase of Fees or otherwise, becomes so profitable, as to occasion many to apply for it, the Profits ought to be lessened by the Legislature. . . . These Ideas prevailing more or less in all the United States, it cannot be worth any Man’s while, who has a means of Living at home, to expatriate himself, in hopes of obtaining a profitable civil Office in America.”

What a novel idea. Lower the pay for civil officials so they won’t get comfortable in their political positions and use them to enrich themselves. In addition, eliminate the pension system.

A “Stranger,” as Benjamin Franklin called an early immigrant, would be welcomed, not because of “What he is,” but in terms of “What can he do.”

“If he has any useful Art, he is welcome; and if he exercises it, and behaves well, he will be respected by all that know him; but a mere Man of Quality, who, on that Account, wants to live upon the Public, by some Office or Salary, will be despised and disregarded. The Husbandman is in honor there, and even the Mechanic, because their Employments are useful.”

Another factor that is missing today is an operating worldview based on certain religious precepts that were generally agreed on by most Americans. 

Franklin pointed out, “Hence, bad examples to youth are more rare in America, which must be comfortable consideration to parents. To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practiced.” The pillars of religion are being attacked in every area of our Republic and we wonder why there a moral coarseness prevails in so many areas of life. Just the mention of religion sends liberals into a fit of rage.

Franklin was a believer in the moral effects of religion even though he dismissed the theological wrangling that often took place among the various sects, equivalent to our denominations.

“Atheism is unknown there; infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel. . . . And the Divine Being seems to have manifested his approbation [approval] of the mutual forbearance and kindness with which the different sects treat each other; by the remarkable prosperity with which he has been pleased to favor the whole country.”

In effect, religion had a positive impact on Americans even if not all Americans lined up with some particular religious group.

In fact, without the positive benefits of a Christian worldview, even with all the faults manifested by individual Christians, America would not be the desired after haven it was for more than 200 years.

Noah Webster, best known for his work on the American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), wrote the following in the Preface:

“In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed… No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Earlier, in 1814, Webster wrote:

“Knowledge, learning, talents are not necessarily connected with sound moral and political principles.… And eminent abilities, accompanied with depravity of heart, render the possessor tenfold more dangerous in a community.” 

In his book on the History of the United States (1832), he wrote:

“The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free Constitutions of Government.…”

The development of the welfare state and the rejection of a unified covenant with God and the attendant moral worldview that goes with it has changed what America has become.