Generations of students have been taught that we are a nation of immigrants but inquiring minds beg to differ. Well, actually, they don’t beg.
“What we have never been is a nation of immigrants,” veteran journalist Ralph Kinney Bennett said last weekend at the regional meeting of the Philadelphia Society in Indianapolis. “We were put through the process, rough-edged though it may have been, to become Americans.”
“We did not suggest that they shed their heritage but make it part of a larger heritage.” Bennett retired as senior editor at the Washington bureau of Reader’s Digest in 2001.
William B. Allen, a professor emeritus at Michigan State University, said in remarks the previous evening at the conference that “There is a vague intuitive geographic U. S. identity that we are a nation of immigrants as if to imply that immigrants remain immigrants and never become Americans.”
“Our diversities do not constitute a national character.”
Christopher Burkett of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, said in a panel that preceded Bennett’s luncheon address, “Benjamin Franklin urged immigrants not to come to America if they had nothing to recommend them but their birth in Europe, that in the United States, people do not ask where you were born but what you can do.”
“You cannot be a Frenchman in the truest sense of the word without being born there but you can become an American,” Brandon McGinley of the Pennsylvania Family Institute pointed out in another panel. “Putting aside his communism, I think of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This land is your land,’ the idea that just by participating in America you become an American.”
Herman Belz, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, pointed out that “The idea of an American nation took root in the 19th century and was contested in the 19th century.”
“In the century following the Civil War, the idea of American nationalism flourished. From the 1960’s on we had racial identities and multiculturalism.”
“Before that, immigrants were accepted into America on those terms [of small r republican government] and assimilated.”
The Philadelphia Society is a group of conservative intellectuals that was formed in the wake of the Goldwater defeat in 1964.