Anna Carroll: All in to Preserve the Union. . . But Was Questioned to the End

Rustic Fort Donelson on the Tennessee River as Anna Carroll would have seen it on an 1861 tour of Confederate fortifications prior to General Grant’s February 1862 attack.

During the Civil War, Anna Ella Carroll, began with friendly, persuasive letters to strengthen the resolve of Maryland’s Governor Thomas Holiday Hicks, a childhood friend, to keep his border state in the Union. She utilized her study of the law and experience in journalism to move the course of history.

Anna and her father, who preceded Hicks as governor, lobbied Hicks to call a Generally Assembly to determine Maryland’s future. On April 23, 1861, Maryland’s General Assembly voted 53-13 vote against the calling of a state convention to vote on secession. Though challenged by Southern forces without and within, Maryland remained in the Union for the duration of the war.

Yet as the Civil War began Hicks wrote to President Lincoln, “I feel it my duty most respectfully to advise you that no more (federal) troops will be ordered or allowed to pass through Maryland,” as he requested a truce with the South.

This at a time when Union troops were flowing from Maine down through Baltimore’s railway stations to protect the Capitol. Carroll prodded Hicks from her end and the President and his forces from the White House to maintain a link that kept Northern troops flowing South.

When Lincoln was elected President, Carroll freed her family’s remaining slaves, though it meant a sacrifice to a family now struggling financially. Prior to the war, she’d opened a school for girls on the Eastern Shore to support the family and began writing for local and regional papers, including corresponding for the National Intelligencer and the New York Evening Express.

Carroll didn’t enter the political fray until managing Governor Hicks campaign and later continued to aid campaigns of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, campaigning in several states as a predecessor to future presidential “spin doctors.” Filmore’s Secretary of the Treasury Tom Corwin said, “The “Art of finesse and trick in this age are worth more than wisdom of Solomon, the faith of Abraham, and the fidelity of Moses.”

“The Art of finesse and trick in this age are worth more than wisdom of Solomon, the faith of Abraham, and the fidelity of Moses.”

President Fillmore’s Secretary of the Treasury Tom Corwin

Prepared Constitutional Defense of Lincoln’s Actions

Carroll’s 1861 pamphlet Reply to Breckenridge awakened Washington to her knowledge of constitutional law and her ability to write a persuasive case. Kentucky Senator John Breckenridge and Vice President James Buchanan had questioned Lincoln’s legal authority to call out the state militia, impose martial law, and blockade the Southern states of the Confederacy. She outlined precisely where the President’s legal authority resides—his Constitutional authority to protect the nation and its people.

She’d spent many hours, years in her father’s law library that he amassed through his terms as a Maryland legislator at 21, a lawyer, judge and naval officer responsible for Baltimore harbor, then as governor. Few others had successfully taken on the mission in support of the President’s Constitutional role, so her star rose.

Lincoln’s Assistant Secretary of War Thomas Alexander Scott corresponded with Carroll after her pamphlet appeared and agreed to pay her $1500 for this and for future contributions promoting the Union cause. He came from the railroad industry and after the war became the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then the largest publicly traded corporation in the world—not someone to act in haste. When Scott was told he did not have the authority to pay Carroll from federal funds, he paid her $1500 from his own pocket.

Carroll continued her correspondence during the Civil War, reported as a journalist, and wrote other pamphlets in support of the Union. Today the question remains if she met directly with Lincoln. Some say that he referred to her as “My Dear Lady.”

Lincoln may have known of Carroll’s travels through his Secretary of State Edwin Stanton, who had earlier appointed the man who traveled with her, Lemuel D. Evans. He had just returned from service as a special agent of the federal government to monitor weapon and supply movements from Mexico into Texas. This prior role ended when it became unsafe for Evans to return to Texas because of his pro-Union activities as as a former Texas Congressman.

Evans role in 1861 — to accompany Ms. Carroll to St. Louis and through the South to his native Tennessee, serving as a joint guide, military escort and bodyguard.

Reconnaissance on the Tennessee

Anna’s analytical mind and legal background joined to complete research about the Confederate’s defenses and military movements, specifically on the secondary rivers–the Tennessee and the Cumberland to determine the best course to win the war. She learned about ships and waterways from her father, a U.S. Navy Captain who managed Baltimore Harbor traffic and believed ships and waterways played a vital role in security and commerce.

