Jared Taylor and Paul Kersey, American Renaissance, March 25, 2019
On tomorrow’s date, 229 years ago, Congress passed one of the most important federal laws ever enacted. It was the United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790, which limited naturalization to immigrants who were free white persons of good character.
This law was passed by the very first United States Congress to meet after the ratification of the Constitution. The government and the nation had just been established, and the people’s representatives, meeting for the first time, had to make a crucially important decision: Who could become an American?
The law permitted naturalization only to:
. . . 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 . . . .
The bill was debated for two days—the third and fourth of February—and passed on March 26, 1790. This was a year and a half before even the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
There are detailed records of the congressional debate, which raised many questions: Should standards for citizenship be uniform or could they vary by state? Should citizenship be limited only to immigrants who practiced certain trades? Should there be a residency requirement for citizenship, and if so, how long should it be? How could undesirables be kept out? Should an American who lives many years abroad lose his citizenship? Were the children of US citizens born abroad also to be citizens? Under what circumstances could foreign non-citizens be allowed to own land?
The full Congressional debate, which runs to many pages, can be read here. What by today’s standards is most remarkable is that there is not one word about even the possibility of letting anyone other than whites become citizens. The very first draft—which was modified in various ways as a result of debate—used the words “free white persons,” and there was never the slightest objection to that language. During the debates, congressmen sometimes used the word “European” rather than “white,” but it is clear that there was unanimity on this point: the United States was to be exclusively for white people.
And not just any white people. Indentured servants, who were considered property just like black slaves, could not become citizens. And not all free whites qualified. An applicant had to make a petition to a court, prove he was of good character, and take an oath of allegiance, renouncing any previous national loyalty. There was no provision for dual citizenship.
Citizenship was to be a high honor not to be accorded lightly. Congressman James Jackson of Georgia “hoped to see the title of a citizen of America as highly venerated and respected as was that of a citizen of old Rome.”
Much has changed. Although there were modifications to naturalization laws over the years, until 1965, the United States had an immigration policy designed to keep the country not just European but largely northern European. Now, we have a “diversity visa” lottery that hands out green cards as if they were door prizes. There are application instructions in Sinhala, Khmer, Tamil, and Turkish for foreigners who speak no English.
If we were a serious country of men and women faithful to the ideals of the Founders, we would recognize March 26 as a far more important day in our history than July 4.