Fourteenth amendment: any former slaves left behind?

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.?

Interesting question. If you didn’t already look in Wikipedia, I’d suggest trying that resource. (Honestly, I don’t know if that article will answer your question. It SEEMS on topic, but was much too long for me to read the whole thing.)

That wording would also seem to apply to foreign slaves that were in the USA. For example, if the Spanish Ambassador to the US had brought a slave valet with to Washington DC, the 14th Amendment wouldn’t have applied to him.

I recently read about illegal importation of slaves as late as 1860. But whatever the legalities, I doubt anyone would have checked into the status of a freed slave. Anyway, the 14th amendment was a dead letter (as far as citizenship rights of southern blacks) until the civil rights act of the 1960s.

Slavery was made illegal by the 13th amendment; the 14th established equal protection under the law (in theory, but not true in fact until the 1960s at least)

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it? As I understand it, there were quite a few black congressmen in the Reconstruction period, installed by the electorates and legislatures of various southern states. I don’t see how this could have happened without the black populations of those states openly exercising their constitutional rights to vote and hold office. I thought the systematic denial of civil rights didn’t really start taking off and becoming effective until the 1880s and 1890s.

ctually, it started about 12 years after the end of the Civil War, when a corrupt deal awarded 20 disputed electoral college votes to Republican Rutherford Hayes over Samuel Tilden. Part of the deal was that the national government would look the other way as the Southern states dismantled the Reconstruction reforms, and started passing the Jim Crow laws, denying black people the right to vote, etc.

Yes, they did vote at first, but then the right was taken away as the Republican party lost its original raison d’etre and concentrated its efforts on getting re-elected. Even so, the original taint of being the anti-slavery party meant that the south was solidly Democratic until the civil rights acts were passed in the 1960s and Nixon adopted his “southern strategy”.

"Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Nothing about “born or naturalized” there.

I don’t follow. How does this relate to my question, which is about the 14th amendment, not the 13th?

He’s quoting the amendment that made slavery illegal, regardless of citizenship, place of birth, etc…

Your original post sounds kind of like “Could foreign born slaves have been held in servitude due to the wording of the 14th amendmenment?” And this answers what it seemed like you were asking.

Did you mean “Were foreign-born slaves still bound by slavery?” Or did you mean “Were foreign-born slaves treated (by the law, at least) as proper citizens (afforded the same protections and rights)?”

The OP seems pretty obvious. Were slaves that were not born in the US or naturalized (because they were non-citizens as slaves) made citizens by the 14th Amendment. I would say no BUT they may have been made citizens by Congress after the amendment’s ratification.

Found an answer
The Naturalization Act of 1870

Nice find, but I’m not sure that it answers my original question. The entirety of the Act referring to naturalization of black people is as follows:

So basically all it says is that black people and foreign-born black people were eligible for naturalization under the existing laws. It doesn’t state what those existing laws are, so it leaves unanswered the question of whether, under those laws, foreign-born former slaves who otherwise fulfill the naturalization requirements were granted citizenship automatically or only upon application.

In note 59 here, the author of the book says they were unable to find any naturalizations of illegally-imported slaves (it doesn’t mention legally-imported slaves at all, even though there were surely some still around as you say). The author goes on to argue that they probably did become citizens, but also cites an argument that they didn’t. The footnote is to a sentence calling the question of their citizenship “unnoticed and unresolved.”

Thanks for this! This is a great find and, even though it is not conclusive, is pretty much exactly the sort of discussion I was looking for.

In the 1870s, did the typical working-class person in the United States even have a birth certificate or similar paper showing their origin? They certainly didn’t have drivers’ licenses or state non-driver ID cards which have become our de facto national ID cards.

So I don’t know why anyone would need to prove they were a citizen in the 1870s (run for Congress?), but would a typical working-class person even be able to? Even if you ran for Congress, did anyone check your documents?

If any working-class person in their 60s or 70s – former slave or not – were asked to prove they were a citizen, could they do so? Would they ever actually be asked to prove this? Was this even an issue back then?

Cudjoe Lewis was the last survivor of the Atlantic slave trade to the U.S. He was brought here (illegally) in 1860. He became a naturalized citizen in 1868.

There are a few reasons that naturalisation of slaves was not the pressing issue, and that the Civils Rights act 1866, the Freedmen Bureau acts, the 14th Amendment, never covered the issue and it was as late as the Naturisation Act of 1870 that actually gave the right for slaves to be naturalised on residency .
I think it was a taken as granted , that no one was being expelled from the USA …
For example, The Emancipation Proclamation makes the southern slaves “free” and gives them rights that they never had before with “And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”

Back then, residency was as good as citizenship.

For example, the Fifteenth Amendment only deals with the right to vote for CITIZENS.
“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

There was no definition of citizenship pushed with it… as if all residents were citizens. It was a non-issue, long term residency meant citizenship. If you were a criminal, you would be denied citizenship if the state had records… you just never became a voting citizen, but your children did. There were few deportations.

The states had to act as if residents are citizens as immigration is a federal issue.

The last American convicted of illegal slave importation was executed in 1862; President Lincoln refused to pardon him. Scroll down here to see his two-week stay of execution: https://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/lincoln-execution-slave-trader-1862

The Federal judge’s remarks at sentencing are also memorable: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Gordon