United States v. Wong Kim Ark/Dissent Fuller

Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, with whom concurred MR. JUSTICE HARLAN dissenting.

I cannot concur in the opinion and judgment of the court in this case.

The proposition is that a child born in this country of parents who were not citizens of the United States, and under the laws of their own country and of the United States could not become such — as was the fact from the beginning of the Government in respect of the class of aliens to which the parents in this instance belonged — is, from the moment of his birth a citizen of the United States by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, any act of Congress to the contrary notwithstanding.

The argument is, that, although the Constitution prior to that amendment nowhere attempted to define the words "citizens of the United States" and "natural-born citizen" as used therein, yet that it must be interpreted in the light of the English common law rule which made the place of birth the criterion of nationality; that that rule

was in force in all [p706] the English colonies upon this continent down to the time of the Declaration of Independence, and in the United States afterwards, and continued to prevail under the Constitution as originally established;


that, before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the adoption of the Constitutional Amendment, all white persons, at least, born within the sovereignty of the United States, whether children of citizens or of foreigners, excepting only children of ambassadors or public ministers of a foreign Government, were native-born citizens of the United States.

Thus, the Fourteenth Amendment is held to be merely declaratory except that it brings all persons, irrespective of color, within the scope of the alleged rule, and puts that rule beyond the control of the legislative power.

If the conclusion of the majority opinion is correct, then the children of citizens of the United States, who have been born abroad since July 8, 1868, when the amendment was declared ratified, were, and are, aliens, unless they have, or shall on attaining majority, become citizens by naturalization in the United States, and no statutory provision to the contrary is of any force or effect. And children who are aliens by descent, but born on our soil, are exempted from the exercise of the power to exclude or to expel aliens, or any class of aliens, so often maintained by this court, an exemption apparently disregarded by the acts in respect of the exclusion of persons of Chinese descent.

The English common law rule, which it is insisted was in force after the Declaration of Independence, was that

every person born within the dominions of the Crown, no matter whether of English or of foreign parents, and, in the latter case, whether the parents were settled or merely temporarily sojourning in the country, was an English subject, save only the children of foreign ambassadors (who were excepted because their fathers carried their own nationality with them) or a child born to a foreigner during the hostile occupation of any part of the territories of England.

Cockburn on Nationality 7.

The tie which bound the child to the Crown was indissoluble. [p707] The nationality of his parents had no bearing on his nationality. Though born during a temporary stay of a few days, the child was irretrievably a British subject. Hall on Foreign Jurisdiction, etc., § 1.

The rule was the outcome of the connection in feudalism between the individual and the soil on which he lived, and the allegiance due was that of liegemen to their liege lord. It was not local and temporary, as was the obedience to the laws owed by aliens within the dominions of the Crown, but permanent and indissoluble, and not to be cancelled by any change of time or place or circumstances.

And it is this rule, pure and simple, which it is asserted determined citizenship of the United States during the entire period prior to the passage of the act of April 9, 1866, and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and governed the meaning of the words "citizen of the United States" and "natural-born citizen" used in the Constitution as originally framed and adopted. I submit that no such rule obtained during the period referred to, and that those words bore no such construction; that the act of April 9, 1866, expressed the contrary rule; that the Fourteenth Amendment prescribed the same rule as the act, and that, if that amendment bears the construction now put upon it, it imposed the English common law rule on this country for the first time, and made it "absolute and unbending" just as Great Britain was being relieved from its inconveniences.

Obviously, where the Constitution deals with common law rights and uses common law phraseology, its language should be read in the light of the common law; but when the question arises as to what constitutes citizenship of the nation, involving as it does international relations, and political, as contradistinguished from civil, status, international principles must be considered, and, unless the municipal law of England appears to have been affirmatively accepted, it cannot be allowed to control in the matter of construction.

Nationality is essentially a political idea, and belongs to the sphere of public law. Hence, Mr. Justice Story, in Shanks v. Dupont, 3 Pet. 242, 248, said that the incapacities of femes [p708] covert at common law

do not reach their political rights, nor prevent their acquiring or losing a national character. Those political rights do not stand upon the mere doctrines of municipal law, applicable to ordinary transactions, but stand upon the more general principles of the law of nations.

Twiss, in his work on the Law of actions, says that

natural allegiance, or the obligation of perpetual obedience to the government of a country wherein a man may happen to have been born, which he cannot forfeit, or cancel, or vary by any change of time or place or circumstance, is the creature of civil law, and finds no countenance in the law of nations, as it is in direct conflict with the incontestable rule of that law.

Vol. 1, p. 231.

Before the Revolution, the view of the publicists had been thus put by Vattel:

The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. The society is supposed to desire this in consequence of what it owes to its own preservation, and it is presumed as matter of course that each citizen, on entering into society, reserves to his children the right of becoming members of it. The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children, and these become true citizens merely by their tacit consent. We shall soon see whether, on their coming to the years of discretion, they may renounce their right, and what they owe to the society in which they were born. I say that, in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen; for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country.

Book I, c.19, § 212.

The true bond which connects the child with the body politic is not the matter of an inanimate piece of land, but the moral relations of his parentage. . . . The place of birth produces no change in the rule that children follow the condition of their fathers, for it is not naturally the place of birth that gives rights, but extraction.

