Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The quote above is written on the Statue of Liberty. Most Americans in my generation, 50 and older, are very familiar with the portion of the quote that says, “Give me your tired, your huddled masses…” I was not familiar with these parts of the quote: “Mother of Exiles,” world-wide welcome,” or “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The words on this iconic symbol of American liberty and freedom have always been a cornerstone to America’s greatness since its birth as a nation. The Statue of Liberty and the words engraved on her are the embodiment of the hope around the world that is America.
The quotes below are from one of the most visionary of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin:
MANIFEST DESTINY, Of America. Providence seems by every means intent on making us a great people. May our virtues public and private grow with us, and be durable, that liberty, civil and religious, may be secured to our posterity, and to all from every part of the Old World that take refuge among us.
MANIFEST DESTINY, American Freedom Part of God’s Plan. It is with great sincerity I join you in acknowledging of Providence in our favor. America has only to be thankful, and to persevere. God will finish his work and establish their freedom; and lovers of liberty will flock from all parts of Europe with their fortunes to appreciate with us of that freedom, as soon as peace is restored.
AMERICA, Land of Opportunity. Persons of moderate fortunes and capitals who, having a number of children to provide for, are desirous of bringing them up to industry, and to secure estates for their posterity, have opportunities of doing it America which Europe does not afford.
AMERICA, Room for Many Artisans. Artisans generally live better and more easily in America than in Europe; and such as are good economists make a comfortable provision for age, and for their children. Such may, therefore remove with advantage to America.
Franklin envisioned the greatness of America and acknowledged that the source of her greatness was the providence of God and indeed part of God’s plan. He saw the great impact that our values could have on the world. He saw the great promise of prosperity, even generational wealth for immigrants to America.
The problem is that Franklin only envisioned the promises of the “New World” being obtained by the inhabitants of the “Old World,” Europe. I have poured over Franklin’s writings, and nowhere can I find any evidence that his vision of a great America included anyone other than Europeans.
In my research, I have learned that Franklin opposed being cruel to the indigenous people of America, the Indians. He sought to deal with them in fairness versus deception and cruelty.
INDIANS, Discord Often the Fault of Whites. During the course of a long life in which I have made observations on public affairs, it has appeared to me that almost every war between the Indians and whites has been occasioned by some injustice of the latter toward the former. It is indeed extremely imprudent in us to quarrel with them for their lands, as they are generally willing to sell, and sell such good bargains; and war with them is so mischievous to us, in unsettling frequently a great part of our frontier and reducing the inhabitants to poverty and distress, and is besides so expensive, that is much cheaper, as well as more honest, to buy their lands than to take them by force.
INDIANS, Friendly Indians Massacred by Renegade Whites. In December, we had two insurrections of the back inhabitants of our province, by whom twenty poor Indians were murdered that had, from the first settlement of the province, lived among us, under the protection of our government. This gave me a good deal of employment; for, as the rioters threatened farther mischief, and their actions seemed to be approved by an increasing party, I wrote a pamphlet entitled “A Narrative, etc. “(which I think I sent to you) to strengthen the hand of our weak government, by rendering the proceedings of the rioters unpopular and odious. This had good effect; and afterwards, when a great body of them with arms marched towards the capital, in defiance of the government, with an avowed resolution to put to death 140 Indian converts then under its protection, I formed an association at the Governor’s request for his and their defense…
Despite his efforts to treat them fairly he, as best as I can tell from his writings on the Indians, Benjamin Franklin never saw them as partakers of his great vision of America. He saw them as part of a separate existence in a vast America that would allow them to lead their way of life apart from the life he envisioned for Europeans. He said in one letter that “every attempt to civilize our American Indians” had met with “little success.”
In the same letter, he bemoans the fact that the Indians didn’t desire to assimilate into the culture of the colonists:
“They… see the advantages that arts, sciences, and compact societies procure us. They are not deficient in understanding; and yet they have never shown any inclination to change their manner of life for ours or to learn any of our arts. When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language, and habituated to our customs, yet, if he goes to see his relatives, and makes one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.
Perhaps it was because he didn’t see the possibility of the two cultures ever coexisting on the same land that he had a separate vision of America for the Indians. I found it ironic and humorous that even though Franklin considered British-American culture far superior to Indian culture, that he observed that “whites,” who were forcibly exposed to Indian culture, preferred it to their own:
And that this is not natural to them as Indians, but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons, of either sex, have been taken prisoners by the Indians, and lived awhile with them, though ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and the pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first opportunity of escaping into the woods, from whence there is no redeeming them.
Franklin’s vision appeared to be an America that was so vast that the Indians could continue to move elsewhere as they sold their lands to accommodate a growing number of European immigrants. It was a vision of an America in which European immigrants could become landowners and procure posterity for themselves and their children. In this vision, the Indians would always be happy to sell their lands cheaply, uproot, and live elsewhere. It sounds simplistic and even cynical, but this was the view of one of our Founding Fathers, and history would show was a view held by America’s leaders for generations to come.
