The term “birthright citizenship” refers to the idea that you can become a citizen of a country simply by being born there. The fancy legal term is jus soli, “right of the soil” (as opposed to the policy termed jus sangunis (“right of blood”) by which nationality or citizenship is not determined by place of birth, but by having an ancestor who is a national or citizen of the state.
In this country, citizenship is defined not in the Constitution per se, but in the first section of the 14th Amendment. It is referred to as the Citizenship Clause” and 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…… “
It is currently the object of great contention right now after President Trump announced he was planning on eliminating “birthright citizenship” as it pertains to those entering our country illegally.
The purpose of this article is to explain why the “Citizenship Clause” cannot be understood, or should be interpreted, to include birthright citizenship to babies born to illegal aliens.
The 14th Amendment is one of the three post-Civil War Reconstruction era amendments to the Constitution – the 13th (abolishing slavery and indentured servitude), 14th (giving freed blacks citizenship and civil rights), and 15th (giving blacks the right to vote). It passed in the US House, after several proposals were considered, in May 1866 (House Resolution 127, 39th Congress), sent to the Senate where amendments were added, and sent back to the House which eventually agreed to the Senate amendments on June 18, 1868. On June 18, a concurrent resolution requesting the President to transmit the proposal to the executives of the several states was passed by both houses of Congress.
It’s general intent, at least that of the first section, was to vest newly-freed slaves, and other African-Americans with the rights of citizenship in light of the 13th Amendment which had abolished slavery and in light of the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which held that any person descended from Africa (Africans), whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the US Constitution.
In 1857, the US Supreme Court handed down arguably the most offensive opinion issued by the high court, or any court – the Dred Scott v. Sandford opinion (commonly just referred to as the Dred Scott opinion).
The case had been in the court system for more than a decade. Scott had been born into slavery in 1795. In subsequent years, he lived in two parts of the United States that didn’t allow slavery, Illinois and Wisconsin, along with his master. When his current master died in 1846, Scott filed suit on behalf of himself and his wife, also a slave, to gain their freedom. The case was heard by three other courts as it made its way to Washington.
The Court ruled, in a 7-2 opinion, against Scott. Judge Roger Taney wrote the opinion of the Court, which highlighted, include the following:
4. A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a “citizen” within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. 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. The question before us is whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.
5. When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its “people or citizens.” Consequently, the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them. And not being “citizens” within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit.
6. The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.
7. Since the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, no State can by any subsequent law make a foreigner or any other description of persons citizens of the United States, nor entitle them to the rights and privileges secured to citizens by that instrument.
8. A State, by its laws passed since the adoption of the Constitution, may put a foreigner or any other description of persons upon a footing with its own citizens as to all the rights and privileges enjoyed by them within its dominion and by its laws. But that will not make him a citizen of the United States, nor entitle him to sue in its courts, nor to any of the privileges and immunities of a citizen in another State.
9. The change in public opinion and feeling in relation to the African race which has taken place since the adoption of the Constitution cannot change its construction and meaning, and it must be construed and administered now according to its true meaning and intention when it was formed and adopted.
[Taken from the Opinion – Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393. Go to the Appendix for more information on the case]
In a poor exercise of reasoning, Judge Taney argued: “There are two clauses in the Constitution which point directly and specifically to the negro race as a separate class of persons, and show clearly that they were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government then formed.”
The Dred Scott decision (“opinion’) came just two days after President James Buchanan took office, and it set the tone for his controversial term that led to the Civil War. The decision was celebrated in the South but the Abolitionists in the North were outraged. The court also declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to be unconstitutional. And it said that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories, which would seem to prohibit Lincoln from his campaign promise to prohibit the spread of slavery into the western territories.
With the Dred Scott decision and its voiding of the Missouri Compromise, thus making slavery legal in all U.S. territories, and the promise by candidate Abraham Lincoln that he would enforce the Morrill tariff (the highest tariff yet, up to 47% by 1863) passed by Congress in May 1860 and signed by President Buchanan), the election of 1860 was a completely sectional election – pitting the North against the South.
In November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States, without an actual majority (less than 40%) and without a single vote from any of the Southern states that would later form the Confederacy (except Virginia, where he got 1%). On December 20, the South Carolina state legislature voted to secede from the Union (issuing its “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina” on December 24). Six other states followed suit before Lincoln was even inaugurated: Mississippi (on January 9, 1861), Florida (on January 10), Alabama (on January 11), Georgia (on January 19), Louisiana (on January 26), and Texas (on February 1). On February 8, the seceded states met and held a convention in Montgomery, Alabama and agreed to form a Union – the Confederate States of America. They adopted a constitution at that convention, which by many accounts was superior to the US Constitution.
Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861 and on April 12, shots were fired by South Carolina on Fort Sumter (held by Union Major Anderson), giving him the pretext to invade the South and begin the Civil War. Rejecting the natural right of secession, he characterized the actions of the Southern states as “rebellion,” and used the armed forces of the United States to “force them back into the Union” (which was confusing since Lincoln claimed they never left the Union since they didn’t have the right to do so).
Lincoln called the question about whether the Southern states were in or out of the Union a “pernicious abstraction.” “Obviously,” he explained, they were not “in their proper practical relation with the Union.”
After General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 and Lincoln’s assassination on April 14 (he died the following morning), the country entered into a decade-long period, or process, known as “Reconstruction” – the “reconstructing” of the Union. Through this process of Reconstruction, the Northern-dominated federal government attempted to resolve the political and constitutional issues that led to the Civil War and in effect, through punishment of the South (those responsible for seceding and those in support of the Confederacy) and by changing the body politic of the former Confederate states. The priorities were: to guarantee that Confederate nationalism and slavery were ended, to ratify and enforce the 13th Amendment which outlawed slavery; the 14th Amendment which guaranteed dual U.S. and state citizenship to all native-born residents, regardless of race; and the 15th Amendment, which made it illegal to deny the right to vote because of race.
The US House passed the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, without any representation from the Southern states (their representatives were not allowed to be seated), and then sent to the states for ratification. As for the former Confederate states, the amendment was submitted to “reconstruction governments,” devoid of anyone that had “supported the Confederacy.” The question as to whether these were in fact legitimate legislatures is a valid one. Nevertheless, the 13th Amendment was ratified by 3/4 of the states, and hence certified as valid, on December 18, 1865.
Next would come the 14th Amendment.
It would play an important role in Reconstruction (in the North’s reconstruction of the South back into the Union).
When it looked as if the North would defeat the South, even before Sherman’s march, Republicans had began to make plans for the reconstruction of the war-torn and still greatly divided country. Their most important concerns were for the formal adoption of the 14th Amendment (which they intended would elevate newly-freed slaves and free black persons to full citizenship), elimination from power anyone who supported the Confederacy, and the adoption of black male suffrage provisions (to dilute the South Democrats) as conditions for re-admission.
The 14th Amendment was intended to memorialize the guarantees of the 1965 Civil Rights Act in the US Constitution. In 1865, Congress passed what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1866, guaranteeing citizenship without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude. The bill also guaranteed equal benefits and access to the law, a direct assault on the Black Codes passed by many post-war states. The Black Codes attempted to return ex-slaves to something like their former condition by, among other things, restricting their movement, forcing them to enter into year-long labor contracts, prohibiting them from owning firearms, and preventing them from suing or testifying in court.
Although strongly urged by moderates in Congress to sign the bill, President Andrew Johnson vetoed it on March 27, 1866. In his veto message, he objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the freedmen at a time when 11 out of 36 states were unrepresented in the Congress, and that it discriminated in favor of African-Americans and against whites. Three weeks later, Johnson’s veto was overridden and on April 9, the measure became law. Despite this victory, even some Republicans who had supported the goals of the Civil Rights Act began to doubt that Congress really possessed constitutional power to turn those goals into laws. The experience also encouraged both radical and moderate Republicans to seek Constitutional guarantees for black rights, rather than relying on temporary political majorities.
While the Civil Rights Act of 1866 addressed many of Congress’s concerns about citizenship and civil rights, several members of Congress worried about the Act’s constitutionality and permanence. Two months after the Act became law, Congress would approve H.R. Res. 127, which when ratified by the states would become the 14th Amendment. Addressing citizenship in words almost identical to those of the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act declared: “That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States . . . .”
The Act then addressed certain specified civil rights by saying:
“Such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.”
In late 1865, Rep. John A. Bingham of Ohio, who was a member of the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction, proposed a constitutional amendment which would enable Congress to safeguard “equal protection of life, liberty, and property” of all citizens; this proposal failed to pass the House. In April 1866, the Joint Committee forwarded a third proposal to Congress, a carefully negotiated compromise that combined elements of the first and second proposals as well as addressing the issues of Confederate debt and voting by ex-Confederates. The House of Representatives (39th Congress) passed House Resolution 127 several weeks later and sent to the Senate for action. The resolution was debated and several amendments to it were proposed. Amendments to Sections 2, 3, and 4 were adopted on June 8, 1866, and the modified resolution passed by a 33 to 11 vote (5 absent, not voting). The House agreed to the Senate amendments on June 13 by a 138–36 vote (10 not voting). The “Citizenship Clause” was added by Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan.
That is the very simplified history of the 14th Amendment.
