Few people may have realized that Attorney General Edward Bates declared, in one of his opinions, that free African-Americans born in the United States were citizens. Even though Bates was a surprising candidate to have written such an opinion, the opinion continues to help us understand the birth right citizenship foundation of our Nation
That Bates of all people should defend black citizenship was peculiar. Generally regarded as the most conservative member of Lincoln’s cabinet, he had been born to a slave-owning family in Virginia. When he moved to Missouri, he sold what slaves he could for travel expenses. In Missouri, he helped draft a proslavery state constitution. When Dred Scott, a Missouri slave, sued for freedom, Bates had no problem with the opinion of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney that Scott, as a black person, was not a citizen and thus could not bring suit. He objected only to Taney’s pronouncement that Congress could not prohibit slavery in American territories. Yet Bates also earned some fame by successfully representing a Missouri slave who had sued for her freedom.
Source: The Opinionator
Some relevant quotes which again, lay to rest any ideas that Vattel or the citizenship of the father plays any role in determining the citizenship of the child.
If this be a true principle, and I do not doubt it, it follows that every person born in the country is, at the moment of birth, prima facie a citizen; and he who would deny it must take upon himself the burden of proving some great disfranchisement strong enough to override the ” natural born” right as recognized by the Constitution in terms the most simple and comprehensive, and without any reference to race or color, or any other accidental circumstance.
That nativity furnishes the rule, both of duty and of right, as between the individual and the government, is a historical and political truth so old and so universally accepted that it is needless to prove it by authority. Nevertheless, for the satisfaction of those who may have doubts upon the subject, I note a few books which, I think, cannot fail to remove all such doubts—Kent’s Com., vol. 2, part 4, sec. 25; Bl. Com., book 1, ch. 10, p. 365; 7 Co. Rep., Calvin’s case; 4 Tenn. Rep., p. 300; Doe v. Jones, 3 Pet. Rep., p. 246; Shanks v. Dupont; and see a very learned treatise, attributed to Mr. Binney, in 2 Am. Law Reporter, 193.
In every civilized country the individual is born to duties and rights—the duty of allegiance and the right to protection; and these are correlative obligations, the one the price of the other, and they constitute the all sufficient bond of union between the individual and his country, and the country he is born in is, prima facie, his country. In most countries the old law was broadly laid down that this natural connection between the individual and his native country was perpetual; at least, that the tie was indissoluble by the act of the subject alone.—(See Bl. Com. supra; 3 Pet. Rep. supra.)
It is an error to suppose that citizenship is ever hereditary. It never “passes by descent.” It is as original in the child as it was in his parents. It is always either born with him or given to him directly by law.
Read the full opinion here