The 14th amendment to the United States constitution established that “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”. This was intended to ensure that former slaves were recognized as enjoying all the privileges of American citizenship, contrary to the prevailing Dred Scott ruling that blacks were not and could not become citizens.
I can’t help but wonder if the wording of the amendment (“all persons born or naturalized in the United States”) may have nonetheless excluded a significant number of former slaves. What about those slaves who were not born in the United States? The international slave trade had been abolished only 60 years previously, so there must have been at least a few elderly foreign-born slaves. Did they remain non-citizens unless and until they went through a formal naturalization process? Or were the naturalization laws at the time such that anyone who had lived long enough in the US automatically became a citizen? If a formal naturalization process was required, did any states try to make it difficult for these former slaves, the same way they later tried to deny black citizens their voting rights with literacy tests, poll taxes, etc.?