Original Citizenship in the Northwest Ordinance

September 17th, 2010

While researching original citizenship, I came across this interesting section from the Northwest Ordinance, passed in July of 1787 by the Second Continental Congress (while the Framers were toiling away in Philadelphia on the drafting of the Constitution):

Section 9: . . .  Provided, That no person be eligible or qualified to act as a representative unless he shall have been a citizen of one of the United States three years, and be a resident in the district, or unless he shall have resided in the district three years; and, in either case, shall likewise hold in his own right, in fee simple, two hundred acres of land within the same; Provided, also, That a freehold in fifty acres of land in the district, having been a citizen of one of the states, and being resident in the district, or the like freehold and two years residence in the district, shall be necessary to qualify a man as an elector of a representative.

Article I, Section 2 provides:

No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States . . .

The earlier reference in the Northwest Ordinance most likely refers to state citizenship (i.e., a citizen of one of the United States). This reflects the structure of governance under the Articles of Confederation, in which the central government lacked naturalization powers–only states could regulate those matters. Thus, the only citizenship that conceivably could have existed was state citizenship. The reference in Article I of the Constitution refers to citizenship of the United States. Under the Constitution, the Federal Government has the sole power of naturalization (don’t tell Arizona that).

Returning to my initial query, if a Representative would have needed to be a citizen for 7 years in 1788 when the first congress met, the time would have had to start ticking in 1781, or 9 years in the case of a Senator, in which case the clock started ticking in 1779. If citizenship of the United States had existed in the period of 1779-1788, why would the Northwest Ordinance have not countenanced this? Why would it have limited citizenship to those who were citizens “of one of the United States.” That makes sense under the Articles of Confederation. What changed in 1787? Did the Declaration gain some new significance? Questions, no answers. Yet.

H.T. J.P.IV.JD for the insight.