Immigration and National Security in George Washington’s Day

Hugh Mercer, a Scotsman who emigrated to the United States served under George Washington until he was killed at the Battle of Princeton / Wikimedia Commons

Presuming that immigration was a boon to national security, U.S. borders remained mostly open for the first century of the nation’s existence.

By Livia Gershon

To many Americans today, immigration looks like a safety risk. Some debates over the issue pit idealistic, humanitarian support for more open borders against devotion to national security. But back when the United States was a new country, the calculus seemed very different, as Robbie Totten writes.

In the seventeenth century, it seemed obvious to the leaders of Western countries that population was a key to a nation’s strength. As English nobleman John Holland argued in the 1660s, increasing immigration to England would “enlarge the honor and Glory of the King… enlarge the Trade of the Kingdom [and] weaken our increasing Neighbours that may possibly become the worst of our Eneymes.”