Independence Hall Home Search Contents Indexes Help
Eagle

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 (Citizenship)



Document 12

House of Representatives, Naturalization Bill

22, 26 , 29--31 Dec. 17941, 8 Jan. 1795Annals 4:1004--9, 1021--23, 1026--27, 1028--32, 1033--38, 1064

[22 Dec. 1794]

The House resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole House on the bill to amend the act, entitled "An act to establish an uniform rule of naturalization."

Mr. Dexter after some observations on the importance of the subject before the Committee; and expressing his disapprobation of the facility by which, under the existing law, aliens may acquire citizenship moved that the term of two years in the bill referring to the previous residence should be struck out and a blank left, to be filled up after more mature consideration. This motion was agreed to. Another amendment was proposed by that gentleman, referring particularly to the mercantile foreigners who may wish to acquire citizenship.

Mr. Page said, that 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 correct or retrieve. But he should vote against the amendment, because he thought, as his colleague [Mr. Madison] did, that it would be attended with embarassments to the admission to the rights of citizenship, which good men ought not to have thrown into their way; and which, too, for his part, he thought might prove insurmountable obstacles to such. Yet they would be no impediment to the views of bad men, or such as he wished to exclude from citizenship, for the best man in the United States might not procure the certificate required by the amendment, if he moved from State to State, staying no where long enough to enable two persons to swear that they had known him to be of such a character as we require, and to have supported it during the length of time which the amendment prescribes. Yet bad men, associating chiefly with men like themselves, regardless of oaths, might procure the requisite certificate. He disliked the amendment on account of its requiring an oath at all. He trusted that a Constitution much admired, and with such wholesome laws, will be an inducement to many good men to become citizens, and that, should bad men come amongst us, they will be discountenanced by the more virtuous class of citizens, and if necessary be punished by the laws. He hoped that good schools would soon be spread all over the States, and hence that good sense and virtue will be so generally diffused amongst us, that emigrants will be unable to corrupt our manners. Even at present, he relied so much on the virtue and discernment of his fellow citizens, the power of the law, and the energy of Government, as to apprehend no danger from emigration into the United States. Mr. P. said, that he knew instances of difficulties which some worthy men had met with in their endeavors to procure such certificates as the amendment proposed. He mentioned one clergyman in Virginia. Even Dr. Griffith, after being nominated Bishop of that State, found it difficult to procure from the Convention the certificate required by the English bishops; because, though hundreds of other persons knew his worthy character, a sufficient number of the members of the Convention had not known it, during the term specified in the certificate required.

Mr. Dexter's motion was now withdrawn.

Mr. Giles then proposed an amendment the object of which was to impede a return to citizenship of those who should expatriate themselves. He proposed that a special law of the State from which such persons should detach themselves, should be requisite in order to their being reinstated.

Mr. Tracy, after observing, that although he was not in favor of a perpetual allegiance as understood by the British Government, yet he was of opinion that the return of persons who should expatriate themselves ought to be clogged with greater impediments than simply a law of a particular State. If the amendment is a proper one, of which he confessed he had his doubts, he would suggest to the gentleman an addition, by making a law of the General Government also necessary in the case.

Mr. Giles observed that the object of his motion was not by any means to lessen the impediments in the way of a return to citizenship, but the reverse; he should therefore agree to the amendment of the gentleman from Connecticut. The motion was afterwards considered in several points of view, as blending State and Continental legislation, as interfering with the Legislative rights of the State by some, and as operating in the same manner in respect to the right reserved by the Constitution to the General Government, which is authorized to pass uniform laws of naturalization by others.

Mr. Sedgwick having stated that his colleague had prepared a motion with regard to the kind of evidence that an applicant should exhibit of the goodness of his moral character and of his attachment to the Government, he requested Mr. Giles to withdraw his motion for the consideration of the other, which he did, and thereupon, Mr. Dexter moved 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, which motion was seconded by Mr. Sedgwick, who added the following observations:

He said that the subject under consideration was certainly of great importance, and opened an extensive field of discussion. The present motion, taken in conjunction with that already adopted, had for its object to embarrass the facility, with which aliens may be admitted to the rights of citizenship. He would submit to the consideration of the committee, some of the leading ideas, which had occurred to his mind on this subject.

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 a more rich and glorious prospect than ever was presented to man. She had 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 support a Republican Government. This character of Americans was the result of early education, aided indeed by the discipline of the Revolution. In that part of the country with which he was best acquainted, the education, manners, habits, and institutions, religious and civil, were Republican. The community was divided into corporations, in many respects resembling independent republics, of which almost every man, the qualifications were so small, was a member. They had many important and interesting concerns to transact. They appointed their executive officers, enacted bye laws, raised money for many purposes of use and ornament. Here, then, the citizens early acquired the habits of temperate discussion, patient reasoning, and a capacity of enduring contradiction. Here the means of education and instruction are instituted and maintained; public libraries are purchased and read; these are (said he) the proper schools for the education of Republican citizens; thus are to be planted the seeds of Republicanism. If you will cultivate the plants which are to be reared from these seeds, you will gather an abundant harvest of long continued prosperity.

