Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Immigration Article of the Day: "Improve Your Privileges While They Stay": A Guide to Improve the Privileges of U.S. Citizenship for Everybody by Joshua J. Schroeder
"Improve Your Privileges While They Stay": A Guide to Improve the Privileges of U.S. Citizenship for Everybody by Joshua J. Schroeder, Touro Law Review, Forthcoming
In 1767, the young Phillis Wheatley wrote from her position of slavery in the Wheatley home of Boston to “ye sons of Science” at Harvard College, telling them to “[i]mprove your privileges while they stay.” She beheld the startling privileges of learning and discovery bestowed upon an elite group of young, rich, white men in Boston and celebrated their privileges. Neither did she scorn those whose luck had placed a bounty of privilege upon their laps, for she likely planned to share in that bounty herself, one day.
When she was only 13 or 14, Wheatley sublimely encouraged grown men to improve: “Caress, redeem each moment, which with haste / Bears on its rapid wing Eternal bliss.” Years later, Wheatley showed white Bostonians how to improve their privileges by her own example, when she secured her place as the John Milton of the American Revolution. In order to improve her privileges in this way, she had to print her books in England and import them into America for sale.
After Wheatley’s revolutionary successes, the framers of the Patent & Copyright Clause James Madison and James Wilson seemed to take preexisting author owned copyrights in America for granted. But without Wheatley’s specific fashion of improving her own privileges internationally, there really was no such thing as preexisting common law (i.e., author owned) copyrights in England. Phillis Wheatley was the first to redeem Milton’s poetry by claiming it for the side of heaven in the United States.
The lords and judges of England guessed at the basis for common law in the attestation of an author’s name, but their common law theories were all desolated by the House of Lords in 1774. Also, the printers of Boston likely would not have invited Wheatley to print as the owner of her own works so she sought an international deal. Luckily for all, Wheatley managed to print and export her books from London to America before 1774.
Eventually, the privileges of the arts and sciences were opened to women and black people respectively throughout the United States under the auspices of Wheatley’s original copyright. Many gradually inherited the privileges of the few, and Wheatley intended the privileges she represented to be shared more broadly still throughout the earth. This article is dedicated to the international expansion of U.S. citizenship privileges, by following the advice of Phillis Wheatley to improve our privileges while they stay.
The article champions the right to travel and is a response to contemporary U.S. immigration policies.