What was the original process for becoming a US citizen?

What was the original process for becoming a US citizen?


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So it's 1789 and the US constitution has just come into force. Who is now a citizen of this new government? Were some granted citizenship automatically, or were there also forms to fill out and oaths to take?


tl;dr: Common Law, inherited from Britain, says you're a citizen by right of birth or parentage… but a citizen of what? The principles of the US revolution imply your first obligation is to your society (ie. the people of your state). When your state changes its allegiance, so do you. An analogy can be drawn to if your state rewrites its constitution: the rules change, but you're still a citizen of that state.


While the US Constitution makes mention of "a Citizen of the United States", it does not define what that means. For example, in Article II, Section 1 it outlines the requirements for President including…

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President

And again in Article II, Section 2 with the requirements for being a Representative.

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 in which he shall be chosen.

This became a subject of debate shortly afterward when David Ramsay petitioned James Madison over whether William Smith of South Carolina could be a representative. Despite having been born in Carolina, David claimed he had not been a citizen for seven years because he left the US from 1770 to 1783.

As in the time of his absence the Revolution took place I contend that in order to his becoming a Citizen of the United States something must have been done previously on his part to shew his acquiescence in the new Government established without his consent. The lowest test of acquiescence is in my opinion residence in the Country. Till he resided under the Government of the united States I cannot therefore see how he acquired Citizenship. We were all born subjects [of the King of Britain] but you and I were released from our allegiance by the restraining act of Parliament passed in December 1775. You and I became Citizens by being parties to the Declaration of Independence. By that act a new compact for a new Government was formed between the then residing and consenting inhabitants of these States. But an absent native neither lost his allegiance by the one nor acquired Citizenship by the other. Such continued subjects while in Europe and under British protection and could only become Citizens on their returning and by residence by an oath or by some other mode manifesting their acquiescence in the revolution.

Basically, Mr. Ramsay is arguing that for someone to be a US citizen it requires both release from their obligations as a British citizen and the active consent of the person to become a citizen of the US; that citizenship is a explicitly consensual act between the person and their chosen sovereign. He argues residents in the US during the war are assumed to have consented to all this because they stayed in the US, but you can't make that same assumption about someone living in Europe. He's arguing Mr. Smith was still a British subject at least until he returned to the US, and should probably take an oath or something to be extra sure.


James Madison took the petition before the House. His reply to Mr. Ramsay outlines the Congressional thinking about citizenship at the time. Madison starts by admitting that this issue is legally hazy.

It were to be wished, that we had some law adduced more precisely defining the qualities of a citizen or an alien; particular laws of this kind, have obtained in some of the states; if such a law existed in South-Carolina, it might have prevented this question from ever coming before us; but since this has not been the case, let us settle some general principles before we proceed to the presumptive proof arising from public measures under the law, which tend to give support to the inference drawn from such principles.

You can see here that the people still consider themselves citizens of States first, and then those states are part of a Union. This is implied in several places in the Constitution, Article IV, Section 2 governing interstate law is one such example.

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

Mr. Madison then goes on to quote Common Law inherited from Britain that Citizenship is granted by the location of your birth, or sometimes by your parents. This goes back to serfdom, peasants were tied to the land. Now it's being asserted with some pride.

It is an established maxim that birth is a criterion of allegiance. Birth however derives its force sometimes from place and sometimes from parentage, but in general place is the most certain criterion; it is what applies in the United States; it will therefore be unnecessary to investigate any other. Mr. Smith founds his claim upon his birthright; his ancestors were among the first settlers of that colony.

Then Mr. Madison goes on to assert the revolutionary idea that your allegiance to the sovereign and to the people (he uses the term "society") are different, in and of itself radical at the time, but goes further to say that your allegiance to the people is the higher one. Not unexpected from a people who just rebelled against their sovereign in the name of the people.

[David Ramsay] supposes, when this country separated from Great Britain, the tie of allegiance subsisted between the inhabitants of America and the king of that nation, unless by some adventitious circumstance the allegiance was transferred to one of the United States. I think there is a distinction which will invalidate his doctrine in this particular, a distinction between that primary allegiance which we owe to that particular society of which we are members, and the secondary allegiance we owe to the sovereign established by that society.

Madison goes on to explain that the King could not make you a citizen. You were a citizen either by birth or by act of Parliament, and that this implied allegiance to the nation first.

This distinction will be illustrated by the doctrine established by the laws of Great Britain, which were the laws of this country before the revolution. The sovereign cannot make a citizen by any act of his own; he can confer denizenship, but this does not make a man either a citizen or subject. In order to make a citizen or subject, it is established, that allegiance shall first be due to the whole nation; it is necessary that a national act should pass to admit an individual member. In order to become a member of the British empire, where birth has not endowed the person with that privilege, he must be naturalized by an act of parliament.

Mr. Madison then asserts that because a citizen foremost owes their allegiance to their society, in this case the state of South Carolina, their citizenship transferred when South Carolina transferred its allegiance from Britain to the US. William Smith was indirectly a subject of the King through his citizenship of South Carolina.

When that society [South Carolina] separated from Great Britain, he [William Smith] was bound by that act and his allegiance transferred to that society, or the sovereign which that society should set up, because it was through his membership of the society of South-Carolina, that he owed allegiance to Great Britain.

Finally, Mr. Madison states that while the bonds of allegiance between the States and the King was dissolved, the bonds between the States and their Citizens were not.

This reasoning will hold good, unless it is supposed that the separation which took place between these states and Great Britain, not only dissolved the union between those countries, but dissolved the union among the citizens themselves: that the original compact, which made them altogether one society, being dissolved, they could not fall into pieces, each part making an independent society, but must individually revert into a state of nature; but I do not conceive that this was of necessity to be the case; I believe such a revolution did not absolutely take place.

He backs up this argument with an analogy: if South Carolina rewrote its state constitution you'd still be a citizen of South Carolina, just under new rules.

Suppose the state of South Carolina should think proper to revise her constitution, abolish that which now exists, and establish another form of government: Surely this would not dissolve the social compact. It would not throw them back into a state of nature. It would not dissolve the union between the individual members of that society. It would leave them in perfect society, changing only the mode of action, which they are always at liberty to arrange.

Mr. Madison goes on to assert that because William Smith was a minor at the time of the revolution, he wasn't fit to consent. Rather he is compelled to be bound by the decisions his society has made in his stead.

If he was not a minor, he became bound by his own act as a member of the society who separated with him from a submission to a foreign country. If he was a minor, his consent was involved in the decision of that society to which he belonged by the ties of nature…

Mr. Smith being then, at the declaration of independence, a minor, but being a member of that particular society, he became, in my opinion, bound by the decision of the society with respect to the question of independence and change of government;


Eventually the rules of US Citizenship would be defined by law, the first of which being the Naturalization Act of 1790 defining how to become a naturalized citizen. This was allowed by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, but Congress had to define the rules.


In 1788, residents of the thirteen colonies would have been citizens of their state. The Constitution didn't go into effect until 1789.