Much information (he said) might be obtained by the experience of others, if, in despite of it, we were not determined to be guided only by a visionary theory. The ancient Republics of Greece and Rome (said he) see with what jealousy they guarded the rights of citizenship against adulteration by foreign mixture. The Swiss nation, (he said,) in modern times, had not been less jealous on the same subject. Indeed, no example could be found, in the history of man, to authorize the experiment which had been made by the United States. It seemed to have been adopted by universal practice as a maxim, that the Republican character was no way to be formed but by early education. In some instances, to form this character, those propensities which are generally considered as almost irresistible, were opposed and subdued. And shall we (he asked) alone adopt the rash theory, that the subjects of all Governments, Despotic, Monarchical, and Aristocratical, are, as soon as they set foot on American ground, qualified to participate in administering the sovereignty of our country? Shall we hold the benefits of American citizenship so cheap as to invite, nay, almost bribe, the discontented, the ambitious, and the avaricious of every country to accept them?

We had (he said) on this subject not only example, but warning. Will gentlemen (said Mr. S.) recollect the rage of ages, which existed in the country from which we came, between the Saxon, Danish, and Norman emigrants and the natives of the country? The cruelties, the oppressions, the assassinations, in a word the miseries to which this gave birth? Perhaps it might be said that in this instance the emigrants were hostile invaders; but the same events took place in the decline of the Roman empire, between the emigrants who were invited to occupy the vacant frontiers and the ancient inhabitants; although the former ought to have been united to the latter by every principle of affection and gratitude. By these and almost an infinity of other instances, it would not be rash to conclude, that by the undeviating principles of human nature, whenever the inhabitants of one country should be permitted to settle in another, by national affections, an union would be formed, unfriendly not only to the ancient inhabitants, but also to social order. Our own experience was not, he believed, in opposition to the general observation. Although this reasoning was to his mind conclusive against a general and indiscriminate admission of aliens to the rights of citizenship, yet he did not wish it should go to a complete exclusion.

It was said, in support of what was termed our liberal policy, that our country wanted commercial capital; that we had an immense tract of vacant territory; and that we ought not, with the avarice of a miser, to engross to ourselves the exclusive enjoyment of our political treasures.

Mr. Sedgwick said he had never been convinced, that we ought to make so great a sacrifice of principle for the rapid accumulation of commercial capital. He had never been convinced, that by an improvement of our own resources, it would not accumulate as fast as might be for the public benefit. We heard much of equality. Property was in some sense power; and the possession of immense property generated daring passions which scorned equality, and with impatience endured the restraints of equal laws. Property was undoubtedly to be protected, as the only sure encouragement of industry, without which we should degenerate into savages. But he had never been convinced that the anxiety with which we wished an accumulation of capital, in the hands of individuals, was founded on correct Republican reflection. The ardent ambition inspired by the possession of great wealth, and the power of gratifying it, which it conferred, had in many instances disturbed the public peace, and in not a few destroyed liberty.

The vacant lands which some with so much avidity wished to see in the occupation of foreigners, he considered as the best capital stock of the future enjoyment of Americans; as an antidote against the poison of luxury; as the nursery of robust and manly virtue, and as a preventive of a numerous class of citizens becoming indigent, and therefore dependent. Whenever the time should arrive, (and may that period be very distant,) when there should no longer be presented to the poor a decent competence and independence, as the effect of industry and economy, (which would generally be the case when lands were no longer to be obtained, on their present easy and reasonable terms,) then that description of men, now perhaps the most happy and virtuous, would become miserable to themselves and a burden to the community. Now the man who entered on the stage of life, without property, had a reasonable assurance, that a few years of industry and economy, would give him independence, competence, and respectability. The prospect gave relish and effect to his labors. He planted himself on the frontiers, and cultivated in his posterity every useful and manly virtue. This was his treasure and it was a glorious one.

Mr. S. said he considered America as in possession of a greater stock of enjoyment than any other people on earth. That it was our duty to husband it with care; yet he could not altogether exclude such virtuous individuals, as might fly here, as to an asylum against oppression. On the one hand, he would not dissipate our treasures with the thoughtless profusion of a prodigal; nor would he, on the other, hoard them, as in the unfeeling grasp of a miser. Our glorious fabric (said he) has been cemented by the richest blood of our country, and may it long continue to shelter us against the blasts of poverty, of anarchy, and of tyranny.

The present (Mr. S. said) he believed the most inauspicious time for the indiscriminate admission of aliens to the rights of citizenship. A war, the most cruel and dreadful which had been known for centuries, was now raging in all those countries from which emigrants were to be expected. The most fierce and unrelenting passions were engaged in a conflict, which shook to their foundations all the ancient political structures in Europe. This contest was supported on the one hand by men who believed personal political distinctions were necessary to the great purpose of security, and on the other by those who thought that society could be protected and individuals secured by a Government with departments, and without checks; neither embracing the principles established here, where, without privileged orders distinct portions of power were to be deposited in different hands, in such manner that it was almost impossible for the mind even to conceive that the different departments should form an union for any mischievous purpose; and altogether impossible to believe that without such concurrence either alone should be capable of executing any wicked design.

Could (he asked) any reasonable man believe, that men who, actuated by such passions, had fought on grounds so opposite, almost equally distant from the happy mean we had chosen, would here mingle in social affections with each other, or with us? That their passions and prejudices would subside as soon as they should set foot in America? or that, possessing those passions and prejudices, they were qualified to make or to be made the governors of Americans?

He believed that the amendment now proposed by his colleague, in conjunction with that which had already succeeded, would on the one hand check the admission of foreigners in such numbers as might be dangerous to our political institutions; and, on the other, that it would not exclude such meritorious individuals as might be willing to serve the apprenticeship which might qualify them to assume the character and discharge the duties of American citizens.