As most of you know, either through your reading, your learning of Supreme Court or other federal court opinions regarding civil rights or discrimination (the 14th Amendment being the #1 basis for lawsuits), your history courses, your study of law, or even just listening to the heated debates by legal experts and pundits on TV, the absolute meaning of the 14th Amendment is not known; it means different things to different people. It meant one thing to the Supreme Court at the end of the 20th century (Slaughterhouse cases, 1873) and early 21st century, but meant something else in later cases.
So I think it’s important to take a closer look at the proposal of the amendment and its adoption by the US House and Senate.
Congress had two important concerns about civil rights in 1866. One was that the Bill of Rights by itself did not limit the actions of state governments and the other was the Congress lacked any express power to enforce the Bill of Rights against the states. Congress ultimately addressed these concerns in Sections 1 and 5 of the 14th Amendment. But before Congress approved H.R. Res. 127, the House considered another provision, H.R. Res. 63, which had similar objectives. H.R. Res. 63 arose in the Joint Committee. On January 12, the Joint Committee formed a subcommittee on the powers ofOn January 27, 1866, Representative Bingham reported to the full committee that the subcommittee had approved a proposed amendment. The subcommittee’s proposal said:
“Congress shall have power to make laws which shall be necessary and proper to secure to all persons in every state full protection in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property; and to all citizens of the United States in any State the same immunities and equal political rights and privileges.”
Although the Journal of the Joint Committee does not report the debates of the full committee, it does show that the full committee made minor amendments to the proposal on both January 27 and February 3. On February 10, the Committee then voted to send the proposed amendment to both Houses of Congress as a proposed constitutional amendment.
On February 26, Representative Bingham introduced the proposed constitutional amendment to the House as a joint resolution, H.R. Res. 63. The proposal, as it had been revised by the full committee, said:
“The Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to secure to the citizens of each State all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States (Art. 4, Sec. 2), and to all persons in the several States equal protection in the rights of life, liberty, and property (5th Amendment).”
After quoting the Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article V and the last clause of the Fifth Amendment, Representative Bingham said:
“Sir, it has been the want of the Republic that there was not an express grant of power in the Constitution to enable the whole people of every State, by congressional enactment, to enforce obedience to these requirements of the Constitution. Nothing can be plainer to thoughtful men than that if the grant of power had been originally conferred upon the Congress of the nation, and legislation had been upon your statute-books to enforce these requirements of the Constitution in every State, that rebellion, which has scarred and blasted the land, would have been an impossibility.”
Representative Bingham explained that the proposed amendment would solve these problems. He said: “The proposition pending before the House is simply a proposition to arm the Congress of the United States, by the consent of the people of the United States, with the power to enforce the bill of rights as it stands in the Constitution today.”‘
The House of Representatives debated H.R. Res. 63 on February 26-28. Despite Representative Bingham’s arguments, opponents of the proposal strongly objected that it went too far. The Supreme Court summarized the opposition to H.R. Res. 63 in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997):
“Some argued that the] proposed Amendment gave Congress too much legislative power at the expense of the existing constitutional structure. Democrats and conservative Republicans argued that the proposed Amendment would give Congress a power to intrude into traditional areas of state responsibility, a power inconsistent with the federal design central to the Constitution. Typifying these views, Republican Representative Robert Hale of New York labeled the Amendment “an utter departure from every principle ever dreamed of by the men who framed our Constitution,” and warned that under it “all State legislation, in its codes of civil and criminal jurisprudence and procedure . . . may be overridden, may be repealed or abolished, and the law of Congress established instead.” Senator William Stewart of Nevada likewise stated the Amendment would permit “Congress to legislate fully upon all subjects affecting life, liberty, and property,” such that “there would not be much left for the State Legislatures,” and would thereby “work an entire change in our form of government.” Some radicals, like their brethren “unwilling that Congress shall have any such power . . . to establish uniform laws throughout the United States upon . . . the protection of life, liberty, and property,” also objected that giving Congress primary responsibility for enforcing legal equality would place power in the hands of changing congressional majorities.”
On February 28, 1866, when it appeared that the proposal would not gain approval, the House voted to postpone consideration until “the second Tuesday in April” (i.e., April 10, 1866).
After these unsuccessful initial attempts to approve the previously discussed joint resolutions proposing amendments to the Constitution, Congress finally succeeded with H.R. Res. 127, the provision that became the 14th Amendment. H.R. Res. 127 was broader in scope than the prior proposals. It addressed all of the subjects of H.R. Res. 9, H.R. Res. 51, and H.R. Res. 63. It also included a provision on the eligibility of former Confederate officials to hold government office.