And to the same effect are the modern writers, as for instance, [p709] Bar, who says:

To what nation a person belongs is by the laws of all nations closely dependent on descent; it is almost an universal rule that the citizenship of the parents determines it — that of the father where children are lawful, and, where they are bastards, that of their mother, without regard to the place of their birth, and that must necessarily be recognized as the correct canon, since nationality is, in its essence, dependent on descent.

Int.Law. § 31.

The framers of the Constitution were familiar with the distinctions between the Roman law and the feudal law, between obligations based on territoriality and those based on the personal and invisible character of origin, and there is nothing to show that, in the matter of nationality, they intended to adhere to principles derived from regal government, which they had just assisted in overthrowing.

Manifestly, when the sovereignty of the Crown was thrown off and an independent government established, every rule of the common law and every statute of England obtaining in the Colonies in derogation of the principles on which the new government was founded was abrogated.

The States, for all national purposes embraced in the Constitution, became one, united under the same sovereign authority and governed by the same laws, but they retained their jurisdiction over all persons and things within their territorial limits except where surrendered to the General Government or restrained by the Constitution, and protection to life, liberty and property rested primarily with them. So far as the jus commune, or folk-right, relating to the rights of persons was concerned, the Colonies regarded it as their birthright, and adopted such parts of it as they found applicable to their condition. Van Ness v. Pacard, 2 Pet. 137.

They became sovereign and independent States, and when the Republic was created, each of the thirteen States had its own local usages, customs and common law, while, in respect of the National Government, there necessarily was no general, independent and separate common law of the United States, nor has there ever been. Wheaton v. Peter, 8 Pet. 591, 658. [p710]

As to the jura corona, including therein the obligation of allegiance, the extent to which these ever were applicable in this country depended on circumstances, and it would seem quite clear that the rulemaking locality of birth, the criterion of citizenship because creating a permanent tie of allegiance, no more survived the American Revolution than the same rule survived the French Revolution.

Doubtless, before the latter event, in the progress of monarchical power, the rule which involved the principle of liege homage may have become the rule of Europe; but that idea never had any basis in the United States.

A Chief Justice Taney observed in Fleming v. Page, 9 How. 603, 618, though in a different connection:

It is true that most of the States have adopted the principles of English jurisprudence so far as it concerns private and individual rights. And when such rights are in question, we habitually refer to the English decisions not only with respect, but in many cases as authoritative. But in the distribution of political power between the great departments of government, there is such a wide difference between the power conferred on the President of the United States and the authority and sovereignty which belong to the English Crown that it would be altogether unsafe to reason from any supposed resemblance between them, either as regards conquest in war or any other subject where the rights and powers of the executive arm of the government are brought into question. Our own Constitution and form of government must be our only guide.

And Mr. Lawrence, in his edition of Wheaton (Lawrence's Wheaton, p. 920), makes this comment:

There is, it is believed, as great a difference between the territorial allegiance claimed by an hereditary sovereign on feudal principles and the personal right of citizenship participated in by all the members of the political community, according to American institutions, as there is between the authority and sovereignty of the Queen of England and the power of the American President, and the inapplicability of English precedents is as clear in the one case as in the other. The same view, with particular application to naturalization, was early taken by [p711] the American commentator on Blackstone. Tucker's Blackstone, Vol. 1, Pt. 2, Appx. p. 96.

Blackstone distinguished allegiance into two sorts, the one natural and perpetual, the other local and temporary. Natural allegiance, so-called, was allegiance resulting from birth in subjection to the Crown, and indelibility was an essential, vital and necessary characteristic.

The Royal Commission to inquire into the Laws of Naturalization and Allegiance was created May 21, 1868, and, in their report, the Commissioners, among other things, say:

The allegiance of a natural-born British subject is regarded by the Common Law as indelible. We are of opinion that this doctrine of the Common Law is neither reasonable nor convenient. It is at variance with those principles on which the rights and duties of a subject should be deemed to rest; it conflicts with that freedom of action which is now recognized as most conducive to the general good, as well as to individual happiness and prosperity, and it is especially inconsistent with the practice of a State which allows to its subjects absolute freedom of emigration.

However, the Commission, by a majority, declined to recommend the abandonment of the rule altogether, though "clearly of opinion that it ought not to be, as it now is, absolute and unbending;" but recommended certain modifications which were carried out in subsequent legislation.

But from the Declaration of Independence to this day, the United States have rejected the doctrine of indissoluble allegiance and maintained the general right of expatriation, to be exercised in subordination to the public interests and subject to regulation.

As early as the act of January 29, 1795, c. 20, 1 Stat. 414, applicants for naturalization were required to take not simply an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, but of absolute renunciation and abjuration of all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince or State, and particularly to the prince or State of which they were before the citizens or subjects.

The statute 3 Jac. 1, c. 4, provided that promising obedience [p712] to any other prince, State, or potentate subjected the person so doing to be adjudged a traitor, and to suffer the penalty of high treason, and in respect of the act of 1795, Lord Grenville wrote to our minister, Rufus King:

No British subject can, by such a form of renunciation as that which is prescribed in the American law of naturalization, divest himself of his allegiance to his sovereign. Such a declaration of renunciation made by any of the King's subjects would, instead of operating as a protection to them, be considered an act highly criminal on their part.