Furthermore, since the Constitution was ratified by the citizens of each state, not by the states, residents were citizens. (several states tried to have the Constitution ratified by the state government; that was not acceptable; the Constitution had to be submitted to the citizens.)

No forms to fill out; what would be the point? Even in 1789 when you were a citizen of the United States, you were first and foremost a citizen of your state.


Naturalization Act (1790)

Naturalization is the process by which people can become citizens of a country they were not born in. The United States Constitution grants Congress the power "to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization" (Article I, section 8, clause 4). Soon after the Constitution was ratified Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1790 (1 Stat. 103). The act provided

that any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof, on application to any common law court of record, in any one of the States wherein he shall have resided for the term of one year at least, and making proof to the satisfaction of such court, that he is a person of good character, and taking the oath or affirmation prescribed by law, to support the Constitution of the United States.

This act reveals one of the deepest ambiguities in American citizenship. In requiring a period of residence prior to naturalization, members of Congress emphasized that foreigners should spend sufficient time in the United States to appreciate American democracy Congress viewed America as a school for equality and democracy. But by preventing foreign-born people of color from becoming citizens, the act established that American citizenship contained its own aristocracy, that of race.

The violence of the French Revolution in the early 1790s, dramatically exemplified by the Reign of Terror of 1793, raised fears that violent French revolutionaries (the Jacobins) would come to America. In response, Congress extended the residence requirement for citizenship in the 1795 Naturalization Act from one to five years. At first Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party supported the extended residence requirement. Although Republicans favored admission of European revolutionaries, who generally supported the Democratic-Republican Party, they also feared an influx of merchants who would oppress the common farmer-citizens and support the Federalist Party.

Republicans, however, opposed the longer restrictions of fourteen years implemented by a Federalist Congress with the Naturalization Act of 1798. This act, as part of the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, was designed to restrict the political power of persons sympathetic to Jefferson's Republicans. When Republicans wrested control of Congress from the Federalists in the election of 1800, they returned the residence requirement to five years in the Naturalization Act of 1802.

The increased residence restrictions implemented during the 1790s reflected a nativism, a policy that favors native-born citizens over immigrants, through which current citizens expressed a fear of foreigners and attempted to preserve what they saw as the uniqueness of American citizenship. Federalists and Republicans were each affected, in different ways, by this nativist rejection of foreigners. Throughout the nation's history, nativism has been behind exclusions of people based on race, country of origin, and political ideology.

The history of naturalization also reveals that citizenship was centered around men. While the 1790 act naturalized all "persons" and so included women, it also declared that "the right of citizenship shall not descend to persons whose fathers have never been resident in the United States. " This prevented the automatic grant of citizenship to children born abroad whose mother, but not father, had resided in the United States. Citizenship was inherited exclusively through the father. Congress did not remove the inequity until 1934.

The Civil War changed American ideas of citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people born in the United States regardless of race, class, or gender. Congress then passed the Naturalization Act of 1870, which extended naturalization to people of African descent. Throughout the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, however, restrictions on immigration and naturalization based on countries of origin continued. Naturalization was limited for groups thought suspect, such as Chinese nationals, perpetuating a racial idea of citizenship. The tension between the ideals of equality and freedom and the realities of race, gender, and politics evident in the history of the naturalization laws of the first century of the United States set the stage for the debates about immigration and immigration laws during the twentieth century.

See also: Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 Chinese Exclusion Acts Immigration and Nationality Act Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.


English common law, under principles of jus sanguinis, viewed English persons and their children in the colonies as full subjects of the king. [1] English common law was less clear on the status of alien residents in the colonies, who generally faced a difficult naturalization process to obtain the same legal rights inhered to natural-born English and their descendants. [2] Issues in early naturalization policy stemmed from the legal relationships between England and its colonies. [3] The strongest legal bonds between England and the American colonies lay in the colonial charters, many of which professed alien residents in the colonies would eventually become “Our Loving subjects and live under Our Allegiance.” [4] Ambiguity in the colonial charters created uncertainty as to whether the authority to naturalize alien residents resided within the colonies themselves or emanated directly from Parliament in London. [5] Legislative bodies from both locations ultimately issued separate and sometimes conflicting naturalization laws, the interaction of which influenced early patterns of non-English immigration to the American colonies.

Private naturalization before Parliament afforded the highest legal status an alien resident could obtain in the colonies. However, it was an expensive process, costing applicants upwards of 50 pounds during the 1670s. Further, it was exclusive, in that embedded sacramental tests were designed to bar Catholics from subjectship, yet restricted other non-Christians from the benefits of parliamentary naturalization as well. [6] Alternatively, aliens could seek royal denization, which was a more accessible path to permanent residency yet conferred a lesser form of citizenship than private naturalization. [7]

Religious prejudice, xenophobia and fears of foreign political views, as well as maintenance of an Englishman's superior commercial privileges, all contributed to a conservative approach to early naturalization law. Moreover, Parliament granted these privileges based on individual merit rather than on broader statutory decrees to maintain full control over admissions to the colonies. [8] However, with the passage of the Linen Cloth Act 1663 (15 Cha. 2, c. 15), the difficulties of naturalization started to be modified toward favoring categories of aliens who might prove of particular benefit to the state. [9]

The first general naturalization law, providing a simple administrative process for obtaining naturalization appeared when Parliament passed Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act 1708 [10] The act required declarations of allegiance and supremacy from aliens and, similar to the private naturalization process, imposed sacramental tests to restrict non-Protestant applicants. One key innovation of the statute was to drastically reduce the application fee to just one shilling. [11] Tory opposition to liberal immigration policies led to the act’s eventual repeal in 1712, though the repeal did not invalidate naturalizations that had already been granted. [12]

In light of the Tory position, Parliament faced growing pressure from the colonies to open immigration to fulfill its major need, agrarian labor. [13] [14] During the colonial period, many were interested in promoting immigration, including the Crown, proprietors, colonial governments, landowners, and agents, all saw in it a profitable enterprise, since immigration would promote settlement, increase the value of landed holdings, and create a protective barrier for the colonies against Spanish, French, and Indians. Each interested party promoted immigration in their own way. Colonial assemblies soon became active in this work, and remained so throughout the colonial period. [15] In 1740 Parliament responded with a more liberal and enlightened policy [16] that greatly eased and broadened the ability of aliens in the American colonies to become naturalized subjects of Britain.

