The First “Officially Recognized” Immigrants After the Naturalization Act

Erick Widman

The United States has a long and complex history of immigration, with millions of people from around the world coming to this country in search of a better life. While many of these immigrants arrived in the decades and centuries that followed the country’s founding, the first recorded “official” immigrants to the United States came shortly after the Revolutionary War and the creation of citizenship rights.

The Naturalization Act of 1790, passed by the first Congress of the United States, established the criteria for becoming a citizen. The act provided that “any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof.” This law was significant because it marked the first time that the United States had created a formal process for naturalization, and it set the precedent for future laws and policies on immigration and citizenship.

The first recorded official immigrants to the United States after the Revolutionary War and the creation of citizenship rights were a group of French refugees who arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1791. These refugees were known as the French emigres, and they were fleeing the violence and upheaval of the French Revolution. The emigres included aristocrats, intellectuals, and artists, many of whom had been prominent figures in French society before the revolution. They were welcomed to the United States by President George Washington, who saw them as potential allies in the struggle to establish a stable and democratic government in France.

The arrival of the French emigres had a significant impact on American society and culture. Many of the emigres were highly educated and skilled, and they brought with them a wealth of knowledge and culture that had a lasting influence on American art, literature, and politics. Some of the most notable emigres included the painter Charles Willson Peale, the architect Pierre L’Enfant, and the politician and diplomat Talleyrand. These individuals made important contributions to American society and helped to shape the course of American history in the decades that followed.

The arrival of the French emigres also had important implications for American attitudes toward immigration and citizenship. At the time, many Americans were still uncertain about the role of immigrants in the new republic, and there was considerable debate about whether immigrants could be trusted to uphold American values and ideals. The fact that the emigres were welcomed and embraced by American society, however, helped to dispel many of these fears and paved the way for future waves of immigration.

In conclusion, the arrival of the French emigres in 1791 marked a significant moment in American history, and it set the stage for the millions of immigrants who would follow in the centuries that followed. These refugees were the first recorded “official” immigrants to the United States after the Revolutionary War and the creation of citizenship rights, and they played a key role in shaping American society and culture. Their legacy serves as a reminder of the importance of welcoming immigrants and refugees to our country, and of the profound contributions that they can make to our communities and our nation.

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