2 Amer.St.Pap. 19. And see Fitch v. Weber, 6 Hare 51.

Nevertheless, Congress has persisted from 1795 in rejecting the English rule and in requiring the alien who would become a citizen of the United States, in taking on himself the ties binding him to our Government, to affirmatively sever the ties that bound him to any other.

The subject was examined at length in 1856, in an opinion given the Secretary of State by Attorney General Cushing, 8 Opins.Attys.Gen. 139, where the views of the writers on international law and those expressed in cases in the Federal and state courts are largely set forth, and the Attorney General says:

The doctrine of absolute and perpetual allegiance, the root of the denial of any right of emigration, is inadmissible in the United States. It was a matter involved in, and settled for us by, the Revolution which founded the American Union.
Moreover, the right of expatriation, under fixed circumstances of time and of manner, being expressly asserted in the legislatures of several of the States and confirmed by decisions of their courts, must be considered as thus made a part of the fundamental law of the United States.

Expatriation included not simply the leaving of one's native country, but the becoming naturalized in the country adopted as a future residence. The emigration which the United States encouraged was that of those who could become incorporate with its people, make its flag their own, and aid in the accomplishment of a common destiny, and it was obstruction to such emigration that made one of the charges against the Crown in the Declaration. [p713]

Ainslie v. Martin, 9 Mass. 454, 460 (1813); Murray v. McCarty, 2 Munf. 393 (1811); Alsberry v. Hawkins, 9 Dana 177 (1839), are among the cases cited. In Ainslie v. Martin, the indelibility of allegiance according to the common law rule was maintained, while in Murray v. McCarty and Alberry v. Hawkins, the right of expatriation was recognized as a practical and fundamental doctrine of America. There was no uniform rule so far as the States were severally concerned, and none such assumed in respect of the United States.

In 1859, Attorney General Black thus advised the President (9 Op. 356):

The natural right of every free person who owes no debts and is not guilty of any crime to leave the country of his birth in good faith and for an honest purpose, the privilege of throwing off his natural allegiance and substituting another allegiance in its place — the general right, in one word, of expatriation, is incontestable. I know that the common law of England denies it, that the judicial decisions of that country are opposed to it, and that some of our own courts, misled by British authority, have expressed, though not very decisively, the same pinion. But all this is very far from settling the question. The municipal code of England is not one of the sources from which we derive our knowledge of international law. We take it from natural reason and justice, from writers of known wisdom, and from the practice of civilized nations. All these are opposed to the doctrine of perpetual allegiance.

In the opinion of the Attorney General, the United States, in recognizing the right of expatriation, declined from the beginning to accept the view that rested the obligation of the citizen on feudal principles, and proceeded on the law of nations, which was in direct conflict therewith.

And the correctness of this conclusion was specifically affirmed not many years after, when the right, as the natural and inherent right of all people and fundamental in this country, was declared by Congress in the act of July 27, 1838, 15 Stat. 223, c. 249, carried forward into sections 1999 and 2000 of the Revised Statutes, in 1874. [p714]

It is beyond dispute that the most vital constituent of the English common law rule has always been rejected in respect of citizenship of the United States.

Whether it was also the rule at common law that the children of British subjects born abroad were themselves British subjects — nationality being attributed to parentage, instead of locality — has been variously determined. If this were so, of course, the statute of Edw. III was declaratory, as was the subsequent legislation. But if not, then such children were aliens, and the statute of 7 Anne and subsequent statutes must be regarded as, in some sort, acts of naturalization. On the other hand, it seems to me that the rule partus sequitur patrem has always applied to children of our citizens born abroad, and that the acts of Congress on this subject are clearly declaratory, passed out of abundant caution to obviate misunderstandings which might arise from the prevalence of the contrary rule elsewhere.

Section 1993 of the Revised Statutes provides that children so born

are declared to be citizens of the United States; but the rights of citizenship shall not descend to children whose fathers never resided in the United States.

Thus, a limitation is prescribed on the passage of citizenship by descent beyond the second generation if then surrendered by permanent nonresidence, and this limitation was contained in all the acts from 1790 down. Section 217 provides that such children shall "be considered as citizens thereof."

The language of the statute of 7 Anne, c. 5, is quite different in providing that

the children of all natural-born subjects born out of the ligeance of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors, shall be deemed, adjudged and taken to be natural-born subjects of this kingdom to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever.

In my judgment, the children of our citizens born abroad were always natural-born citizens from the standpoint of this Government. If not, and if the correct view is that they were aliens but collectively naturalized under the act of Congress which recognized them as natural-born, then those born since the Fourteenth Amendment are not citizens at all, [p715] unless they have become such by individual compliance with the general laws for the naturalization of aliens, because they are not naturalized "in the United States."

By the fifth clause of the first section of article two of the Constitution, it is provided that:

No person except a natural-born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

In the convention, it was, says Mr. Bancroft,

objected that no number of years could properly prepare a foreigner for that place; but as men of other lands had spilled their blood in the cause of the United States, and had assisted at every stage of the formation of their institutions, on the seventh of September, it was unanimously settled that foreign-born residents of fourteen years who should be citizens at the time of the formation of the Constitution are eligible to the office of President.

