Imágenes de páginas



An examination of the history of Congressional legislation, on the subject of the naturalization laws, must satisfy every one that the statesmen of the Revolution did not entertain the idea that aliens had an absolute right to participate in the highest prerogatives of the government, but acted upon the subject as a matter of expediency, and treated it as a privilege conferred. Their action was characterized by great deliberation and caution; and, in this respect, their successors in Congress, until 1824, seem to have emulated their example. From the passage of the first act, in 1790, down to 1824, there has been a uniform and constant advance, in the demands of the laws passed by Congress on the subject, upon those on whom they authorized the privilege of citizenship to be conferred. The same cannot, however, be said, with equal truth, of the legislation since 1824.

During the consideration of the bill to establish an uniform rule of naturalization, in 1790, there was a long and animated discussion in the House of Representatives, in which the views of most of the leading members were elicited and made known on the subject, as will be seen by reference to the published Annals of Congress, vol. i., 1146 to 1165. The discussion arose on a motion made by Thomas Tudor Tucker, of South Carolina, to permit aliens to hold lands without having resided any definite period in the country, though he accompanied his motion with the declaration, that " he had no objection to extending the term, entitling them to hold an office under government, to three years." At a subsequent period of the debate, he again took occasion to declare that he “bad no object in making his motion, but to enable the people to bold lands, who came from abroad to settle in the United States;" and he went on to express his views, as to residence being made a qualification for admission to citizenship, as follows:

“As to the privilege of being elected to office, he was of opinion, the term of three or four years was a term sufficiently short to acquire it in ; it was a much easier method of obtaining citizenship, than was practiced by other nations: neither would he object to any precaution being introduced into the bill, that had a tendency to prevent the admission of bad men; if such precaution could be devised, consistent with their constitutional power, and could be carried into safe and easy execution.”

Thomas Hartley, of Pennsylvania, said : “ He had no doubt of the policy of admitting aliens to the right of citizenship; but

[ocr errors]

he thought some security for their fidelity and allegiance was requisite besides the bare oath; that is, he thought an actual residence of such a length of time as would give a man an opportunity of esteeming the government from knowing its intrinsic value, was essentially necessary to assure us of a man's becoming a good citizen. T'he practice of almost every State in the Union countenanced a regulation of this nature; and perhaps it was owing to a wish of this kind that the States had consented in give this power to the General Government. The terms of citizenship are made too cheap in some parts of the Union ; to say that a man shall be admitted to all the privileges of a citizen, without any residence at all, is what can hardly be expected."

Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, who was one of the framers of the Federal Constitution, said :

“Ho presumed it was intended by the Convention, who framed the Constitution, that Congress should have the power of naturalization, in order to prevent particular States receiving citizens, and forcing them upon others who would not have received them in any other manner. It was therefore meant to guard against an improper mode of naturalization, rather than foreigners should be received upon easier terms than those adopted by the several States.”

James Madison, of Virginia, also one of the framers of the Constitution, and who was foremost among those in favor of liberal legislation for citizens of foreign birth, frankly said, “when we are considering the advantages that may result from an easy mode of naturalization, we ought also to consider the cautions necessary to guard against abuses." He concluded his remarks as follows:

“ I should be exceedingly sorry, sir, that our rule of naturalization excluded a single person of good fame that really meant to incorporate himself into our society ; on the other hand, I do not wish that any man should acquire the privilege, but such as would be a real addition to the wealth or strength of the United States. It may be a question of some nicety, how far we can make our law to admit an alien to the right of citizenship, step by step; but there is no doubt we may, and ought to require residence as an essential.”


James Jackson, of Georgia, was not only in favor of a long residence, but anxious to guard against the admission of improper persons. He said :

“ He conceived the present subject to be of high importance to the respectability and character of the American name; the veneration he had for, and the attachment he had to this country, made him extremely anxious to preserve its good fame from injury. He hoped to see the title of a citizen of America as highly venerated and respected as a citizen of old Rome. I am clearly of opinion, that rather than have the common class of vagrants, paupers, and other outcasts of Europe, that we had better be as we are, and trust to the natural increase of our population for inhabitants. If the motion made by the gentleman from South Carolina should obtain, such people will find an easy admission indeed to the rights of citizenship; much too easy for the interests of the people of America. Nay, sir, the terms required by the bill on the table are in my mind too easy

I think before a man is admitted to enjoy the high and inestimable privilege of a citizen of America, that something more than a mere residence among us is necessary.

[ocr errors]

I think he ought to pass some time in a state of probation, and at the end of the term be able to bring testimonials of a proper and decent behavior; no man who would be a credit to the community could think such terms difficult or indelicate; if bad men should be dissatisfied on this account, and should decline to immigrate, the regulation will have a beneficial effect; for we had better keep such out of the country than admit them into it. I conceive, sir, that an amendment of this kind would be reasonable and proper; all the difficulty will be to determine how a proper certificate of good behavior

a should be obtained. I think it might be done by vesting the power in the Grand Jury or District courts to determine on the character of the man, as they should find it."


