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They Who Become Citizens: The Naturalization Act of 1790, 1795 and 1798

They Who Become Citizens - The Naturalization Act

John DeArie and Courtney Geduldig of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article that shines a positive light on the beneficial contribution immigration reform brings to our economy.  People who fear that jobs would be lost to the influx of immigrants are probably not looking at data showing a correlation between more jobs and open immigration policies.

It is important to realize that moving from one country to another takes a certain psychology and mental fortitude.  People who are willing to leave their family and friends to start a new life must have a mental toughness or a level of courage that must be tied with such a decision.  According to Dearie and Gedulig, “…immigrants are more entrepreneurial and innovative than native-born Americans – “.  People who are willing to subject and immerse themselves into a new culture must have a certain sense of innovation about them – something they’re likely to keep once they’ve immigrated.

“Immigrants represent 13% of the U.S. population but account for nearly 20% of small businesses owners.”  They are also responsible for half of US start-ups which accounts for most of the “new” job creations.  (There are many more amazing facts in the article but some of you will have to ignore the names of Paul Ryan and John Boehner in order to extract them.)

What the article made me think about was the history of immigration within our country.  In my last blog I wrote about how John Adams and the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Act.  I should not have titled that article with “Thomas Jefferson”, as he was opposed to the laws, (though the title doesn’t really specify whether he was for or against it).  After the Revolutionary War our country was attempting to figure out the fair process of naturalizing an immigrant.  But the heated tension between the US and France created negative sentiments that biased what was considered fair for naturalization.    When the Constitution was first developed there wasn’t a specific definition for a “natural born citizen” or “citizen of the United States”.  In fact it said very little about immigration at all.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 set the very first basis of criteria for naturalization for immigrants, one being a requirement of two years residency and an oath to support the Constitution.  Blacks and other immigrants from certain races were exempt from the chance of becoming citizens, giving them no right to vote and thus no political power.  In 1795 those laws were adjusted to reflect a longer amount of required residency of five years.  Because of the tensions with France, John Adams along with a Federalist Congress passed the Nationalization Act of 1798 which amended the required residency even further – to 14 years.  Adams never actually enforced the Nationalization Act, but it still fired up Republicans who felt it was unconstitutional.

When thinking about immigration, remember the history of The Naturalization Acts – a time when our nation was first figuring out how to legally deal with citizenship for foreigners.


1.)  John DeArie / Courtney Geduldig, (December 29, 2013) (The Wall Street Journal) – http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB20001424052702303290904579278173121185300

One thought on “They Who Become Citizens: The Naturalization Act of 1790, 1795 and 1798

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