The Plantation Act 1740 supplanted the private naturalization process in which aliens in the colonies had to travel to London to appeal for subjectship on a costly, case-by-case basis. [17] After 1740, aliens could locally apply for naturalization within the colonies so long as they had resided there for seven years or more, without being absent more than two consecutive months. [18] Further, the Act encompassed all of British America, as opposed to the previous policy of only conferring subjectship within the colony from which it was requested. [19] The Act also capped the application cost at two shillings, and required applicants to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown and profess their Protestant belief in open court. [18]

The religious elements of the 1740 Act still favored Protestant applicants at the expense of Catholic applicants, yet new exemptions for Quakers, Jews and, later, Moravians left room for certain non-Protestants to become naturalized subjects of England. [20] Though localized opposition to Jewish applicants occurred following the 1740 law, competition for new settlers among the colonies prevented their total exclusion from the naturalization process, as alien residents could travel to more permissive colonies to apply for subjectship. [21] For example, Rhode Island, New York and Georgia each made it a deliberate and established part of their public policy to grant such rights to Jewish applicants, and became the colonies where Jews settled in the largest numbers. [22]

Though the Plantation Act imposed stiff fines for non-compliance, the colonies administered the 1740 Act with varying degrees of faithfulness [23] despite the fines, only six Secretaries of the thirteen American Colonies (and one in the West Indies) submitted the mandated lists. [24] Further, many colonies issued their own naturalization policies to rival those of Parliament, until that practice was prohibited in 1773 [25] that year, Parliament issued instructions to all governors in the colonies not to consent to any naturalization bill passed by a colonial legislative body. [26] As of 1773, at least 6,911 aliens had been naturalized under the 1740 Act, the vast majority of them having done so through Pennsylvania. [27]

All colonies, except New Hampshire, developed their own naturalization policies outside of English law. These powers were presumed, as the royal colonial charters did not explicitly grant them, and in many instances was an expression of the public will through provincial legislation. [28] For example, naturalizations of specifically named groups of persons through private acts were a common colonial practice until 1700, after which time Parliament started to restrict local powers over the denization and naturalization of aliens. [29] Under the 1701 Act of Settlement, Britain barred naturalized subjects from entering high political office. Nonetheless, some colonies continued to permit this practice based on existing precedent, and as it was unclear whether the Parliamentary ban extended to the American colonies. [30] Even under the threat of Parliamentary challenge, the colonies persisted in drafting local laws to fulfill their growing demand for new immigrants until those powers were completely proscribed in 1773. [31] Most colonies employed similar methods of naturalization that England employed. [32] However, colonial legislation was more limited than that of Parliament, in that a colony could not create rights that extended beyond its own borders. [33]

Colonial naturalization policies varied by region. In New England, conservative naturalization policies kept that part of the country more English than other parts of the colonies would later become. [26] For example, in the early 1700s, Massachusetts required any ship entering its ports to provide a passenger list, and later prohibited the importation of poor, infirm or vicious people. Connecticut took to demanding an oath of allegiance from all strangers spending time within its borders. [34] New Hampshire was the only colony that refrained from legislating on the naturalization issue altogether, though there is record that some aliens did settle there and may have been locally accepted as fellow subjects. [35]

Conversely, the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies quickly adopted more permissive naturalization policies. In Virginia, early naturalization laws included a preamble that extolled the advantage of inviting other persons to reside in the colony. [36] South Carolina attracted alien applicants through naturalization laws that granted them the rights of natural-born Englishmen while prohibiting the collection of monies for debts contracted prior to the applicant coming to the colony. [37] Though the creditor class derided the policy, it made South Carolina a refuge for persons who had suffered under austere English debtor laws. [34] New York in 1730 adopted a more accommodating naturalization process as the number of foreign Protestants within its borders reached a point of political importance and the colony sought to fulfill its ambitions of westward expansion. [38] Pennsylvania in 1742 provided its own general law for naturalization that gave full rights to aliens who had resided in the colony for less than the seven years required in the 1740 Parliamentary Act. [39] Parliament later invalidated Pennsylvania's general naturalization law, after which the state, motivated by similar expansionary aims as New York, turned to extensive use of private acts to accomplish its naturalizations. [40] Further, New York and Pennsylvania both exempted persons with conscientious scruples against oaths, which included Quakers, from the requirement to swear allegiance during naturalization, a colonial innovation that would later influence Parliament's general naturalization law. [41]

Though colonial naturalization laws differed in the political rights each bestowed to alien residents, they did generally confer the right to obtain land, which afforded each man the power to obtain the necessary voting qualifications for himself or, at the very least, for his heirs born in the American colonies. [42]

Leading up to the break from Britain, debates over property and political rights exposed a growing belief in the colonies that alien residents who committed their efforts and resources to the common good justly deserved an equal share of the rights of membership to the community. The American colonists were generally in favor of foreign immigrants, as their contributions to the welfare of the colonies were clear and highly valued. Such circumstances of life in the colonies allowed Americans to examine more closely the concept of allegiance, which played into the emerging belief in the equality of rights regardless of their origin. [43] The Declaration of Independence generally alluded to this concept in its charge that King George III ". . . has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States for that purpose obstructing the Laws for the Naturalization of Foreigners . . ." [44]

Following the American Revolution, under the Articles of Confederation each colony could independently pass its own naturalization laws, yet each state’s authority to naturalize alien residents conferred the same rights of citizenship within the colonies under the principle of comity. [45] As a result, the new American states produced naturalization laws of varying procedures and requirements. Common among them, however, were certain assumptions, including affirming allegiance to an authority and a mandatory period of physical residence prior to obtaining the right of citizenship. [46]

Ultimately, the United States Constitution, which did not address naturalization head on but intended to right the general lack of legal uniformity seen under the Articles of Confederation, [47] empowered Congress to establish a “uniform rule of naturalization” within Article I, section 8, clause 4, permitting the development of United States nationality law at the federal level. [48]


What was the original process for becoming a US citizen? - History

Throughout the history of the United States many people have immigrated to the United States from other countries. These people can become citizens of the United States by going through the legal process outlined below.

A citizen is a person who is recognized as legal member of a country.

Citizens of the United States have certain rights. They can vote in elections, run for public office, work for the government, and are protected by U.S. laws.

Who can become a citizen?

In order to become a citizen a person must first legally immigrate to the U.S. and live here for five years. Immigrants can apply for a permanent resident card called a Green Card. In addition, immigrants must be 18 years old, have demonstrated good moral character, be able to speak and understand English, and be willing to take an oath of loyalty to the United States.

Once an immigrant is eligible for citizenship, they fill out an application called an N-400 form. They send this to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for processing. It can take a while, sometimes more than a year, for the application to be processed.

The person applying will then be asked to be fingerprinted. Their fingerprints will be processed by the FBI in order to check on their background and make sure they haven't committed any major crimes.

The next step is to be interviewed by an immigration officer. The officer will ask the person personal questions about their job, home, family, and background. They will be tested on their ability to read and write English. They will also be tested on their knowledge of the history of the United States. There are around 100 possible questions that they may be asked. The applicant can get the questions ahead of time to study.


Post Immigration

With the onset of immigration and people moving to The United States, the situation caused this country to become known as the melting pot. The reason behind this is simple, because with people moving to this country from abroad, they helped make this nation a land of diversity and culture. These immigrants may have had intentions of coming here for work opportunities so that they could support their families, but their presence here lead to communities of people with different cultures and heritages coming together and living amongst one another as neighbors, though they were different as night and day.

