Due to some political statements made on October 30th (today), I would like to know how someone became a citizen of the United States prior to the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

There is a related question for how the first American citizens were granted citizenship, which I believe is a different question. First the question dealt with the ratification of the original constitution and those already here. Second, the accepted answer provides evidence to the Articles of Confederation which is a different document to the US Constitution.

An ideal answer would focus on how any person in the United States would become a citizen through the naturalization process. The answer would need to address the time between the ratification of the US Constitution (1789) and the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (1868).

  • 4
    The US has historically had two methods: being "natural born", and undergoing "naturalization". Which are you interested in? I'd guess the latter, but the current event you reference has to do only with the former.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:36
  • @T.E.D. Your correct, I am more interested in the "naturalization" process as I would assume anyone naturalized would fix the issue of being "natural born" with their children.
    – Reed
    Oct 30, 2018 at 20:46
  • 4
    @Reed; please don't reply in comments, but edit the answer into the question. The question should contains everything needed for research. It is much easier to research a question that contains all the information than to research a question where you have to master the question plus the comments.
    – MCW
    Oct 30, 2018 at 21:10

1 Answer 1


Under Federal Statute, a person being naturalized had to meet certain requirements, such as renouncing allegiance to any foreign prince or power, and having shown them self to be of good character for a certain number of years. This number of years has varied from time-to-time; in the 1820s it was 10 years; at earlier dates it was 5 years,etc. The person to be naturalized would then appear before a federal court judge to make their petition, and swear allegiance to the United States of America.

Following are the court records for one such naturalization, of Johann Peter Köhli, of Switzerland, and his son, Christian. They had entered the United States at Philadelphia in 1818, and were naturalized at Detroit in 1828.

Following are portions of two pages from the Michigan Supreme Court, v.6, p.141 and p. 142, the printed record, followed by the manuscript petition as originally approved.

The persons here naturalized are my g.g.g. grandfather, and his son, my g.g. grandfather. The process varies only slightly throughout the early years of the United States.

Part one of naturalization Part two of naturalization Original manuscript of naturalization

  • 3
    Interesting to see that the printed record gives their names as both "Kelly" and "Kelley", although the manuscript clearly uses the spelling "Kelly" throughout. Both versions are phonetically close to their original name of "Köhli", of course.
    – njuffa
    Oct 31, 2018 at 3:45
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    @njuffa: the name was anglicized to Kelly/Kelley within a short after their arrival in the US. The original pronunciation follows the rules of German Swiss, and sounds more like "curly", but with an aspirated r. The upshot is that my ancestors became the "Swiss Kelly" family. Some of my cousins still think that they are Irish! Oct 31, 2018 at 11:53

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