Some saw the disadvantages of being a female in a war zone, but her gender made it easier for Carroll to slip in where a male military officer might be suspect. She sought out Evans, who came to Washington as an elected Congressman from Texas in March 1855. Evans’ knowledge of the Constitution as chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and his military background enhanced his value to the project and Lincoln during the Civil War.

In August 1861 Judge Evans’ and Carroll traveled to St. Louis to gather intelligence, then continued down the Mississippi to the Tennessee to scout Confederate fortifications and deliver messages to Union officers. Along the Tennessee River and into its tributaries, like the Cumberland, the Confederacy looked weak and open for conquest, which could split the South.

Carroll’s reporting about the weaknesses of Confederate defenses along the secondary rivers went to the Secretary of War and Lincoln in January 1861. Grant started his campaign up the Tennessee in February 1861, easily overcoming the defenses at Forts Donelson and Henry before going on to Nashville. With the use of technology for directions, the telegraph provided time for Carroll’s report to be considered in the decision to move via the Tennessee, as an easier target than the wider, better defended Mississippi. No one else had been assigned to provide reconnaissance of this alternate route to the heart of the Confederacy.

Correspondent across Political and Geographical Lines

She corresponded with Lincoln’s Secretaries of War, Navy and Attorney General Edward Bates while continuing to trade letters with Jefferson Davis and key Southern Senators, using her keen writing style to gather information from parties on all sides. While Lincoln is remembered for his appreciation of beautiful women, he didn’t include women in his political campaigns, but could have worked through an intermediary. The trunks said to contain the correspondence between Carroll and Lincoln have never been located, possibly lost in travel, a fire, taken by a political opponent, or only imagined, but this last is unlikely from the support Carroll received from those close to Lincoln.

It is more likely the term “My Dear Lady” came from Secretary of War Stanton. He is quoted when the question of her payment arose after the war: “Her whole course was the most remarkable in the war; she found herself, got no pay, and did the great work that made others famous.”

Carroll’s insider view came about because she made it her business to know the thoughts of others. Anna wasn’t above using female wiles and intuition. She determined the strength of the Southern resolve long before others in the North by listening to the conversations of male political leaders “who talked off guard in her presence when they’d had a bit too much (wine or bourbon) and were stirred in their vanity by the absorbed attention of a lady.”

Carroll had a knack for developing friendships and maintaining them even with former beau, whose proposals she’d rejected, like James Buchanan, who remained a bachelor for the remainder of his life.

Her pamphlets and other writing supported her financially. She used her own credit and slim reserves from November 1860 to September 1861 to pay for a room in the Washington Hotel, near the White House, and a maid and a manservant to assist with her weekly salons. There leading ‘traitors” attended along with Unionists, which helped her gain inside knowledge that she passed on to the President or Stanton and cabinets on both sides of the divide, which might have made her a spy. She remained an ardent Unionist.

Her correspondence with her other acquaintances, who she’d met through her father, included Mississippi Governor Quitman, who wrote her a letter in 1850 that urged Southerners to secretly organize for a coup to take them out of the union and “set a fiery cross throughout the land and send ever gallant son of Mississippi to the rescue.” The flaming cross gained a fearful meaning long before it was taken up as a scourge of racial hatred by the Ku Klux Klan.

Miss Carroll’s associates claimed that she, not General U.S. Grant, devised the Tennessee-Cumberland campaign, was eventually confirmed by every Congressional committee that reviewed it years later in 1876 when President Grant was a lame duck.

Then the whole question of Miss Carroll’s role in the war was subjected to an in-depth examination by the House Committee on Military Affairs and printed by Order of Congress. She received the title Major General of the Armies of the Republic, but no funds were attached to the title. Samuel T. Williams, editor of The Congressional Globe, which was The Congressional Record of that time, said, “No woman not born to sovereign sway has ever done so much to avert the threatened ruin of her country.”

Not until 1870 did her case for payment for her pamphlets finally come before the House Armed Services Committee. She’d waited after the assassination of Lincoln, for whom she completed the work, through President Johnson, then Grant who may have not wanted to discuss a woman’s role in clearing the way for his Tennessee campaign. Then Garfield’s death put other matters in the forefront before the House Armed Services Committee. Carroll, then 74 and not in good health, had waited to have her appeal. She waited through one political crisis after another, much more patiently than her male counterparts.