He concluded by saying, that he had always been opposed to the policy of the Government on this subject; that his opposition had not been abated by reflection, but increased by the existing state of things in Europe.

[26 Dec.]

Mr. Giles proposed to amend the intended test of a citizen, by adding, after "two witnesses giving evidence as to his moral character," these words: "attached to a Republican form of Government." He thought this test proper, to prevent those poisonous communications from Europe, of which gentlemen were so much afraid.

Mr. Dexter preferred saying "attached to the Constitution of the Unitd States."

To this amendment Mr. Giles had little or no objection.

Mr. Boudinot did not see the use of either amendment. It was only giving unnecessary trouble. The oath which the person himself must take, was sufficient for expressing his fidelity to the Government of this country.

Mr. Nicholas considered both the amendment, and the clause to which it was annexed, as unnecessary; and even if in themselves proper, they were misplaced. He thought both equally superfluous. They should have been inserted in the oath of allegiance of the man himself.

Mr. Dayton hoped that the whole clause would be rejected. He should be against it, unless the nature of the evidence was referred to a Court of Justice. He foresaw many difficulties arising to poor men in attempting to get two such witnesses. It might suit extremely well with merchants and men of large capital, who had, he supposed, been alluded to the other day, under the title of meritorious emigrants. He was not so anxious for them as for useful laboring people, who, as he thought, would be more likely to do good. This class, however, had never, it was likely, troubled their heads about forms of Government. He further objected to the amendment of the gentleman from Virginia, that the word Republican was entirely equivocal. This title was assumed by many Governments in Europe, which were upon principles entirely different from ours. Some of them, such as Poland, had been Aristocracies of the most hideous form.

Mr. Dexter hoped that the amendment of Mr. Giles would not pass, [Mr. Giles had, as before noticed, consented to withdraw it]; not so much for the sake of the principle, as of the language in which it was expressed. The word Republican implied so much, that nobody could tell where to limit it. Why use so hackneyed a word? Many call themselves Republican, who, by this word, mean, pulling down every establishment: they were mere Anarchists.

Mr. Hillhouse was equally against the clause and amendment. Mr. Dexter and Mr. Giles previously declared themselves extremely doubtful whether they should even vote for the clause, when amended in their own way.

Mr. Giles felt himself extremely surprised to hear it asserted on the floor of Congress, that the words "Republican form of Government" meant anything or nothing. He read a passage from the Constitution, whereby a Republican form of Government is guarantied to each of the United States composing the Union. He should, therefore, have imagined, that the words were well understood from one end of the Continent to the other. He did not expect such criticism. He was not sure if he should vote for the clause at all; but if he did so, he should wish the best to be made of it. He then altered his amendment to these words: "attached to the principles of the Government of the United States."

Mr. Dayton.--With all the ambition of that gentleman [Mr. Giles] to be called a Democrat, both he and Mr. D. would more properly be called Republicans. He again vindicated his assertion as to the equivocal meaning of the word. A Venetian or Genoese might come to this country, and take the oath as proposed, and then excuse himself by saying, "it was the Republican form of my own country which I had in view." One of the best writers on the British Constitution had called that also a Republic.

Mr. Madison was of opinion, that the word was well enough understood to signify a free Representative Government, deriving its authority from the people, and calculated for their benefit; and thus far the amendment of his colleague was sufficiently proper. Mr. M. doubted whether he himself should, however, vote for the clause, thus amended. It would perhaps be very difficult for many citizens to find two reputable witnesses, who could swear to the purity of their principles for three years back. Many useful and virtuous members of the community may be thrown into the greatest difficulties, by such a procedure. In three years time, a person may have shifted his residence from one end of the Continent to the other. How then was he to find evidence of his behaviour during such a length of time? But he objected to both amendments on a different ground. It was hard to make a man swear that he preferred the Constitution of the United States, or to give any general opinion, because he may, in his own private judgment, think Monarchy or Aristocracy better, and yet be honestly determined to support this Government as he finds it.

Mr. Hillhouse then proposed as an amendment, to insert, that "evidence should be produced to the satisfaction of the Court."

Mr. Dexter mentioned the abuses that have happened in the present form of admitting citizens. He did not comprehend the argument of Mr. Dayton, that it would be more easy for a rich than for a poor man to get evidences to swear to his having resided in the country. If he had not, the fact was of a notorious nature. It would likewise be as easy for a poor man, as for a rich one, to get an attestation of his character. The point of residence was, in itself, but little. A man may have resided here for a long time, and defrauded the citizens, which would be no recommendation.

Several other gentlemen spoke. The resolution finally passed.

The second resolution produced a long conversation, in the course of which Mr. Murray declared, that he was quite indifferent if not fifty emigrants came into this Continent in a year's time. It would be unjust to hinder them, but impolitic to encourage them. He was afraid that, coming from a quarter of the world so full of disorder and corruption, they might contaminate the purity and simplicity of the American character.

The Committee now rose, and had leave to sit again.

[29 Dec.]

The motion before the Committee, made by Mr. Venable, when they broke off the last discussion, had been to strike the word "moral" out of this amendment: "good moral character." These three words, altogether, were an addition of what was to be attested by the witnesses for a candidate to admission as a citizen.

Mr. Dexter opened the debate on the amendment of Mr. Venable to the amendment, by saying that he wished to hear the reasons for it.

Mr. Nicholas said, that he did not make the motion; but his colleague, who had made it, thought that the insertion of the word "moral" gave too strict an air to the sentence. This word might be hereafter implied to mean something relative to religious opinions.

