Subversive Historian – 03/26/09

Naturalization Act of 1790

Back in the day on March 26th, 1790, the U.S. Congress passed its first Naturalization Act. As the first immigration policy of its kind for the newly emerging nation-state, it tellingly laid down racial barriers for becoming a citizen. The text of the law read, “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.” Although white immigrants were given a pathway to citizenship under the act, it also stipulated that they be of “good character.” Of course, by definition, these provisions of naturalization excluded African-Americans, whether free or enslaved, indentured servants, and the original inhabitants of the land; Native Americans.

The explicit preferences in the first immigration act of the United States would go on to become defining characteristics of future immigration legislation throughout the centuries. We have always been a nation of immigrants, some more welcome than others…


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