Thomas Jefferson Papers

Bill for the Naturalization of Foreigners, [14 October 1776]

Bill for the Naturalization of Foreigners

[14 October 1776]

For the encouragement of <Foreign Protestants> foreigners to settle in this Countrey

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia now met in General Assembly That all <Foreign Protestants> <foreigners> <now settled> persons born in other countries and now residing in this <Colony and not naturalized> Commonwealth, and all who may hereafter migrate into the same, who shall go before any Court of Record within the same, and give Satisfactory proof by their own Oath or Affirmation or Otherwise, that they have resided or intend to reside in this Countrey for the space of  years at the least; and who shall take an Oath of Fidelity to the Common Wealth and subscribe to be Obedient to the Laws thereof, shall be considered as Free Citizens of the same and shall be entitled to all the Rights, privileges and immunities civil and religious of this Commonwealth, as if born therein. And the Clerk of the Court shall enter such Oath and Subscription of Record, and give the Person a Certificate thereof, for all which he shall receive the fee of  yand no more.

And be it further Enacted that <all Foreign Protestants who> where any foreigners have acquired Lands in the Countrey, and have conveyed the same to others by deed or will, or transmitted them to their children or other Relations; The title of every person now in Actual Possession of such Lands under such conveyance, or transmission, is hereby confirmed in as full and ample manner as if the same had been conveied by natural born <Subjects> citizens of this Commonwealth.

And be it further enacted that there shall be paid by the Treasurer of this <Colony> Commonwealth out of any public money in his hands the sum of 20 dollars to every foreigner who shall come to settle in this Commonwealth for the purpose of defraying his passage hither over sea, and that there shall also be granted to him fifty acres of unappropriated lands wherever he shall chuse the same to be held in <free and absolute> fee simple.

Dft (DLC). In the handwriting of Edmund Pendleton, with alterations by TJ which significantly changed the character of the Bill. Endorsed, as originally written by Pendleton: “Naturalization of Foreign Protestts.,” which TJ altered to read: “A Bill for the Naturalization of Foreigners.”

This Bill, not printed heretofore, emphasizes another facet of TJ’s liberal legislative program and also illuminates the difference between his and Pendleton’s points of view. The Bill contains many alterations in TJ’s hand throughout the body of the text, the most important of which are: (1) those which were obviously designed to admit Jews to citizenship; and (2) the final paragraph, entirely in TJ’s hand, which clearly endeavors to enact by legislation what he had failed to accomplish in his proposed Constitution of Virginia, q.v., though the present Bill goes further than that by offering passage money as well as lands to encourage immigration. A few of these changes are indicated (e.g., the elimination of the words “Foreign Protestants,” then the word “foreigners,” and finally the substitution of “persons,” the former being indicated by italics within angle brackets). On 14 Oct. TJ presented the Bill for the committee appointed for this purpose; on 15 Oct. the Bill was read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole; on 11 Nov. it was debated and amended by the committee of the whole; on 6 Dec. it was postponed to the next meeting of Assembly and apparently never brought up again (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1776, 1828 edn., 12, 14, 51). The naturalization bill of 1779, which was included in Report of the Committee of Revisors, 1784, ch. lv, was quite different from the present Bill (Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends i, 55–6; Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends x, 129–30). We have no means of knowing what amendments were offered in the committee of the whole on 11 Nov., but the following notes in TJ’s hand, endorsed on the back of the Bill, must have been made at the time and suggest the tenor of the debate:

  • “Physical advantages
    • Consumption
    • Labor
    • Procreation
    • [….]
  • Moral
    • Honesty—Veracity
    • Religion—is theirs less moral
    • Will the amendmt. take ym. better
    • all who have not full rights are secret enem[ies]
  • Obj. no nation allows them to realize
  • Jews advantageous
  • Ys. wll. narrow ground of formg. act Ass.”

It is clear from this brief outline of an argument, whose abbreviations suggest that it may have been made during debate, that full rights of citizenship for Jews, Catholics, and other non-Protestant groups were strongly advocated by TJ, who must have been able to convince his colleague Pendleton on the committee, but failed to convince the Assembly.

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