Immigrants from different countries lived, worked and played as one when they lived on the same street or in the same neighborhoods. This togetherness of immigrants in a strange land is what helped shape America into a melting pot, a melting pot of ethnic groups with the benefits of a better life or a better situation for those arriving on American soil. This is how it started. Even though the immigrants shared a common interest for coming to the United States each ethnic group still wanted to carve out their own special nook that represented who they were as individuals. After all, they may have left their homeland behind they did not leave behind their heritage or their customs and traditions. This is how such things as Chinatown, Greek villages and Italian communities popped up in cities across America. When they sat up house on American soil, they bought with them the flavors of their individual motherland.

In the 1950's, immigrants living in certain areas, for instance the Spanish communities made the area their own by naming towns and streets after place from the country they left behind. An example of this is the fact that there is a Chinatown in Washington DC that represents what the immigrants left behind.

For the immigrants, they have a taste of home and a place to call their own in America's melting pot.


ProPublica logo

I recently became a U.S. citizen, and found mistakes in the citizenship test.

This story was co-published with Slate.

Last month, I became an American citizen, a tremendous honor and no easy accomplishment, even for a Canadian. After living here for 12 years, I thought I knew everything. Then I learned how we mint Americans.

After years of steep filing fees and paperwork (including one letter from Homeland Security claiming that my fingerprints had "expired"), it all came down to a test. I passed, and, my fellow Americans, you could, too -- if you don't mind providing answers that you know are wrong.

Friends told me I didn't need to study, the questions weren't that hard. But I wanted to and so for months I lugged around a set of government-issued flashcards, hoping to master the test. I pestered my family and friends to quiz me. Sometimes I quizzed my sources. I learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution) and they learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution). But then we began noticing errors in a number of the questions and answers.

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president's Cabinet. Among the correct answers is "Vice President." The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he's not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads of executive departments, such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: "The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office." Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.

Still, a wonderful press officer in the New York immigration office noted that the White House's own website lists the vice president as a member of the Cabinet. It's still wrong, I explained. I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up.

In fact, the Constitution aligns the vice president more closely with the legislative branch as president of the Senate. Not until well into the 20th century did the vice president even attend Cabinet meetings.

Then there is Question 12: What is the "rule of law"?

I showed it to lawyers and law professors. They were stumped.

There are four acceptable answers: "Everyone must follow the law" "Leaders must obey the law" "Government must obey the law" "No one is above the law."

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. "These are all incorrect," he wrote me. "The rule of law means that judges decide cases 'without respect of persons,' that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers."

So, where do these questions come from?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a department within Homeland Security, spent six years consulting scholars, educators, and historians before the current test was introduced in 2008. The result: 100 questions and answers designed to provide an in-depth treatment of U.S. history and government.

"The goal of the naturalization test is to ensure America's newest citizens have mastered a basic knowledge of U.S. history and have a solid foundation to continue to expand their understanding as they embark on life as U.S. citizens," said Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for USCIS.

During the citizenship interview, applicants are asked a randomly selected 10 questions from the test and must answer six correctly. In addition to the questions, there is a reading and writing test for English proficiency.

My immigration lawyer accompanied me to my interview. In the security line, I told her I was bothered by Question 16: Who makes the federal laws?

Each of the three possible answers, it seemed, was incomplete. The official answers were: "Congress" "Senate and House (of representatives)" "(U.S. or national) legislature." I'm not a lawyer but even Canadians watched Schoolhouse Rock. Where, I wondered, was the president, whose signature is what makes a bill into a law?

My lawyer sighed, she agreed. But: "If you get asked that question, just give the official answer," she said. I didn't get that question.

I also wasn't asked Question 1: "What is the supreme law of the land?"

The official answer: "the Constitution." A friend and legal scholar was aghast. That answer, he said, is "no more than one-third correct." He's right.

Article VI, clause 2 in the Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, explicitly says that three things -- the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties -- together "shall be the supreme law of the land."

Question 96 asks: Why does the flag have 13 stripes? The official answer: "because there were 13 original colonies." In fact, the flag has 13 stripes for the 13 original states.

Many of the test questions, organized under topics such as "system of government," "geography," and "American history" are correct and informative. Since I'm a reporter, one tugged at my heart.

Question 55 asks: What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy? Among the correct answers: "write to a newspaper."

At my interview, I was asked questions on presidential succession, the Cabinet, Senate terms, and the Supreme Court. I was asked to name a branch of government. (I went with the executive.)

I was asked Question 8: What did the Declaration of Independence do?

Heeding my lawyer's advice, I went with the official answer: "declared our independence."

I answered six consecutive questions correctly and moved on to the language section of the exam. Native English speakers are not exempt from this section and I was asked to read aloud the following sentence: "Columbus Day is in October."

I was then asked to write a sentence in English. Remarkably, it was the same sentence: "Columbus Day is in October."

Next, I reaffirmed answers I had given on my citizenship application.

Was I a member of the Communist Party? Was I member of a totalitarian party? Am I a terrorist? Although I was born in 1970, I was asked: Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did I work for or associate in any way with the Nazi government of Germany? Had I worked at a concentration camp?

The officer who interviewed me, Sandy Saint Louis, had to ask me the questions. But she didn't even look up or wait for my responses. She checked off "No" after each one.

She did pay attention when she asked whether I was a habitual drunkard, a polygamist, a drug-smuggler, a felon, a tax-evader.

My paperwork was in order, my background check was complete. When the interview was over, Saint Louis pressed a large wooden seal into a red ink pad and stamped "approved" across my application. A wave of relief washed over me and my lawyer shot me a sweet smile. Ten days later, when I returned for the swearing-in, a brief and final questionnaire asked if I had engaged in prostitution since the interview. I checked "No."

On Friday, Jan. 28, accompanied by my family, I was among 160 citizens-in-waiting who filed into a 3rd floor auditorium in lower Manhattan to be sworn in as Americans. On our seats were an American flag, a copy of the Constitution, a booklet featuring the stories of prominent naturalized Americans, and a welcome letter from President Obama.

Reading the letter, I began to cry. I had spent more than one-quarter of my life hoping to become American, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the honor and the significance of the moment. The place I have called home for 12 years was finally claiming me as well.

I looked around the room and saw other fortunate souls with long journeys now behind them, quietly weeping with joy.

An immigration official asked us all to stand, and to remain standing, when the name of our country of origin was called out. After he read through the names of 44 countries, we were all standing, waving our flags.

Together, we took the Oath of Allegiance and were then seated as citizens of one nation.

Everyone in the room that day had scored a perfect 100 percent on the test and, for fun, an official decided to test us all once more. Who wrote "The Star Spangled Banner"? he asked. Only a few called out "Francis Scott Key," perhaps because that question is no longer on the test. It was prominently removed four years ago.

A newly sworn-in citizen led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. We sang the national anthem and then watched a video message from the president shown at every swearing-in ceremony across the country.

"It's an honor and a privilege to call you a fellow citizen of the United States of America," Obama told us. "This is now officially your country."

There were more tears. At the end of the hour, we received certificates of naturalization and were given instructions on how to obtain U.S. passports.

