The Naturalization Act of 1790 was one of the first laws passed by the United States Congress to establish rules for the naturalization of immigrants, defining the process by which foreign-born individuals could become U.S. citizens. It was the first uniform rule of naturalization in U.S. history and was signed into law by President George Washington on March 26, 1790.
Key provisions of the Naturalization Act of 1790 include:
- Eligibility: The act allowed “free white persons” who had been residing in the United States for at least two years to apply for citizenship. This limited naturalization to white immigrants, excluding individuals of African, Asian, Native American, and other non-European descent.
- Residence and Good Moral Character: Applicants were required to have lived in the United States for at least two years and in the state where they filed for at least one year. They also had to demonstrate good moral character and attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
- Oath of Allegiance: The act required applicants to take an oath of allegiance to the United States and renounce their former allegiance to any foreign sovereign or government.
- Judicial Review: The naturalization process was handled by state and federal courts, and the final decision on granting citizenship rested with the courts.
It’s important to note that the Naturalization Act of 1790 was a reflection of its time and the prevailing attitudes towards immigration and citizenship during the late 18th century. The act’s restrictive criteria for naturalization based on race and the exclusion of non-white immigrants were later challenged and eventually changed in subsequent legislation.
Over the years, immigration and naturalization laws in the United States have evolved to reflect changing societal norms and values. Subsequent naturalization acts expanded eligibility to immigrants from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and modern laws emphasize principles of equality and nondiscrimination in the naturalization process.
Today, the naturalization process in the United States is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, which provides a more inclusive path to citizenship, open to individuals of various races, ethnicities, and nationalities who meet the necessary requirements.