On April 21, 1866, Representative Stevens introduced into the Joint Committee “a plan of reconstruction, one not of his own framing, but [one] which he should support.” This proposal contained five sections. Section 1 of the April 21 proposal in the Committee said: “No discrimination shall be made by any state, nor by the United States, as to the civil rights of persons because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”‘ The Committee revised this sentence substantially before submitting it to Congress. As introduced in Congress, the proposal said:
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Two features of the revision in the Committee deserve mention. First, as the text shows, the Committee decided to drop all mention of race. The revised version sounds very much like H.R. Res. 63, but does not say anything about the powers of Congress.
Section 2 of the April 21 proposal would have banned racial discrimination with respect to the right to vote. The proposal said: “From and after the fourth day of July, in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-six, no discrimination shall be made by any state, nor by the United States, as to the enjoyment by classes of persons of the right of suffrage, because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The Committee, however, deleted the original Section 2. Because the Journal does not record committee discussions, the reasons for deleting this provision are lost to history. Voting discrimination became a subject that ultimately would be addressed by the 15th Amendment (ratified in 1870).
The Joint Committee debated the proposal of April 21 and, as explained above, made various revisions before approving it for submission to Congress on April 28, 1866. Representative Stevens introduced the proposal into the House on April 30, 1866, as H.R. Res. 127, but the House voted to postpone discussing the proposal until May 8.
On May 8, Representative Stevens gave a long speech in which he explained the meaning and purpose of each section. The House debated H.R. Res. 127 on May 8, 9, and 10. On May 10, the House voted to approve H.R. Res. 127, without amendment, by a two-thirds majority (128 yeas, 37 nays, and 19 not voting). [NOTE: The House never reopened H.R. Res. 63. On June 6, 1866, Representative Bingham moved that it “be indefinitely postponed, for reason that the constitutional amendment [H.R. Res. 127] already passed by the House covers the whole subject matter.” The House approved the motion. The Senate never considered H.R. Res. 63].
H.R. Res. 127 was introduced into the Senate on May 10, but no discussion occurred on that day.” On May 23, Senator Howard initiated the Senate’s consideration of H.R. Res. 127 by analyzing each of its five sections. The Senate discussed H.R. Res. 127 as a committee of the whole on May 23, 24, and 29, and during at time, the made various amendments to it. Discussions continued in both committee and in regular sessions until June 8. [Regular sessions on May 30 and 31, and as a committee of the whole from June 4 to June 8].
On May 23, 1866, Senator Benjamin Wade, Republican of Ohio, suggested that, given the importance in Section 1 of a guarantee of privileges or immunities to United States citizens, it was imperative that a “strong and clear” definition of citizenship be added to the proposed 14th Amendment – a “Citizenship clause.” He suggested “persons born in the United States or naturalized by the laws thereof.” Senator Howard, Republican of Michigan, responded on May 30, 1866, with a proposal that was drafted in the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which eventually became the first sentence of the 14th Amendment as it was finally adopted. It read: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.” Both Howard and the Joint Committee evidently placed some importance on the addition of the jurisdiction clause, which meant, at a minimum, that not all persons born in the United States were automatically citizens, but also had to be subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
This is how we got the “Citizenship Clause” of the 14th Amendment.
Senator Howard and others discussed the purpose, meaning, and limitations of this amendment to the proposal on May 30. He explained that the purpose of the first sentence was to eliminate doubt caused by the Dred Scott decision on the issue of citizenship. He said: “It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States.” In that statement, Senator Howard was not explaining the meaning of the first sentence of Section 1, but instead the purpose that the first sentence serves. The sentence had the effect of overruling the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott that persons of African descent could never be citizens. Senator Revardy Johnson, who as an attorney had represented John Sanford against petitioner Dred Scott before the Supreme Court, supported the amendment. Without discussing his former role in the matter, he subtly mentioned that “serious questions have arisen, and some of them have given rise to embarrassments, as to who are citizens of the United States, and what are the rights which belong to them as such; and the object of this amendment is to settle that question.”‘ When the matter came before the House, Representative Stevens merely commented: “This is an excellent amendment, long needed to settle conflicting decisions between the several States and the United States.”
His remarks introducing the new language in the Senate have attracted much attention — and much controversy.
Senator Howard said:
“I do not propose to say anything on that subject except that the question of citizenship has been so fully discussed in this body as not to need any further elucidation, in my opinion. This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States. This has long been a great desideratum in the jurisprudence and legislation of this country.”
On June 8, 1866, the Senate approved the amended version of H.R. Res. 127 by a two-thirds vote (33 yeas, 11 nays). Because the Senate had approved an amended version, the joint resolution had to go back to the House to see if the House would concur in the Senate’s amendments. The amended version of H.R. Res. 127 was introduced in the House on June 9. The House debated the amended version on June 13. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, the Committee Chair, briefly described the Senate’s amendments, some of which he approved and some of which he disfavored. In the end, the House concurred in the Senate’s version by a two-thirds vote (120 yeas, 32 nays, and 32 not voting) and the 14th Amendment was passed by Congress.
