The idea of citizenship or subject-ship can be seen as early
as the 1400s in some European countries, particularly England. This concept was
developed largely in part as a means to establishing a sense of allegiance and
a hierarchy. As time goes on the principle is used in delegating and managing
issues and rights involving land taxes and other associated liberties. The
concept of naturalization was vague and rarely used, most likely due to the
lack of incoming migrants looking for new alliance. America on the other hand
is a new revolving door full of immigrants from many different countries with
diverse demographics and as America grows and develops through the centuries we
see these two concepts originally adopted from the mother country take on new
meaning and purpose.
As colonies of different nations developed in the new world,
certain policies had to be established for labor purposes. These policies could
differ greatly from colony to colony depending on the country they hailed from.
Additionally, the settlers of the colonies were often entitled and considered
themselves to be far more superior than the populations of natives already occupying
the land leading to policies on distinctions between the various occupants of
the lands. Citizenship in the
settlements became more like a contract and although only grantable to men of
certain ethnic backgrounds, citizenship allowed for a number of rights to be
granted to lower or working class that would be equal to those of the higher
class in society. This was in part due to the need to attract more working immigrants.
Following the American Revolution, the more unified but
still diverse settlers had to develop a governing system and in doing so
documented the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for this new country and it’s
citizens. The growing population in America was primarily English, Irish, Scottish,
Scotch-Irish, German, French, African, and various Native populations with more
ethnic groups still entering. There
needed to be a process for these “Aliens” to become “naturalized”, in other
words, become citizens. Thus, the Naturalization Act of 1790 was formed.
According to James H. Kettner:
“First Federal Naturalization act
of 1790 was fairly liberal. Any “free white person” who resided for two years
within the United States and for at least one year in the state where he sought
admission providing his good character and taking a path to support the constitution
of the United States, was to be considered as a citizen of the United States. Children
under twenty-one dwelling within the United States were to be included in the
parents’ naturalization and foreign born children of citizens were themselves
to be deemed natural born citizens provided that the right of citizenship shall
not descend to person whose fathers have never been residents in the United States.”
The Naturalization Act
would be revised in later years and become more detailed. As assimilation
and unity slowly occurs, Americans start to develop a sense of pride and
prosperity and a national identity as one. America continued goes through many
stages, waves of immigration, and social and economic changes from the 19th and
into the 20th centuries which would result in Civil Rights movements that would
continue to change the definition and identity of the American citizen.
Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: a history of immigration
and ethnicity in American life. Perennial, 2009.
Ngai, Mae M., and Jon Gjerde. Major problems in American
immigration history: documents and essays. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013.