Brief History of Naturalization
The Constitution of the United States gives Congress the power "to
establish a uniform rule of naturalization" (Article I, Section 8),
and Congress wasted little time in making such laws. The first federal
naturalization law was passed in 1790, and then modified in 1795 and
1798. A new law in 1802 established the basic guidelines that were in
effect until 1952.
The major requirements of this law were that an applicant reside five
years in the United States and one year in the state, and have filed
a Declaration of Intent at least three years before admission as a citizen.
The applicant was to be of good moral character, take an oath of allegiance,
renounce any title of nobility, and forswear allegiance to any reigning
Congress provided that any court could naturalize if it had:
- common law jurisdiction
- a seal
- a clerk (or prothonotary)
- kept a record of its proceedings
In practice, most states determined which of their
courts could exercise this authority and commonly there was one court
designated in a county to handle naturalization procedures. However,
that court could be the circuit, district, common pleas, chancery, probate,
superior or any other court so designated.
In areas with many immigrants, such as New York City,
many different courts were allowed to naturalize. Of course, federal
courts also met the broad criteria established by Congress, and they
often performed this function.