According to the US constitution, 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

Naturalized presumably had a different meaning then, since otherwise it confers citizenship to people already regarded as citizens.

What is the 1868 definition of naturalized?

  • Can you clarify how you feel the definition was different then than any other time? It's not entirely clear what you are asking. At the time and, AFAIK, even today, you are a citizen if you are born here. If not, you can become a naturalized citizen.
    – user1530
    Apr 3, 2016 at 2:54
  • @blip It the ammendment that is unclear. The current definition, described on wikipedia Naturalization (or naturalisation) is the legal act or process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country.. At face value, the ammendment is saying that citizens who have acquired citizenship are citizens, which seems like redundant gibberish. The logical explanation is that naturalized had a different meaning at the time.
    – Phil Lello
    Apr 3, 2016 at 10:27
  • I suspect that the question as-asked might get more expert answers on either ELU.SE or History.SE (it's fully ontopic here as well, just to be clear)
    – user4012
    Apr 3, 2016 at 21:05
  • "citizens who have acquired citizenship are citizens, which seems like redundant gibberish". I guess I don't see that as gibberish at all. In fact, that's not the wording it's using. It's saying if you are born here, or on naturalized, you are a citizen. That seems fairly clear and AFAIK, the definition has never changed.
    – user1530
    Apr 4, 2016 at 4:01
  • @blip The answer at politics.stackexchange.com/a/10518/7733 captures my meaning, and explains what I saw as redundant, which is that by becoming naturalized, someone was already a citizen, so didn't need an additional grant of citizenship.
    – Phil Lello
    Apr 6, 2016 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


If I get what you are trying to say, you are saying that, you think that the mention of "naturalized" in the Citizenship Clause of the 14th amendment is redundant, because if it omitted mention of "naturalized" (i.e. if it just said "all persons born in the United States..."), there would be no difference since people who are naturalized are, by definition, already citizens, because to naturalize someone means to make them a citizen.

But actually, as later interpreted, including people who were naturalized in the Citizenship Clause does make a legal difference. The difference is that, without it, only a law says they are citizens, but with it, the Constitution says they are citizens. In the decision Afroyim v. Rusk (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that because the citizenship is specified in the Constitution, it is unconstitutional to take away US citizenship from people born or naturalized in the US without their intention to lose it (Afroyim, in particular, was a naturalized US citizen). On the other hand, for US citizens not born or naturalized in the US (e.g. people born abroad, who were US citizens from birth), their citizenship can be taken away involuntarily by Congress, as ruled in Rogers v. Bellei (1971).

At the time of the adoption of the 14th amendment, people who were born in the US were already granted US citizenship by acts of Congress. The reason for adopting the amendment was due to the worry that a future Congress may reverse the decision, for political or racist reasons. If a future Congress would take away citizenship from certain, probably minority, people born in the US, it is conceivable they would also take away citizenship from those minority people not born in the US but who were naturalized. Therefore, if you were worried about it, it made sense to extend the constitutional protection wider, by including naturalized citizens too.

  • Thanks, that captures it perfectly. The possibility of foreign-born US citizens losing citizenship is especially interesting.
    – Phil Lello
    Apr 5, 2016 at 11:41

Since the amendment was dealing with slavery and freed slaves, then it meant that those who were previously considered "non-citizen" residents (slaves) will from now on be considered full citizens with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities of United States citizens. It has meaning only for the time in which it was enacted and for the purpose for which it was enacted. That is the change in status from slavery to freedom within the United States.

The term naturalized meant that those who had not been born within the United States but were now freed slaves would be considered citizens.

The definition of "naturalized" is

to confer upon (an alien) the rights and privileges of a citizen.

Thus anyone whose status is changed to "citizen" from anything else (in this case "imported slave") is considered "naturalized".

  • The Citizenship Clause of the 14th amendment does not deal specifically with former slaves. It applies to all people, of all races.
    – user102008
    Apr 5, 2016 at 0:56
  • @user102008 Once it was set up, then it indeed applied to everyone and means that once a person has become a citizen then he could not be denied the rights and privileges of the other citizens. However, in 1868 the group that it was passed for in order to protect were the former slaves who had as a group changed status from noncitizens to citizens. Apr 5, 2016 at 1:43
  • 1
    It had nothing to do with former slaves or not. It made all people born in the US citizens. Most former slaves were born in the US. The part about people who were naturalized had nothing to do with former slaves in particular.
    – user102008
    Apr 5, 2016 at 8:31

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