Fifteen years after the war, in 1876, the U.S. House of Representatives accorded her the rank of Major General of the Armies and a meager pension, but no back pay for her printing contracts, since her contractors had died decades earlier. Five Congressional committees had voted to pay Carroll, but Congress never approved the appropriation.


A Woman in Lincoln’s Cabinet. . . or A Political Publicity Hound?

Anna Ella Carroll, daughter of Maryland’s Governor prior to the Civil War, consumed his law library at an early age to become a political writer and pro-Union advocate.

Unrecognized by most Americans today, Anna Ella Carroll made her way in the male-dominated world of 1850’s politics by asking the right questions and explaining complicated legal matters in laymen’s terms–the power of her pen.

Much of border-state Maryland around her embraced the South, she clung to the Union and maintained long-term, pen-pal relationships with the leading men of her time on both sides of the political/geographical divide.

Her life as the eldest child of Governor Thomas Carroll in Pre-Civil War Maryland may explain the intellectual curiosity that led her to enter her father’s law library at four. There Anna consumed the sense and nature of the law–the foundation for her future work in politics and writing.

The fire she carried for democracy rises from her paternal grandfather, Charles Carroll, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Her youth, spent living on the Eastern Shore at Kingston Hall on a 2,000-acre tobacco plantation with 200 slaves, explains her Southern ties.

The falling price of tobacco and the Panic of 1837 forced the Carroll’s to sell the plantation and move to Warwick, a three-story brick home and smaller plantation on the Choptank River. When she was 22, Anna and Leah, a slave girl from the Carroll Plantation and skilled seamstress, moved to Baltimore (second largest U.S. city then), where Leah listened to the gossip about new businesses in the homes where she worked sewing dresses for the elite.

Anna would track down the owners, often the wives and daughters of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad executives, and generate publicity and advertising for their businesses—a need they didn’t realize until the rail industry swiftly became competitive.

Anna worked for seven years in Baltimore establishing her credential as a publicity writer and became active in the Whig Party, meeting people like then Army Chief of Staff Winfield Scott, who discussed his war strategies in the invasion of Mexico with her. Anna began to sit regularly in the Senate visitor’s gallery, where she met future Presidents Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore.  She gained skill writing letters to party officials to influence political decisions, gaining a reputation for “scheming, conniving and maneuvering as well as any man.”

Female Campaign Director in 1858

Carroll likely was the first female campaign director by writing editorials and honing her skills to craft and send letters in support of the Union to newspaper editors—a low-tech version of the modern press release.

Anna helped convince enough Marylanders that the state should remain with the Union, that when a vote came in the Assembly, they stayed, even if just barely. Her letters went to newspapers in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and every weekly and daily papers in a 50-mile radius. Her friendly correspondence continued with her distinguished friends on both sides of America’s divide, which provided insider information for Lincoln, giving him a unique perspective on the opinions of Southern public and important opinion makers.

She became the pen in support of Thomas Holliday Hicks, a family friend from childhood, who became Maryland’s governor in 1858. Hicks proved to be a complicated man, who agreed to keep Maryland in the Union, but favored slavery and opposed abolition.

Strange Political Bedfellows

Anna Carroll, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis had supported the 1848 candidacy of Zachary Taylor as the only Whig who could win. Their previous choice, Henry Clay, had lost three Presidential elections, despite his claim as leader of the Whig Party.

Anna called on the new President Taylor at the beginning of his term to establish her role early on. Jefferson Davis, who would become the U.S. Senator from Mississippi and future Secretary of War prior to the Civil War, fell in love with Taylor’s daughter, strengthening his ties when he married her, but the two men were never close and became estranged when she died early in the marriage. Davis became one of Carroll’s correspondents, giving her an insight into the Confederacy that few Yankees had. She would sign her correspondence with him, “most affectionate regards.”

When the Whig Party declined in 1854, Anna joined the American Party (Know Nothings), which was formed because Southerners and border state Whigs disagreed over slavery.  The American Party took an anti-slavery stance but fought against Catholic control of politics and the ballot box and what they perceived as use of funds being taken from public schools for use by private Catholic schools.

If you’re familiar with Maryland or Catholic history, her opposition to Catholicism seems surprising since her relative, John Carroll, became the first American bishop and archbishop and eventually the founder of Georgetown University. Anna came from a family divided by religion with her mother a strong Protestant, which almost prevented her marriage to Anna’s father.

