I did not mean to suggest that I thought the object, even as I supposed it, to be in any degree immoral, that it could be criminal to counteract an immoral law. if ever there was a case where a law could impose no other obligation than the risque of the arbitrary penalty it is that which makes the country in which a man happens to be born his perpetual prison, obliging him to starve in that rather than seek another where he can find the means of subsistence.
To Alexander McRae, August 27, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders understand that immigration can be wrong … and right.
Through previous imprecise communication, each man misunderstood the other regarding McRae’s effort to recruit skilled workmen from England to America. England’s laws criminalized that activity, punishing both the recruiters and the immigrants who took tools of their trade with them when left.
The men cleared the air, and Jefferson expressed interesting thoughts about immigration, morality and criminality.
1. It was not immoral to break an immoral law, even thought it might subject one to criminal penalty.
2. A law that tied a man forever to the land of his birth, making it his prison, was immoral.
3. Natural law allowed a man to feed himself, and if he could not do that in one country, he had a moral right to go to another where he could.