2 Bancroft Hist. U.S. Const. 193.

Considering the circumstances surrounding the framing of the Constitution, I submit that it is unreasonable to conclude that "natural-born citizen" applied to everybody born within the geographical tract known as the United States, irrespective of circumstances, and that the children of foreigners, happening to be born to them while passing through the country, whether of royal parentage or not, or whether of the Mongolian, Malay or other race, were eligible to the Presidency, while children of our citizens, born abroad, were not.

By the second clause of the second section of article one, it is provided that:

No person shall be a representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty-five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State of which he shall be chosen;

and, by the third clause of section three, that:

No person shall be a senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. [p716]

At that time, the theory largely obtained, as stated by Mr. Justice Story in his Commentaries on the Constitution, "that every citizen of a State is ipso facto a citizen of the United States." § 1693.

Mr. Justice Curtis, in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393, 576, expressed the opinion that, under the Constitution of the United States

every free person born on the soil of a State, who is a citizen of that State by force of its Constitution or laws, is also a citizen of the United States.

And he said:

Among the powers unquestionably possessed by the several States was that of determining what persons should and what persons should not be citizens. It was practicable to confer on the Government of the Union this entire power. It embraced what may, well enough for the purpose now in view, be divided into three parts. First: The power to remove the disabilities of alienage, either by special acts in reference to each individual case or by establishing a rule of naturalization to be administered and applied by the courts. Second: Determining what persons should enjoy the privileges of citizenship, in respect to the internal affairs of the several States. Third: What native-born persons should be citizens of the United States.
The first-named power, that of establishing a uniform rule of naturalization, was granted, and here the grant, according to its terms, stopped. Construing a Constitution containing only limited and defined powers of government, the argument derived from this definite and restricted power to establish a rule of naturalization must be admitted to be exceedingly strong. I do not say it is necessarily decisive. It might be controlled by other parts of the Constitution. But when this particular subject of citizenship was under consideration, and, in the clause specially intended to define the extent of power concerning it, we find a particular part of this entire power separated from the residue and conferred on the General Government, there arises a strong presumption that this is all which is granted, and that the residue is left to the States and to the people. And this presumption is, in my opinion, converted into a certainty by an examination of all such other clauses of the Constitution as touch this subject. [p717]

But in that case, Mr. Chief Justice Taney said:

The words "people of the United States" and "citizens" are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe the political body who, according to our republican institutions, form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the government through their representatives. They are what we familiarly call the "sovereign people," and every citizen is one of this people and a constituent member of this sovereignty. In discussing this question, we must not confound the rights of citizenship which a State may confer within its own limits and the rights of citizenship as a member of the Union. It does not by any means follow, because he has all the rights and privileges of a citizen of a State, that he must be a citizen of United States. He may have all of the rights and privileges of a citizen of a State and yet not be entitled to the rights and privileges of a citizen in any other State. For, previous to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, every State had the undoubted right to confer on whomsoever it pleased the character of citizen, and to endow him with all its rights. But this character, of course, was confined to the boundaries of the State, and gave him no rights or privileges in other States beyond those secured to him by the laws of nations and the comity of States. Nor have the several States surrendered the power of conferring these rights and privileges by adopting the Constitution of the United States. Each State may still confer them upon an alien, or anyone it thinks proper, or upon any class or description of persons; yet he would not be a citizen in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution of the United States, nor entitled to sue as such in one of its courts, nor to the privileges and immunities of a citizen in the other States. The rights which he would acquire would be restricted to the State which gave them. The Constitution has conferred on Congress the right to establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and this right is evidently exclusive, and has always been held by this court to be so. Consequently, no State, since the adoption of the Constitution, can by naturalizing an alien invest him with the rights and privileges secured to a citizen of a State under the Federal [p718] Government, although, so far as the State alone was concerned, he would undoubtedly be entitled to the rights of a citizen, and clothed with all the rights and immunities which the Constitution and laws of the State attached to that character.

Plainly, the distinction between citizenship of the United States and citizenship of a State thus pointed out involved then, as now, the complete rights of the citizen internationally, as contradistinguished from those of persons not citizens of the United States.

The English common law rule recognized no exception in he instance of birth during the mere temporary or accidental sojourn of the parents. As allegiance sprang from the place of birth regardless of parentage and supervened at the moment of birth, the inquiry whether the parents were permanently or only temporarily within the realm was wholly immaterial. And it is settled in England that the question of domicil is entirely distinct from that of allegiance. The one relates to the civil, and the other to the political, status. Udny v. Udny, L.R. 1 H.L.Sc. 441, 457.

But a different view as to the effect of permanent abode on nationality has been expressed in this country.

In his work on Conflict of Laws, § 48, Mr. Justice Story, treating the subject as one of public law, said:

Persons who are born in a country are generally deemed to be citizens of that country. A reasonable qualification of the rule would seem to be that it should not apply to the children of parents who were in itinere in the country, or who were abiding there for temporary purposes, as for health or curiosity, or occasional business. It would be difficult, however, to assert that, in the present state of public law, such a qualification is universally established.

Undoubtedly all persons born in a country are presumptively citizens thereof, but the presumption is not irrebuttable.

In his Lectures on Constitutional Law, p. 79, Mr. Justice Miller remarked:

If a stranger or traveler passing through, or temporarily residing in, this country, who has not himself been naturalized and who claims to owe no allegiance to our Government, has a child born here which goes out of the country [p719] with its father, such child is not a citizen of the United States, because it was not subject to its jurisdiction.