Mr. Sedgwick remarked, that if no better reason than that advanced by Mr. Nicholas could be given for striking out the word "moral," he could not agree to it. Moral is opposed to immoral, but has no particular reference whatever to religion, or whether a man believes anything or nothing. It has no reference to religious opinions. We can everywhere tell, by the common voice of the World, whether a man is moral or not in his life, without difficulty. In some States of the Union adultery is not punishable by law, yet it is everywhere said to be an immoral action. It is too nice to make a distinction between a good character and a good moral character. The word good, itself, is very equivocal in its meaning. It signifies anything, everything, or nothing. A good companion is one thing; a good man, as applied to wealth, conveys a different sense; and so on.

Mr. B. Bourne considered the amendment itself, and the motion of Mr. Venable to strike out the word "moral," as equally useless.

Mr. Murray hoped that the word would not be struck out. This would be the greatest slander ever cast upon the American character. It would excite the surprise of foreign nations.

Mr. Venable had thought the wording of the phrase too strict; but rather than have any further dispute, he withdrew his motion for striking out the word "moral."

The clause was then read, as amended.

Mr. Gilbert thought that the term of residence, before admitting aliens, ought to be very much longer than mentioned in the bill. The Chairman informed him that the term in the bill was left blank.

Mr. Sedgwick agreed to the idea of Mr. Gilbert. He wished that a method could be found of permitting aliens to possess and transmit property, without, at the same time, giving them a right to vote. He did not know if the Constitution authorized such a thing.

[30 Dec.]

Mr. Hillhouse moved as an amendment to the clause before the Committee, that if any citizen of the United States, at any time thereafter, should become a citizen or subject of any other State or country, he should not again be admitted an American citizen. This amendment gave rise to debate.

Mr. Murray hoped the amendment would succeed, and that any citizen of the United States who, when out of the United States, elected to be a subject of any foreign Power, should not again be permitted to the rights of complete citizenship; nor did he think it necessary to decide the question which had resulted from the ingenious arguments of his friend from Massachusetts, [Mr. Dexter,] whether a man can expatriate himself without the express consent of the community or nation of which he is a citizen or subject. It was enough for us to say, that any man who does expatriate himself from the United States, shall not again become a citizen. He could not agree with the gentleman from Massachusetts, in the position, that a man cannot expatriate without the consent of his country. The practice of this country is a direct confutation of this doctrine; and it must be admitted, either that this country has trampled on the most solemn of social and national rights, by its practice, or that a man may leave his country and take on him the obligations of a new allegiance in this country. It seemed to him a position as conformable to sound morals as to political truth, that what a man has no right to offer, another man, or society, cannot rightfully accept. He would infer, that this country had a right to naturalize foreigners, because she has naturalized them; and that this country, by its laws, having accepted the allegiance of an alien, the alien had a right to offer that allegiance. The very proviso to naturalize an alien, without inquiry as to the consent of his own country having been previously obtained, seems to be predicated on the principle for which he contended--that a man has the right to expatriate himself without leave obtained: if he has not, all our laws of this sort, by which we convert an alien into a citizen completely, must be acknowledged to be a violation of the rights of nations. How far a man, after having been naturalized at a period of life when his reason enabled him to choose, and to enter into a solemn obligation, and after he has expressly entered into it, has a right, without the consent of the society, to quit that society, might be another question. After a citizen throws off his allegiance to this country, by leaving it and entering into a new obligation to some other nation, though he may have a right so to do, he has no right to return to his allegiance here without the consent of this society; and it is not a question of right, but of policy, how far we will readmit him to citizenship. When he said that the right of dissolving allegiance must be admitted both to give exercise to a right and to give consistency to our principles and practice, he did not mean that a citizen could throw off his allegiance in this country, but that he must complete the act of dissolution in some other country. Such a principle would belong to the theory of the dissolution, rather than the formation of a civil society; hence appeared to him the strange solecism of that law of Virginia which provides for the throwing off allegiance within the community. The consequences of such a principle are not only destructive to the very form and body of civil society, but are unnatural. They present a civilized being belonging to no civil society on earth; for, in the intermediate state in which he stands, between the allegiance and country he has just disowned, and the allegiance and country to which he may intend to pledge himself, he is in the imaginary state of nature, which is, in reality, an unnatural state, for a being whose every faculty and quality constitutes him a moral agent, surrounded by essential relations, and, of course, impel him to discharge duties of a social nature.

He wished this Government, while it expressly adopted the right of naturalizing aliens, to do and to say nothing that involved a contradiction between its principles and practice. If it accepts the allegiance of an alien, it presupposes that the alien has the right to tender his allegiance; and one clause of the bill expressly requires of the alien an abjuration of his former allegiance, which is certainly proper. In doing this, the bill admits, unequivocally, the right of subjects and citizens to expatriate. The British Government, by a want of conformity between their first principle, as laid down in their law books, and the practice of Parliament, have shown us a singular mixture of old principles which the nation have outgrown. It is a maxim with them, that allegiance cannot be dissolved by any change of time or place, nor by the oath of a subject to any foreign Power; yet they naturalize by act of Parliament. They accept what they declare by their theory of civil law cannot be rightfully offered: nay, for one century the throne of England has presented Monarchs who were foreigners. William of Orange was a Prince, but he was a subject, too, of a foreign Power; and George the First was a member of the Germanic body. There is little danger that citizens, who are worthy of being so, will throw off their allegiance from the United States. The amendment which prohibits their readmission to a participation of all the rights of citizenship, will be a sufficient penalty, if any be necessary. Though they may have a right to expatriate themselves, there cannot be inferred a right of returning; for every body politic must have the right of saying upon what terms they will accept any addition of aliens to their numbers; and the expatriated man, no longer belonging to this society, and being an alien, the Government may choose whether he ever shall enjoy its privileges again.