On June 16, Congress sent the approved version of joint resolution H.R. Res. 127 to the Secretary of State William Seward for delivery to President Andrew Johnson. President Johnson opposed the 14th Amendment, but Article V assigns no role to the President in the Amendment process. Accordingly, President Andrew Johnson’s only duty was to send the proposed 14th Amendment to the states, which he instructed Seward to do on June 22, 1866.
Initially, none of the ex-Confederate states ratified the 14th Amendment in 1866, except Tennessee. Accordingly, Tennessee was quickly re-admitted to the Union – reclaiming full status as a state and having its representatives allowed once again to sit in Congress.
In response, the Northern-dominated Congress passed a series of punishing laws aimed at making sure the South came back into the Union on the terms it required – the Reconstruction Acts. It passed four of them (three in 1867 and one in 1868)
The essential provisions can be summed up as follows:
• The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 created five military districts in the seceded states (again, with the exception of Tennessee, which ratified the 14th Amendment and was thus re-admitted to the Union). The five districts were (1) Virginia; (2) North and South Carolina; (3) Georgia, Alabama, and Florida; (4) Mississippi and Arkansas; and (5) Texas and Louisiana. Around 200,000 troops were placed in the South to enforce military rule.
• Each district in the Union was now headed by a military official empowered to remove and subsequently anoint state leaders/officials. All states were required to employ a military leader from the North (Marshall Law).
• The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 required each state had to draft a new state constitution, which would have to be approved by Congress before that state could be re-admitted to the Union.
• The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 implemented regulations regarding voter registration; all freed individuals were allowed to vote along with white persons who took extended oaths.
• The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 required each state to ratify the 14th Amendment prior to readmission into the Union.
• State constitutional conventions were required to draft new governing documents that included laws on black male suffrage and the elimination of their black codes.
• The Reconstruction Acts of 1867 disabled confederate leaders and any individual who did not pledge their allegiance to the United States from voting. (Thirty-five percent to forty-five percent of potential white voters were either excluded from voting because of the Reconstruction Acts, or failed to register or were prevented from registering).
One thing all military commanders did – because they were told to do so by Congress – was to place former slaves in positions in government. These former slaves knew nothing about government or money. They were not trained for their jobs. But they were loyal to the Republican Party. And nearly all were puppets under the control of army officials.
[It should be noted that President Andrew Johnson, who had taken over as President of the United States after Lincoln was assassinated, vetoed the Reconstruction Acts, asserting that they were unconstitutional. But Johnson’s veto was overruled by Congress. Military rule in the South would last for 10 years, until 1877, when the Republican party agreed to return Southern states to home rule in exchange for their support of the Republican candidate for president, Rutherford B. Hayes. That was the end of reconstruction].
By early 1868, the former Confederate States began to draft and submit to Congress new state constitutions. By June 9, all had new “acceptable” constitutions and thus Secretary Seward announced that all had formed republican governments and would be entitled to representation in Congress (have its representation restored) once they ratified the 14th Amendment. On these terms, Florida ratified the amendment on June 9, North Carolina on July 2, Louisiana and South Carolina on July 9, and Alabama on July 16.
These Southern ratifications seemed to give Secretary of State William Seward the required twenty-eight states necessary for the 14th Amendment to become law. Secretary Seward had twenty-nine ratifications on file, but prior to receiving the twenty-eighth, New Jersey and Ohio had rescinded their ratification. Nevertheless, on July 20, 1868, Secretary Seward issued a proclamation declaring the 14th Amendment ratified. Congress reacted quickly to Seward’s proclamation, and on July 21, 1868, declared all twenty-nine ratifications to be valid and that the 14th Amendment was “part of the Constitution of the United States, and it shall be duly promulgated as such by the Secretary of State.” On July 28, Seward, issued a second proclamation, declaring the 14th Amendment had “become valid to all intents and purposes as a part of the Constitution of the United States.”
As is explained in detail in the Appendix, there were serious irregularities in the ratification of the 14th Amendment, thereby making it most likely that it was never legally passed in Congress or ratified by the States. Nevertheless, on July 28, 1868, Secretary of State William Seward proclaimed that three-fourths of the states had ratified it.
The Radical Republicans were satisfied that they had secured civil rights for blacks, but were disappointed that the amendment did not include the right to vote. That would come with the 15th Amendment, which was ratified on February 3, 1870.
