In America your destiny isn’t given to you; it is constructed by you.
No one can move from some other country to Ireland and “become Irish,” any more than they can move to India and “become Indian.” To be Irish you need Irish ancestors and Irish blood. To be Indian you need brown skin and Indian parents. By contrast with Ireland, India, and other countries, America is defined not by blood or birth but by the adoption of the nation’s Constitution, its laws, and its shared way of life. That’s how the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews, and today the Koreans, the South Asians, and the West Indians, can all come to this country and in time “become American.”
The immigrant character of Americans—and the American founding—is the essential background against which we must assess the progressive and left-wing critique of the spirit of 1776. This is a critique that dubs the American Founders to be landed gentry, rich white men who owned slaves, and who set up a government for the protection of their ancestral and aristocratic privileges. Although this critique became mainstream in the 1960s—and is now widely taught in schools and colleges—it originated with the early twentieth-century work of historian Charles Beard. In his magnum opus, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, Beard argued that the Founders were wealthy landowners with interests in farming and manufacturing and that many of them owned slaves. From this he deduced that the Constitution was little more than a mechanism for these rich white folk to protect and extend their own privileges. Beard regarded it as highly significant that women, slaves, and indentured servants were not represented at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention.
Admittedly, out of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia, no less than thirty owned slaves. Even so, these were not landed aristocrats who sought to conserve and extend their own titles and privileges. The proof of that is simple: Where are those titles and privileges?
People would expect the descendants of the founder of the country to be basking in fame and wealth. This option was available to Washington, who could probably have become monarch if he had wanted to, and established a royal lineage. Instead he renounced the monarchy and opted for a system of government that would give members of the Washington family no special advantages.
In its revised conception, the progressive critique is an attack on the immigrants themselves. The charge of theft, previously pinned on putative aristocrats, is now launched against the immigrants and their progeny. The immigrants are faulted for being greedy and acquisitive and for establishing a society as greedy and acquisitive as themselves.
Capitalism, many progressives suggest, is a system of organized theft of what working people have produced; it is well-suited to the dog-eat-dog qualities that immigrants display. And it is totally in character for these immigrant capitalists to want to use America’s military power to subjugate and dominate the rest of the world.