Stephanie DeGooyer at Lapham’s Quarterly:
In 1816 an American lawyer named J.F. Dumoulin wrote Thomas Jefferson a letter to thank him for his hospitality during a recent visit to the former president’s Monticello plantation. As a token of gratitude, Dumoulin enclosed a treatise he had written about naturalization and expatriation. The essay denounced Britain for holding fast to the feudal doctrine of perpetual allegiance, which denied individuals the right to change their nationality. In his reply Jefferson praised Dumoulin, whose opinions on emigration closely matched his own. Why would any man, he wrote, “feel any obligation to die by disease or famine in one country, rather than go to another where he can live?” Every person has just as much “right to live on the outside of an artificial geographical line as he has to live within it.”
With hindsight, historical ideas often appear commonsensical or even passé. Twenty-first-century students look back on the suffrage movement as merely the imperfect beginning of progressive agitation for women’s rights.