Saturday, June 09, 2007

Note for Posts I Can't Get Around To (Immigration and The Compromise of 1850)

I wrote about immigration previously.


My biggest problem with the immigration bill coming down the road is that we had a guest worker program in this country once -- it was called slavery.

There is nothing in the proposed bill, there is nothing in the proposals in the wind, that is worth going down the road to legalized second class non-citizenship.

The difference between a group of people living "like" slaves and people actually being legalized second class non-citizens is enormous and fundamental.


The analogue in American History that this is the most closely related to is the Compromise of 1850.

We fought a Mexican War. A war that Lincoln and many others at the time felt was imposed by the South on the North in order to expand the basis for a slave labor system.

We won the war (it is not a perfect analogy, but bear with me for a few more minutes), and took over all that land north and west of the Rio Grande.

Then as now, the government was at impasse for years over what to do about the inhabitants of the land.

The Compromise of 1850 emerged. In the Compromise, California was admitted as a free state, the borders of modern Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona (and, I think, Colorado) were established, and the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. The Fugitive Slave Act put teeth in the following provision from the original Constitution (the "originalist" "Intent of the Framers" Constitution)

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due

The Compromise was proposed by Henry Clay, and opposed by John Calhoun. On March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster, controversial Senator from Massachusetts made a speech supporting the Compromise, in all of its good parts and all of its abhorrent parts.

"I speak today," Webster said, "I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern Man, but as an American."

Controversial stuff back then. Apparently, this was a famous speech in its day. Still talked about in history books.

Didn't have the desired effect in its day, though.

A sizable percentage of the population felt that no matter how draconian the provision of the Constitution was, no matter the implication, the law was the law, and it had to be enforced at all costs.

Another portion of the population thought that strict enforcement was ridiculous. We would turn into a nation of bounty hunters, like it or not. We were no longer free to have our own opinion of slavery. We would be forced to help validate the opinions of the most extreme people regarding the use of farm workers.

The grandiose scheme at a Great Compromise, put together by the old lions of the prior generation, fell apart.

For a few weeks, it looked like there would be no solving of this critical issue of the day.

Talk of living in two separate countries dominated the political talk.

Then, a younger Senator, Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, picked up all the pieces of the Compromise of 1850, and one-by-one, the bills were passed, with each bill picking up a different number and different type of supporter.

Maybe a younger Senator, one that we are not even thinking too hard about, can put together a compromise immigration bill today.

If the immigration bill has a guest worker program, it will not be worth it.

The Compromise of 1850 had a Fugitive Slave Act. Historians are still debating, but most feel it was worth it.

It is worth noting that in 1850 there was already a legalized, two-tiered system of labor.

It would be this immigration bill that would create a two-tiered system of free and not-free labor. That, to me, is a difference that makes a difference.

Anyway, thanks in part to the Compromise of 1850, the catastrophe of seccession was averted for another 10 years, during which time the forces of Northern freedom accumulated more industrial strength, even while the forces of Southern slavery were successfully making hash out of notions of liberty, nation and constitution that were long ago considered settled (see, for example, Dred Scott). Some of these Southern notions, like the tortured logic of States Rights, are still being fought over today.


Pat Buchanan has been saying for a while now that the current immigration crisis is a by-product of the same Mexican War that lead to the Compromise of 1850 ... a chance for the losers of the war then to win the war now. Perhaps that is some of it.

Perhaps this immigration debate is a chance for people who like having a pool of slave labor, who can't get over their losses in the last century, to recover some of their power.


No matter how you dress the rhetoric, there always seems to be a side in favor of cheaper labor and a side in favor of freer people, whatever the cost.

And that no matter how you dress the rhetoric, there are always complicating factors. Politics makes strange bedfellows.


The Senator from Massachusetts then felt that keeping the union together was worth the price of enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Senator from Massachusetts now seems to feel that solving the problems of current illegal immigrants now is worth creating a future class of non-citizen workers, permanently lingering in the shadows.

I don't know what Ted Kennedy can possibly be thinking.


In any event, except for the random comment by Senator McCain, nobody is connecting the current immigration problem to the current war.

It's further proof, of course, that no one in a position of power, Democrat or Republican, takes the War in Iraq seriously enough.

You can't have a rational immigration compromise without taking into account the coming storm of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

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