And to the same effect are the rulings of Mr. Secretary Frelinghuysen in the matter of Hausding, and Mr. Secretary Bayard in the matter of Greisser.

Hausding was born in the United States, went to Europe, and, desiring to return, applied to the minister of the United States for a passport, which was refused on the ground that the applicant was born of Saxon subjects temporarily in the United States. Mr. Secretary Frelinghuysen wrote to Mr. Kasson, our minister:

You ask "Can one born a foreign subject, but within the United States, make the option after his majority, and while still living abroad, to adopt the citizenship of his birthplace? It seems not, and that he must change his allegiance by emigration and legal process of naturalization." Sections 1992 and 1993 of the Revised Statutes clearly show the extent of existing legislation; that the fact of birth, under circumstances implying alien subjection, establishes, of itself, no right of citizenship, and that the citizenship of a person so born is to be acquired in some legitimate manner through the operation of statute. No statute contemplates the acquisition of the declared character of an American citizen by a person not at the time within the jurisdiction of the tribunal of record which confers that character.

Greisser was born in the State of Ohio in 1867, his father being a German subject and domiciled in Germany, to which country the child returned. After quoting the act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment, Mr. Secretary Bayard said:

Richard Greisser was no doubt born in the United States, but he was on his birth "subject to a foreign power," and "not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States." He was not, therefore, under the statute and the Constitution a citizen of the United States by birth, and it is not pretended that he has any other title to citizenship.

2 Whart.Int.Dig. 399.

The Civil Rights Act became a law April 9, 1866 (14 Stat. 27, c. 31), and provided:

That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians [p720] not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.

And this was reenacted June 22, 1874, in the Revised Statutes, section 1992. .

The words "not subject to any foreign power" do not, in themselves, refer to mere territorial jurisdiction, for the persons referred to are persons born in the United States. All such persons are undoubtedly subject to the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and yet the act concedes that nevertheless they may be subject to the political jurisdiction of a foreign government. In other words, by the terms of the act, all persons born in the United States, and not owing allegiance to any foreign power, are citizens.

The allegiance of children so born is not the local allegiance arising from their parents' merely being domiciled in the country, and it is single and not double, allegiance. Indeed, double allegiance, in the sense of double nationality, has no place in our law, and the existence of a man without a country is not recognized.

But it is argued that the words "and not subject to any foreign power" should be construed as excepting from the operation of the statute only the children of public ministers and of aliens born during hostile occupation.

Was there any necessity of excepting them? And if there were others described by the words, why should the language be construed to exclude them?

Whether the immunity of foreign ministers from local allegiance rests on the fiction of extraterritoriality or on the waiver of territorial jurisdiction by receiving them as representatives of other sovereignties, the result is the same.

They do not owe allegiance otherwise than to their own governments, and their children cannot be regarded as born within any other.

And this is true as to the children of aliens within territory in hostile occupation, who necessarily are not under the protection of, nor bound to render obedience to, the sovereign whose domains are invaded; but it is not pretended that the children of citizens of a government so situated would not become its citizens at their birth, as the permanent allegiance [p721] of their parents would not be severed by the mere fact of the enemy's possession.

If the act of 1866 had not contained the words, "and not subject to any foreign power," the children neither of public ministers nor of aliens in territory in hostile occupation would have been included within its terms on any proper construction, for their birth would not have subjected them to ties of allegiance, whether local and temporary or general and permanent.

There was no necessity as to them for the insertion of the words, although they were embraced by them.

But there were others in respect of whom the exception was needed, namely, the children of aliens, whose parents owed local and temporary allegiance merely, remaining subject to a foreign power by virtue of the tie of permanent allegiance, which they had not severed by formal abjuration or equivalent conduct, and some of whom were not permitted to do so if they would.

And it was to prevent the acquisition of citizenship by the children of such aliens merely by birth within the geographical limits of the United States that the words were inserted.

Two months after the statute was enacted, on June 16, 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment was proposed, and declared ratified July 28, 1868. The first clause of the first section reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The act was passed and the amendment proposed by the same Congress, and it is not open to reasonable doubt that the words "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" in the amendment were used as synonymous with the words "and not subject to any foreign power" of the act.

The jurists and statesmen referred to in the majority opinion, notably Senators Trumbull and Reverdy Johnson, concurred in that view, Senator Trumbull saying: "What do we mean by ‘subject to the jurisdiction of the United States?' Not owing allegiance to anybody else; that is what it means." And Senator Johnson:

Now, all that this amendment provides [p722] is that all persons born within the United States and not subject to some foreign power — for that no doubt is the meaning of the committee who have brought the matter before us — shall be considered as citizens of the United States.

Cong.Globe, 1st Sess. 39th Cong., 2893 et seq.

This was distinctly so ruled in Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94, and no reason is perceived why the words were used if they apply only to that obedience which all persons not possessing immunity therefrom must pay the laws of the country in which they happen to be.

Dr. Wharton says that the words "subject to the jurisdiction" must be construed in the sense which international law attributes to them, but that the children of our citizens born abroad, and of foreigners born in the United States, have the right on arriving at full age to elect one allegiance and repudiate the other. Whart. Conflict of Laws, §§ 10, 11, 12.

