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Did the Fourteenth Amendment make the American People Citizens of the Federal Government?
By Robert Greenslade

In recent years, it has been asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment diluted or abrogated State citizenship by making the American people citizens of the federal government. Section 1 of the Amendment states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

When the Constitution was adopted, it did not contain a formal definition of citizenship. This omission was not a defect as some have asserted. The system of government established by the Constitution did not warrant a definition of the term.

Contrary to the misrepresentations emanating from friends of big government, the Constitution did not create a national system of government or consolidate the States or their people into a single nation. The Constitution was simply a continuation of the federal system of government established by the Articles of Confederation. Under this system, the federal government would act as the agent of the States and its powers would relate to mutual relations between the States and external or foreign affairs. All powers involving to the life, liberty, property, and happiness of the American people, would remain with the States.

Since the federal government was functioning as the agent of the States and representing their collective interests, that government did not have any individual citizens of its own. The only class of citizen found within the borders of the United States when the Constitution was adopted, excluding foreigners, were Citizens of the individual States.

Even though the Constitution does not contain a formal definition of citizenship, it does make reference to three classes of citizen [excluding the reference to foreign citizens]. They are: “Citizens of each State,” “Citizens in the several States,” and “Citizens of the United States.” All three refer to State citizenship because the Constitution did not make the people of the several States citizens of a single government or nation.

Under the Constitution, the term “Citizen of each State” is synonymous with the term Citizen of one of the States united under the constitutional compact between the States. The term “Citizens in the several States” simply refers to State citizens in the different States. They were also known as “Citizens of the United States” or Citizens of the States united under the constitutional compact because their State was one of the United States and a Citizen of one State could change their citizenship and become a Citizen of any of the other United States [See Article IV, Section 1, Clause1]. These are the only classes of citizenship recognized under the Constitution, as contemplated by the Founders.

Citizenship could be acquired one of two ways. First, by birth, or second, by being naturalized pursuant to the power of Congress under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution.

After the requisite number of States ratified the Constitution, the States’ government began acquiring territories west of the existing boundaries of the United States. Since these areas were outside the jurisdiction of the individual States, the government of the United States had exclusive jurisdiction over all persons in these territories. Any person born in these areas to parents who were not Citizens of an individual State could not claim State citizenship by birth or naturalization. Since these individuals were born under the exclusive jurisdiction of the government of the United States, that government claimed the authority to make them statutory citizens of the United States [citizens by statute]. However, that government could not, by statute or decree, make these individuals Citizens of a State.

This same rule applied in the District of Columbia. Pursuant to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17, the District is under the exclusive authority of the government of the United States because it is not a State. Persons born in the District who could not claim State citizenship were classified as citizens of the United States because they were under the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the government of the United States.

The Fourteenth Amendment was not proposed because the States’ agent woke-up one morning and decided to change the nature of the Constitution and make the American people citizens of the federal government. The classes of citizenship referenced above only applied to free white persons. The Negro, according to a 1857 decision by the United States Supreme Court, “was ineligible to attain United States citizenship, either from a State or by virtue of birth in the United States even as a free man…”

Following the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment constitutionally freed the African slaves from bondage. However, Congress was still faced with a problem. Even though the Southern States lost the War, their State Constitutions still did not recognize blacks as persons entitled to citizenship. Not only did Congress lack the constitutional authority to alter these State Constitutions, but it also lacked the authority to confer state citizenship on these individuals. Absent citizenship, the Southern States viewed the newly freed slaves residing in their territory as aliens and began enacting laws that severely restricted the personal freedoms of persons who were not citizens of their State. These laws were commonly known as “Black Codes” because the target of these repressive laws were the newly freed slaves.

Since the Southern States had not yet been restored to their pre-war status as States of the Union, they were treated as occupied territories that fell under the exclusive jurisdiction of the government of the United States just like the territories. This enabled Congress to enact legislation that would block enforcement of the “Black Codes.” One of these pieces of legislation was the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The Act stated in part:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States…

From a constitutional standpoint, there was a problem with this part of the Act. Congress lacked the general statutory authority to declare persons to be Citizens of the United States. The only way to remedy this was through a constitutional amendment. Fearing that the United States Supreme Court might declare the Civil Rights Act unconstitutional, on various grounds, Congress proposed the 14th Amendment.

