The 2020 United States Census will ask respondents if they are citizens, a question that has inspired multiple law suits in an attempt to prevent the use of the question.

March 30, 2018

What to know about the citizenship question the Census Bureau is planning to ask in 2020

By D’Vera Cohn

For the first time since 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau is planning to ask everyone living in the United States whether they are citizens when it conducts its next decennial census in 2020. Anticipating that some immigrants might avoid answering the question, the Trump administration wants to try using other government records to fill in missing responses.

The new question would be included at the Justice Department’s request, according to a memo by Wilbur Ross, secretary of the Commerce Department (which oversees the Census Bureau). It would supply block-level data on the citizen and noncitizen voting age population.

The Justice Department sought to include the question because it uses data about eligible voters – the citizen voting-age population – to help enforce protections for minority voters (including those who speak languages other than English) under the federal Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department now relies on data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a sample survey that covers 2.6% of the population each year. The department wants more “scope, detail and certainty” that only the full census can provide to enforce the Voting Rights Act, Ross said. enter image description here

Source: Pew Research Center

Aside from the current 2018 year turmoil regarding the measures of gaining or securing US citizenship, this action inspired some questions regarding the origins of US citizenship. Were the Framers of the Constitution citizens of the United States at the time of its ratification? If so, by what legal and/or political measures.

In considering the option

Yes, born in the United States

in the bulleted list above further highlights that none of the Framers, Signers, or (Founding) Fathers (Source: Wikipedia) were born in the United States since the United States did not exist until after the ratification of the US Constitution. Does this preempt the concept of Jus soli (Source: Wikipedia) ("meaning "right of the soil",[1] commonly referred to as birthright citizenship in the United States, is the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship.[2]").

Notably, Alexander Hamilton was was born in Nevis, not one of the (original) Several States (Walk in the Footsteps of Alexander Hamilton on This Tiny Caribbean Island (Source: Smithsonian.com) "Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1755 (or perhaps it was 1757—historical records vary, and even Hamilton himself was unsure of his precise birth year) on the small Caribbean island of Nevis, a body of land neighboring St. Kitts in the Lesser Antilles that was under British rule at the time and was known for its sugar plantations.")

The Articles of Confederation made a minor reference to citizenship. The Declaration of Independence contains the language "Citizens" once. The Constitution of the United States (Source: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) does not contain language which states precisely by what means an individual becomes a citizen of the United States, though does use the term "Citizen of the United States" three times

and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States (Art. I, Sec. 2) and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States (Art. I, Sec. 3) No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution (Art. II, Sec. 1)

The Bill of Rights does not contain the term "citizen" or "Citizen of the United States".

Given the fact that not a single of the Framers, Signers, and Founding Fathers were "born in the United States", were any of the Framers, Signers, or Founding Fathers citizens of the United States; and if yes, by what specific legal or political means did those individuals become citizens of the United States?

  • 1
    What do you mean by asking about the "political means" by which they became citizens? Citizenship is a question of law, not politics.
    – phoog
    Nov 2, 2018 at 14:09
  • For historical context, people might want to view this Meta question.
    – Brythan
    Nov 2, 2018 at 23:39
  • 1
    This question is still problematic. There're multiple questions here and most of them belong on History.SE and Law.SE. This makes this question too broad and off-topic at the same time. Nov 5, 2018 at 9:43

1 Answer 1


Yes, the Framers, Signers, and Founding Fathers were Citizens of the United States. Their citizenship as members of the colonies was set forth under common law practices prior to the revolution. To that extent, English interference in the naturalization process was one of the complaints listed in the Declaration of Independence

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

Transitioning from the Declaration of Independence, Citizenship of the United States was further formalized when the country was recognized as a sovereign nation. This occurred with the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Paris (1783), which recognized the United States as a new sovereign nation. Specifically, Article 1:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.

This is because:

Citizenship is the status of a person recognized under the custom or law as being a legal member of a sovereign state or belonging to a nation.

The first law passed by the nation the established a regulation on how Citizenship would be gained by new immigrants came with the Naturalization Act of 1790, though it was limited to "Free white person(s)."

The LA times has a broader list tracking the major milestones in US Citizenship.

  • It's also worth noting that the US constitution was not the original guiding document for the US. That was the Articles of Confederation. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson (and other framers/presidents) we're obviously Natural Born Citizens since they took on the job of President and no one objected.
    – Flydog57
    Nov 4, 2018 at 22:51
  • This would make a good answer to a much shorter question on History.SE. But here it only answers the direct question in the last paragraph. Most of the issues raised in the question (relevance to 2020 Census, Founding Fathers as a legal precedent, Alexander Hamilton's status, suggested "political means") are glossed over or not addressed at all. Nov 5, 2018 at 9:57
  • 2
    @Flydog, no they were not natural born citizens, but rather citizens of the United States at the time of adoption of the constitution, which is the other alternative.
    – prl
    Feb 10, 2019 at 21:26

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