My family and I left soon afterward. It was 10:30 a.m. and cold outside. We took the subway uptown. Three children got off at three different stops, headed to their schools or the library. We took the youngest up to his school. He walked in clutching his American flag and announced proudly to his teachers that "Mommy is American."

At a party that evening, I displayed the letter from Obama and laid out the flashcards. Over Sam Adams beer and mini-burgers, I spoke about the ceremony and test. The host led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance, my second of the day. Looking around the room, I realized that a significant number of my friends are journalists, writers, academics, and lawyers. It's a nitpicky crowd and during three hours of celebration they noticed additional errors in the questions.

At the end of the night, one of the catering staff gathered up the flash cards and as she held them out to me, she revealed that next month she too will take her citizenship test. I was thrilled. I closed my first day as an American citizen by handing them over to her. "Which ones did you say were wrong again?" she asked. "Just give the official answer," I said, "and you'll do fine."


10 Things You Should Know About Becoming A Naturalized Citizen

If you want to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, these are the ten most important things you should know:

  1. You must meet certain qualifications to become a naturalized citizen.
  2. You may get special consideration if you served in the U.S. military.
  3. Spouses of some U.S. citizens and U.S. military personnel are exempt from some requirements.
  4. Children under the age of 18 may are eligible to become naturalized citizens automatically.
  5. You must file a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, to become a naturalized citizen.
  6. There’s a certain way to file Form N-400 online, and you may want to work with an attorney to do so.
  7. You can check your case status between the time you apply for naturalization and the time the U.S. government approves your petition.
  8. You’ll have to attend a USCIS interview and take a citizenship test.
  9. You’ll attend a naturalization ceremony to make your new citizenship official.
  10. When you’re a naturalized citizen, you’ll have the same rights and responsibilities that other U.S. citizens have.

Here’s a closer look at each.

(1) Qualifications To Become A Naturalized Citizen Of The United States

In order to begin, the foreign resident needs to initially fulfill specific obligations. A quality naturalization lawyer will help in fulfilling these complicated requirements. Although there are exceptions in specific instances to be mentioned later, the starting qualifications for an individual to become a naturalized United States citizen are that you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a lawful permanent resident, which means you have a green card
  • Have lived in the United States as a lawful green card holder for at least 5 years
  • Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months during the 5 years after becoming a legal permanent resident
  • Be a person of good moral character with no convictions for charges stemming from immoral actions
  • Prove that you can speak, read, and write the English language
  • Be able to prove by testing that you have a knowledge of U.S. government, American history and civics
  • Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America

Exceptions to the basic rules for naturalization include honorably discharged, foreign-born members of the United States military, as well as spouses, and children of U.S. citizens and U.S. military personnel.

(2) Non-Citizen Personnel Serving In The United States Military

If you’re serving – or if you have served – in the U.S. military, these points may apply to you:

  • Foreign-born members of the United States military who served honorably during various conflicts may be eligible without already being permanent residents, or even if they are under 18 years of age
  • Foreign-born members of the United States who served honorably for at least one year at any time can apply for naturalization if they apply within a specified period. They may also be exempt from residency and physical presence requirements

(3) Spouses Of United States Citizens And U.S. Military Personnel Are Exempt From Some Requirements

Some spouses of U.S. citizens and some U.S. military personnel are exempt from some of the requirements for becoming a naturalized citizen. For example:

  • Spouses of United States citizens who apply to become a naturalized citizen may do so after only three years (instead of five years) and after achieving lawful permanent residency status
  • Spouses of United States military personnel who are stationed abroad may not need to meet any residency of physical presence requirement to become a naturalized citizen

(4) What About The Naturalization Of Children Under 18 Years Of Age?

In many cases, kids under 18 whose parents become naturalized citizens are automatically naturalized themselves. Sometimes, though, a parent must apply on behalf of his or her child. Here’s what to know:

  • A child residing in the United States under the legal and physical care of a United States citizen will be eligible to become a naturalized citizen, automatically. The parent or legal guardian must file on the child’s behalf for an Application for Certificate of Citizenship Form N-600.
  • Any child under 18 years of age whose current residence is outside the United States, but is legally present in the U.S., may be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, if one parent (or a qualifying grandparent) is a naturalized citizen and meets the physical presence requirements.
  • Exemptions to become a naturalized citizen are also available for children of active-duty members of the U.S. military who are stationed outside the United States. These children are typically automatically considered natural-born citizens and don’t need to be naturalized.

(5) Application For The Naturalization Process: Form-N-400

Adult applicants must meet the necessary qualifications to become a naturalized citizen. Once you have determined that you meet the requirements for naturalization, you may proceed with the application Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Instructions and the appropriate fees for filing can be found on the USCIS website. The process can be complicated, and the assistance of a qualified immigration lawyer can make sure the application is submitted correctly and documentation is provided in the right format.

Applications may be completed either online or by mail. Candidates who fit the following categories may not complete the application online. These categories are:

  1. Applicants applying based on military service
  2. Applicants applying from outside the United States
  3. Applicants filing for a fee waiver or discount

If you are submitting Form N-400 by mail, the addresses to send the applications are listed by the state of residency and can be found on the USCIS website at https://www.uscis.gov/n-400.

After the application and appropriate fees have been received, the USCIS will notify you that you must attend a biometrics appointment. At your biometrics appointment, USCIS officials will take your fingerprints and photo, and they’ll get your digital signature on file.

You will need to appear on time at the designated location for your appointment. Bring your Form-551, Permanent Resident Card, to the appointment. You’ll also need to bring your driver’s license or passport with your photograph.

You will also receive a study booklet to help prepare for the civics test you’ll eventually be required to take.

(6) How To File Form N-400 Online

Filing online may be an option for you. If you do file online rather than by mail or on paper, you can create an account that allows you or your attorney to:

  • Receive notifications
  • View estimated completion dates for the filing process
  • Receive and respond quickly to requests for additional documentation
  • Update contact information

(7) You Can Check Your Case Status After You File

At any time after your application to become a naturalized citizen has been received, you may check the status of your case online. The speed of the process depends on the USCIS’s current caseload. You do need to know that the process could take months.

After you have received confirmation of your naturalized citizen application, you will receive a unique, 13-character identifier that allows you to track the progress of your case. Also, you may update any information such as change of address, email or other pertinent personal data.

When you create an account, you can see the last action taken on your file. You can also see a list of the remaining things you must do to become a naturalized citizen. The site will also allow you to submit inquiries.

Your attorney can access the site to check your case status on your behalf, too, as long as you provide him or her with your 13-character identifier and login information.

(8) USCIS Interviews And The English And Civics Tests

After you have submitted the application and fees, you will be contacted for an interview and schedule testing for your proficiency in English and government affairs. USCIS provides a video to view an example of the interview process and information to help prepare for the tests. Arrive on time with the following documents:

  • Interview appointment notice
  • Your I-551, Permanent Resident Card
  • State-issued identification, such as a driver’s license
  • Any valid or expired passports and travel documents that show your absences from the United States since you became a permanent resident

Be prepared to give honest and straightforward answers to questions asked by the interviewer. Your certified immigration lawyer can assist by explaining the potential traps and pitfalls of the process.