Theodore Sedgwick, of Massachusetts, said :

“He was against the indiscriminate admission of foreigners to the highest rights of human nature, upon terms so incompetent to secure the society from being overrun with the outcasts of Europe ; besides, the policy of settling the vacant territory by immigration is of a doubtful nature. He believed in the United States the human species might be multiplied by a more eligible and convenient mode, than what seemed to be contemplated by the motion now before the committee. He was well satisfied for himself, that there existed no absolute necessity of peopling it in this way; and if there was no absolute necessity, he thought Congress might use their discretion, and admit none but reputable and worthy citizens—such only were fit for the society into which they were blended. The citizens of America preferred this country because it is to be preferred; the like principle he wished might be held by every man who came from Europe to reside here; but there were at least some grounds to fear to the contrary; their sensations impregnated with prejudices of education acquired under monarchical and aristocratical governments, may deprive them of that wish for pure republicanism, which is necessary in order to taste its beneficence with that magnitude which we feel on the occasion. Some kind of probation, as it has been termed, is absolutely requisite, to enable them to feel and be sensible of the blessing. Without that probation, he should be sorry to see them exercise a right which we have gloriously struggled to attain.”

Michael J. Stone, of Maryland, expressed his views as follows:

“ I would let the term of residence be long enough to accomplish two objects, before I would consent to admit a foreigner to have any thing to do with the politics of this country. First, that he should have an opportunity of knowing the circumstances of our government, and, in consequence thereof, shall have admitted the truth of the principles we hold. Second, that he should have acquired a taste for this government, and in order that both things may take place, in such a way as to make him worthy of admission into our society, I think a term of four or seven years ought to be required. A foreigner, who comes here, is not desirous of interfering immediately with our politics; nor is it proper that he should. His immigration is governed by a different principle; he is desirous of obtaining and holding property. I should have no objection to his doing this from the first moment he sets his foot on shore in America ; but it appears to me that we ought to be cautious how we admit foreigners to the other privileges of citizenship, and that for a reason not yet mentioned ; perhaps it may allude to the next generation more than to this ; the present inhabitants were most of them here when engaged in a long and hazardous war. They have been active in rearing up the present government, and feel perhaps a laudable vanity in having effected what its most sanguine friends hardly dared to contemplate. There is a danger of these people losing what they so greatly esteem; but the admission of foreigners to all places of govern

; ment may tincture the system with the dregs of their former habits, and corrupt what we believe the most pure of human institutions.”

George Clymer, of Pennsylvania, said:

“ In States, however, newly formed, it might be useful to fix a short period; but in the old States, fully peopled, he did not think the longest which had been mentioned too great."

Peter Sylvester, of New York, said : “ He thought it neither for the honor nor interest of the United States to admit aliens to the rights of citizenship indiscriminately; he was clearly in favor of a term of probation, and that their good behavior should be vouched for. He suggested the idea of lodging the power of admitting foreigners to be naturalized in the District Judges.”

The bill was finally passed without a call of the yeas and nays, and does not seem to have had any opposition or discussion in the Senate. It was approved March 26, 1790, required two years' residence as a qualification for citizenship, and was embraced in one section, which was as follows:

“ 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 cha. racter, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law, to support the Constitution of the United States, which oath or affirmation such court shall administer; and the clerk of such court shall record such application, and the proceedings thereon ; and thereupon such person shall be considered as a citizen of the United States. And the children of such person so naturalized, dwelling within the United States, being under the age of twenty-one years, at the time of such naturalization, shall also be consi. dered as citizens of the United States. And 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. Provided also, That no person heretofore proscribed by any State shall be admitted a citizen aforesaid, except by an act of the Legislature of the State in which such person was proscribed.”

[ocr errors]



The consideration of the bill enacted into a law in 1795 again elicited a warm discussion in the House of Representatives, as will be seen by reference to the published Annals of Congress of 1793–95, page 1004 to 1133. Samuel Dexter, Jr., of Massachusetts, led off in the debate, expressing his disapprobation of the facility by which, under the existing law, aliens may acquire citizenship,” and moved that the term of two years' residence be striken out and a blank left, “to be filled up after more mature consideration,” which was agreed to. He also proposed an amendment in reference to the mercantile foreigners who might wish to acquire citizenship.

John Page, of Virginia, though coinciding with the views of Mr. Madison, in regard to the naturalization of foreign citizens, expressed himself as follows:

“He approved the design of the mover, because he thought nothing more desirable than to see good order, public virtue, and true morality, constituting the character of citizens of the United States; for without morality, and indeed a general sense of religion, a Republican Government cannot flourish, nay, cannot long exist; since without these, disorders will arise which the strong arm of powerful Government can alone core rect or retrieve.”

Mr. Dexter subsequently moved another amendment, that "no alien should be admitted to the rights of citizenship, but on the oath of two credible witnesses, that in their opinion he was of good moral character and attached to the welfare of this country.” This motion was seconded by Theodore Sedgwick, of Massachusetts, who spoke as follows:

“America,” he said, “ if her political institutions should on experience be found to be wisely adjusted, and she shall improve her natural advantages, had opened to her view à more rich and glorious prospect than ever was presented to man. She has chosen for herself a government which left to the citizen as great a portion of freedom as was consistent with a social compact. All believed the preservation of this government, in its purity, indispensable to the continuance of our happiness. The foundation on which it rested was general intelligence and public virtue; in other words, wisdom to discern, and patriotism to pursue the general good. He had pride, and he gloried in it, in believing his countrymen more wise and virtuous than any other people on earth; hence he believed them better qualified to administer and to support a Republican Government. This character of Americans was the result of early education, aided indeed by the discipline of the Revolution.

« AnteriorContinuar »