Title: "On the Admission of Foreigners into Office in the United States," Speech of James K. Polk for the Dialectic Society, August 30, 1817: Electronic Edition.
Author: Polk, James Knox, 1795-1849
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann and Leslie Frost
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Sarah Ficke
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 22K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-03-15, Sarah Ficke finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "On the Admission of Foreigners into Office in the United States," Speech of James K. Polk for the Dialectic Society, August 30, 1817
Author: James Knox Polk
Description: 7 pages, 8 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Politics and Government/Government and Governing Bodies
Politics and Government/Political Issues
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Editorial practices
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Document Summary

Polk's speech asserts that permitting foreigners to hold public office will lead to factions and will adulterate republican government with unhealthy influences; it also is unnecessary, given the talents of the statesmen America has already produced.
"On the Admission of Foreigners into Office in the United States," Speech of James K. Polk for the Dialectic Society, August 30, 18171
Polk, James Knox, 1795-1849

Page 1
When in the course of human events2 the wheels of fortune directed by a superintending providence shall have cast us among strangers, our situation is peculiarly disagreeable until acquaintances are formed and friendships contracted which will serve to cheer and support us in the many vicissitudes of life. The unfortunate exile who is driven from the bosom of his country and compelled to seek a refuge in the recesses of a foreign land has many difficulties to encounter, many prejudices to curb and often to complete the bitter draught with the last ingredient of misery, to take up his residence where the withering hand of despotism has assumed its diabolical sway. But we are happy in saying for our country that not only the exile but the persecuted and oppressed of every clime can find in it an asylum of peace, liberty and protection. It is however to be feared that the American government in its unbounded liberality, not only to the unfortunate but to foreigners in every situation will endanger its long continuance in its present happy form. Although I commend the lenity of our government towards strangers who may have been wafted to our shore by the wind of adversity, and even to those who have come voluntarily, yet that the benevolent arms of our country should be intended for the indiscriminate admission of foreigners into her council and offices of distinction and trust cannot be

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reconciled to the maxim which tells us that self-preservation is the first law of nature. Long experience has shown that emigrants from a foreign soil, are apt to carry implanted in their bosoms the principles of that government from whose fostering hands they have been accustomed from their infancy to recieve protection. Perhaps born and nurtured in a monarchy and taught from their earliest understanding to revere that form of government as preferable to any other, they disseminate these early imbibed principles when they become citizens under another form of government. The pangs of discord are ushered in to sever the union of a people who are perhaps enjoying the sweets of social life unadulterated by factious demagogues or aspiring minds that would sacrifice the good of the community for their own private emolument or individual aggrandizement. Foreign influence is not however so much to be dreaded in any country so long as it is confined to the humble walks of private life. But in a popular government like ours, where the avenues to every department save the chief magistracy are accessible to all, so soon as it can insinuate itself into the favor of a credulous populace and assume a voice in our national council, party is established and faction is founded, yes faction that destroytroyer [of] social happiness and good order in society, that monster that has sunk nations in the vortex of destruction. Faction I say will be founded, because the views of the native born American as regards the science of government

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are essentially different from the ideas of those who have been accustomed to cringe to the despots of Europe, who hold to the principle of passive obedience and nonresistence to created superiors. Among numerous examples of native and deep rooted prejudices, we might mention the name of Alexander Hamilton a man naturally and scientifically great, but unfortunately cut off from existence just as the bud of life had begun to expand into a flower whose comeliness no doubt would have stood conspicuous amidst those around it. But from the early principles of his youth imbibed in a foreign government, he was a friend to aristocracy. Had he succeeded in his views in the formation of our much admired constitution, it would have been a paralizing stroke to the genius of our country. It would have been taking from the community a great portion of that sovereign power which they should always exercise. Liberty that was purchased at the inestimable price of blood would have sickened at the scene and left us to abandon the glorious prize we had won, with the poor, the pitiless consolation that masters were changed but situations the same. If foreigners be indiscriminately eligible to a seat in our council, we have reason to fear that the holy sanctuary of religion will be polluted by incorporating an inclusive creed among the institutions of government, that the part of our excellent constitution which guards against the establishment of a national

