The Debate in the Senate - Sen. Howard's Previous Remarks
The Debate in the Senate – Sen. Wade’s Proposal
At this point, Sen. Howard moved on to discussing the other sections of the proposed Amendment, but after he finished, Senator Benjamin Wade rose to address the Senate. Sen. Wade proposed an amendment to Section 1 that would clarify the use of the word “citizen” in the proposed 14th Amendment. He began by explaining that he had
“always believed that every person, of whatever race or color, who was born within the United States was a citizen of the United States.”
But he was concerned that
“if the Government should fall into the hands of those who are opposed to the views that some of us maintain, those who have been accustomed to take a different view of it, they may construe the provision in such a way as we do not think it liable to construction at this time, unless we fortify and make it very strong and clear.”
In other words, Sen. Wade said that his view of birthright citizenship for everyone born within the borders of the United States was the prevailing view of the Senate at that time, but there might come a time when those who disagreed with that view would gain the majority and enforce a different definition of the term “citizen.” He then suggested that they should prevent this from happening while they had the power to do so. In his words, he proclaimed that
“I think it is very easy now to solve that doubt and put the question beyond all cavil for the present and for the future.”
Sen. Wade then explained how he proposed to ensure that the guarantees made to citizens in Section 1 would always be available to those who were considered citizens by the majority of the Senators of that time. Here is his proposal:
“In the first clause of the amendment which I have submitted, I strike out the word ‘citizens,’ and require the States to give equal rights and protection of person and property to all persons born in the United States or naturalized under the laws thereof. That seems to me to put the question beyond all doubt.”
By proposing that they replace the word “citizens” with the phrase “all persons born in the United States or naturalized under the laws thereof,” Sen. Wade was claiming that this second phrase was the prevailing definition of “citizen” within the Senate. But he didn’t stop there. Next, he addressed the claim that someone could be born within the United States and not be a citizen.
“The Senator from Maine suggests to me, in an undertone, that persons may be born in the United States and yet not be citizens of the United States. Most assuredly they would be citizens of the United States unless they went to another country and expatriated themselves.”
At this point Sen. Wade was interrupted by another senator who asked “Suppose a person is born here of parents from abroad temporarily in this country.” To which Sen. Wade replied:
“The Senator says a person may be born here and not be a citizen. I know that is so in one instance, in the case of the children of foreign ministers who reside ‘near’ the United States, in the diplomatic language. By a fiction of law such persons are not supposed to be residing here, and under that fiction of law their children would not be citizens of the United States, although born in Washington. I agree to that, but my answer to the suggestion is that that is a simple matter, for it could hardly be applicable to more than two or three or four persons; and it would be best not to alter the law for that case. I will let it come under that well-known maxim of the law, de minimis lex non curat [the law does not concern itself with trifles]. It would make no difference in the result.”
In this response, we can see that the birth of children of foreign ministers was the only exception to the prevailing view that all children born within the borders of the United States were citizens by birth.
The Debate in the Senate - Sen. Howard's Amendment
The Debate in the Senate - Complete Jurisdiction
The Debate in the Senate - More on Complete Jurisdiction
The Debate in the Senate - Sovereignty Over the Soil
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - British Citizenship
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Justice Story on Allegiance
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - The Claims of the Judicial Branch
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Rejection of Jus Sanguinis
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - The Slaughterhouse Cases
U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark - Subject to the Jurisdiction Thereof
More Posts Coming Soon...
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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