Naturalization Act of 1790

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Naturalization Act of 1790
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titlesNaturalization Act
Long titleAn Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.
Enacted bythe 1st United States Congress
EffectiveMarch 26, 1790
Public lawPub.L. 1–3
Statutes at LargeStat. 103, chap. 3
Legislative history
  • Passed the House of Representatives on March 4, 1790 ([1])
  • Passed the Senate on March 19, 1790 ([2]) with amendment
  • House of Representatives agreed to Senate amendment on March 22, 1790 ([3]) with further amendment
  • Senate agreed to House of Representatives amendment on March 25, 1790 ([4])
  • Signed into law by President George Washington on March 26, 1790
Major amendments
Naturalization Act of 1795

The Naturalization Act of 1790 (1 Stat. 103, enacted March 26, 1790) was a law of the United States Congress that set the first uniform rules for the granting of United States citizenship by naturalization. The law limited naturalization to "free White person(s) ... of good character", thus excluding Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free black people and later Asians, although free black people were allowed citizenship at the state level in a number of states.

The Act was modeled on the Plantation Act 1740 with respect to time, oath of allegiance, process of swearing before a judge, etc.[5][6]


There was a two-year residency requirement in the United States and one year in the state of residence before an alien would apply for citizenship, by filing a Petition for Naturalization with "any common law court of record" having jurisdiction over his residence. Once convinced of the applicant's “good character”, the court would administer an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution of the United States. The applicant's children to age of 21 would also be naturalized. 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 provided that children born abroad when both parents are U.S. citizens "shall be considered as natural born citizens," but specified that the right of citizenship did "not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States."[7][8][9] This act was the only US statute to ever to use the term "natural born citizen", found in the US Constitution in relation to the prerequisites for a person to serve as president or Vice-President, and the term was removed by the Naturalization Act of 1795.

Though the Act did not specifically preclude women from citizenship, the common law practice of coverture had been absorbed into the legal system of the United States.[10] Under this practice the physical body of married woman, thus any rights to her person or property, was controlled by her husband. A woman's loyalty to her husband was considered above her obligation to the state.[11] Jurisprudence on domestic relations held, that infants, slaves, and women should be excluded from participation in public life and conducting business, because they lacked discernment, the right to free will and property, and there was a need to prevent moral depravity and conflicts of loyalty.[12][13]


The Naturalization Act of 1795 repealed and superseded the 1790 Act. The 1795 Act extended the residence requirement to five years, and added a requirement that a prospective applicant needed to give notice of application of three years. The Naturalization Act of 1798 extended the residency requirement to 14 years and notice period to five years. The 1798 Act was repealed by the Naturalization Law of 1802, restoring the residency and notice requirements of the 1795 Act.

From the adoption of the Naturalization Law of 1804, women's access to citizenship was increasingly tied to their state of marriage. By the end of the nineteenth century, the overriding consideration to determine women's citizenship or ability to naturalize was her marital status. From 1907, a women's nationality was entirely dependent on whether or not she was married.[14]

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which was ratified by the US Congress in 1831, allowed those Choctaw Indians who chose to remain in Mississippi to gain recognition as US citizens, the first major non-European ethnic group to become entitled to US citizenship.

Major changes in citizenship rules were made in the 19th 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, irrespective of race, but it excluded untaxed “Indians” (Native Americans living on reservations). The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended "the naturalization laws" to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent" while also revoking the citizenship of naturalized Chinese Americans.[15]

By virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment and despite the 1870 Act, the Supreme Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) recognised U.S. birthright citizenship of an American-born child of Chinese parents who had a permanent domicile and residence in the United States, and who were there carrying on business, and were not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China.[16] U.S. citizenship of persons born in the United States since Wong Kim Ark have been recognised, although the Supreme Court has never directly made a ruling in relation to children born to parents who are not legal residents in the United States.

Native Americans were granted citizenship in a piece-meal manner until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted them blanket citizenship whether they belonged to a federally recognized tribe or not, though by that date two-thirds of Native Americans had already become US citizens by other means. The Act was not retroactive, so that it did not cover citizens born before the effective date of the 1924 act, or outside of the United States as an indigenous person.

Further changes to racial eligibility for citizenship by naturalization were made after 1940, when eligibility was extended to "descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere," "Filipino persons or persons of Filipino descent," "Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent," and "persons of races indigenous to India."[17] The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 prohibits racial and gender discrimination in naturalization.[18]


  1. ^ "Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 2nd sess.,". Library of Congress. 1790. p. 1463. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Annals of Congress, Senate, 1st Cong., 2nd sess.,". Library of Congress. 1790. p. 992. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  3. ^ "House Journal. 1790. 1st Cong., 2nd sess.,". Library of Congress. p. 178. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  4. ^ "Senate Journal. 1790. 1st Cong., 2nd sess.,". Library of Congress. p. 124. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  5. ^ Michael Lemay, Elliott Robert Barkan, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History[dead link], pp 6-9. (1999) Retrieved 2014-03-29
  6. ^ Historical Timeline, History of Legal and Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1607-1799
  7. ^ Hymowitz; Weissman (1975). A History of Women in America. Bantam.
  8. ^ Schultz, Jeffrey D. (2002). Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics: African Americans and Asian Americans. p. 284. ISBN 9781573561488. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  9. ^ Bad news for Ted Cruz: his eligibility for president is going to court. Dara Lind and Jeff Stein. Vox Media. 18 February 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  10. ^ Kerber 1998, p. 11.
  11. ^ Kerber 1998, p. xxiii.
  12. ^ Isenberg 1998, p. 45.
  13. ^ Jefferson 1999, p. 219-220.
  14. ^ Smith, Marian L. (Summer 1998). ""Any woman who is now or may hereafter be married...": Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802–1940". Prologue Magazine. Washington, D. C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 30 (2). ISSN 0033-1031. Archived from the original on 29 April 2020. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
  15. ^ Forbidden Citizens: Chinese Exclusion and the U.S. Congress: A Legislative History. ISBN 9781587332524.
  16. ^ United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898).
  17. ^ Coulson, Doug (2015). "British Imperialism, the Indian Independence Movement, and the Racial Eligibility Provisions of the Naturalization Act: United States v. Thind Revisited". Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives (7): 2. SSRN 2610266.
  18. ^ Daniels, Roger. Coming to America, A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life.