As we look at the Founding Father’s vision for America, we have to ask, was that God’s vision for America? Did God intend for America to be a great country of Europeans? Franklin mentioned in one of his quotes that there was an attempt to massacre 140 “converted” Indians. Was there no room in the vision of a great America even for “converted” Indians? Was there any room in Franklin’s or the Founding Fathers’ vision for Indians and other non-European immigrants to become landowners and pass on posterity to their children?
Franklin’s vision was not the great American “melting pot.” Indeed, he had a moderate degree of difficulty in accepting the immigration of other non-British immigrants. He expressed the same type of sentiments towards German and Irish immigrants that we hear expressed toward Mexican and other non-European immigrants today.
GERMANS, Early Immigrants to Pennsylvania. As few English understand the German language, and so cannot address them either from the press or the pulpit, it is almost impossible to remove any prejudices they may entertain… Few of their children in the country learn English… The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages, and in some places only German. They begin of late to make all their bonds and legal instruments in their own language, which (though I think it ought not be) are allowed in our good courts… In short, unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not, in my opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious… Yet I am not entirely for refusing to admit them into our colonies. All that seems to me necessary is to distribute them more equally, mix them with the English, establish English schools where they are now too thickly settled… I say I am not against the Germans in general, for they have their virtues. Their industry and frugality are exemplary. (1753)
IRISH, Political Influence Through Mass Migration. It is a fact that the Irish emigrants and their children are now in possession of the government in Pennsylvania, by their majority in the Assembly as well as a of a great part of the territory; and I remember well the first ship that brought many of them over.
Their children aren’t learning our language. The signs in their neighborhoods aren’t in English. Soon they might outnumber us and take over our government. I’m not saying we should refuse to let any of them into the country; we just need to spread them out among other English-speaking neighborhoods. I’m not against them in general; they have their virtues. They are hard workers!
These are the words of Benjamin Franklin about the Irish and the Germans! The fear of losing “what’s ours” has existed since the very beginning of our nation. This fear drives us often to villainize others and results in division, discord, and racism. It was not God’s vision of America that its vast wealth and resources be limited to a few nor that the virtues that its Founders sought to achieve be only spread to a few.
To his credit, Franklin did come to a broader view that sounds more in line with “bring me your poor, your tired, homeless,” etc.:
IRELAND, Poverty in. Ireland is itself a poor country;… the appearances of general extreme poverty among the lower people are amazing. The live in wretched hovels of mud and straw, are clothed in rags, and subsist chiefly on potatoes…
IRISH, Desire to Migrate to America. I received some time since a letter from a person at Belfast, informing me that a great number of people in those parts were desirous of going to America, if passports could be obtained for them and their effects, and referring me to you for further information…
IRISH, Deprived of Rights by English. I admire the spirit with which I see the Irish are at length determined to claim some share of that freedom of commerce which is the right of all mankind, but which they have so long been deprived by the abominable selfishness of their fellow subjects. To enjoy all the advantages of the climate, soil and situation in which God and nature have placed us is as clear a right as that of breathing, and can never be justly taken from men but as a punishment for some atrocious crime. The English have long seemed to think it a right which none could have but themselves. Their injustice has already cost them dear, and, if persisted in will be their ruin.
Franklin saw the impoverished people of Ireland and declared that it was the right of these impoverished people, indeed “the right of all mankind” to “enjoy all the advantages of the climate, soil and situation” that God had provided in America. He further considered the English abominably “selfish” for thinking living in America “was a right which none could have but themselves.” I believe this view is more along the lines of what God originally planned for America. I believe this vision more closely aligns with Scripture:
LUKE 12:48 (NKJV) … For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 (KJV) Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
James 1:27 (NKJV) Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
I believe God’s vision for a great America is closer to what Franklin expressed in the quote below. In this quote, Franklin talks about an America that is altruistic and aware that in every nation we all are human beings and are interconnected and bound to mutually assist each other for the good of all.
NEW ZEALAND, Proposed Voyage to Colonize. Many voyages have been undertaken with views of profit or plunder, or to gratify resentment; to procure some advantage to ourselves, or do some mischief to others. But a voyage is now proposed, to visit a distant people on the other side [of] the globe; not to cheat them, not to rob them, not to seize their lands, or to enslave their persons; but merely to do them good, and make them, as far as in our power lies, to live as comfortably as ourselves. It seems a laudable wish, that all the nations of the earth were connected by a knowledge of each other, and a mutual exchange of benefits… We may therefore hope, in the undertaking, to be of some service to our country as well as to those poor people who, however distant from us, and whose interests do, in some degree, concern everyone who can say, Homo sum, etc.
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