Mr. Baldwin expressed the strongest disapprobation at the idea of expatriating all those of our citizens who may have become subjects or citizens of another country. Many of them had been made citizens without any solicitation of their own, and merely as a mark of esteem from the Government under which they lived. They had no design whatever of renouncing their country. Yet the House, all at once, declares them incapable of returning to their former situation.

The amendment was negatived. The Committee rose, the Chairman reported progress, and the House adjourned.

[31 Dec.]

Mr. W. Smith made a motion for striking out the clause under consideration altogether, and leaving exactly as it now stands the law regarding citizens of America, who became citizens of other countries. This was rejected.

After some further discussion, Mr. Giles proposed a new clause, which was in substance, that all such aliens, who had borne any hereditary titles, or titles of nobility in other countries, should make a renunciation of such titles before they can enjoy any right of citizenship. This renunciation is to be made in the Court where they lay claim to a right of citizenship. Mr. G. said, if we did anything to prevent an improper mixture of foreigners with the Americans, this measure seemed to him one that might be useful.

Mr. W. Smith was entirely opposed to the motion. An attempt of this kind had been made some years ago in the Legislature of one of the States, but dropped again as having been seen to be improper. The mind of the public is completely guarded against the introduction of titles, and they will never be current here. You cannot hinder a man from calling another a Viscount. You cannot declare this a crime.

Mr. S. doubted whether the House had, by the Constitution, any right of making such a law. They were directed not to grant any titles, but their authority did not extend to the taking away of titles from persons who were not born in the country. The Marquis de Lafayette has been distinguished all over the Continent by the title of Marquis. Mr. S. hoped that he would one day be again in America, and then he would very likely be called Marquis again. By this law it would be illegal. The member then went into a long detail on English nobility, and explained the difference between several kinds of titles.

Mr. Giles did not think his motion positively necessary, but it might be useful. It seemed to be a growing practice with some gentlemen in the House to treat the most serious subjects with ridicule. He, for his own part, considered this conduct as highly improper.

Mr. Dexter was as averse to titles as any man in the House, but he did not like to make laws against them. An alien might as well be obliged to make a renunciation of his connexions with the Jacobin club. The one was fully as abhorrent to the Constitution as the other.

Mr. Page highly recommended the motion of his colleague. He mentioned a particular occasion at New York, where the word honorable had been applied in Congress to a particular body. He had proposed to strike out this word honorable. He was ridiculed, but he stood to his point, and carried it by a great majority. If the Marquis Lafayette was to return to America, he would behave with the frank manners which became a Republican. The case might be very different with a British Peer with his star and garter, and other baubles of that sort. If he were called My Lord Duke, or My Lord, or any other of these foolish names, it might tickle the ears of some people, and make them like the custom.

Mr. Giles, in reply to Mr. Dexter, said, that if a thing be implied in the Constitution, where is the harm of expressing it? This is said to be implied in the Constitution, and therefore it is needless to express it. Now this was one of the very best arguments which could be thought of in favor of the motion. At the time when the Constitution was made, nobody could foresee the strange turn which affairs have taken, or that there might be a danger from an inundation of titled fugitives. Indeed, if no better reasoning could be adduced against his motion than that employed by the gentleman from South Carolina, he was not likely to think the worse of it. That gentleman had objected to the adoption of the motion because it agrees with the public mind. He says that the dispositions of the people will of themselves be sufficient to exclude the use of titles. It was certainly no reason against making a law in Congress, that it would exactly meet the wishes of the people. The motion might be useful. Mr. G. hoped that it would pass. Foreigners coming here with titles never will voluntarily renounce them. Mr. G. reminded the House that his proposal went only to the renunciation of titles, when the party concerned wanted to become a citizen.

Mr. W. Smith said, that the fact was against the gentleman. Foreigners coming to this country had renounced their titles, and called themselves only by their plain names. Why might there not be an interdiction against persons connected with the Jacobin club? Why not forbid the wearing of certain badges of distinction used by Jacobins?

Mr. Madison approved of the motion. He regarded it as exactly to the business in hand, to exclude all persons from citizenship who would not renounce forever their connexion with titles of nobility. The propriety of the thing would be illustrated by this reflection, that if any titled Orders had existed in America before the Revolution, they would infallibly have been abolished by it.

Mr. Giles said, that the debate had turned upon these people called Jacobins. Both these and the persons with titles were dangerous to the country. Some of the former part of the regulations in this proposed act had an eye to them. He would have more faith in an individual who came forward in an open Court and renounced his connexions with nobility. He was willing to withdraw for the present his motion.

[1 Jan. 1795]

Several gentlemen spoke on this subject. As to the granting of privileges to aliens, Mr. Madison remarked, that there was no class of emigrants from whom so much was to be apprehended as those who should obtain property in shipping. Much greater mischief was to be feared from them than from any influence in votes at an election. If he were disposed to make any distinction of one class of emigrants more than another, as to the length of time before they should be admitted citizens, it would be as to the mercantile people--as these persons may, by possessing themselves of American shipping and seamen, be enabled clandestinely to favor such particular nations in the way of trade as they may think proper.

The House went through the report of the Committee, and agreed to the amendments.