II. “AND SUBJECT TO THE JURISDICTION THEREOF….”
Again, the purpose of this article is to discuss birthright citizenship, which is addressed immediately in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment —
“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. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Although the Constitution of 1787 mentioned citizens, it did not define citizenship. It was not until the 14th Amendment was added that a definition of citizenship entered the Constitution. “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.” Thus there are two components to American citizenship: birth or naturalization in the US and being subject to the jurisdiction of the US. Today, we somehow have come to believe that anyone born within the geographical limits of the US. is automatically subject to its jurisdiction; but this renders the jurisdiction clause utterly superfluous. If this had been the intention of the framers of the 14th Amendment, presumably they would have said simply that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are thereby citizens.
During debate over the amendment, Senator Jacob Howard attempted to assure skeptical colleagues that the language was not intended to make Indians citizens of the United States. Indians, Howard conceded, were born within the nation’s geographical limits, but he steadfastly maintained that they were not subject to its jurisdiction because they owed allegiance to their tribes and not to the Senator Lyman Trumbull, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported this view, arguing that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” meant “not owing allegiance to anybody else and being subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States.”
Jurisdiction understood in terms of “allegiance,” Senator Howard explained, excludes not only Indians but “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” Thus, “subject to the jurisdiction” does not simply mean, as is commonly thought today, subject to American laws or courts. It means owing exclusive political allegiance to the United States.
Furthermore, there has never been an explicit holding by the Supreme Court that the children of illegal aliens are automatically accorded birthright citizenship. In the case of Elk v. Wilkins (1884), the Court held that children born to Native Indian parents could not be citizens under the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause because at the time of the birth, the allegiance of the parents belonged to the tribal nation. In the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) the Court ruled that a child born in the U.S. of legal aliens was entitled to “birthright citizenship” under the 14th Amendment. [A more in-depth analysis of Elk and Wong is provided in the Appendix].
In a third Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe (1982), the Court addressed the treatment of children of illegal aliens, in the context of public education. Texas had a statue allowing the state to withhold funds to public school districts for illegal children. The provision at issue was not the Citizenship Clause but the Equal Protection Clause, but supporters of birthright citizenship for illegals will point to a footnote that the liberal judges included in the opinion. It read, in part:
“As one early commentator noted, given the historical emphasis on geographic territoriality, bounded only, if at all, by principles of sovereignty and allegiance, no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment “jurisdiction” can be drawn between resident aliens whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident aliens whose entry was unlawful.”
This footnote, however has little or no persuasive power. It provides no precedence power. It merely recited the views of a commentator and was irrelevant to the matter under decision.
Ideological liberals have recently invented a novel and wholly fabulous interpretation of this passage, maintaining that when Howard mentions that “foreigners, aliens” are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States he means to include only “families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” If so, this would be an extraordinarily loose way of speaking: Ambassadors and foreign ministers are foreigners and aliens and their designation as such would be superfluous. If we give full weight to the commas after “foreigners” and after “aliens,” this would indicate a series which might be read in this way: “foreigners, aliens, families of ambassadors, foreign ministers,” all separate classes of persons who are excluded from jurisdiction. Or it could be read in this way: “foreigners, aliens, [that is, those who belong to the] families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.” I suggest that the natural reading of the passage is the former, i.e., that the commas suggest a discrete listing of separate classes of persons excluded from jurisdiction. Of course, the debate was taken by shorthand reporters and not always checked by the speakers, so the issue cannot be settled simply on the basis of the placement of commas. In addition, Howard seemed to make a glaring omission — he failed to mention Indians. He was forced to clarify his omission when challenged by Senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin who queried whether the “Senator from Michigan does not intend by this amendment to include the Indians”; he thereupon proposed to add the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 “excluding Indians not taxed.” Howard vigorously opposed the amendment, remarking that “Indians born within the limits of the United States and who maintain their tribal relations, are not in the sense of this amendment, born subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. They are regarded, and always have been in our legislation and jurisprudence, as being quasi foreign nations.” In other words, the omission of Indians from the exceptions to the jurisdiction clause was intentional. Howard clearly regarded Indians as “foreigners, aliens.” This conclusion is supported by Senator Lyman Trumbull who, as we will discuss shortly, also opposed Doolittle’s amendment. This is clear evidence, against the claims of ideological liberals who have become the proponents of open borders and are intent to replace citizens with “universal persons,” that Howard meant that foreigners and aliens included only the families of ambassadors and foreign ministers. Based on the evidence we have proffered so far, this has been exposed as an utterly preposterous idea. But there is more to come. There is no evidence anywhere in the debates to support the assertions of ideological liberals. [Edward J. Erler, “Trump’s Critics Are Wrong About the 14th Amendment and Birthright Citizenship”]
