Asylum for Mankind: America, 1607-1800

Asylum for Mankind: America, 1607-1800

Asylum for Mankind: America, 1607-1800

Asylum for Mankind: America, 1607-1800


Ever since the Age of Discovery, Europeans have viewed the New World as a haven for the victims of religious persecution and a dumping ground for social liabilities. Marilyn C. Baseler shows how the New World's role as a refuge for the victims of political, as well as religious and economic, oppression gradually devolved on the thirteen colonies that became the United States. She traces immigration patterns and policies to show how the new American Republic became an "asylum for mankind".

Baseler explains how British and colonial officials and landowners lured settlers from rival nations with promises of religious toleration, economic opportunity, and the "rights of Englishmen", and identifies the liberties, disabilities, and benefits experienced by different immigrant groups. She also explains how the exploitation of slaves, who immigrated from Africa in chains, subsidized the living standards of Europeans who came by choice.

American revolutionaries enthusiastically assumed the responsibility for serving as an asylum for the victims of political oppression, according to Baseler, but soon saw the need for a probationary period before granting citizenship to immigrants unexperienced in exercising and safeguarding republican liberty. Revolutionary Americans also tried to discourage the immigration of those who might jeopardize the nation's republican future. Her work defines the historical context for current attempts by municipal, state, and federal governments to abridge the rights of aliens.


My interest in American immigration began in my first year of graduate school while searching for a paper topic for Bernard Bailyn's seminar in early American history. After unsuccessfully lobbying for a study of poor relief in revolutionary America, I accepted Professor Bailyn's recommendation that I examine, instead, the impact of the American Revolution on immigration. Professor Bailyn was absolutely correct in arguing that this project would lead me into fertile and untilled soil, but he was overly optimistic in claiming that post- Revolutionary immigration was a more "manageable" topic than poor relief--in terms of producing a seminar paper in the nine weeks that remained of our thirteen-week semester. That semester was long enough, however, to reveal many unanswered, and often unasked, questions about America's immigrants--their numbers and experiences in the early republic and the ways in which these newcomers helped define not only the American people but also the nation itself. That semester was also long enough for me to catch a glimpse of a well-hidden, but incredibly rich, treasure trove of information about the American republic's first immigrant generation: naturalization records stored in the dusty attics and basements of courthouses scattered across the eastern states. As I uncovered more and more information on America's republican immigrants, I found that each country and city had its own distinctive migration pattern, ethnic profile, and immigrant experiences. It was soon obvious that more than one book was needed to do justice to the stories that were waiting to be told.

"Asylum for Mankind" analyzes the promise of America that attracted so many voluntary immigrants both before and after the American Revolution and the disabilities and opportunity they experienced; it also examines that extent to which Africans arriving in chains subsidized the improved living standards of European immigrants. in focusing on the migration patterns, immigrant policies, and naturalization procedures that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this book provides the context necessary for understanding the . . .

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