Revoking American Citizenship in the Early Twentieth Century

24 Apr 2014

The great immigration waves in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century brought with them not only problems of immigration and emigration, but naturalization and citizenship. Exacerbating these problems was the xenophobic nature of many Americans, especially the men serving in Congress.

This week the Los Angeles Times published a story about the Expatriation Act of 1907. The story told the story of Elsie (Knutsen) Moren. Born in Minnesota, she married Carl Moren, an immigrant from Sweden. Under the provisions of the act, this caused Elsie to lose her American citizenship. Any U.S.-born woman who married an alien automatically lost her citizenship. This may help explain why you might find Alien Registration files for American-born women. But this story focuses on only one provision of the Act. It encompassed far more.


Expatriation ACct of 1907


On February 20, 1907, members of congress passed “An Act in Reference to the Expatriation of Citizens and Their Protection Abroad.” Like many acts of Congress, there were good provisions and bad provisions.

Section one dealt with the subject of passports.  Under these provisions, foreigners who had resided in the U.S. for three years and had made a declaration of intention to become a citizen could be issued a passport. The passport could be valid for only six months, and could not be renewed. It would entitle the holder to the protection of the U.S. government everywhere except the country of which he was a citizen prior to his declaration of intention.

Section two dealt with American citizens. Any citizen who took an oath of allegiance or became a naturalized citizen of a foreign state automatically expatriated himself and gave up his U.S. citizenship. Naturalized citizens who resided in their country of origin for two years after naturalization, or elsewhere outside the United States for five years, were considered to have renounced his citizenship unless proving otherwise to the Department of State.

In these years that just followed the Spanish-American War, and with worldwide tensions on the rise, Congress was also concerned about the ability to raise military forces. The provisions of this section for revocation of citizenship would not be valid during times of war.

Section three was the provision that stripped American-born women who married alien men of their citizenship. She would regain her citizenship when the marriage was terminated.

Section four provided that a foreign-born woman who had become an American citizenship through marriage would continue to be a citizen even after the termination of the marriage. If she were living abroad, she needed to register with a U.S. Consul within one year of the termination.

Section five provided that foreign-born children of alien parents would be granted citizenship upon the naturalization or resumption of citizenship of their parents, as long as the children were still minors. This citizenship would only become valid, however, when such children began to reside in the U.S.

Section six stated that foreign-born children of American citizens who continued to reside abroad would be required to register with a U.S. Consul their intention to reside in the U.S. and retain their citizenship. Additionally, they would be required to take the oath of allegiance to the United States “upon attaining their majority.” Remember that the age of majority was different in different time periods.

Section seven, however, is the most important to genealogists. It required that “duplicates of any evidence, registration, or other acts required by this Act shall be filed with the Department of State for record.”

The terms of the Expatriation Act of 1907 were relatively short-lived. The provisions concerning women were repealed in the 1920s. That Nationality Act of 1940 repealed the remainder of the provisions of this act. But while it was in effect, it generated records that are of tremendous importance to genealogists.