Mr. Giles then rose to make his promised motion as to the exclusion of any foreign emigrant from citizenship who had borne a title of nobility in Europe till he had formally renounced it. He proceeded to observe that, agreeably to the spirit of the Constitution, we ought to have the strongest possible evidence that people of this description have renounced all pretence to a right of this nature, before we admit them into the bosom of society. Moderation had been recommended. He requested gentlemen to observe that he conducted his motion on the strictest principles of moderation. He had, in a former part of this bill, voted for some clauses which were intended to guard the Government against any disturbance from the people called Jacobins, when their principles should run to a dangerous and seditious extreme. The same spirit of candor and moderation which had induced him to vote for a precaution against the attempts of the one party, now led him to propose a precaution against the prejudices of the aristocrats, which were, upon the whole, more hostile to the spirit of the American Constitution than those of their antagonists. He also requested gentlemen to observe that his present motion went not to the invasion of any positive right. It left the individual exactly where it found him, unless he aspired to be an American citizen. Otherwise, he might retain his titles undisturbed as long as he pleased. But if he wanted any promotion of a civil nature in this country, he must rise to it by conforming exactly to the rules laid down by the Constitution itself. That code had declared no titled character admissible to any civil rank. It was not to be supposed that people born and nurtured in the lap of aristocracy would heartily renounce their titles, and become all at once sincere Republicans. It was therefore highly improper that such people should be admitted. If we are allowed to anticipate probabilities, it seems highly probable that we shall soon have a great number of this kind of persons here. A revolution is now going onward, to which there is nothing similar in history. A large portion of Europe has already declared against titles, and where the innovations are to stop, no man can presume to guess. There is at present no law in the United States by which a foreigner can be hindered from voting at elections, or even from coming into this House; and if a great number of these fugitive nobility come over, they may soon acquire considerable influence. The tone of thinking may insensibly change in the course of a few years, and no person can say how far such a matter may spread. After these, and other prefatory remarks, Mr. G. read a resolution, which was in effect as follows:

"And in case any alien applying for admission to citizenship of the United States, shall have borne any title or order of nobility in any Kingdom or State from whence he may come, he must renounce all pretensions to his title before the Court in which such application shall be made; and this renunciation must be registered in the said Court."

Mr. G. observed that previous to the late Revolution the French nobility were, by the lowest calculation, rated at twenty thousand; and as we may conclude on France being successful, a great proportion of these people may be finally expected here.

Mr. Dexter declared that he was not very anxious against the resolution. He, however, opposed it. He imagined that, by the same mode of reasoning, we might hinder his Holiness the Pope from coming into this country. He entered at some length into the ridicule of certain tenets in the Roman Catholic religion, and said that priestcraft had done more mischief than aristocracy.

Mr. Madison said that the question was not perhaps so important as some gentlemen supposed; nor of so little consequence as others seem to think it. It is very probable that the spirit of Republicanism will pervade a great part of Europe. It is hard to guess what numbers of titled characters may, by such an event, be thrown out of that part of the world. What can be more reasonable than that when crowds of them come here, they should be forced to renounce everything contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. He did not approve the ridicule attempted to be thrown out on the Roman Catholics. In their religion there was nothing inconsistent with the purest Republicanism. In Switzerland about one-half of the Cantons were of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Some of the most Democratical Cantons were so; Cantons where every man gave his vote for a Representative. Americans had no right to ridicule Catholics. They had, many of them, proved good citizens during the Revolution. As to hereditary titles, they were proscribed by the Constitution. He would not wish to have a citizen who refused such an oath.

Mr. Page was for the motion of his colleague. It did not become that House to be afraid of introducing Democratical principles. Titles only give a particular class of men a right to be insolent, and another class a pretence to be mean and cringing. The principle will come in by degrees, and produce mischievous effects here as well as elsewhere. If such men do come here, nothing can be more grateful to a Republican than to see them renounce their titles. This does not amount to any demand of making them renounce their principles. If they do not aspire to be citizens, they may assume as many titles as they think fit. Equality is the basis of good order and society, whereas titles turn everything wrong. Mr. P. said that a scavenger was as necessary to the health of a city as any one of its magistrates. It was proper, therefore, not to lose sight of equality, and to prevent, as far as possible, any opportunities of being insolent. He did not want to see a Duke come here, and contest an election for Congress with a citizen.

Mr. Sedgwick was really at a loss to see what end this motion could answer. He agreed with the arguments of Mr. Giles. But the point in view was explicitly provided for already. By taking an oath of citizenship, the individual not only renounces, but solemnly abjures nobility. The title is destroyed when the allegiance is broken by his oath being taken to this Government. This abjuration has destroyed all connexion with the old Government. Why then provide for it a second time?

Mr. Giles said, that by admitting a thing to have been once done, it was admitted that it might be done again. If it had been right to do it once, there could be no harm in repeating it. The member then quoted Mr. Dexter, who rose and declared that the gentleman had misunderstood him. He spoke for some time, and when he sat down--

Mr. Giles declared himself incapable of comprehending whether Mr. Dexter was for his motion or against it. He therefore proceeded to reply to Mr. Sedgwick, whose chief argument had been that the thing was provided for already. He did not suppose that this gentleman would allege the matter to be explicitly provided for. It only could be so by implication; which was a very bad way of making a law, because it gave room for endless disputes. If the thing is in itself right, why refuse to vote directly for it? Why leave it only to be implied? He wished to let foreigners know expressly the ground upon which they stood. Why not tell them at once, and in plain English, you must renounce your titles before you can have the privileges of an American citizen? Mr. G. pressed home this idea more than once. He meant no act of inhospitality to these emigrants. He would deprive them of no right, nor do anything unkind to them. But he was entitled by the spirit of the Constitution to withhold this right from them till they renounced all hereditary titles. This was no incivility. He concluded, by declaring that he would, if supported, call for the yeas and nays on this question. A number of members rose to support this proposal.