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religion will be perverted and certain tenets introduced which all must support though in direct opposition to the dictates of conscience. Notwithstanding all the formalities of naturalization, it must be remembered that natural allegiance is a debt of gratitude which every individual owes to the country of his birth, that cannot be forfeited, cancelled or altered by any change of time, place or circumstance. There is something so endearing in that spot in which we first had existence that none but it can please. Its manners, customs, the institutions of its protecting government, and every thing that appertains to it, we view with prejudice and partiality, and are ever disposed to render it the most essential services in our power even at the expense of justice. Had French influence been in the national council of our infant republic, when that people solicited the United States to sympathize with them in their struggle for liberty and to cross the line of a neutral nation, we might have been involved in an unnecessary and destructive war, and thus wrought out for ourselves the manacles of oppression more binding than those from which we had recently freed ourselves. But the purity of our government was fortunately influenced by no attachment foreign from the American soil. Though willing to acknowledge the tribute of gratitude due to the French for their kind though interested assistance in our struggle to shake off the shackles of colonial vassilage, it was our

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policy as a neutral nation, unwarped by party prejudice to avoid the involvements and calamities of war. Foreigners of almost every country on the globe are practically unacquainted with that equality which exists in republican governments, and are therefore unsuitable persons to participate in their administration. The soldier who would be victorious must exercise himself in his profession. So the statesman who would make wholesome laws for the government of a republic must study the caprices of the human heart and not how to devise means by which a pompous Nobility would be benefited and the great mass of the people harassed by the approach of the exciseman and the call of the Tithes. Is it not sufficient that this western hemisphere which claims a government after its own model different from the despotisms and monarchies of Europe should furnish a place of retreat to the dissatisfied and unfortunate without elevating them to supreme power? Shall the haughty potentate of Europe mantled in the ermine of injustice viewing the government which wisdom has erected in the wilds of America, be permitted by our torpid indifference to insert a wedge that shall sever our union? But inclusive of all other reasons which have been urged against foreign legislation, the pride of the United States which does not consist in a tedious enumeration of noble ancestors, but in the justice and unequalled equilibrium of their government should more than preponderate every other consideration. The literary character of this infant country has shown conspicuous among the nations of the earth.

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Shall it be said that America whose history is dignified by the names of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson & Marshall is under the necessity of having foreign council in the administration of her government? No! That noble pride which when not suffered to degenerate into arrogance and vanity is the germ of the greatest elevation of mind revolts at the idea. America has produced a Ramsay , the Tacitus of the western hemisphere to transmit to posterity in the unpolished language of truth, the spirit of liberty which actuated the first founders of our republic. She has produced statesmen that could govern a free people in peace and war without oppression. She has furnished men drawn as if by some magic impulse from the recesses of the western forest that could abash the veterans of Wellington .3 She has also furnished the men that could direct our little bark triumphant on the element of European despotism and teach the pirates of the ocean that a magnanimous people will not be insulted. Can it then be said with any colour of truth that a people powerful as this in all the branches of intellectual energy and political policy shall through necessity receive foreign aid and yield submission to transatlantic principles? Facts contradict such an assertion. And it is to be hoped that the virtuous American viewing the indiscriminate generosity of his government will ever inspect the conduct of the public servant with a scrutinizing eye, for this is the only means by which he can secure to himself that inestimable boon, that glorious inheritance bequeathed by the exertions of his forefathers and sealed by the blood of

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independence. So long as virtue is the prominent feature of American jurisprudence, the Eagle of liberty will have full scope for his wings. If our republic like unsuspecting innorence has opened the portals of humanity and rendered itself vulnerable to the poisoned darts of a vicious world, it is a more lovely trait in its character than all the splendid equip[p]age of a tyrant's throne or the boasted energy of European legislation. But the poison is not without an antidote. Let the virtuous and patriotic people of this fair portion of the globe [be ware of] of committing their sacred rights to factious disorganizing that would turn the current of disaffection into the stream of self-interest, or to ambition's withering touch that would rear for itself a monument of foreign structure upon the ruins of liberty.

James K Polk

August 30th 1817

7 verso page


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. The autograph manuscript of seven sheets shows two dates. Polk finished his composition on the recto of the seventh sheet, signed his name, and wrote the date "August 30th 1817." The verso of the seventh sheet contains the following note in Polk's hand: "James K Polk /Composition/On/The Admission of/Foreigners into/Office in the/ United States /Oct 1st 1817." Dialectic Society minutes for October 1, 1817, record that "On motion of Jno McNeill Jas K. Polk's speech was ordered to be filed, as also Robert H. Morrison's composition" (Vol. 5, UA). The Dialectic Society Addresses hold two other essays by Polk , an undated "Composition on the Powers of Invention" and an address on "Eloquence," dated May 20, 1818, and delivered when Polk became president of the Society.

2. Polk quotes the beginning of the Declaration of Independence (1776).

3. Polk probably is referring to the Battle of New Orleans, fought during late December 1814 and early January 1815. On New Year's Day, the British army received 1,600 replacement troops from Wellington's army. The decisive battle for the city was fought on January 8, with the British sustaining significantly heavier casualties than the Americans (Mahon 364).