The Constitution and statutes do not contemplate double allegiance, and how can such election be determined? By section 1993 of the Revised Statutes, the citizenship of the children of our citizens born abroad may be terminated in that generation by their persistent abandonment of their country, while, by sections 2167 and 2168, special provision is made for the naturalization of alien minor residents, on attaining majority, by dispensing with the previous declaration of intention and allowing three years of minority on the five years' residence required, and also for the naturalization of children of aliens whose parents have died after making declaration of intention. By section 2172, children of naturalized citizens are to be considered citizens.

While, then, the naturalization of the father carries with it that of his minor children, and his declaration of intention relieves them from the preliminary steps for naturalization, and minors are allowed to count part of the residence of their minority on the whole term required, and are relieved from the declaration of intention, the statutes make no provision for formal declaration of election by children born in this country of alien parents on attaining majority.

The point, however, before us, is whether permanent allegiance [p723] is imposed at birth without regard to circumstances — permanent until thrown off and another allegiance acquired by formal acts — not local and determined by a mere change on domicil.

The Fourteenth Amendment came before the court in the Slaughterhouse Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 73, at December term, 1872, the cases having been brought up by writ of error in May, 180, 10 Wall. 278, and it was held that the first clause was intended to define citizenship of the United States and citizenship of a State, which definitions recognized the distinction between the one and the other; that the privileges and immunities of citizens of the States embrace generally those fundamental civil rights for the security of which organized society was instituted, and which remain, with certain exceptions mentioned in the Federal Constitution, under the care of the state governments; while the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States are those which arise out of the nature and essential character of the National government, the provisions of its Constitution, or its laws and treaties made in pursuance thereof, and that it is the latter which are placed under the protection of Congress by the second clause.

And Mr. Justice Miller, delivering the opinion of the court, in analyzing the first clause, observed that

the phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" was intended to exclude from its operation children of ministers, consuls and citizens or subjects of foreign States, born within the United States.

That eminent judge did not have in mind the distinction between persons charged with diplomatic functions and those who were not, but was well aware that consuls are usually the citizens or subjects of the foreign States from which they come, and that, indeed, the appointment of natives of the places where the consular service is required, though permissible, has been pronounced objectionable in principle.

His view was that the children of "citizens or subjects of foreign States," owing permanent allegiance elsewhere and only local obedience here, are not otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States than are their parents. [p724]

Mr. Justice Field dissented from the judgment of the court, and subsequently, in the case of Look Tin Sing, 10 Sawyer 353, in the Circuit Court for the District of California, held children born of Chinese parents in the United States to be citizens, and the cases subsequently decided in the Ninth Circuit followed that ruling. Hence the conclusion in this case, which the able opinion of the District Judge shows might well have been otherwise.

I do not insist that, although what was said was deemed essential to the argument and a necessary part of it, the point was definitively disposed of in the Slaughterhouse Cases, particularly as Chief Justice Waite in Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162, 167, remarked that there were doubts which, for the purposes of the case then in hand, it was not necessary to solve. But that solution is furnished in Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94, 101, where the subject received great consideration and it was said:

By the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, slavery was prohibited. The main object of the opening sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment was to settle the question, upon which there had been a difference of opinion throughout the country and in this court, as to the citizenship of free negroes, Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393, and to put it beyond doubt that all persons, white or black, and whether formerly slaves or not, born or naturalized in the United States, and owing no allegiance to any alien power, should be citizens of the United States, and of the State in which they reside. Slaughterhouse Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 73; Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 306.
This section contemplates two sources of citizenship, and two sources only: birth and naturalization. The persons declared to be citizens are "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." The evident meaning of these last words is not merely subject in some respect or degree to the jurisdiction of the United States, but completely subject to their political jurisdiction, and owing them direct and immediate allegiance. And the words relate to the time of birth in the one case, as they do [p725] to the time of naturalization in the other. Persons not this subject to the jurisdiction of the United States at the time of birth cannot become so afterwards, except by being naturalized, either individually, as by proceedings under the naturalization acts, or collectively, as by the force of a treaty by which foreign territory is acquired.

To be "completely subject" to the political jurisdiction of the United States is to be in no respect or degree subject to the political jurisdiction of any other government.

Now I take it that the children of aliens, whose parents have not only not renounced their allegiance to their native country, but are forbidden by it system of government, as well as by its positive laws, from doing so, and are not permitted to acquire another citizenship by the laws of the country into which they come, must necessarily remain themselves subject to the same sovereignty as their parents, and cannot, in the nature of things, be, any more than their parents, completely subject to the jurisdiction of such other country.

Generally speaking, I understand the subjects of the Emperor of China — that ancient Empire, with its history of thousands of years and its unbroken continuity in belief, traditions and government, in spite of revolutions and changes of dynasty — to be bound to him by every conception of duty and by every principle of their religion, of which filial piety is the first and greatest commandment, and formerly, perhaps still, their penal laws denounced the severest penalties on those who renounced their country and allegiance, and their abettors, and, in effect, held the relatives at home of Chinese in foreign lands as hostages for their loyalty. [*] And [p726] whatever concession may have been made by treaty in the direction of admitting the right of expatriation in some sense, they seem in the United States to have remained pilgrims and sojourners, as all their fathers were. 149 U.S. 717. At all events, they have never been allowed by our laws to acquire our nationality, and, except in sporadic instances, do not appear ever to have desired to do so.

