In light of the impending brouhaha over immigration reform, it’s worth bringing back to our attention this humorous examination of America’s immigration practices by none other than G.K. Chesterton on his visit to America.

I have always found Americans by far the politest people in the world. They put in my hands a form to be filled up, to all appearances like other forms I had filled up in other passport offices. But in reality it was very different from any form I had ever filled up in my life…

One of the questions on the paper was, “Are you an anarchist?” To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, “What the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist” along with some playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes atheist.

Then there was the question, “Are you in favor of subverting the government of the United States by force?” Against this I should write, “I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.”

The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, “Are you a polygamist?” The answer to this is, “No such luck” or “Not such a fool,” according to our experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, “Shall I slay my brother Boer”–the answer that ran, “Never interfere in family matters.”

But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully.

I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, “I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.” Or, “I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into your President at the earliest opportunity.” Or again, “Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.”

There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Ah, but if one was found to be a polygamist, anarchist, etc. and they lied on the form about it, the process for deporting said person would be greatly simplified.

    It looks silly on the surface, but there is a method to the madness.


  2. Elliot Ravenwood May 4, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Reminds me of this video:

    US border entry-card set to music –

    It only gets better–and weirder–as the song goes along. And it’s all straight from the card.


  3. “It is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good . . .”

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter


  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael DeBusk. Michael DeBusk said: "It is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good . . ." […]


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *