Washington (DC) National Era, “The Rights of Colored Citizens,” April 2, 1857

    Source citation
    “The Rights of Colored Citizens - Opinion of Justice Curtis,” Washington (DC) National Era , April 2, 1857, p. 54: 3.
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    Washington National Era
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    The Rights of Colored Citizens- Opinion of Justice Curtis
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    Leah Suhrstedt, Dickinson College
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.


    We publish, to-day, the conclusion of that portion of Judge Curtis’s opinion which relates to the question of the citizenship of colored persons. In this lucid and satisfactory exposition of the grounds of his dissent from the decision of the Supreme Court, the Judge refers to the language of the Constitution, which speaks of ‘a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution,” that is to say, at the time of the Confederation. It is a fact that the free-born inhabitants of African descent were, in five of the original States, not only citizens, but possessed the franchise of electors on equal terms with white citizens. They were therefore included among those by whom and for whom the Constitution was established, and consequently among those who, according to one of its provisions, are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States. And Congress has no power, under the Constitution, to deprive them of the rights of citizenship. The only power expressly granted to that body of legislating concerning citizenship being confined to the passage of naturalization laws, that is, the removal of the disabilities of foreign birth, which, of course, cannot affect the rights of the native-born inhabitants. While Congress has exclusive power of making aliens citizens, the determination what personas shall, by birth, acquire the rights of citizenship is left by the Constitution entirely with the several States.

    After showing, as above indicated, that, in the opinion of the framers of the Constitution, color was not necessary to constitute citizenship, Judge Curtis adds, that in repeated instances- as in the treaties with various Indian tribes, and in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848- the practice of Government has admitted colored aliens to citizenship. And he asserts that the case of native-born persons of color stands on much stronger ground than of those who acquire rights by the action of the Executive and of Congress.

    Other considerations of an equally decisive character are urged by Judge Curtis in support of the conclusion that free colored citizens of some of the States, born within those States, are citizens of the United States, having therefore the right to sue and the liability to be sued in the Federal Courts, as citizens of the States in which they reside.

    In the Era of next week, we shall begin the publication of Judge Curtis’s exposition of the question whether a master has the right to retain possession of his slave in the absence of any local law recognising Slavery, as well as the right of Congress to prohibit the institution in the Territories. In both of these points, he concurs in the admirable opinion of his distinguished associate, Judge McLean, which has already appeared in our columns.

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