U.S. Citizenship Doesn’t Come Easy Says Legal Scholar

U.S. Citizenship Doesn’t Come Easy Says American Legal Scholar

Published: March 5, 2019.



Gaining citizenship is not as easy as the headlines might portray it, said Dr. Paul Finkelman, Gratz College president, during his Feb. 25 presentation at Lewis University in Romeoville.

      The American legal and constitutional history scholar reviewed evolutions in the meaning of citizenship in American history. Gratz proposed that through most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, citizenship hinged on being able to argue that a person was white. The Dred Scott case of 1857 further propelled the notion that only white people could be citizens, explained Finkelman. The Supreme Court, in trying to settle the question of slavery, declared that people of African descent could not become American citizens. That injustice was corrected by the 15th Amendment after the Civil War, which stated that anyone born in America was automatically an American citizen, concluded Finkelman. In the following decades, debates revolved around whether Italian or Jewish or Japanese immigrants qualified as white. 

      Finkelman is the president of the oldest independent Jewish College in America. He has published over 50 books, and hundreds of articles, and op-eds on the law of American slavery, the First Amendment, American race relations, American legal history, the U.S. Constitution, freedom of religion and the law. His work has been cited in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and in many appellate briefs.                

The lecture was presented by the Lewis University History Center: Urban, Cultural and Catholic History of the Upper Midwest, which seeks to unite scholars, students, and the public in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of materials linked to the history of the Upper Midwest.

Lewis University is an innovative and forward-thinking Catholic university offering market-relevant undergraduate and graduate programs to 6,500 students. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis University is nationally recognized for preparing intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected and socially responsible graduates. Visit www.lewisu.edu for further information.



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