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FOREIGN “PAUPERS” - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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July 22, 1837.
In the Board of Aldermen, on Monday evening, a report was adopted, in favour of concurring in the plan suggested by the Mayor of Boston, to address a memorial to Congress on the subject of the immigration of foreign paupers. Under this name, many of the whig gentry, with our Lottery Mayor1 at their head, seem to think every foreigner ought to be classed who has no money in his pocket. If to be without money is to be a pauper, not a few of our most lordly and aristocratick monopolists are in that category.
But while the newspapers in this quarter continue their efforts to excite popular prejudice against the poor emigrants who are seeking an asylum on our shores, and they are scoffed at as wretches undeserving of succour or sympathy, we observe that a very different tone is used by the journals in the interiour. The people of the fertile west are well aware of the benefits which they derive from the labour of the hardy and industrious poor of Europe. They do not therefore join with our Lottery Mayor in treating these men as miserable paupers, as the offscouring of prisons and poor-houses, and wretches stained with crimes, bloated with intemperance and disease, and altogether loathsome and disgusting. They speak of them as fellow-men, as equal denizens of the great patrimony of mankind, the earth, and invite them to their own luxuriant region, where their capacity to labour will be regarded as the best sort of capital, and the moderate exercise of it will earn them a comfortable support. It would be strange indeed, in a country where millions and tens of millions of acres lie unimproved for the want of agricultural labour, if the people of the west should join in the heartless scoffs with which the aristocracy of this city greet the poor emigrant as he lands upon our shores.
The people who are daily landing here are not paupers, if the capacity and disposition to labour may exempt a man from that appellation. They are, for the most part, the sons and daughters of useful toil. They are men and women of hardy frames, accustomed to earn their living by the sweat of their brows. They are a class of which, in truth, we stand much in need. We want men to till the earth, to break up the rich soil of our western prairies, to fell the forests which shut out the light of heaven from millions of acres that might easily be made to furnish support to additional millions of fellow beings. When we depend, for the very bread we eat, on the agriculture of foreign countries; when we annually import the commodities of other lands to the extent of fifty millions of dollars beyond the sum of our surplus products; when, in many parts of the country, the fields lie untilled, and the wheels of the manufactory stand idle, for want of the assistance of labour; when these things are so, how can it be said, with any show of justice, that the people who are flocking to our shores will be a burden on our hands?
The aristocratick party seem to entertain very vague notions of pauperism. They set down as paupers, in their vocabulary, all who have no property beyond the sound minds and sound bodies which nature gives. These men are not paupers, and if they become so, it is the fault of our own laws. Let us not lay our sins, then, at their doors. We have perfect control over the matter. We are not obliged to open our poor-houses to those who are able to work; and, indeed, we believe it would be far better for the community, if we did not open them to any class of indigence or misfortune. The care of those really disqualified by nature or accident from taking care of themselves should be left to voluntary charity, not to that wretched system of compulsory charity which poor-laws enjoin. We are too reluctant, in this country, to trust the voluntary principle. We are for doing everything by law; and the consequence is that hardly anything is done well.
But with regard to these poor creatures who are flocking to our country as the boasted asylum of the oppressed of all the world, we ought to welcome them hither, not meet them with scowls, and raise a deafening clamour to excite unkindly prejudices against them, and drive them back from our inhospitable shores. For our part, we open our arms to them, and embrace them as brothers; for are they not a part of the great family of man? It is a violation of the plainest principles of morals, it is a sin against the most universal precepts of religion, to harden our hearts against these men, and seek to expel them from a land, which they have as much right to tread as we who assume such a lofty port. The earth is the heritage of man, and these are a portion of the heritors. We are not bound to support them; they must support themselves. If they are idle, let them starve; if they are vicious, let them be punished; but, in God’s name, as they bear God’s image, let us not turn them away from a portion of that earth, which was given by its maker to all mankind, with no natural marks to designate the limits beyond which they may not freely pass.
The glorious principles of democracy, which recognize the equal rights of all who bear the human form, forbid the intolerant spirit which is displaying itself to these friendless, homeless exiles. Democracy, which is the divine system of Christian morals applied to politicks, embraces, in its comprehensive creed of equal rights and equal duties, the whole family of man. It bids those who suffer from the oppressive governments of other countries, all hail! as they approach our shores, and welcomes them to a land, the institutions of which, founded on the true principles of human dignity, are intended to promote the greatest good of the greatest number, not the exclusive advantage of a few.
While a wretched spirit of aristocratick selfishness is endeavouring to excite the worst prejudices of the community against the houseless emigrants who are coming among us, it would be a fit employment for democratick philanthropy, on the other hand, to devise means for conveying these wanderers into the interiour of our vast country, where a soil, rich with the alluvious fertility of ages, invites them to labour, and would yield to industry a grateful return. These paupers would then soon relieve us from the degrading necessity of importing our bread from foreign lands; and we should find, in the reversed balance of our commercial account with other countries, that an influx of the hardy peasantry of Europe, to fill up our waste lands and cover them with harvests, is not a clog on our progress, but a new and vigorous spring in the great machinery of national wealth.
We have ourselves asked these men to our country with an emphasis of invitation which no rhetorical additions could have heightened. When we send our purveyors abroad, to gather up the harvests of other lands in order to supply our citizens with bread, we offer an inducement to foreign labour to come among us, to which no form of express invitation could give augmented force. With what propriety can we now tell them they are intruders where they are not needed, and seek to drive them away with ungracious and opprobrious taunts?
The Principles of Free Trade
[1 ]New York’s whig mayor, Aaron Clark, was formerly a lottery dealer. See “The Municipal Election,” in Leggett, Political Writings, vol. II, pp. 279–281. Clark was elected because the Loco Focos split the democratic vote.—Ed.