As a result of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, the newly freed slaves went from bondage to Citizens of the United States [Citizens of the States united in the compact or Union between the States] and Citizens of the State [Citizens of one of the United States] where they were residing at the time the Amendment went into effect. United States citizenship simply meant the newly freed slaves could exercise citizenship in any one of the United States. By giving the newly freed slaves the ability to acquire and exercise citizenship in any one of the United States, none of the United States could have prevented the newly freed slaves from changing their State citizenship and acquiring new citizenship in their State.

This brings us to the threshold question. Did the Fourteenth Amendment change the nature of citizenship and make the American people citizens of the federal government? The so-called citizenship clause of the Amendment states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Nowhere in this provision does it grant or confer citizenship on any class of person or subject anyone to the jurisdiction of the federal government. It only defined citizenship, as it had been commonly understood since the adoption of the Constitution, and spells out the method by which it can be obtained.

The assertion that this provision made the American people citizens of the federal government can be reduced, for purposes of this article, to the phrase? “United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Unless these words refer to the federal government, this assertion fails on its face.

The Constitution, as stated previously, is a compact or contract between the several States. Under contract law, a word or phrase has the same meaning throughout the contract, or any amendment of the contract, unless the word or phrase is specifically re-defined for another part of the contract. The phrase “United States,” as used in the Constitution, refers to the individual States in their united or collective capacity. It does not refer to a single government or nation because the Constitution only established a “partial” Union between the several States. In other words, the States are only partially united under the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson expressed this principle in 1800 when he wrote: “[t]he true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign affairs.”

One does not have to look any further than the Thirteenth Amendment to prove that the words “United States” refer to the States. Section 1 of the Amendment states:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. [Emphasis added]

If the words “United States” referred to the federal government, then the provision could not have used the term “their” to describe the jurisdictional provision of the Amendment. It would have stated: “subject to its jurisdiction.

As stated above, a word or phrase has to have the same meaning throughout the contract unless it is specifically re-defined for another part of the contract. If the words “United States” refer to the States in the Thirteenth Amendment and the federal government in the Fourteenth Amendment, then the same words in back to back Amendments have two completely different meanings. This would be an absurdity.

If the phrase “United States,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, refers to the federal government, then the two phrases would be interchangeable and have the same meaning throughout the Amendment. By replacing the words “United States” with “federal government,” the Amendment reads as follows:

All persons born or naturalized in the federal government, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the federal government and of the State wherein they reside.

Such a reading would be lunacy because it is impossible for persons to be “born or naturalized in the federal government.” The phrase “United States,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, has to refer to the States. Senator Howard of Michigan, who authored the citizenship provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, made this fact crystal clear when he stated that the jurisdictional provision enumerated in the Amendment refers to the States, not the federal government.

This amendment [the Citizenship Clause] which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is…a citizen of the United States. [Emphasis added]

As stated by Senator Howard, this provision changed nothing. If it was merely declaratory of “the law of the land already,” then the Fourteenth Amendment could not have made the people of the several States citizens of the federal government because they were not citizens of that government before the adoption of the Amendment.

The underlying reason the American people cannot be citizens of the federal government was expressed by John C. Calhoun in his writings on the Constitution:

It is federal, because it is the government of States united in a political union, in contradistinction to a government of individuals, that is, by what is usually called, a social compact. To express it more concisely, it is federal and not national because it is the government of a community of States, and not the government of a single State or Nation.

Since the federal government is, by definition and intent, the common government of the several States, not the general government of the American people, the Fourteenth Amendment could not have made them citizens of the States’ government.

Note: it has been asserted that the Amendment was never properly ratified. For an interesting article on this subject, click here..


Robert Greenslade focuses his writing on issues surrounding the federal government and the Constitution. He believes politicians at the federal level, through ignorance or design, are systematically dismantling the Constitution in an effort to expand their power and consolidate control over the American people. He has dedicated himself to resurrecting the true intent of the Constitution in the hope that the information will contribute, in some small way, to restoring the system of limited government established by the Constitution.


Permission to reprint/republish granted, as long as you include the name of our site, the author, and our URL. www.SierraTimes.com All Sierra Times news reports, and all editorials are 2003 SierraTimes.com (unless otherwise noted)

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When honest people who hold strong opinions come together, it is natural that they state their opinions, and that those opinions occasionally clash. The articles that you see on this website represent the opinion of the writers, and are not the official opinion of this party. To see the official party position on any question, the reader is referred to the Party Platform.


Permission to reprint/republish granted, as long as you include the name of our site, the author,and our URL. www.cptexas.org. All CP Texas reports, and all editorials are property of The Constitution Party of Texas 2002 (unless otherwise noted).



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