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

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”:

A Genuine Whig is for promoting a general Naturalization, upon the firm Belief, that whoever comes to be incorporated into us, feels his Share of all our Advantages and Disadvantages, and consequently can have no Interest but that of the Publick; to which he will always be a Support to the best of his Power, by his Person, Substance and Advice. And if it be a Truth (which few will make a Doubt of) that we are not one third Part peopled (though we are better so in Proportion than any other Part of Europe, Holland excepted) and that our Stock of Men decreases daily through our Wars, Plantations, and Sea-Voyages; that the ordinary Course of Propagation (even in Times of continued Peace and Health) could not in many Ages supply us with the Numbers we want; that the Security of Civil and Religious Liberty, and of Property, which through God’s great Mercy is firmly establish’d among us, 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. What should hinder us from an Act of General Naturalization? Especially when we consider, that no private Acts of that Kind are refused; but the Expence is so great, that few attempt to procure them, and the Benefit which the Publick receives thereby is inconsiderable.

Experience has shown us the Folly and Falsity of those plausible Insinuations, that such a Naturalization would take the Bread out of Englishmen’s Mouths. We are convinced, 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. The Consumption of the Produce both of Land and Industry increases visibly in Towns full of People; nay, the more shall every particular industrious Person thrive in such a Place; though indeed Drones and Idlers will not find their Account, who would fain support their own and their Families superfluous Expenses at their Neighbour’s Cost; who make one or two Day’s Labour provide for four Days Extravagancies. And this is the common Calamity of most of our Corporation Towns, whose Inhabitants do all they can to discourage Plenty, Industry and Population; and will not admit of Strangers but upon too hard Terms, through the false Notion, that they themselves, their Children and Apprentices, have the only Right to squander their Town’s Revenue, and to get, at their own Rates, all that is to be gotten within their Precincts, or in the Neighbourhood. And therefore such Towns (through the Mischief arising by Combinations and By-Laws) are at best at a Stand; very few in a thriving Condition (and those are where the By-Laws are least restrictive) but most throughout England fall to visible Decay, whilst new Villages not incorporated, or more liberal of their Privileges, grow up in their stead; till, in Process of Time, the first Sort will become almost as desolate as Old Sarum, and will as well deserve to lose their Right of sending Representatives to Parliament. For certainly a Waste or a Desert has no Right to be represented, nor by our original Constitution was ever intended to be: yet I would by no means have those Deputies lost to the Commons, but transferr’d to wiser, more industrious, and better peopled Places, worthy (through their Numbers and Wealth) of being represented.

About this Quotation:

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.

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