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Congress Passes the First Immigration Law

In March 1790, the newly-formed Congress passed a law establishing the rules for becoming a citizen. Under the law, only "free white persons" who had been in the United States for at least two years were eligible for citizenship, thus excluding free and enslaved African-Americans, indentured servants, Native-Americans, and later Asian-Americans. Citizenship was further limited to persons of good moral character who had to attest to their good character in front of a state court and take an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution of the United States. In 1795, a new act was passed increasing the amount of required residence for naturalization from two to five years in the United States.

An Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That 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, which oath or affirmation such court shall administer; and the clerk of such court shall record such application, and the proceedings thereon; and thereupon such person shall be considered as a citizen of the United States. And the children of such persons so naturalized, dwelling within the United States, being under the age of twenty-one years at the time of such naturalization, shall also be considered as citizens of the United States. And the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens: Provided, That the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States: Provided also, That no person heretofore proscribed by any state, shall be admitted a citizen as aforesaid, except by an act of the legislature of the state in which such person was proscribed.

APPROVED, March 26, 1790.

Source | Statutes at Large, Ist Congress, 2nd Session, Ch. III, 1790; Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,
Creator | U.S. Congress
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | U.S. Congress, “Congress Passes the First Immigration Law,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed May 28, 2023,

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