Howard had said earlier in his statement that “[t]his amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already.” The “law of the land” to which Howard referred was undoubtedly the Civil Rights Act of 1866, passed over the veto of President Andrew Johnson by a two-thirds majority in both houses less than two months prior to the May 30 debate in the Senate. The Civil Rights Act provided the first definition of citizenship after the ratification of the 13th Amendment, specifying “[t]hat all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.” Thus an overwhelming majority of Congress on the eve of the debate over the meaning of the citizenship clause of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment were committed to the view that foreigners — and presumably aliens — were not subject to birthright citizenship. Most of those who voted in favor of the act were still serving in Congress when the 14th Amendment was under consideration. In fact, Senator Lyman Trumbull, the author of the Civil Rights Act and chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, was an ardent supporter of Howard’s version of the citizenship clause. “The provision is, that ‘all persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens.’ That means ‘subject to the complete jurisdiction thereof.’ . . . What do we mean by ‘subject to the jurisdiction of the United States?’ Not owing allegiance to anybody else.” Not owing allegiance to anybody else, subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States, and not subject to a foreign power. During debate over the Civil Rights Act, Senator Trumbull remarked that purpose of its citizenship clause was “to make citizens of everybody born in the United States who owe allegiance to the United States.” Read in the light of the Civil Rights Act and the authoritative statements by Senator Trumbull in the May 30 debate, can there be any real dispute that “foreigners, aliens” in Senator Howard’s opening statement does not refer to “families of ambassadors or foreign ministers” but to “foreigners, aliens” as a separate class of persons? Thus, is it not fair — and accurate — to read Howard’s statement introducing the citizenship clause to the Senate in this way:
“This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.” [Erler, cont’d]
This use of the bracketed “[or]” is fully justified when this statement is read in the light of the Civil Rights Act, which explicitly excludes foreigners (and aliens) from birth-right citizenship, an exclusion that was authorized by an overwhelming majority of the same Congress that approved the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. The many statements in the debate by supporters of the citizenship clause support this conclusion. [Erler, cont’d]
III. BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP: SHOULD IT APPLY TO THE CHILDREN BORN TO ILLEGAL ALIENS?
Citizenship must be considered in the context of some absolutes, as articulated in the Constitution:
(1) A sovereign nation has the authority to control immigration and to determine and to ascertain who is entering the country, as well as to establish guidelines and laws as to WHO can enter the country. Article I, Section 8 articulates this as one of the core and primary functions of the general, or federal, government. The Immigration & Naturalization Act outlines the law related to the function of immigration and naturalization, and it also outlines where authority is delegated to the President.
(2) Government power is shared or divided, whichever way you choose to look at it, between the States and the federal government. The government was created to serve the States and to aid them in their ability to work together in the form of a Union; the government power delegated to it is clear and can be summed up in general terms: to regulate commerce, to regulate immigration and naturalization, to establish a uniform system of currency, to act as a common agent for the states on the international stage and with Indian tribes, and to establish a common army and navy to keep the states safe and secure and to make sure essential federal laws are enforced. The functions of the federal government were intended to affect the states, to assist them in their sovereign responsibilities; they were not intended to reach inside the states to regulate their people. It was to be the States themselves who would be responsibility to legislate for the benefit and service for their people. All government power not expressly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution is reserved to the States, or to the people. This is the division of power, the basis for our “federal” system, restated by the Tenth Amendment. (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”) Legally and historically speaking, certain functions have been reserved to the States, and these have been summed up by the term “state police powers.” A state’s police powers includes the right to legislate (regulate) “for the health, safety, welfare, and morality” of its people. Typical state functions include legislation related to education, voting, health, law enforcement, property and zoning/land use, marriage, professional certifications.
Keeping that explanation in mind, people live or reside in states, except for the District of Columbia, of course and other US territories. No one can be a United States citizen who is not first a citizen of a state and therefore a responsibility of such state. Because the federal government serves the interests of the States, if the States understand Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to require individuals to be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States” (ie, the special protections of citizenship offered by the US Constitution), then that is what the 14th Amendment MUST mean. If States do NOT want the magnet of automatic citizenship (and hence, chain migration) for those who come here illegally (as well as the burden on the state associated with it), then that is the lens through which the 14th Amendment must be viewed and interpreted.
(3) It is important to recognize and understand the significance of a constitution, and particularly of our Constitution. As Thomas Paine explained: “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.” (Rights of Man, 1791-1792) The key point is that the Constitution is the People’s document – the rightful and legal members of the society we call the United States of America. It embodies the People’s and the States’ intent and NOT government’s intent.
