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The Sovereign Citizen

Denaturalization and the Origins of the American Republic

By Patrick Weil

Publication Year: 2012

Present-day Americans feel secure in their citizenship: they are free to speak up for any cause, oppose their government, marry a person of any background, and live where they choose—at home or abroad. Denaturalization and denationalization are more often associated with twentieth-century authoritarian regimes. But there was a time when American-born and naturalized foreign-born individuals in the United States could be deprived of their citizenship and its associated rights. Patrick Weil examines the twentieth-century legal procedures, causes, and enforcement of denaturalization to illuminate an important but neglected dimension of Americans' understanding of sovereignty and federal authority: a citizen is defined, in part, by the parameters that could be used to revoke that same citizenship.

The Sovereign Citizen begins with the Naturalization Act of 1906, which was intended to prevent realization of citizenship through fraudulent or illegal means. Denaturalization—a process provided for by one clause of the act—became the main instrument for the transfer of naturalization authority from states and local courts to the federal government. Alongside the federalization of naturalization, a conditionality of citizenship emerged: for the first half of the twentieth century, naturalized individuals could be stripped of their citizenship not only for fraud but also for affiliations with activities or organizations that were perceived as un-American. (Emma Goldman's case was the first and perhaps best-known denaturalization on political grounds, in 1909.) By midcentury the Supreme Court was fiercely debating cases and challenged the constitutionality of denaturalization and denationalization. This internal battle lasted almost thirty years. The Warren Court's eventual decision to uphold the sovereignty of the citizen—not the state—secures our national order to this day. Weil's account of this transformation, and the political battles fought by its advocates and critics, reshapes our understanding of American citizenship.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-12

Present-day Americans feel secure in their citizenship. They are free to speak up for any cause and to oppose their government, to marry a person of any nationality, and to live wherever they decide, in the United States or abroad. Many Americans consider their citizenship the most “cherished” status in the...

Part I. The Federalization of Naturalization

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pp. 13-21

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Chapter 1. Denaturalization, the Main Instrument of Federal Power

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pp. 15-29

Naturalization fraud was not a new phenomenon in nineteenth-century America, but it reached its peak in New York City in the November 3, 1868, election that placed Ulysses S. Grant in the presidency. In October 1868 alone, fifty-four thousand foreigners were naturalized in New York City by only two...

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Chapter 2. The Installment of the Bureau of Naturalization, 1909– 1926

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pp. 30-43

The chief examiner of the Naturalization Service, Morris Bevington, described the pre-1906 naturalization process in St. Louis as follows: “Before elections, the ward leaders would drum up all the alien residents of their particular districts, and herd them together before some one of the courts, and have naturalization...

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Chapter 3. The Victory of the Federalization of Naturalization, 1926– 1940

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pp. 44-52

Nonetheless, in the period between the 1926 amendments to the Naturalization Act and the outbreak of World War II, denaturalization was at its peak. The number of revocations of citizenship averaged about a thousand a year between 1935 and 1941, reflecting three historical phenomena....

Part II. A Conditional Citizenship

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pp. 53-61

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Chapter 4. The First Political Denaturalization: Emma Goldman

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pp. 55-64

In the evolution of its purpose and interpretation, the 1906 denaturalization clause took American citizenship in a new direction. Immigration from Europe was at its peak in 1907 with 1,285,349 entries.1 The dramatic reaction to this surge—restrictionist and racist—was reinforced later in the context of...

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Chapter 5. Radicals and Asians

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pp. 65-82

In 1912, a few years after Emma Goldman’s denaturalization, Leonard Oleson was denaturalized on new legal grounds—“ lack of attachment” to the U.S. Constitution. On September 21, 1910, the chief naturalization examiner in Seattle requested that the U.S. attorney institute a denaturalization proceeding.1...

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Chapter 6. In the Largest Numbers: The Penalty of Living Abroad

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pp. 83-91

One provision of the 1906 Act had already addressed the issue of a naturalized citizen taking up permanent residence in another country in the five years following naturalization. This would serve “as ‘prima facie’ evidence of a lack of intention . . . to become a permanent citizen of the United...

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Chapter 7. The Proactive Denaturalization Program During World War II

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pp. 92-107

On February 12, 1918, the chief examiner of the local Bureau of Naturalization in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote the Washington office that a judge in Wisconsin had “informed him that he had a number of cases in his circuit of naturalized Germans who were known to be disloyal,” and that he had “contemplated the practicability...

Part III. War in the Supreme Court

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pp. 109-117

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Chapter 8. Schneiderman: A Republican Leader Defends a Communist

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pp. 111-123

On June 21, 1943, three months after Dewey Balch submitted his report on internal security measures to James Rowe Jr., the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a five-to-three decision in the case of Schneiderman v. United States.1 Born in Russia in 1905, William Schneiderman came to the United States...

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Chapter 9. Baumgartner: The Program Ends, but Denaturalization Continues

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pp. 124-133

Schneiderman v. United States was the first case in which the Supreme Court ruled on a charge that a naturalized American lacked attachment to his or her new country. The decision was a blow for the government and for the Denaturalization Program, and Dewey Balch, the head of the program within...

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Chapter 10. A Frozen Interlude in the Cold War

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pp. 134-144

The Supreme Court would soon confirm that, in spite of its vastly diminished impact, denaturalization was still dividing the court. On the one end, it was still possible to be denaturalized. In 1943, the U.S. government had filed a suit against Paul Knauer, a German American member of the Bund.1 Born in...

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Chapter 11. Nishikawa, Perez, Trop: “The Most Important Constitutional Pronouncements of This Century”

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pp. 145-165

Just when the Cold War was at its coldest, a battle exploded in the Supreme Court soon after Earl Warren was appointed chief justice.1 In 1955, in a unanimous per curiam decision,2 the Court for the first time applied to denationalization cases the heightened standard of proof required in every denaturalization...

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Chapter 12. American Citizenship Is Secured: “May Perez Rest in Peace!”

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pp. 166-175

There would be no break in the battle brewing on the Supreme Court. On April 7, 1958, one week after deciding Trop and Perez, the Court remanded another expatriation case—Mendoza- Martinez—for reconsideration in light of Trop.1 Francisco Mendoza- Martinez was born in the United States in 1922...

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pp. 176-185

In 1968 Warren decided to resign before the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s term so that Johnson could name his successor. But Johnson’s nominee, Abe Fortas, who had served on the Court as an associate justice since 1965,1 failed to win Senate approval, and it fell to President Richard Nixon to...

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Appendix 1. Emma Goldman, “A Woman Without a Country”

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pp. 187-195

By the decision of the Federal government, Emma Goldman, the terrible, may now be deported. Well, serves her right. What on earth made her select our dear country, anyway? It’s different with us Americans. We are here through no fault of ours. But for her to come voluntarily, to live here twenty- five...

Appendix 2. Chiefs of Naturalization Bureau and Evolution of Departmental Responsibilities

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pp. 196-203

Appendix 3. Naturalization Cancellations in the United States, 1907–1973

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pp. 197-204

Appendix 4. Americans Expatriated, by Grounds and Year, 1945–1977

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pp. 198-199

Appendix 5. Supreme Court and Other Important Court Decisions Related to Denaturalization and Nonvoluntary Expatriation from Schneiderman and Participating Supreme Court Justices

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pp. 200-202


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pp. 203-266

Archival Sources and Interviews

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pp. 267-269


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pp. 271-282


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pp. 283-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206210
E-ISBN-10: 0812206215
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812222128
Print-ISBN-10: 0812222121

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Expatriation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Citizenship, Loss of -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Citizenship -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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