Most applicants will be tested in English to show the USCIS official that they can speak and understand the language. They’ll also be tested in civics, which includes questions on American history and how the U.S. government operates. You must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass the U.S. citizenship test – and the test is required for you to become a naturalized citizen.

Note: Civics studies teach the naturalization candidate how the government works, representation and voting, as well as the responsibilities of local, state, and national government leaders.

The USCIS Citizenship Resource Center website provides information to help study for the tests, information sessions that you may attend, information to help you understand your rights and responsibilities, and naturalization resources for Spanish language speakers.

Following the interview and testing, you will be advised of whether you passed or not. Officials may ask you to supply additional information before making their decision.

(9) Naturalization Ceremony: Oath Of Allegiance

If you have passed all phases of the application process, you will be notified of your official Naturalization Ceremony with a Form N-445 that will advise you of a date, time, and location of the ceremony and Oath of Allegiance. Once you arrive, you will:

  • Check in at the ceremony
  • Return your Permanent Residency card
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance
  • Receive your Certificate of Naturalization, which officially designates you as a naturalized citizen of the United States

You won’t officially become a naturalized citizen until after you’ve taken the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. You’ll receive your naturalization certificate after your oath ceremony.

(10) Rights And Responsibilities Of All United States Citizens

Upon receiving your Certificate of Naturalization, you are entitled to:

  • Apply for a United States passport
  • Register to vote
  • Update your Social Security information

The USCIS recommends waiting at least 10 days to contact the Social Security Administration to ensure the notice of your citizenship has been added to the record.

When you’re a naturalized citizen, you’ll have the exact same rights and responsibilities that all other U.S. citizens have.


A Glimpse of American History Through the Process of Becoming a Citizen

New York

The path to naturalization has changed a lot since 1715. Department of Homeland Security/Public Domain

The year was 1715 and Arien Gerritsen, a Dutch Protestant man living in the colony of New York, had some paperwork to fill out. That year, freshly coronated King George I had mandated that eligible foreign-born Protestants in the colonies renounce their foreign citizenships. So in September, Gerritsen appeared before a judge in Ulster County, abjured Dutch citizenship, pledged an oath of loyalty to the absent monarch, and filled out a form letter sealed with a dribble of red wax. The document was packed with dense thickets of jargon, punctuated by spaces for scribbling in personal details—“kind of like a lease today,” says Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations and Curator of Printed Collections at the New-York Historical Society Library. Make your mark, and join the empire.

Procedures that allowed a person to be naturalized as a citizen have evolved, along with who is eligible, throughout the country’s history. Nazionale recently curated an exhibition at the Historical Society Library to trace certain segments of this meandering path and along the way she paused to wrestle with the symbolic heft of citizenship as an idea. What does it mean to acquire this designation, and what does the process reveal about the era and the country that confers it?

In 1715, some Dutch citizens signed up to become subjects of the British crown. Courtesy of New-York Historical Society

The exhibition compiles items from the library’s collection related to naturalization, including legal documents, mass-produced pamphlets, and other materials dating from 1715 to the 1950s. The artifacts don’t illustrate all of the tangled permutations of the laws, nor how unevenly enforced they could be. (Before the Constitution was drafted, naturalization was often granted preferentially to Protestants, for example, though religious requirements tightened and slackened over the years.) Many of the documents anchor this knotted history in personal stories. These objects, salvaged from obscurity, have given researchers a way to track the everyday lives that unfolded in the shifting shadow of politics and policy.

Before the Revolutionary War, Nazionale says, some residents could choose to have their citizenship tied to particular colonies, or (for a hefty fee) even appear before Parliament to become a true British citizen. Then, as the new country took shape, aspiring citizens had to make their cases to the fledgling U.S. government. In 1786, Henry Astor, the older brother of future tycoon John Jacob Astor, was a butcher recently landed from the German state of Baden-Württemberg. He outlined his case for citizenship in a petition to the New York legislature. The argument went like this: He’d been living in the country for three years, purchased real estate, and sprouted roots in the community. He swore himself to be “zealously attached to the freedom and independence of America.”

Henry Astor signed his 1786 petition “Ashdore,” the original German spelling. Courtesy of New-York Historical Society

Nazionale can’t be sure how the judge decided in Astor’s case, but, she says, citizenship would have been viewed as “a symbol of moving up in the world and in the country.” Four years later, the Naturalization Act of 1790 extended eligibility to free white people “of good moral character” who had lived in the United States for at least two years. In an article for Prologue, the magazine of the National Archives, the historian Marian L. Smith pointed out that this law didn’t explicitly bar white women from becoming naturalized citizens. If they were married, their status was often folded into their husband’s.

The 1790 law didn’t mean that rules and procedures had crystallized, though. They continued to change, dramatically and often. Anti-immigrant sentiment swelled over the ensuing few years, culminating with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Signed by President John Adams, these bills bumped the residency requirement to 14 years. In 1802, the requirement fell back to five years. A dense handbill published by a New York printer in 1828 recounts a smattering of six changes recently tacked on or tinkered with.

A handout from 1828 runs down a bunch of recent tweaks to naturalization laws. Courtesy of New-York Historical Society

The certificate commemorating the naturalization of a woman named Esther Levy, in March 1840, testifies to more of that ongoing editing. Sandwiched between the swirling calligraphy and official insignias is a dense block of text summarizing more rules that had been enacted and repealed. For example, the document’s fine print is a cluttered with references to “an act in further addition to an act to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization,” and alludes to supplemental tweaks in 1813, 1816, 1824, and 1828.

Through all these changes, citizenship was still largely denied to anyone without a European background. After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment broadened eligibility, and two years later, the Naturalization Act of 1870 explicitly noted that “aliens of African nativity” and “persons of African descent” could become citizens. In 1882, though, the Chinese Exclusion Act cracked down on immigration from China, and wasn’t lifted until 1943. All Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924. A pathway for immigrants from India and the Philippines to become naturalized citizens emerged in 1946, when President Harry Truman signed the Luce-Celler Act. The exhibition doesn’t grapple directly with racism, sexism, or xenophobia, but the specter of all three casts a shadow over the perpetually changing laws.

This 1840 naturalization certificate is chock-full of how laws have changed. Courtesy of New-York Historical Society

Exams became part of the naturalization process in the 19th century, based on the notion that citizenship was a right to be earned, in part through a working knowledge of civics and the Constitution. For decades, though, these exams were haphazard—often a battery of impromptu questions lobbed out in court and answered on the spot. Even after naturalization proceedings were standardized under the umbrella of the Federal Naturalization Service in 1906, “courts continued to administer the tests as they had before—orally, extemporaneously, and with little uniformity across jurisdictions,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Still, local governments and private publishers produced study guides that helped applicants cram for whatever questions the test might bring. Uncle Sam clasps an applicant’s hand on the throughly spangled cover of one such book in Nazionale’s exhibit, published by the J.S. Ogilvie company in 1929. The guide was a departure for the commercial publisher, whose trade was largely in pulpy whodunits and other dime-store novels. But Nazionale imagines such pamphlets were flying off newsstands and drugstore shelves in the late twenties, when immigration numbers were steadily climbing. The year the book was published, 224,728 new citizens were naturalized—the second-highest number since 1907.

