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Naturalization Certificate

  • Naturalization Certificate, January 14, 1920
  • Naturalization Certificate, January 14, 1920
  • Naturalization Certificate, January 14, 1920
  • Naturalization Certificate, January 14, 1920
This certificate of naturalization granted in the city of Richmond, Virginia, declared Harry Schussler, a native of Austria-Hungary, to be a citizen of the United States.
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Naturalization Certificate, January 14, 1920

This original official certificate of naturalization granted in the city of Richmond, Virginia, on January 14, 1920, declared Harry Schussler, a native of Austria-Hungary, to be a citizen of the United States. It identifies his wife and names his four children and gives their ages as of that date. It also indicates that, according to law, he had resided in the United States for at least five years and in the state of Virginia for at least one year. In 1920, naturalization was a function of the United States Department of Labor, which is indicated at the bottom of the certificate.

The certificate is among the collections of the Library of Virginia, which also preserves the archive of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, in which the births of the three youngest of Harry Schussler's children were recorded: Clara Schulsser born on January 8, 1916, Albert Schulsser born on February 24, 1917, and Norman Dennis Schussler born on January 5, 1919. His eldest child, Sigmund Schussler, then age five, may have been born before Harry Schussler arrived in Virginia. The Fourteenth Amendment declared 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." As a consequence, even before their father became a naturalized citizen of the United States, Clara, Albert, and Norman were natural born citizens.

The immediate effect of the Fourteenth Amendment when it was ratified in 1868 was to make all African Americans citizens of the United States, both those who had been enslaved and those who had been free before the Civil War. That overturned the 1857 ruling of the Supreme Court in Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford that African Americans were not and could not be citizens of the United States.

Before ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Constitution contained no definition of citizenship, and citizens of the states were regarded as citizens of the United States. During the colonial period the Virginia General Assembly passed special acts of naturalization to grant foreign-born people full rights as subjects of the Crown, and in 1785 the assembly passed an act declaring the Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman and general in the Continental army during the American Revolution, a citizen of Virginia entitled to all of the rights of citizenship. The state's county courts often granted state citizenship during the decades before the Civil War.

The status of foreign-born people in the United States has often been a subject of political controversy. The American, or Know Nothing, Party in the 1850s objected to allowing foreigners to become voters and also opposed allowing Catholics to vote in the United States. The laws of some states and some federal actions at the beginning of the twentieth century also restricted the ability of people of Asian birth or ancestry to become citizens. Late in the twentieth century and into the early years of the twenty-first century when immigration into the United States from a great many countries rapidly increased, the controversies about citizenship and rights and responsibility arose again. One major question was what rights, if any, people should have who entered the United States illegally or without permission.

American citizenship is highly prized precisely because of the rights and privileges that that Constitution of the United States protects. In modern times, the Fourteenth Amendment, because it prohibits the states from denying people any of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, has become one of the most important legal implements in the protection of the rights of people generally and of citizens of the United States specifically.

For Educators

Questions

1. Where was Harry Schussler from?

2. How many children did Schussler have?

3. What does naturalization mean?

Further Discussion

1. How does this document relate to current events?