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 character. It thus excluded American Indians, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, and Asians. It also provided for citizenship for the children of U.S. citizens born abroad, but specified that the right of citizenship did "not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States". It specifies that such children "shall be considered as natural born citizens" — the only U.S. statute to ever use the term "natural born citizen".
In order to address one's good 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 the 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 certain 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: provided, That the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States".
The Act of 1790 was superseded by the Naturalization Act of 1795, which extended the residence requirement to five years, and by the Naturalization Act of 1798, which extended it to 14 years. The 1798 act was repealed by the Naturalization Law of 1802.
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 and subject to its jurisdiction 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." In 1898 the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark granted citizenship to an American-born child of Chinese parents. All persons born in the United States since United States v. Wong Kim Ark have been granted citizenship although the Supreme Court has never explicitly ruled on the matter.
All Native Americans were finally granted citizenship by the Indian Citizenship Act of 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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