In 1929, naturalization test-prep guidebooks flew off drugstore shelves. Courtesy of New-York Historical Society

To help contemporary applicants brush up for the current version of the test, which today includes 100 questions about branches of government, citizens’ duties, and geography, the Historical Society has also teamed up with the City University of New York to use items in its collection as teaching tools. In classes about navigating the exam, participants might learn about voting rights through studying a yellowing pennant emblazoned with the slogan “Votes for Women.” For context on the Declaration of Independence, they might scrutinize Johannes A.S. Oertel’s painting of torch-wielding New Yorkers and Continental soldiers lassoing and toppling a gilded statute of King George III in a gleeful melee.

Some of the ephemera in Nazionale’s show drifted in with family papers, while other items were plucked from the institution’s collection of 20,000 broadsides, and still more were donated. Nazionale sees that impulse continuing today, as people approach the library with things—including items related to citizenship—they’ve held onto. “People are thinking, ‘I know this seems kind of not a big deal,’ but someone has an idea about the importance of history, and keeps it,” she says.

Nazionale says she’s determined to usher this collection into the fractious 21st century, including with materials that are missing, such as ones that describe the experiences of marginalized groups. Brand-new acquisitions bring the story right up to the present day. One former staff member recently passed the naturalization exam, and then donated his homemade flashcards. A future version of the exhibition could include his test-prep materials, tucked carefully inside a glass vitrine.


History of initiative and referendum in the U.S.

The use of the initiative and referendum (I&R) process has ebbed and flowed throughout U.S. history. Initiatives and referendums, which come from a variety of ideologies, can enact changes within governments at the local, state and national levels.

Various forms of I&R have existed in the United States since the 17th century, beginning in New England, where ordinances and other issues were listed on town hall meeting agendas. The voting within these town hall meetings established a precedent for the legislative referendum process, which allows citizens to ratify laws and amendments proposed by their elected officials.

Legislative referendum was proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1775, for Virginia's state constitution. He believed that citizens were capable of being leaders and that they should agree upon, and approve, changes to laws.

Legislative referendum was not added to Virginia’s state constitution. Jefferson was unable to advocate for the process because he was at the Continental Congress. Ώ]

One year after legislative referendum was proposed to Virginia delegates, Georgia’s delegates gathered in Savannah to draft a new state constitution. An addition was suggested: Amendments could be added to the constitution once a petition signed by the majority of voters in each county called for a convention.

Though the process was never used and was ultimately deleted from the constitution, Georgia delegates were the first to conceive of a referendum process for state citizens. Ώ]

In an essay, "Federalist No. 49," James Madison wrote:

As the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived, it seems strictly consonant to the republican theory to recur to the same original authority . whenever it may be necessary to enlarge, diminish, or new-model the powers of government. ΐ]
—James Madison

Massachusetts was the first state to hold a statewide legislative referendum citizens ratified the state constitution in 1778. New Hampshire followed in 1792. Ώ] Other early adopters of the referendum process were Connecticut (1818), Maine (1819), New York (1820) and Rhode Island (1824). Ώ]

The populist and progressive eras

By the late 19th century, many citizens wanted to increase their check on representative government. Members of the populist and progressive movements were dissatisfied with the government they felt that wealthy special interest groups controlled the government and that citizens had no power to break this control.

A comprehensive platform of political reforms was proposed that included women’s suffrage, secret ballots, direct election of senators, recall elections and primary elections. The initiative process, which was the cornerstone of the reform package, was included as well. Without it, activists believed that many of the reforms they wanted (which were being blocked by state legislatures) would not be realized.

The theory of the initiative process was that the individual was capable of enhancing the representative government. The populists—who believed citizens should rule the elected and not allow the elected to rule the people—and the progressives took advantage of methods that were already in place for amending state constitutions, and they began pushing state legislators to add an amendment that would allow for an initiative and popular referendum process.

In 1897, Nebraska became the first state to allow cities to place initiative and referendum in their charters. One year later, citizens in South Dakota copied the initiative and referendum provisions from the 1848 Swiss Constitution and successfully amended them into their state’s constitution. South Dakota became the first state to adopt the statewide initiative and popular referendum process in 1898. Utah followed in 1900. Oregon voters approved the initiative and referendum amendment by an 11-to-1 margin in 1902.

Other states soon followed. Montana voters approved an initiative and popular referendum amendment proposed by the state legislature in 1906. One year later, Oklahoma became the first state to include the initiative and popular referendum in its original constitution. Maine and Michigan passed initiative and popular referendum amendments in 1908, and California placed initiative and popular referendum in its constitution in 1911.

Popular votes on adopting the initiative process

State Year Status Margin Yes % Yes No % No
South Dakota 1898 Passed 3-2 23,816 59% 16,483 41%
Utah 1900 Passed 5-2 19,219 71% 7,786 29%
Oregon 1902 Passed 11-1 62,024 92% 5,688 8%
Illinois Α] 1902 Passed 5-1 428,469 83% 87,654 17%
Missouri 1904 Failed 2-3 115,741 41% 169,281 59%
Nevada 1905 Passed 5-1 4,393 85% 792 15%
Montana 1906 Passed 5-1 36,374 85% 6,616 15%
Delaware Β] 1906 Passed 6-1 17,405 89% 2,135 11%
Oklahoma 1907 Passed 5-2 180,333 71% 73,059 29%
Missouri 1908 Passed 1-1 177,615 55% 147,290 45%
Maine 1908 Passed 2-1 51,991 69% 23,712 31%
Michigan Γ] 1908 Passed 2-1 244,705 65% 130,783 35%
Illinois 1910 Passed 3-1 443,505 63% 127,751 37%
Colorado 1910 Passed 3-1 89,141 76% 28,698 24%
Arkansas 1910 Passed 2-1 91,363 70% 39,680 30%
California 1911 Passed 3-1 138,181 75% 44,850 25%
Arizona 1911 Passed 3-1 12,534 76% 3,920 24%
New Mexico Δ] 1911 Passed 5-2 31,724 70% 13,399 30%
Nebraska 1912 Passed 13-1 189,200 93% 15,315 7%
Idaho (I) Ε] 1912 Passed 8-3 38,918 72% 15,195 28%
Idaho (PR) 1912 Passed 3-1 43,658 76% 13,490 24%
Nevada Ζ] 1912 Passed 10-1 9,956 91% 1,027 8%
Ohio 1912 Passed 3-2 312,592 57% 231,312 43%
Washington 1912 Passed 5-2 110,110 71% 43,905 29%
Wyoming Η] 1912 Failed 6-1 20,579 86% 3,446 14%
Mississippi Η] 1912 Failed 2-1 25,153 65% 13,383 35%
Michigan (C) 1913 Passed 5-4 204,796 56% 162,392 44%
Michigan (S) 1913 Passed 3-2 219,057 59% 152,388 41%
Mississippi 1914 Passed 2-1 19,118 69% 8,718 31%
North Dakota 1914 Passed 2-1 43,111 66% 21,815 44%
North Dakota 1914 Passed 5-2 48,783 71% 19,964 29%
Minnesota Η] 1914 Failed 3-1 162,951 77% 47,906 23%
Wisconsin 1914 Failed 2-1 84,934 36% 148,536 64%
Texas 1914 Failed 1-1 62,371 48% 66,785 52%
Maryland 1915 Passed 3-1 33,150 77% 10,022 23%
Minnesota Η] 1916 Failed 4-1 187,713 78% 51,546 22%
Massachusetts 1918 Passed 1-1 170,646 51% 162,103 49%
North Dakota 1918 Passed 3-2 47,447 59% 32,598 41%
Alaska 1956 Passed 2-1 17,447 68% 8,180 32%
Florida 1968 Passed 1-1 645,233 55% 518,940 45%
Wyoming 1968 Passed 3-1 72,009 75% 24,299 25%
Illinois 1970 Passed 1-1 1,122,425 57% 838,168 43%
Washington, DC 1977 Passed 4-1 27,094 83% 5,627 17%
Minnesota ⎖] 1980 Failed 1-1 970,407 53% 854,164 47%
Rhode Island ⎗] 1986 Failed 1-1 129,309 48% 139,294 52%
Mississippi 1992 Passed 3-1 592,536 70% 251,276 30%
Rhode Island 1996 Passed 1-1 165,347 53% 145,808 47%

