News & Politics

Fact-Check: GOP Congressman References Founding Fathers to Condemn 'Send Her Back' Chant

Gilbert Stuart, John Adams, American, 1755 - 1828, c. 1800/1815, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans. Public domain.

During the media and public firestorm over the “send her back” chants that erupted at President Trump’s rally in North Carolina, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted, “I deeply disagree with the extreme left & have been disgusted by their tone. I woke up today equally disgusted – chants like ‘send her back’ are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.”

Okay. I don’t disagree that “This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.” The growing and rancorous divide tearing this country apart are not healthy. On that, Rep. Kinzinger will get no argument from me. However, I would caution the congressman about referencing America’s Founding Fathers when it comes to immigration and deportation because the divide over immigration is not new. A little over 200 years ago, not long after our country’s birth, this union was almost torn asunder over the issue.

In 1798, during his only term in office, John Adams, our second president and notable Founding Father, signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts. Now, in the issue of historical accuracy, as historians Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein point out in their book The Problem of Democracy, “John Adams did not initiate or actively promote the Alien and Sedition Acts … But he did sign the bills when they came to him, and he defended them.”

In case you’ve forgotten your U.S. history, as Rep. Kinzinger apparently has, the notorious bills that, as Isenberg and Burstein explain, “cause [Adams’] administration to look bad in the backwards gaze of historians,” arose out of great distrust of immigrants. In fact, prior to the Alien Act, the lesser-known Naturalization Act moved the waiting period for immigrants to become naturalized citizens from 5 years to 14 years. Directly on the heels of that bill, the Alien Act invested the president with the power to deport any immigrants that he deemed a threat to this country.

Granted, there were those in the late 18th century that were opposed to the Alien Act, but several of the Founding Fathers and many of our nation’s first citizens were deeply distrustful of immigrants and wanted the president empowered to deport aliens as he saw fit. So, unless by “chills down the spines” Rep. Kinzinger meant chills of anticipatory agreement, his tweet is factually incorrect. Our own country’s history tells us that some of the Founding Fathers would likely have joined in with the crowd of Trump supporters chanting, “Send her back.”