Looking for Balance

By John Tanton
Volume 6, Number 1 (Fall 1995)
Issue theme: "Infamous immigrants"

Are immigrants in any sense the saviors of mankind, or of the United States? Many proponents of large scale and expansive immigration policies apparently think so, given their fondness for phrases such as 'Immigration is what made America great,' and 'We are a nation of immigrants.'

In support of the first phrase they frequently offer a list of famous immigrants, as former New York City mayor Ed Koch did recently in a column attacking Peter Brimelow and his book Alien Nation. Here is Koch's list

Are we sorry today that the refugees and immigrants that we welcomed included Albert Einstein, Arturo Toscanini, Madeleine Albright, I.M. Pei, Patrick Ewing, John Shalikashvili, Henry Kissinger, Martina Navratilova, A.M. Rosenthal, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Yo-Yo Ma, Max Frankel, Sidney Poitier, Dr. Ruth West-heimer, Roberto Goizueta, Angela Lansbury and Jaime Escalante? I glory in those names...1

But as Jim Robb demonstrates in his lead article, 'Infamous Immigrants,' one must take the bitter with the sweet. Not all immigrants are great contributors. An evaluation of immigration requires at the minimum a balancing of pluses and minuses.

As to the 'We are a nation of immigrants' cliche, it is simply not accurate. A recent Census Bureau report reveals that, at present, about one in eleven U.S. residents is an immigrant. Per contra, ten in eleven are not, ergo we are a nation of native-born Americans, and have been so virtually from the beginning. Even in the heyday of immigration in the early l900s the percentage of foreign born in the population did not go much above 20 percent - that is to say, the percentage of native born did not fall below 70 percent.

But that is an aside. How essential are immigrants to our social, cultural and economic progress? Certainly there have been some outstanding examples, as Mayor Koch listed. But the major proportion of our toil, sweat and tears - and innovation - must have come from those who make up the bulk of the populace, the native born.

Can that assertion be tested? One way would be to look over a list of influential Americans and see how many of them are immigrants. While there are many lists of influential books, I have not been able to find an analogous list of influential Americans (and would be grateful for such a reference if the reader knows of one.)

However, such a listing for the whole world, North and South, East and West, has been put forward by Michael Hart in The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.2 Perhaps a look at the role of immigrants in the human enterprise in general and throughout world history can throw some light on the question of the role of immigrants in the advancement of our own society.

Hart's book is not as presumptuous as it's title might suggest. His method is to write a three to five page essay on each person selected, analyzing the influence the individual had, and giving his reasons for the ranking assigned. His standard has not been simple fame, nor is everyone on the list benevolent - some of the great rascals of history are included. Hart wrestles with the classic question of whether someone else would have invented the light bulb or fought France's wars if Edison and Napoleon had never been born. In the end he invites readers to compile their own lists. This is a nice bedside book that can expose one to a lot of history, and to a good many people that I, at least, had never heard of before.

The sidebar (see next page) contains Hart's list in order of influence on world affairs. I have printed in boldface type the name of each entrant whose notable work in my judgment was done outside his native land. All of the rest made their contributions as native-born persons working in their country of birth.

As is readily apparent, most of these people did their work at home. Of the 21 who made their mark on the world in foreign lands, 11 were military men or conquerors Christopher Columbus, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sim�n Bol�var, Julius Caesar, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando Cort�s, William the Conqueror, Charlemagne and Cyrus the Great.

There are five scientists Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Enrico Fermi, Leonhard Euler and Niels Bohr. Of these, only Fermi (who left Fascist Italy in l938) and Bohr (whose mother was Jewish and who thus felt it prudent in 1943 to leave Denmark) did the work, as emigrants, for which they are known. Einstein's main work was done before he left Europe at age 54; Euler left his native Switzer-land at the invitation of first Russia and then Prussia to do his mathematical work, and Bell left Scotland for Canada as a young man and migrated to the U.S. before his career as an inventor started.

That leaves us with three religious leaders who did their work outside their native land Moses, St. Paul (who made use of his empire-wide Roman citizenship), and John Calvin. Finally, there are two philosophers, if that is the right word for the first of this pair Marx, who spent his latter years in London where he wrote Das Kapital, and Ren� Descartes who chose to live in Holland rather than his native France.

