Unfit for the Constitution: Nativism and the Constitution, From the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump

Jared A. Goldstein
Date of Publication: 
February, 2017
Source Organization: 

While many Americans take pride in the "creedal conception" of American citizenship, i.e. the idea that devotion to the principles of the Constitution is the "glue" that holds together the nation despite our diverse backgrounds, many others have insisted that such devotion is not shared by people from certain ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Indeed, some historians have questioned whether this idealized notion of American citizenship ever really held sway in the United States. In this essay, Jared Goldstein explores a number of episodes in American history that tend to support this interpretation, including the Know-Nothing Movement in the pre-Civil War years that tried to exclude Irish immigrants on the basis of their loyalty to the pope and supposed antipathy to self-government; the anti-Chinese movement of the late 19th century that claimed that Chinese immigrants were incapable of supporting constitutional principles; the immigration restriction movement of the early 20th century that singled out southern and eastern Europeans as people incapable of embracing individualistic "Nordic" values; and the contemporary movement to exclude Muslim immigrants and to restrict Latino migration on the assumption that these groups cannot be trusted to support the Constitution. "All of these movements invoked allegations of hostility to the Constitution as the touchstone for identifying dangerous foreigners... To say that some people are hostile to the Constitution is simply a code for saying that they are hostile to the United States, that they are un-American." 

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Goldstein, J.Unfit for the Constitution: Nativism and the Constitution, From the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump. Bristol: Roger Williams University School of Law. Available here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2923343