Mr. Nicholas had no objection to the motion, but that it did not go far enough. The emigrants ought to be obliged to swear not only that they abjured all titles hitherto received, but that they would never accept of any in future. He believed that this would hurt their feelings, and, sympathizing with them, he would not urge a proposal that might add to their distress, but should vote for the motion as it stood.

Mr. Lee was very sorry that the present subject had been so long agitated--he never viewed it as important--but a degree of importance had been now given to it by the calling of the yeas and nays.

Under these circumstances, it appeared to him very well calculated to impress on the public mind, that there was a real danger of the establishment of nobility or aristocratic orders in this country; and that those who voted against this motion were friendly to such a change in our political system: and that those who voted for it were the only true patriots. He trusted so much to the liberality of the mover as to rely that he neither meant unnecessarily to alarm the public mind, nor intended to inflict a stigma on those gentlemen who, entertaining an opinion of the frivolity and inefficacy of the motion, should vote against it. Mr. Lee would therefore impute the motion to the most laudable zeal to guard the public liberty. And on this ground it would be necessary to inquire what was the danger which existed that this provision was intended to protect us from. The gentleman must have felt great alarm, or he would not have introduced it. Mr. L. said, when he looked through the Constitution and Laws of the United States, and particularly when he considered the Constitutions and laws of the respective States, that he could not see the shadow of a foundation to build an alarm upon. As to mere empty names, as to sounds, we must be very corrupt, we must be very ignorant, if we could be alarmed by them. And in this free country every man had a right to call himself by what name or title he pleased: and if the mover thought proper to change his name for any other name, sound, or title, it would neither add to, nor diminish his real worth and importance; it would not give qualities to his heart which he had not before, nor detract from those he had. What were the mischiefs experienced in Europe from privileged orders? they did not flow from the names by which those orders were distinguished; they arose from the exclusive preference and privileges which those orders possessed in political rights, and in property. Without these their titles would have been mere empty gewgaws, ridiculous in the extreme, and unworthy of the acceptance of any man of common sense. Titles then did not produce the mischiefs; but the privileges annexed to titles. Mr. L. had said, in this country every man had a right to call himself by what name or title he pleased; but here no mischief could result from it, because neither political rank nor property could be attached to titles. Every citizen was equal to his fellow-citizen in political rights; and the laws of the respective States had wisely provided that property could not be accumulated in such a degree in the hands of individuals as to give them an improper influence in society. By the equal distribution of estates individuals are prevented from being so rich as to trample upon the necks of their equals. Great accumulations of property are more likely in fact to introduce the effects of aristocracy than the ridiculous names by which individuals may be distinguished. It was a slander upon the fundamental laws and political institutions of our country, to suppose that a few aliens, because they had possessed titles in foreign countries after having renounced their allegiance to those countries, even if they were disposed to do it, could as it were by magic, overturn the established habits of our people, and the liberty of the Government into which they had incorporated themselves. The body of our citizens were too enlightened, too virtuous, for Mr. L. to apprehend any danger from so trivial a cause. If worthy citizens were so corruptible, and so easily corrupted, we must relinquish the idea of ever being fit to maintain a free and Republican Government. But our citizens can distinguish between sound and reality. When we passed the excise law, it was said that the name was odious; but the Legislature, having a proper confidence in the understanding of the community, did not hesitate to pass it; because it was a just and necessary one. If nobility should ever unfortunately be introduced into this country (to which at present every circumstance is hostile, and which Mr. L. believed impossible, as long as we adhere to our present fundamental laws and virtuous habits) it would be from internal corruption, and not because a few foreigners, who once possessed titles in their native countries, may become citizens of this. They in fact can have no privilege among us in consequence of any foreign title; but must exist in perfect equality in all social rights with the rest of our citizens.

But his colleague objected to the qualities of their hearts. To find out the heart of any man, would be a difficult task. We are liable to be deceived by every description of men. The professions of over-zealous patriots do not always secure us from their treason, or we should not so frequently in history read of Catilines and Caesars, or lately have witnessed the tyranny of Robespierre. All these men were once flaming patriots. And if zealous patriots can turn traitors and tyrants, was it not as possible for the member of a foreign privileged order to become a good citizen? The truth is, professions and abjurations are no certain proofs of the virtue and apprehended patriotism of any man. We are secure from the danger, because every citizen here is equal. No privileged orders exist amongst us, nor can exist, unless the people shall choose to change their present Constitution and Laws, which is not to be expected. Mr. L. said, if he understood his colleague, his strongest reason why a foreign nobleman could not become a good citizen, was the education he had received; the superiority which he had been accustomed to exercise over his fellow men, and the servile court he had been accustomed to receive from them. It was, then, the corrupting relation of lord and vassal, which rendered him an unfit member of an equal Republican Government. Mr. L. feared that this reasoning applied to the existing relation of master and slave in the Southern country, (rather a more degrading one than even that of lord and vassal) would go to prove that the people of that country were not qualified to be members of our free Republican Government. But he knew that this was not the case. Though in that House the members from the State of Virginia held persons in bondage, he was sure that their hearts glowed with a zeal as warm for the equal rights and happiness of men, as gentlemen from other parts of the Union where such degrading distinctions did not exist. He rejoiced, that, notwithstanding the unfavorable circumstances of his country in this respect, the virtue of his fellow-citizens shone forth equal to that of any other part of the nation.