(4). Section 1 of the 14th Amendment 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. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Most people understand, and even the Supreme Court has agreed in prior opinions, that non-citizens are not entitled to the protections provided by our Constitution. (They are entitled to be have their inalienable rights respected, of course, but the rights of citizenship are only available to those who can rightfully and legally be citizens).
(5) The cases regarding the citizenship of those born on US soil (ie, “birthright citizenship”) have only involved those parents who were here in the country legally. The Supreme Court has never addressed the question of birthright citizenship to the child of someone who has intentionally entered the US illegally. Some advocates for birthright citizenship for those of illegal immigrants point to the 1898 case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, but that case merely held that a child born on US soil to parents who were lawfully, permanent (legally, “domiciled”) residents was a citizen. The parents who gave birth had a legal reason for being in the United States; they had “permission.” Because the United States has laws governing the entrance of foreigners and aliens into our country, for the purposes of the Citizenship Clause and birthright citizenship, it should be assumed that birthright citizenship applies when the mother has arrived here legally. As Mark Levin would say: “A person can’t self-emigrate.” There are laws – immigration laws.
(6) When the 14th Amendment was introduced and ratified, the country didn’t have an illegal immigration problem
(7) In no sane, rational world can an element of the Rule of Law (here the “Citizenship Clause”) be taken to reward, and even encourage, the breaking of the needful and essential laws of the United States.
(8) In two cases, the US Supreme Court has decided that the Citizenship Clause’s term “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (ie, the jurisdiction of the United States – ie, subject to the full extend of its laws) means subject to the English common law doctrine of “allegiance.” In the more crucial case, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the “allegiance” rationale was central to the holding.
The best way to determine what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” was intended to mean would be to uncover evidence that state legislatures ratifying the 14th Amendment understood “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” to exclude illegal aliens (“invaders”) and their children. It is the understanding of, or meaning to, the ratifiers, moreso than the intent of the drafters, that carries most weight in constitutional questions. Commentary from the Congressional debates is certainly helpful evidence of meaning, but relying on it entirely would be foolish. It’s only half the puzzle. Commentary from the debates in the state ratifying conventions carry far more weight because that evidenced the “meeting of the minds” – the understanding – by those who agree to be bound by the amendment. In some cases, the meaning as evidenced by the Congressional record is the same as the understanding of the states; yet, sometimes the states read the amendment differently or foresee how it can be enlarged or abused and seek to limit its application in their conventions. The question is whether illegal aliens are a group of people that the US is willing to concede are entitled to any benefits or protections under our Constitution and our laws (subject to our jurisdiction”). We know illegals go through great lengths to evade our jurisdiction. We know illegals are treated differently by our laws than ordinary legal citizens (they are allowed to continue breaking our laws, for one). We know sanctuary cities provide safe zones for illegal aliens to live without legal US status (no such “safe” zones exist for legal citizens to break laws).
(9) Why should the evaders of our laws be then able to claim the protections OF our law? Why should we interpret the 14th Amendment to reward those who intentionally break and evade our laws? It wouldn’t make sense. It would fly in the face of the very meaning and intent of “sovereignty” and of our “Rule of Law.”
(10) It is not a straightforward assumption that a child of illegal aliens, if born in the United States, is automatically, at the moment of birth, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The criminality of the mother, or the parents, is imputed to the newborn. “But for” analysis supports this conclusion. “But for” the criminality of the parents, the baby would not have been born in the United States.
Should the newborn child be considered independent of the parents? Certainly not. In no situation is a newborn considered anything other than a responsibility of the parents. It has no free will, no thought, no sense of independence.
(11) The 14th Amendment was never legally or legitimately passed. Refer to the Appendix. [See David Lawrence, “There Is No 14th Amendment!”, Sept. 27, 1957; https://www.constitution.org/14ll/no14th.htm and Douglas H. Bryant, “Unorthodox and Paradox: Revisiting the Fourteenth Amendment,” Alabama Law Review, Vol. 53, 2:555. Referenced at: https://www.law.ua.edu/pubs/lrarticles/Volume%2053/Issue%202/Bryant.pdf. Bryant’s article is included at the end of this article, in the Appendix]
Birthright citizenship is currently a policy whereby the children of illegal aliens born within the geographical limits of the U.S. have been automatically entitled to American citizenship. Trump, correctly, says it is a great magnet for illegal immigration. Today it is the magnet for illegal Hispanics. Tomorrow it may be the magnet for Islamic radicals.
Democrats, open-border activist groups, and others on the left, as well as other critics of Trump’s believe that this policy is an explicit command of the Constitution, embraced by the 14th Amendment and consistent with the British common-law system (see Appendix). As Edward Erler writes: “This is simply not true.”
Find more at my blog For Love of God and Country.