When the American Party began in the 1840s, it was also xenophobic and hostile to immigration as great numbers of Irish were coming to America during the Great Potato Famine and as Germans were fleeing the 1848 Revolution and began working in the rail yards and ports. Know Nothings’ ranks in Maryland grew as laborers struck Baltimore’s Ironworks, and the Democratic Party refused to help them. Anti-slavery Democrats sought a party to support as their party moved to support slavery .

Carroll urged “Americans to take back their votes—settle problems through the ‘ancient process of democracy by an honest expression of will of most genuine citizens.’ Anne successfully used this issue to assist in bringing the American Party in line with the Whigs, which helped provide Lincoln the numbers he needed to win the Presidency in 1860.

Carroll greatly expanded her political and press contacts with the publication of two party-related books during the 1856 campaign: The Great American Battle or The Contest Between Christianity and Political Romanism and The Star of the West and the pamphlet “The Union of the States,” a virulent criticism of the political influence of the Roman Catholic Church under the papacy of Pius IX.  Anna criticized the “buying and selling of the papal (Catholic) vote” like a hogshead of tobacco or a bale of cotton to win an election and retain power until they can hang out a signal of disunion. 

Carroll’s Role in Presidential Politics

Millard Fillmore, the last Whig to become President, took over the Presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor in July 1850. He sought out Anna as a confidant after the death of his first wife. Anna wrote and researched a pamphlet for the American Party outlining the failings of his opponent James Buchanan, who did in the end win the Presidency in 1856. Filmore gained just twenty percent of the vote with the endorsement of the Know Nothing Party, keeping his affiliation with the American Party under wraps.

Filmore should be better remembered for his role in passage of the Compromise of 1850—the bargain establishing a truce in the battle over slavery by establishing a horizontal line between slave and free states. But this just postponed the Civil War—didn’t prevent what seemed inevitable. The political tug of war between the Northern and Southern politicians began long before 1856, yet the Presidential campaign threw Carroll headlong into this heated debate.

Indiana Congressman Caleb Smith made Lincoln aware of Anna Carroll’s writing. Despite Filmore’s mediocre showing, Smith believed she could aid Lincoln’s campaign as she seemed to be capable of making the case among American Party members, who opposed slavery and were becoming an important voting bloc.

By helping to bridge this gap and bring these voters to the Republican side, despite their anti-immigrant stance, she helped swing a vote with a slim margin (Northern votes only) to Lincoln. The importance of her efforts to gain these voters brought the two together.

Lincoln had a contract drawn up during the Civil War to pay her $50,000 for a series of writings. After the election in the week before his inauguration, Lincoln camped out in the Willard Hotel up the block from his future residence. There in a shabby side conference room, he met those who helped get him elected. These were people who Lincoln would depend upon as he led the nation through war. Anna, the pro-Union Maryland native, may very well have been one of those people—one of very few women with the knowledge, ability and scope to provide aid to a nation on the brink.

With all her contacts across the country (St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Richmond, etc.), Carroll had more to offer and across various political persuasions, offered a perspective he could not find in others.

The value he placed on her work suggest she could have been one of the people he met in Washington at the Willard Hotel, where he and his family stayed prior to the Inauguration on March 4, 1861. But no records have been found.

Freeing Her Slaves

When Lincoln became President, Anna freed the twenty slaves she’d inherited from her father and persuaded abolitionists to accompany them to safety into Canada.  This helped prove to Lincoln her commitment to him and the Republicans, showed the strength of her loyalty to the Union.

Anna Carroll and Abraham Lincoln shared a common mission: to prevent the nation’s government from total control by the Southern Democrats, who at the time regarded the government “with distrust and aversion, as an agency mainly of corruption, oppression, and robbery,” Showing how history does repeat itself in a mirror image. (New York Tribune, 2 June 1948 in William Brock, Parties and Political Conscience: American Dilemmas, 1840-1850, (Millwood, NY: KTO Press, 1979), 12.

With the country two steps from all-out war, he desperately needed eyes and ears, voice and pen in Maryland and throughout Washington. Already she’d begun her research into the nation’s defense and military movements.

Stay tuned next week for Anna Ella Carroll’s travels through military camps in the South during the Civil War. Academics argue for her role in shifting the Northern strategy to a winning one. See if you agree next week.

Anna Ella Carroll’s story appeared in My Dear Lady, in the University of Texas’s (UT) main library in a book Marjorie Barstow Greenbie wrote in 1940. Greenbie also found Carroll in a library—the card catalog at the Library of Congress. I read the version reprinted in 1974 in Women in America.


