Page images
PDF
EPUB

citizen was equally disfranchised by the other, until the disability had ceased. The question was decided, therefore, and rightly so, upon large considerations of public policy; and the principal reasons that exercised a controlling influence upon the decision, and caused the refusal to establish any exception to the rule, afford an interesting proof of the national tone and spirit that were intended to be impressed upon the government at the beginning of its history.

It was quite possible, as all were ready to concede, that the time might arrive, when the qualification of so extended a period of citizenship as seven years might not be practically very important; since the people, after having been long accustomed to the duty of selecting their representatives, would not often be induced to confer their suffrages upon a foreigner recently admitted to the position of a citizen. The mischiefs, too, that might be apprehended from such appointments would be far less, after the policy of the government had been settled and the fundamental legislation necessary to put the Constitution into activity had been accomplished. But the first Congress that might be assembled under the Constitution would have a work of great magnitude and importance to perform. Indeed, the character which the government was to assume would depend upon the legislation of the few first years of its existence. Its commercial regulations would then be mainly determined. The relations of the country with foreign nations, its position towards Europe, its rights and duties of neutrality, its power

to maintain a policy of its own, would all then be ascertained and settled. Nothing, therefore, could be more important, than to prevent persons having foreign attachments from insinuating themselves into the public councils; and with this great leading object in view, the Convention refused, though by a mere majority only of the States, to exempt from the rule those foreigners who had been made citizens under the naturalization laws of the States.1

Thus it appears that the Constitution of the United States discloses certain distinct purposes with reference to the participation of foreigners in the political concerns of the country. In the first place, it was clearly intended that there should be no real discouragement to immigration. The position and history of the country from its first settlement, its present and prospective need of labor and capital, its territorial extent, and the nature of its free institutions, were all inconsistent with any policy that would prevent the redundant population of Europe from finding in it an asylum. Accordingly, the emigrant from foreign lands was placed under no perpetual disqualifications. The power of naturalization that was conferred upon the general gov

1 The members who advocated the exemption were G. Morris, Mercer, Gorham, Madison, and Wilson; those who opposed it were Rutledge, Sherman, General Pinckney, Mason, and Baldwin. The States voting for it were Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylva

VOL. II.

27

nia, Maryland, Virginia, 5; the States voting against it were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, 6. The question elicited a good deal of feeling, and was debated with some warmth.

ernment, and the accompanying circumstances attending its transfer by the States, show an intention that some provision should be made for the admission of emigrants to the privileges of citizenship, and that in this respect the inducements to a particular residence should be precisely equal throughout the whole of the States. The power was not to remain dormant, under ordinary circumstances, although there might undoubtedly be occasions when its exercise should be suspended. The intention was, that the legislature of the United States should always exercise its discretion on the subject; but the existence of the power, and the reasons for which it was conferred, made it the duty of the legislature to exercise that discretion according to the wants of the country and the requirements of public policy.

In the second place, it is equally clear that the founders of the government intended that there should be a real, as well as formal, renunciation of allegiance to the former sovereign of the emigrant, - a real adoption, in principle and feeling, of the new country to which he had transferred himself, an actual amalgamation of his interests and affections with the interests and affections of the native population, before he should have the power of acting on public affairs. This is manifest, from the discretionary authority given to Congress to vary the rule of naturalization from time to time as circumstances might require, - an authority that places the States under the necessity of restricting their

[ocr errors]

right of suffrage to citizens, if they would avoid the evils to themselves of an indiscriminate exercise of that right by all who might choose to claim it. The period of citizenship, too, that was required as a qualification for a seat in the popular branch of the government, and which was extended to nine years for the office of senator, was placed out of the discretionary power of change by the legislature, in order that an additional term, beyond that required for the general rights of citizenship, might for ever operate to exclude the dangers of foreign predilections and an insufficient knowledge of the duties of the station.

No one who candidly studies the institutions of America, and considers what it was necessary for the founders of our government to foresee and provide for, can hesitate to recognize the wisdom and the necessity of these provisions. A country of vast extent opened to a boundless immigration, which nature invited and which man could scarcely repel, a country, too, which must be governed by popular suffrage, — could not permit its legislative halls to be invaded by foreign influence. The independence of the country would have been a vain and useless achievement, if it had not been followed by the practical establishment of the right of self-government by the native population; and that right could be secured for their posterity only by requiring that foreigners, who claimed to be regarded as a part of the people of the country, should be first amalgamated in spirit and interest with the mass of the nation.

No other changes were made in the proposed qualifications for the representatives, excepting to require that the person elected should be an inhabitant of the State for which he might be chosen, at the time of election, instead of being a resident. This change of phraseology was adopted to avoid ambiguity; the object of the provision being simply to make the representation of the State a real one.

The Convention, as we have seen, had settled the rule for computing the number of inhabitants of a State, for the purposes of representation, and had made it the same with that for apportioning direct taxes among the States.1 The committee of detail provided that there should be one representative for every forty thousand inhabitants, when Congress should find it necessary to make a new apportionment of representatives; a ratio that had not been previously sanctioned by a direct vote of the Convention, but which had been recommended by the committee of compromise, at the time when the nature of the representation in both houses was adjusted. This ratio was now adopted in the article relating to the House of Representatives; but not before an effort was made to exclude the slaves from the enumeration.3 The renewed discussion of this exciting topic probably withdrew the attention of members from the consideration of the numbers of the representatives, and nothing more was done, at the time we are now examining, than to make a

1 Ante, Chap. VII.

2 See ante, Chap. VIII.

3 See post, as to the compromise on this subject.

« EelmineJätka »