The modern movement

The modern-day movement of the initiative process began in 1978, when California passed Proposition 13, an initiative cutting property taxes from 2.5 percent of market value to 1 percent. After Proposition 13 passed in California, similar measures were adopted through the initiative process in Michigan and Massachusetts. Within two years, 43 states implemented some form of property tax limitation or relief, and 15 states lowered their income tax rates.

Initiative usage

Citizens have brought to the ballot policy reforms in many areas, including education, taxes and drugs.

Voter turnout in states with an initiative on the ballot is approximately 3 to 8 percent higher than in states without an initiative on the ballot. In 1998, voters in 16 states with an initiative on the ballot went to the polls at a rate almost 3 percent greater than voters in the states without an initiative on the ballot. ⎘]

Within the states that allow the initiative process, almost 850 statewide initiatives (out of more than 2,000 proposed) have been adopted since 1904. The initiative process is allowed in at least 24 states, but more than 60 percent of initiative activity has occurred in just six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington. ⎘]

Many initiatives do not reach the ballot. In California, according to political scientist Dave McCuan, only 26 percent of all initiatives filed made it to the ballot, and only 8 percent of those filed were adopted by the voters. ⎘]

During the 2000 election cycle, more than 350 initiatives were filed, and only 76 (approximately 22 percent) were placed on the ballot. ⎘]

Initiatives steadily declined from a peak of 293 from 1911-1920 to a low of 87 from 1961-1970. Many factors contributed to this, including World War I, World War II, the Great Depression and the Korean War.

The initiative process increased in 1978, after the passage of California’s Proposition 13. Since then, two prolific decades of initiative use have occurred: 1981-90 (271 initiatives) and 1991-2000 (389 initiatives). ⎘]

Scholars refer to 1996 as the “high watermark” year for the use of the initiative process out of 93 initiatives on statewide ballots, 44 were adopted (47 percent). Also that year, a combined amount of more than 14,000 laws and resolutions were adopted by state legislators in those same states. ⎙]

Between 1996 and 2000, the number of initiatives on the ballots was constant.

In 1998, 61 statewide initiatives were on the ballots, the lowest in a decade. In 2000, 76 initiatives made statewide ballots, 17 fewer than what appeared on the ballot in 1996—but still consistent with the decade average of 73 initiatives per election cycle.

The constitutions of five states—Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio and Washington state—allow initiatives only during odd-numbered years. Therefore, only four initiatives were on statewide ballots in 2001, two fewer than the number of initiatives appearing on the 1991 general election ballot.

Decades with the highest number of statewide initiatives on the ballot Number proposed Number adopted Passage rate
1991-2000 389 188 48%
1911-1920 293 116 40%
1981-1990 271 115 42%

Decades with the lowest number of statewide initiatives on the ballot Number proposed Number adopted Passage rate
1901-1910 56 25 45%
1961-1970 87 37 41%
1951-1960 1114 45 39%

States with the highest number of statewide initiatives on the ballot Number proposed Number adopted Passage rate
Oregon 325 115 36%
California 279 98 35%
Colorado 183 65 36%
North Dakota 168 76 45%
Arizona 154 64 42%


The Land Changes Hands

In 1846, everything changed. War broke out between the U.S. and Mexico over the U.S. annexation of Texas. Mexico was defeated, and in 1848 the two nations signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty gave the victorious nation an enormous amount of land, including what would later become the states of California and Texas, as well as parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, in exchange for a token payment of $15 million.

One more important piece of land changed hands in 1854, when the U.S. bought what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico from the Mexican government for $10 million. This land deal, known as the Gadsden Purchase, brought the U.S. a much-coveted railroad route, and helped open the West to further expansion.

With two strokes of a pen, the larger nation had expanded its size by one-third. And almost overnight, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens had become residents of the United States.


What are the eligibility requirements to become a U.S. Citizen?

Choosing to become a U.S. citizen is a very important decision as it will bring many advantages but also responsibilities. To become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process, applicants are required to complete and submit Form N-400, application for U.S. Citizenship and must meet the eligibily requirements set by U.S. law.

The general eligibility requirements to become a U.S. citizen are:

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time you file Form N-400, Application for U.S. Citizenship
  • Be a permanent resident (have a Green Card) for at least 5 years.
  • Demonstrate continuous residence in the United States for at least 5 years immediately before the date you file Form N-400.
  • Show that you have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately before the date you file Form N-400.
  • Show that you have lived for at least 3 months in the state or USCIS district where you apply. Students may apply for naturalization either where they go to school or where their family lives (if they are still financially dependent on their parents).
  • Be a person of good moral character.
  • Demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English.
  • Have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics). .

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is not a law firm and does not provide any legal services but general information and self-help services regarding immigration to the United States. This company is not a government website/agency/affiliate/representative. The US Citizens and Immigration Services have not endorsed this company. We do not represent any legal authority nor do we purport to act as legal counsel or advisor or any other form of legal representation. Our company provides a self-help software which provides detailed information regarding the process of how to correctly complete an immigration form and we only provide technical support in relation to the above. Therefore it is not a substitute for and does not replace legal advice. Clients will be able to request a refund, as long as they meet the requirements stated in the Refund Policy


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