The Fourteenth Amendment was not designed to accord citizenship to persons so situated and to cut off the legislative power from dealing with the subject.

The right of a nation to expel or deport foreigners who have not been naturalized or taken an steps toward becoming citizens of a country is as absolute and unqualified as the right to prohibit and prevent their entrance into the country. 149 U.S. 707.

But can the persons expelled be subjected to "cruel and unusual punishments" in the process of expulsion, as would be the case if children born to them in this country were separated from them on their departure, because citizens of the United States? Was it intended by this amendment to tear up parental relations by the roots?

The Fifteenth Amendment provides that

the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.

Was it intended thereby that children of aliens should, by virtue of being born in the [p727] United States, be entitled on attaining majority to vote irrespective of the treaties and laws of the United States in regard to such aliens?

In providing that persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens, the Fourteenth Amendment undoubtedly had particular reference to securing citizenship to the members of the colored race, whose servile status had been obliterated by the Thirteenth Amendment and who had been born in the United States, but were not and never had been subject to any foreign power. They were not aliens (and, even if they could be so regarded, this operated as a collective naturalization), and their political status could not be affected by any change of the laws for the naturalization of individuals.

Nobody can deny that the question of citizenship in a nation is of the most vital importance. It is a precious heritage, as well as an inestimable acquisition, and I cannot think that any safeguard surrounding it was intended to be thrown down by the amendment.

In suggesting some of the privileges and immunities of national citizenship in the Slaughterhouse Cases, Mr. Justice Miller said:

Another privilege of a citizen of the United States is to demand the care and protection of the Federal Government over his life, liberty, and property when on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of a foreign government. Of this, there can be no doubt, nor that the right depends upon his character as a citizen of the United States.

Mr. Hall says in his work on Foreign Jurisdiction, etc., §§ 2, 5, the principle is that

the legal relations by which a person is encompassed in his country of birth and residence cannot be wholly put aside when he goes abroad for a time; many of the acts which he may do outside his native state have inevitable consequences within it. He may, for many purposes, be temporarily under the control of another sovereign than his own, and he may be bound to yield to a foreign government a large measure of obedience; but his own State still possesses a right to his allegiance; he is still an integral part of the national community. A State therefore can enact laws, [p728] enjoining or forbidding acts, and defining legal relations, which apply to its subjects abroad in common with those within its dominions. It can declare under what conditions it will regard as valid, acts done in foreign countries which profess to have legal effect; it can visit others with penalties; it can estimate circumstances and facts as it chooses.

On the other hand, the

duty of protection is correlative to the rights of a sovereign over his subjects; the maintenance of a bond between a State and its subjects while they are abroad implies that the former must watch over and protect them within the due limit of the rights of other States. . . . It enables governments to exact reparation for oppression from which their subjects have suffered, or for injuries done to them otherwise than by process of law, and it gives the means of guarding them against the effect of unreasonable laws, of laws totally out of harmony with the nature or degree of civilization by which a foreign power affects to be characterized, and finally of an administration of the laws had beyond a certain point. When, in these directions, a State grossly fails in its duties; when it is either incapable of ruling or rules with patent injustice, the right of protection emerges in the form of diplomatic remonstrance, and, in extreme cases, of ulterior measures. It provides a material sanction for rights; it does not offer a theoretic foundation. It does not act within a foreign territory with the consent of the sovereign; it acts against him contentiously from without.

The privileges or immunities which, by the second clause of the amendment, the States are forbidden to abridge are the privileges or immunities pertaining to citizenship of the United States, but that clause also places an inhibition on the States from depriving any person of life, liberty or property, and from denying "to any person within its jurisdiction, the equal protection of the laws," that is, of its own laws — the laws to which its own citizens are subjected.

The jurisdiction of the State is necessarily local, and the limitation relates to rights primarily secured by the States, and not by the United States. Jurisdiction, as applied to the General Government, embraces international relations; as applied [p729] to the State, it refers simply to its power over persons and things within its particular limits.

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the rule in respect of citizenship of the United States prior to the Fourteenth Amendment differed from the English common law rule in vital particulars, and, among others, in that it did not recognize allegiance as indelible, and in that it did recognize an essential difference between birth during temporary, and birth during permanent, residence. If children born in the United States were deemed presumptively and generally citizens, this was not so when they were born of aliens whose residence was merely temporary, either in fact or in point of law.

Did the Fourteenth Amendment impose the original English common law rule as a rigid rule on this country?

Did the amendment operate to abridge the treaty-making power, or the power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization?

I insist that it cannot be maintained that this Government is unable, through the action of the President, concurred in by the Senate, to make a treaty with a foreign government providing that the subjects of that government, although allowed to enter the United States, shall not be made citizens thereof, and that their children shall not become such citizens by reason of being born therein.

A treaty couched in those precise terms would not be incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment unless it be held that that amendment has abridged the treaty-making power.

