“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
In December 1773, King George III (reigned 1760-1820) suspended the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740. His intent was to strike at the heart of the economic engine fueling economic independence among the American colonies. His other goal was to extinguish momentum for independent thought and religious expression. These actions formed the basis for this grievance in the Declaration of Independence.
George II (reigned 1727-1760) was the last foreign-born King of England. He supported expansive and permissive immigration to the American Colonies. In his world view, expanding population among the colonies generated demand for British goods. Skilled immigrants would increase the productivity and profitability of colonial agriculture, bringing healthy returns among Royal Charter holders and their investors.
Just as important, the attraction of America as a land of opportunity and tolerance served as a “safety valve” for removing “free thinking” or “nonconformist” Protestants, and restive Scots and Irish, from the “home country” through legally approved immigration. Church of England supporters and Royalists were more than happy to be rid of them after nearly 200 years of strife.
England also benefited from helping oppressed minorities, such as the Huguenots (French Protestants), leave Europe. It allowed England to gain the “moral high ground” in the geopolitical power struggles of the time. Bringing Scandinavian and German peoples to America forged important alliances while enriching the economic and cultural mix of the Colonies.
On June 1, 1740, the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740 went into effect to streamline immigration and naturalization. It allowed any Protestant alien residing in any of their American colonies for seven years, without being absent from that colony for more than two months, to be deemed “his Majesty’s natural-born subjects of this Kingdom.” Over the course of several years, individual Colonies began to directly administer immigration and citizenship. Many colonies, led by Pennsylvania, expanded coverage to include Catholics and Jews.
Benjamin Franklin was an eloquent supporter of immigration:
“Strangers are welcome because there is room enough for them all, and therefore the old Inhabitants are not jealous of them; the Laws protect them sufficiently so that they have no need of the Patronage of great Men; and everyone will enjoy securely the Profits of his Industry…
These new settlers to America create a growing demand for our merchandise, to the greater employment of our manufacturers…
Multitudes of poor People from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany, have by this means in a few Years become wealthy Farmers. They create a continual demand for more Artisans of all the necessary and useful kinds, to supply those cultivators of the earth with houses, and with furniture & utensils of the grosser sorts which cannot so well be brought from Europe. Tolerably good Workmen in any of those mechanic arts, are sure to find employ, and to be well paid for their work, there being no restraints preventing strangers from exercising any art they understand, nor any permission necessary.”
These free-wheeling immigration and citizenship policies came to an abrupt end when George III became King.
The King’s Advisors raised concerns that non-English immigrants had little connection or loyalty to the “Mother Country” or its ruler. In this world view, the expanding and diversifying colonial population was creating an independent challenge to the economic and political power of England.
King George sent secret agents to America to assess the condition and “state-of-mind” of the colonists. “A large influx of liberty-loving German emigrants was observed, and the King was advised to discourage these immigrations.”
Based upon these reports and recommendations, George III began to delay and obstruct new migration from England and other parts of Europe. In his Royal Proclamation of 1763, he prevented settlement west of the Appalachians, hoping to limit further agricultural growth. This angered those wanting to settle in the west, and ignited opposition from those with significant investments in western real estate.
King George, and his Prime Minister, Lord North, took additional actions to end immigration, naturalization, and expansion of the Colonial economy. In December 1773, they forbid Colonial naturalization of aliens, under any conditions. A ban on royal land grants was finalized in February 1774.
England’s far reaching assault on colonial naturalization laws and suspending the “Plantation Act” was considered intolerable, and therefore, was included in the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.
Fourteen years later, the “Plantation Act of 1740″ would be the model for the “Naturalization Act of 1790,” the first immigration policy of the new nation.
Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.
Podcast by Maureen Quinn.
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