How do Alpha Males Influence Women?

“Portia wounding her thigh” (1664) Elizabeth Surani Portia wounds her thigh to enter the world of men.

Will voters cling to their party’s male politician no matter their public escapades? Now that more women are on the ballot for President and seats in Congress will they receive the same permission?

Questions like these came up this week in a discussion. A woman jumped to defend her candidate by pointing out the sexual “crimes” of a former President, yet permitting the adultery of her chosen one.

A broader issue arose:. Have the personal escapades of powerful men been buried, forgiven, or forgotten in the “interest of the nation”? Or in the interest of the legacy of the individual?

Since Vietnam or World War II, when men were away from home for months or years on end, and women began to joino the workforce outside the home have the standards regarding marital fidelity changed ?

After World War II the divorce rate did increase. ResearcherAlfred Kinsey reported a 50% rate of infidelity among men and 26% among women, but other researearchers say the rate rises and falls with the point in time going from 25 to 72%.

Is it accepted as part of human nature today for powerful Alpha males to unleash their libido? If allowed for males, will society come to confer this “liberty” on females? Or do women who operate outside the marital bonds offend American culture as the keepers of the home and mothers of America’s children? Is it possible that society’s customs will ricochet ?

Sex researched Shere Hite places cheating in 1991 near equal among the sexes due to increased financial opportunity. The rate for women is increasing or increasingly reported. The internet has also opened opportunities for married spouses to more easily free onself of marital ties online. The site Ashley Madison, created a quasi “safe haven” for married partners to go astray in the “privacy” of their home computer. Twelve million members worldwide are taking advantage of Ashley.

An article in Atlantic magazine, “Wives cheating 40% more than they used to, but 70% as much as men (based on research by National Opinion Research Center General Social Survey) July 2, 2010 claims 21% of men are cheating. Whatever the number, relationships could use some shoring up. Twenty-four million children , one-third the total are living with one parent today, hiking from 13% in 1968. One-in-five children born today into a two-parent marriage will experience divorce before age nine.

The Me Too Movement

All this transpires amid the “Me Too” movement. Women are revealing sexual encounters with powerful men who have had their way with them as younger women working in less powerful roles, afraid of losing or not gaining a job. Power and the quest for it has an impact on people that can resembles the Game of Thrones.

Could the ultimate test be judged on talent and capability, not the casting couch? Years hence what a relief it would be to no longer need to review the drunken bedroom antics of men or women vying for the highest positions in government or the media. Or is it possible we are damned to repeat these personal and very public tragedies?

Consenting Adults

On campuses across the country, students of both sexes are (hopefully) are reassessing their dating practices in response to MeToo. One discussion revolves around what consists of “consent”? Can we establish ground rules before hormones overtake us? Possibly the hardest issue is how much, if any, alcohol is “safe” for females (who generally have a lower body weight, increasing the chances of becoming inebriated more quickly)?  Yet many campuses have been awash in alcohol and drinking-‘til-you’re-drunk’ games trading whiskey shots and beer. Since it is easily available, alcohol is a greater threat than date-rape drugs that are less prevalent.

Another issue came up this week: the role of consenting adults vs. underage girls. On July 8 police raided the $56 million New York mansion of investor Jeffrey Epstein and found incriminating photos of underage girls in his safe, which resulted in his indictment for child sex trafficking. In 2008 he’d been charged in Florida with felony solicitation of underage girls. The lead prosecutor, then U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta in Miami, agreed to a plea deal to lesser Florida charges, allowing Epstein to receive a 13-month sentence that permitted him to work in his office six days a week and serve the remaining time in a Palm Beach jail.

Uproar this week over this sentence threated the now Secretary of Labor Acosta, who resigned from the cabinet on Friday. Payments by Epstein of $350,000 to two of the witnesses in the case were found last week. Each did not testify against him in court.

Does this indicate there is a limit to what is acceptable today? Would it stimulate discussion about what role society has or as individuals–male and female–have in promoting healthy relationships? Will this tragic situation provide coverage for politicians approaching 2020 for past or current deeds with consenting adults, but draw the line opposing crimes against children? Or is it the beginning of a universal push towards personal accountability away from becoming permissive?

Celebrating a Nation of Promise… and Contradiction!

