The Naturalization Act of 1790

Naturalization is the process by which people can become citizens of a country they were not born in. The United States Constitution grants Congress the power "to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization" (Article I, section 8, clause 4). Soon after the Constitution was ratified Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790 (1 Stat. 103). The act provided

that any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof, on application to any common law court of record, in any one of the States wherein he shall have resided for the term of one year at least, and making proof to the satisfaction of such court, that he is a person of good character, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law, to support the Constitution of the United States....

This act reveals one of the deepest ambiguities in American citizenship. In requiring a period of residence prior to naturalization, members of Congress emphasized that foreigners should spend sufficient time in the United States to appreciate American democracy; Congress viewed America as a school for equality and democracy. But by preventing foreign-born people of color from becoming citizens, the act established that American citizenship contained its own aristocracy, that of race.

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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 aliens who were "free white persons" and thus left out indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, and later Asians. This was the only statute ever to grant the status of natural born citizen.

The 1790 Act also limited naturalization to persons of "good moral character"; the law required a set period of residence in the United States prior to naturalization, specifically two years in the country and one year in the state of residence when 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 asking to be naturalized. 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".

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When the United States naturalization act went into effect on March 26, 1790, rules for guiding the granting of natural citizenship was finally realized. The first realization was that the act did not include people who were indentured servants, slaves or Indians. Even if White men or women were poor from other nations, they still had good chances of becoming a naturalized citizen after a certain amount of time. The period of required residence was at least two years for White immigrants in the United States of America.

Indentured servants (bonded servants for a specific time) were used as another source of labor (other than African and Indian slaves) under the contract of an employer for an exact amount of time. In some instances, Europeans who owed debt became indentured bond servants. The time for a bonded servant was at least several years in service. The original workforce in America was indeed these bonded servants, and not the African or Indian slaves who were ruled by small European elite like so many people may have thought. This group qualified for naturalization due to the nature of their race and culture which was related to that of the Founding Fathers.

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Tags: America, USA, citizenship, congress, immigrants, legislation, naturalization, racism, racist

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