Mr. L. was afraid that the force of his colleague's reasoning might be extended to throw an improper imputation on the virtue of his countrymen, which he was sure could not be intended. But, Mr. L. did not think that the citizens in the South had any right to assume a superiority in political virtue, over their fellow-citizens to the East. He claimed to be equal, not to be behind them was sufficient glory. Mr. L. did not know but the proposition, if it had any effect, which he very much doubted, might collaterally affect the rights to property, which, in the course of time, might devolve to aliens in the countries from which they came, which, he believed, his colleague could not intend.

[8 Jan.]

The bill to establish an uniform system of naturalization, and to repeal the act heretofore passed on that subject, was then read a third time, and passed. The filling up of the blanks in this bill produced a dispute of some length, and from the intricacy in some parts of it, the abridging of it would be a work of difficulty. Several members spoke to the filling up of the blanks, and their arguments sometimes applied equally to all the three clauses before the House. To be intelligible, therefore, it appears necessary in the first place to insert the clauses themselves at length, as in the end filled up. We shall then repeat some of the remarks made on the subject by different gentlemen. The sections of the bill in question were as follows:

1. The alien shall have declared on oath or affirmation, before the Supreme, Superior, District, or Circuit Court of some one of the States, or a Circuit or District Court of the United States, three years at least before his admission, that it was, bona fide, his intention to become a citizen of the United States, and to renounce all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty whatever, and particularly by name the Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty whereof such alien may, at the time, be a citizen or subject.

2. He shall, at the time of his application to be admitted, declare on oath or affirmation, before some one of the Courts aforesaid, that he has resided within the United States five years at least, and within the State where such Court is at the time held, one year at least; that he will support the Constitution of the United States; and that he doth renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty, whatever, and particularly by name the Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty whereof he was before a citizen or subject; which proceedings shall be recorded by the Clerk of the Court.

3. The Court admitting such alien, shall be satisfied that he has resided within the limits, and under the jurisdiction of the United States five years; and it shall further appear to their satisfaction, that during that time he has behaved as a man of a good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.

Some gentlemen having spoke on the propriety of different terms for admission.

Mr. Madison said, that he feared the House would never see an end of the discussion, if they went on at this rate, for, by descending to discriminate all the qualifications of a citizen, they run the hazard of losing the bill altogether, from the mere waste of time. Ten years were named by Mr. Murray to fill up the first blank, and seven years by Mr. Hartley. These terms he thought by much too long. This would oblige the friends of the bill to vote against it.

Mr. Baldwin objected that the law was inconsistent with itself, for a man is not to be admitted as a citizen to vote for ten years, while a residence of nine years may qualify him to be elected a Senator. This differed from the temper of the Constitution.

Mr. S. Smith said, that the discussion on several parts of the bill in Committee had appeared to him unimportant, that the great object with him was the time of probation. He was for the longest term, that the prejudices which the aliens had imbibed under the Government from whence they came might be effaced, and that they might, by communication and observance of our laws and government, have just ideas of our Constitution and the excellence of its institution before they were admitted to the rights of a citizen. A gentleman from Virgina [Mr. Nicholas] had stated that holding a purse with money in it was sufficient to admit strangers to a vote in Maryland; the fact was not so; before an alien can be admitted to the right of suffrage, he must abjure all allegiance to the King of Great Britain, take the oaths to the State, and to support the Government of the United States, and have one year's residence. The gentleman says, that the bill can only embrace the officers of Government and the commercial interest, and fears that the Eastern States wish to exclude the competition that arises from the foreign merchant. He could not see how that jealousy could apply, for it was as rare to see a foreign merchant in New England, as to see a native merchant in Virginia; that if the gentleman thought the place of foreign merchants would be filled from New England, he could foresee no injury, on the contrary a benefit. For, in case of war, you might be assured that they would not act as spies; that there were many merchants from New England in Maryland--that they were good Republicans, good citizens, and always industrious.

Mr. Fitzsimons thought that ten years were much too long a time for keeping an alien from being a citizen--it would make this class of people enemies to your Government. He was firmly of opinion that emigrants deserved to be encouraged; and to discourage them was an idea which till this day he had never heard either in or out of the House. Nature seems to have pointed out this country as an asylum for the people oppressed in other parts of the world. It would be wrong, therefore, to first admit them here, and then treat them for so long a time so hardly. As to the merchants from this country returning home with their wealth acquired here, it was not the case in Pennsylvania, whatever it might be in Virginia. They very seldom went home again, but married and settled in the country. He also thought the country obliged to them, as it was capable of employing the largest capital which could be brought into it. He knew of no such competition as the gentleman spoke about between the natives and the aliens.

Mr. Boudinot reminded the House of a late Proclamation by the President, wherein, among other things, it is said that this country is an asylum to the oppressed of all nations. He was for shortening the period of admission. He saw a great deal in the remark as to the bad policy of admitting people into the country and refusing them for so long a period the rights of citizens.

Several other gentlemen spoke. The bill finally passed.


The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 (Citizenship), Document 12
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_4_citizenships12.html
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

Easy to print version.


Home | Search | Contents | Indexes | Help

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/