Martha S. Jones (Fellow, 2013–14)
January 7, 2020
Birthright citizenship has a history that extends across nearly the whole of the nineteenth century. It entered legal debates during the antebellum era through the constitutional puzzle that free African Americans posed. In the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction, birthright took on new significance as questions about the incorporation of former slaves into the nation led to the constitutionalization of birthright. The principle and the constitutional history that gave it application were not, however, settled. The children of Chinese immigrants confronted the denial of their birthright claims in customhouse confrontations settled only when the Supreme Court carefully examined, for the first time in its history, the record of birthright’s past and its application to all those who claimed their place within the nation’s borders of belonging.