Timothy Snyder is the Levin professor of history at Yale University. He is the author, most recently, of The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.
Historically, immigrants were given special rights to take Native land. If Trump says we are no longer a nation of immigrants, that has consequences
Sat 28 Apr 2018 06.00 EDT Last modified on Sat 28 Apr 2018 13.20 EDT
‘The American claim to American land is that Indians had a homeland but no dominion over it, since sovereignty automatically shifted to immigrants.’
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has altered its mission statement, removing the characterization of America as a “nation of immigrants” in order to emphasize the new goal of “securing the homeland”. … Yet the problem with the change in language lies deeper. According to our own legal tradition, Americans claim sovereignty over the territory of the US as immigrants, precisely because the territories in question were someone else’s homeland: the Native Americans’.
Really? Why was I never informed of this?
Since our country exists, we don’t ask ourselves how or why. The legal foundation of the federal claim to dominion over territory is something called the Doctrine of Discovery, a notion that goes back five centuries.
So, immigrants = discoverers?
In American law, to have a homeland established no sovereignty over territory; only immigration created such authority. According to [John] Marshall, English charters and claims had established an “absolute and complete” title to the land of North America, which then “passed to the United States” in 1776. The judicial magic of creating sovereignty and property is performed on behalf of immigrants and only on behalf of immigrants.
… When Marshall writes that “conquest gives a title that the courts of the conqueror cannot deny”, it is easy to wonder whether anything more is being claimed in his rulings than that might makes right.
So, immigrants = conquerors?
That’s not really all that reassuring.
… If the federal government no longer defines the America as a “nation of immigrants”, it abandons, by its own logic, the claim to sovereignty over the land.
Uh … no.
Marshall admitted that territorial control by immigration, the “pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited territory into conquest” might appear “extravagant”.
But not as extravagantly contrived as Prof. Snyder’s transparent ploy of redefining discovery, conquest, and settlement as “immigration.”
Moreover, is it really prudent to encourage immigrants to think of themselves as conquerors? Aren’t they acting enough like it already in Rotherham and Telford.
I thought immigrants were supposed to be humble, grateful huddled masses, but now I’m being told that they are really conquerors. Is that supposed to reassure me, Professor Snyder?