America’s Founders courageously put their lives and fortunes on the line when they signed the Declaration of Independence 243 years ago, but today how would they judge the nation’s progress? Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin would surely be pleased that America has built on their legacy of hard work and remains the most prosperous nation in the world (pumping hard to maintain that stature).

Financial stability? President Washington suffered under a crushing debt remaining from the Revolution, until Alexander Hamilton came up with a fix to provide essential capital to grow the nation’s productivity and found a way to get the legislation through Congress. Today the Gross National Product of the entire world’s nations combined comes to nearly $30 trillion (2018) with the U.S. creating about $19.2 billion of that total–the highest individual tally, according to Piere Scaruffiin in “The World” ( Americans are still making things, growing things, buying and selling things. Good for us. As you can see, it’s a “global economy” that no longer depends on slow-moving sailing ships, forty-acre farms, and hand-packed products.

Instead computer-generated decisions instantaneously flow into massive computers. Burgeoning agribusinesses are hampered only by weather-sensitive floods, record-setting heat waves, and last-minute tariffs that plow through paper-thin margins for the shrinking number of family farmers, who still help feed not just the U.S., but many parts of the world.

Courageous Congressional Leaders? Would the Founders see their courage projected among 21st century workers, farmers and managers, who overcome these obstacles and more? Possibly, but they might not look as fondly on the politicians who are elected to serve them. Instead of focusing on the needs of the nation and their electorate, too many politicians serve the special interest groups (U.S. Chamber, Realtors, Blue Cross, AMA, AT&T, Americal Hospital Association, Boeing and Lockheed, etc.) who funnel key politicians more than $750 million (top twenty lobbists alone) to keep their friends in power to do their bidding.

Data-driven Elections. This excessive funding allows politicians to team up with the lightening-fast calculations of 21st century computers that out-wit earlier determinations of generations past about where “their” voters live and who are most likely to vote for their party’s candidate and/or favored issues. Motivating like-minded voters to get to the polls had been Job 1 for politicians. Now modern websites scoop up information about the voter’s FEARS. Instead of educating voters about the policies their candidates support, they use online ads to feed these fears and swing independent voters into their own political column. Ignorance is bliss for them to insure these voters trust their politicians and NEVER BECOME CURIOUS ABOUT THE TRUE FACTS of an issue.

Reworking District Lines to Party Advantage. This gerrymandering is applied in the state legislatures–in the midterm elections (between the Presidential elections in 2012, 2016 and 2020) each state’s voters elect governors, senators and representatives at a time when many people skip voting–thinking it’s less important in non-Presidential years–thus leaving districting decisions to the political operatives.

Achieving America’s Promise

Righting Inequities. Nearly 250 years ago Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” but the words have been debated nearly every year since. Women didn’t get the vote until after the turn of the 20th century. Slaves owned by many of the Founders performed free labor until they died, and blacks without property weren’t assured the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which is threatened today by political battles in several states. The Equal Rights Amendment for women hit a wall in 1979 with simple noncombative words that fell into a left-right divide, not unlike what the nation experiences today. Now we have a different issue as a focus of the national attention pulls us to opposite sides.

Who Can Come. Who Can Stay. Who Must Go. Full disclosure: My sixteen-year-old great-grandfather crossed under the Statue of Liberty on a ship from Germany with his locksmith father in 1898. I have the ship manifest. Peter Joseph Tuerff was just one of 12 million immigrants who stopped at Ellis Island for processing before it closed in 1954.

Approximately 40 percent of living Americans had a relative at Ellis Island, so a brief, personal study of one’s ancestors might put a different perspective on immigration–unless we’re no longer capable of projecting our experience onto others. While we hear the nation is “full” with no room for more people from other countries, national unemployment is at three percent; we have people working at minimum wage who can’t afford housing. Immigration has always been a complicated issue since once a generation settles here, they covet freedom for themselves and may raise the same questions for subsequent generations of immigrants that they now see as competition for jobs, housing, space to stretch out.

Looking at the national economy with fresh eyes might yield new possibilities. Renewed research and development could expanded products, jobs, and find room for immigrants, but got lost in the trillion dollar deficit created by the Tax Cuts once promised to pay-for-themselves by pie-in-the-sky economic projections.

