Commenting on an immigration-related meme shared on Facebook by Representative Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa on Tuesday, Representative Jim Nash, R-Waconia, shared the following family memory:
Jim Nash My great grandparents did this in 1905 when they arrived at Ellis Island from Norway. Norwegian citizens one day American citizens the next. Invested into the community, jobs, voters, the whole shebang.
"This" referenced The Draz's headnote:
And...most importantly, they pledged their loyalty to the United States of America and its citizens.
In fact, that flash citizenship process isn't quite how it happened.
According to the National Archives, citizenship wasn't instantly granted upon swearing an oath at Ellis Island. Instead:
Naturalization is the process by which an alien becomes an American citizen. It is a voluntary act; naturalization is not required. Of the foreign-born persons listed on the 1890 through 1930 censuses, 25 percent had not become naturalized or filed their "first papers. . . .
General Rule: The Two-Step Process
Congress passed the first law regulating naturalization in 1790 (1 Stat. 103). As a general rule, naturalization was a two-step process that took a minimum of 5 years. After residing in the United States for 2 years, an alien could file a "declaration of intent" (so-called "first papers") to become a citizen. After 3 additional years, the alien could "petition for naturalization." After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien. These two steps did not have to take place in the same court. As a general rule, the "declaration of intent" generally contains more genealogically useful information than the "petition." The "declaration" may include the alien's month and year (or possibly the exact date) of immigration into the United States.
There were some exceptions: "derivative" citizenship granted to wives and minor children of naturalized men; an alien woman who married a U.S. citizen between 1790 to 1922 automatically became a citizen; 1824 to 1906, minor aliens who had lived in the United States 5 years before their 23rd birthday could file both their declarations and petitions at the same time; and exceptions granted to veterans that allow a person to shorten the residency period by as much as four years.
The Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America is part of the last step of the process:
Throughout our nation's history, foreign-born men and women have come to the United States, taken the Oath of Allegiance to become naturalized citizens, and contributed greatly to their new communities and country. The Oath of Allegiance has led to American citizenship for more than 220 years.
Since the first naturalization law in 1790, applicants for naturalization have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. Five years later the Naturalization Act of 1795 required an applicant to declare an intention (commitment) to become a U.S. citizen before filing a Petition for Naturalization. In the declaration of intention the applicant would indicate his understanding that upon naturalization he would take an oath of allegiance to the United States and renounce (give up) any allegiance to a foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty. Applicants born with a hereditary title also had to renounce their title or order of nobility.
It's not something that happened just as one got off the boat, as Representative Nash jokes--with an instant transformation from being Norwegian to being an American.
One curious side note about the Minnesota state constitution: both Representative Nash's Norwegian citizen ancestors (arriving in 1905) and our editor's own grandhttp://www.mnhs.org/library/constitution/father Sorensen (1912) missed the chance for completely legal non-citizen voting.
From 1857 until 1896, the Minnesota state constitution allowed "White persons [male] of foreign birth, who shall have declared their intentions to become citizens, conformably to the laws of the United States upon the subject of naturalization" to exercise the right to vote before becoming citizens. This was in both the original Democratic and Republican versions of the document.
In 1896, Minnesota voters--suspicious whether immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe could handle the ballot--amended the state constitution to require United States citizenship on the part of the voter, not merely whiteness, maleness and intention to become a citizen.
Photo: The Oscar II, upon which our editor's Danish grandfather reached America on May 1, 1912. It took him a few years to become a citizen.
If you appreciate our posts and original analysis, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or use the paypal button in the upper right hand corner of this post.
Or you can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.