Nor would a naturalization law excepting persons of a certain race and their children be invalid unless the amendment has abridged the power of naturalization. This cannot apply to our colored fellow-citizens, who never were aliens — were never beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

"Born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," and "naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," mean born or naturalized under such circumstances as to be completely subject to that jurisdiction, that is as completely as citizens of the United States, [p730] who are, of course, not subject to any foreign power, and can of right claim the exercise of the power of the United States on their behalf wherever they may be. When, then, children are born in the United States to the subjects of a foreign power, with which it is agreed by treaty that they shall not be naturalized thereby, and as to whom our own law forbids them to be naturalized, such children are not born so subject to the jurisdiction as to become citizens, and entitled on that ground to the interposition of our Government, if they happen to be found in the country of their parents' origin and allegiance, or any other.

Turning to the treaty between the United States and China, concluded July 28, 1868, the ratifications of which were exchanged November 28, 1869, and the proclamation made February 5, 1870, we find that, by its sixth article, it was provided:

Citizens of the United States visiting or residing in China shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities or exemptions in respect of travel or residence as may there be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation. And, reciprocally, Chinese subjects residing in the United States shall enjoy the same privileges, immunities and exemptions in respect to travel or residence as may there be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation. But nothing herein contained shall be held to confer naturalization on the citizens of the United States in China, nor upon the subjects of China in the United States.

It is true that, in the fifth article, the inherent right of man to change his home or allegiance was recognized, as well as

the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects, respectively, from the one country to the other, for the purposes of curiosity, of traffic, or as permanent residents.

All this, however, had reference to an entirely voluntary emigration for these purposes, and did not involve an admission of change of allegiance unless both countries assented, but the contrary, according to the sixth article.

By the convention of March 17, 1894, it was agreed

that Chinese laborers or Chinese of any other class, either permanently [p731] or temporarily residing within the United States, shall have for the protection of their persons and property all rights that are given by the laws of the United States to citizens of the most favored nation, excepting the right to become naturalized citizens.

These treaties show that neither Government desired such change, nor assented thereto. Indeed, if the naturalization laws of the United States had provided for the naturalization of Chinese persons, China manifestly would not have been obliged to recognize that her subjects had changed their allegiance thereby. But our laws do not so provide, and, on the contrary, are in entire harmony with the treaties.

I think it follows that the children of Chinese born in this country do not, ipso facto, become citizens of the United States unless the Fourteenth Amendment overrides both treaty and statute. Does it bear that construction, or rather is it not the proper construction that all persons born in the United States of parents permanently residing here and susceptible of becoming citizens, and not prevented therefrom by treaty or statute, are citizens, and not otherwise

But the Chinese, under their form of government, the treaties and statutes, cannot become citizens, nor acquire a permanent home here, no matter what the length of their stay may be. Wharton Confl.Laws, § 1.

In Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698, 717, it was said in respect of the treaty of 1868:

After some years' experience under that treaty, the Government of the United States was brought to the opinion that the presence within our territory of large numbers of Chinese laborers, of a distinct race and religion, remaining strangers in the land, residing apart by themselves, tenaciously adhering to the customs and usages of their own country, unfamiliar with our institutions, and apparently incapable of assimilating with our people, might endanger good order and be injurious to the public interests, and therefore requested and obtained from China a modification of the treaty.

It is not to be admitted that the children of persons so situated become citizens by the accident of birth. On the contrary, [p732] I am of opinion that the President and Senate by treaty, and the Congress by naturalization, have the power, notwithstanding the Fourteenth Amendment, to prescribe that all persons of a particular race, or their children, cannot become citizens, and that it results that the consent to allow such persons to come into and reside within our geographical limits does not carry with it the imposition of citizenship upon children born to them while in this country under such consent, in spite of treaty and statute.

In other words, the Fourteenth Amendment does not exclude from citizenship by birth children born in the United States of parents permanently located therein, and who might themselves become citizens; nor, on the other hand, does it arbitrarily make citizens of children born in the United States of parents who, according to the will of their native government and of this Government, are and must remain aliens.

Tested by this rule, Wong in Ark never became and is not a citizen of the United States, and the order of the District Court should be reversed.

I am authorized to say that MR JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in this dissent.

MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, not having been a member of the court when this case was argued, took no part in the decision.

Note Edit

  • The fundamental laws of China have remained practically unchanged since the second century before Christ. The statutes have from time to time undergone modifications, but there does not seem to be any English or French translation of the Chinese Penal Code later than that by Staunton published in 1810. That code provided:
All persons renouncing their country and allegiance, or devising the means thereof, shall be beheaded, and in the punishment of this offence, no distinction shall be made between principals and accessories. The property of all such criminals shall be confiscated, and their wives and children distributed as slave to the great officers of State. . . . The parents, grandparents, brothers and grandchildren of such criminals, whether habitually living with them under the same roof or not, shall be perpetually banished to the distance of 2000 lee.
All those who purposely conceal and connive at the perpetration of this crime shall be strangled. Those who inform against, and bring to justice, criminals of this description shall be rewarded with the whole of their property.
Those who are privy to the perpetration of this crime, and yet omit to give any notice or information thereof to the magistrates, shall be punished with 100 blows and banished perpetually to the distance of 3000 lee.
If the crime is contrived, but not executed, the principal shall be strangled, and all the accessories shall, each of them, be punished with 100 blows, and perpetual banishment to the distance of 3000 lee. . . .

Staunton's Penal Code of China 272, § 255.