Washington has been mum on the nation’s low birthrate, now below 2.1 per reproducing female, with our graying population, so without the aid of immigration, America could find itself suffering as Japan does today–with not enough workers to maintain itself. Not enough workers to pay the taxes (particularly since the corporations have received a major pass in the 2017 Tax Cut, which offered similar goodies to the top 1 percent) and reimburse necessary federal funds for critical government programs, of no interest to to many of the well-heeled, particularly those who hold the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Without the younger workers to energize the workforce, bring ideas to innovate new products, and provide financial support through their taxes, the national initiatives, small insignificant government will become the reality. Problems will remain for the nation, but the leaders will no longer respond to the people who need their support.

Before anyone wants to close the U.S. borders to immigration (as Senators Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions proposed earlier), it’s important to think about companies that have been built by immigrants: Google, ebay, Qualcomm, VMware, Facebook, Uber, and SpaceX. The National Foundation for American Policy found that 51 percent of the 87 techstart-ups valued at over $1 billion were co-founded by immigrants and each of these created an average of 760 jobs. ( “How Immigrants Have Made America a Leader in Tech Innovation,” John Villasenoc, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 31, 2017). The population of immigrants from Mexico is decreasing, not increasing, and 69 percent are employed, primarily in natural resources, construction and maintenance, necessary jobs from which they and their children have an opportunity to move up the ladder, just as the Germans, the Irish and others before them.

Now America is receiving college graduates from Mexico, who are coming for opportunities, but there’s also reverse migration of college graduates of Mexican descent who received their education in America and are going back to Mexico now that its economy is stabilizing. Their talents are being lost because Congress has failed to provide protection previously promised under DECA to college age students and workers who were brought to American as children, many who never lived in Mexico.

Now the southern U.S. borders are feeling the impact of failed governments in Central America and an administration that leveled FEAR on both sides. Unlike in previous administrations, not decimated by a White House bent on force, a staffed State Department helped draft and fund programs intended to reduce chaos and restore order in Guatamala and Honduras. Now we see the devastating results when mothers and children are the pawns in a no-win, everybody loses political battle. Congress has failed to act to devise and pass a workable national policy. A modern nation can not survive with open borders, so legislative decisions need to be made– not pushed further down the road, as people on both sides of the border suffer and the divide grows wider and deeper.

Naturalization Laws Move in Waves

Naturalization laws change with public opinion and public need. In the second year of Washington’s Presidency, Congress passed the first immigration law–restricting unindentured white males–stipulating they must live in the U.S. for two years before becoming citizens. Extended to five years in 1795. After Washington left the Presidency, xenophobia had increased across the country, and the residency requirement in the Naturalization Act of 1790 increased to 14 years–with changes in the country reduced to five years by 1802.

Expatriation Act of 1868 after the Civil War–“the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people” extended to protect the rights of naturalized immigrants whose native countries did nt recognize their claims.

Naturalization Act of 1870– allows “aliens of African nativity” and “persons of African descent” to become U.S. citizens. Ellis Island opened in 1892. By 1917 immigrants were required to read a 40-word selection from their native language. The Emergency Quota Law limited immigration to 350,000 and capped at 3% of the foreign country’s population based on 1910 census. By 1922 Congress revoked the provision that removed the citizenship of women who married foreign men. Two years later the U.S. Border Patrol was created under the National Origins Act.

During World War II with most of the working-age men serving the war, the U.S. allowed five million Mexican farm workers to enter the country to help produce food.Then after the war, the Displaced Persons Act allowed up to 200,000 refuges to enter the U.S. By 1980 the Refuge Act defines a refuge as a person who flees his or her country “on account of race, religion,nationality, or political opinion.” The President and Congress were to establish an annual ceiling on the number of refugees allowed. The total of immigrants allowed fell to 270,000 , but up from 165,000 in 1924.

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has fallen since 2004. in part because despite all the whoopla, the number of Mexicans coming to America illegally has declined to 4.9 million from 6.9 million in 2007.. With greater stability in Mexico, more are choosing to stay at home. Those coming now are from Central American countries plagued by gang violence, unemployment, and corruption. The number of unauthorized immigrants in 2017 totaled 10.5 million or 3.2 percent of the U.S. population.. Rather than letting this issue undermine the principles on which America was founded, we need to push for humane answers to serve the nation’s future and those seeking safety for their children, not years more of turmoil.

Note: *The top 20 special interest groups (U.S. Chamber, Realtors, Blue Cross, American Hospital Association, Pharmacutical firms, Business Roundtable, etc. The top three contribute $195 million–all in 2016.) Numbers would be higher for later years.