From this we can conclude that from a world wide perspective, and going back through the millennia, most influential people did their work in the country of their birth. Immigration has not been central to the advancement of the human enterprise.

The 100 A Ranking of the Most

Influential Persons in History

1. Muhammad

2. Isaac Newton

3. Jesus Christ

4. Buddha

5. Confucius

6. St. Paul

7. Ts'ai Lun

8. Johann Gutenberg

9. Christopher Columbus

10. Albert Einstein

11. Karl Marx

12. Louis Pasteur

13. Galileo Galilei

14. Aristotle

15. Lenin

16. Moses

17. Charles Darwin

18. Shih Huang Ti

19. Augustus Caesar

20. Mao Tse-tung

21. Genghis Khan

22. Euclid

23. Martin Luther

24. Nicolaus Copernicus

25. James Watt

26. Constantine the Great

27. George Washington

28. Michael Faraday

29. James Clark Maxwell

30. Orville and Wilbur


31. Antoine Laurent


32. Sigmund Freud

33. Alexander the Great

34. Napoleon Bonaparte

35. Adolf Hitler

36. William Shakespeare

37. Adam Smith

38. Thomas Edison

39. Anthony van


40. Plato

41. Guglielmo Marconi

42. Ludwig van


43. Werner Heisenberg

44. Alexander Graham


45. Alexander Fleming

46. Sim�n Bol�var

47. Oliver Cromwell

48. John Locke

49. Michelangelo

50. Pope Urban II 51. �Umar ibn al-Khattab

52. Asoka

53. St. Augustine

54. Max Planck

55. John Calvin

56. William T. G. Morton

57. William Harvey

58. Antoine Henri


59. Gregor Mendel

60. Joseph Lister

61. Nikolaus �ugust Otto

62. Louis Daguerre

63. Joseph Stalin

64. Ren� Descartes

65. Julius Caesar

66. Francisco Pizarro

67. Hernando Cort�s

68. Queen Isabella I

69. William the


70. Thomas Jefferson

71. Jean-Jacques


72. Edward Jenner

73. Wilhelm Conrad


74. Johann Sebastian


75. Lao Tzu

76. Enrico Fermi

77. Thomas Malthus

78. Francis Bacon

79. Voltaire

80. John F. Kennedy

81. Gregory Pincus

82. Sui Wen Ti

83. Mani

84. Vasco da Gama

85. Charlemagne

86. Cyrus the Great

87. Leonhard Euler

88. Niccolo Machiavelli

89. Zoroaster

90. Menes

91. Peter the Great

92. Mencius

93. John Dalton

94. Homer

95. Queen Elizabeth

96. Justinian I

97. Johannes Kepler

98. Pablo Picasso

99. Mahavira

100. Niels Bohr In addition to Jim Robb's essay we present other examples of 'infamous immigrants' in our lead section, hoping - to reiterate our purpose - to aid in the development of a more balanced assessment of the pluses and minuses of international migration.

Our center section is an eclectic collection ranging from the serious ('Damit die Deutschen nicht Aussterben') to the humorous (by Mike Royko). The articles come from around the world - immigration is not just a North American problem. Our book review section is equally interesting and can save you reading time on volumes with which you will want to be familiar.

We're pleased to report that Jim Robb's article from our previous issue on the Vatican's immigration policy came in for notice in light of Pope John Paul II's visit to the U.S. with his calls for an open-ended U.S. immigration policy. Charity should start at home, with the Vatican leading through example and opening its doors to immigrants - without limit.

John Tanton

Editor and Publisher


1 Koch, Ed, 'In Defense of Immigrants,' The New York Post, June 10, 1995.

2 Hart, Michael H., The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. New York Citadel Press, l992, ISBN 0-8065-1350-0, 556pp. [Note This editorial uses the list from Hart's 1978 edition which is nearly identical to the 1992 list.]

About the author

John Tanton is Editor and Publisher of The Social Contract and founder of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His personal website is www.JohnTanton.org.