Naturalization Act of 1790
The original United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 (1 Stat. 103) provided the first rules to be followed by the United States in the granting of national citizenship. This law limited naturalization to immigrants who were "free white persons" of "good moral character". It thus left out American Indians, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, and Asians. While women were included in the act, the right of citizenship did "not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States...." Citizenship was inherited exclusively through the father. This was the only statute that ever recognized the status of natural born citizen, requiring that state and federal officers not consider American children born abroad to be foreigners.
In order to address one's "good moral character," the law required two years of residence in the United States and one year in the state of residence, prior to applying for citizenship. When those requirements were met, an immigrant could file a Petition for Naturalization with "any common law court of record" having jurisdiction over his residence. Once convinced of the applicant’s good moral character, the court would administer an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution of the United States. The clerk of court was to make a record of these proceedings, and "thereupon such person shall be considered as a citizen of the United States."
The Act also establishes the United States citizenship of children of citizens, born abroad, without the need for naturalization: "the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond Sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born Citizens".
Major changes to the definition of citizenship were ratified in the nineteenth century following the American Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 granted citizenship to people born within the United States regardless of their parents' race, citizenship, or place of birth, but it excluded untaxed Indians (those living on reservations). The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended "the naturalization laws" to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent." The 1898 Supreme Court court decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark grants citizenship to an American-born child of Chinese parents.
The remainder of Native Americans were finally granted citizenship in 1924, whether or not they belonged to a federally recognized tribe; by that date two-thirds of Native Americans were already U.S. citizens. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 prohibits racial and gender discrimination in naturalization.
- Hymowitz; Weissman (1975). A History of Women in America. Bantam.
- Schultz, Jeffrey D. (2002). Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics: African Americans and Asian Americans. p. 284. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
- Daniels, Roger. Coming to America, A History in Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life.
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