In his time, Benjamin Franklin could be considered “the most interesting man in the world.” He was an author, printer, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, diplomat—and he had a way with the ladies.
You may not know he was also a bigot. At least he “played one on TV.” That is to say, tracts spouting his anti-immigration views were widely distributed. But his target may not be who you’d think. As a resident of Pennsylvania, he resented the largest group ever to emigrate to America—the Germans.
Yes, more Germans have moved to our shores than even the English or Irish. Estimates are that twenty percent of all Americans have German ancestors. In fact, Donald Trump’s family, originally named Drumpf, came from the village of Kallstadt.
So what kinds of things did Ben Franklin say about Trump’s ancestors?
- “Those who come hither [Germans] are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…” (Trump: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”)
- Ship owners “were sweeping the German Gaols to make up the number of their passengers.” (Trump: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”)
- “The German women are generally so disagreeable to an English Eye, that it wou’d require great Portions to induce Englishmen to marry them.” (Trump referring to Carly Fiorina: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”)
- “Few of their children in the Country learn English…They begin of late to make all their Bonds and other legal Writings in their own Language, which (though I think it ought not to be) are allowed good in our Courts.” (Trump: “Well, I think that when you get right down to it, we’re a nation that speaks English. I think that, while we’re in this nation, we should be speaking English.”)
- German migrants, “who will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexions.” (Trump: “African American youth is 58 percent unemployed.” This is false. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states the rate as 25.2 percent.)
NOTE: Franklin believed that only Saxons and the English could be considered white. All others he called ‘swarthy’.
- “French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also … why should we … darken its [America’s] People?” (Trump: “Well, I have to look at the group [KKK]. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look.”)
Summing up Benjamin Franklin’s thinking on German immigrants, he wrote, “In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, … they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.”
Over two hundred fifty years later, not only were Franklin’s remarks offensive, his fears never materialized. Similar predictions for future waves of immigrants to the United States, including the Irish, the Chinese, the Italians, and the Great Migration of African-Americans, proved no more valid.
Now Hispanics and Muslims face the same ignorant mudslinging that Donald Trump’s ancestors were subjected to. History tells us these slurs and predictions of doom are not only immoral, they are wrong.
Sources for Benjamin Franklin’s quotes: http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/02/ben-franklin-on.html http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-09-17/droves-german-migrants-arrived-pennsylvania-1750s-and-benjamin-franklin-went http://www.shmoop.com/early-american-immigration/benjamin-franklin.html https://journals.psu.edu/phj/article/viewFile/25467/25236 (most comprehensive source)
Sources for Donald Trump’s quotes: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-outrageous-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-latinos_us_55e483a1e4b0c818f618904b http://www.people.com/article/carly-fiorina-responds-donald-trump-beautiful-face http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/donald-trump-speak-english-spanish-820215 http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/trump-and-the-black-vote/ http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/why-wont-donald-trump-repudiate-the-ku-klux-klan/471345/