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H. R. 40, Naturalization Bill, March 4, 1790

This 1790 act set the new nation’s naturalization procedures. It limited access to U.S. citizenship to white immigrants—in effect, to people from Western Europe—who had resided in the U.S. at least two years and their children under 21 years of age. It also granted citizenship to children born abroad to U.S. citizens.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

H. R. 40, Naturalization Bill, March 4, 1790

Enlarging the National Community

The First Congress (1789-1791) established federal procedures and criteria for foreign-born individuals to become U.S. citizens. These criteria permitted free whites of good character with two years’ residence in the United States to become naturalized citizens. Congress also allowed citizens’ children born outside the U.S. to be considered natural-born citizens. Over the following centuries, Congress readdressed the issue in a series of naturalization acts that sometimes excluded, but increasingly included, people of diverse races and origins.