Robert Molesworth on the benefits of open borders and free immigration (1705)

Robert Molesworth

The Irish Commonwealthman and “True Whig” Robert Molesworth (1650-1725) defended open borders and free immigration on the grounds that England was a beacon of religious liberty and private property and that all immigrants were “useful and profitable Hands”:

(T)he Security of Civil and Religious Liberty, and of Property, which through God’s great Mercy is firmly establish’d among us, (and) will invite new Comers as fast as we can entertain them; that most of the rest of the World groans under the Weight of Tyranny, which will cause all that have Substance, and a Sense of Honour and Liberty, to fly to Places of Shelter; which consequently would thoroughly people us with useful and profitable Hands in a few Years.

In 1705 Robert Molesworth wrote an influential pamphlet called “The Principles of a Real Whig” in which he listed the dozen or so main things a “true whig” or “Commonswealthman” believed in. Among these were the equal application of the laws (to both the rulers and the ruled), complete religious toleration, the holding of frequent (even annual) elections to Parliament, economic liberty and property rights, opposition to standing armies and support for local militias, and interestingly, open immigration and naturalisation of foreigners. He believed that after the settlement of 1688 England had become a beacon of religious and economic liberty to the rest of the world and that it should welcome any and all people who wished to enjoy these benefits so lacking in the rest of Europe. In fact, England should do more than that, it should “invite new Comers as fast as we can entertain them” because of the economic benefits. He countered the argument that foreigners would “take the Bread out of Englishmen’s Mouths” by arguing that “the greater Number of Workmen of one Trade there is in any Town, the more does that Town thrive; the greater will be the Demand of the Manufacture, and the Vent to foreign Parts, and the quicker Circulation of the Coin.” Molesworth concluded that the “more industrious, and better peopled Places” there were, the better for England.