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Teddy Roosevelt on dual nationality

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On any list of America’s greatest Presidents one will invariably find Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1915 during the First World War a man from New Orleans wrote the US Department of State with a question: He had been born in the United States in 1880 to a father of French nationality and had lived his entire life in the United States. Now he contemplated a trip to France on business, but was concerned that should he go there, he might be conscripted into the French Army. The Department of State considered the facts of his case, cited the 14th Amendment and the French Civil Code, and replied:

It thus appears that you were born with a dual nationality, and the Department cannot therefore give you any assurance that you would not be held liable for the performance of military service in France should you voluntarily place yourself within French jurisdiction.

This reply did not sit well with former President Theodore Roosevelt. It disturbed him to the extent he devoted an entire chapter of his book, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, to the State Department’s position in this case. Roosevelt concluded:

The United States cannot with self-respect permit its organic and fundamental law to be overridden by the laws of a foreign country. It cannot acknowledge any such theory as this of "a dual nationality"-which, incidentally, is a self-evident absurdity. (p 291)

Of special interest to us are the examples of US Presidents who would be born “dual citizens” under the conflicting laws of the United States and other countries. Despite claims from Leo Donofrio, parroted by birthers ever since, that President Chester A. Arthur’s dual-citizen birth was a great secret only discovered in 2008, President Roosevelt certainly knew about it, listing Arthur among the examples of prominent Americans would could in theory be conscripted into foreign armies:

Let me point out a few of the possible applications of the doctrines thus laid down by the Department of State. If Colonel Goethals went to Holland he would be liable to be shipped out for military service in Sumatra. If Admirals Osterhaus and Schroeder had gone to Germany they could have been forced to served under Admiral von Tirpitz in the Germany navy. If General Barry should visit England he could be seized and sent to the trenches in France. If my neighbor Messrs. Peter Dunne and Mark Sullivan, and my friends Judge O’Brien and James Conolly and Charles Conolly went to England they could be impressed into the British army for service in Flanders or Ireland. If the sons of Jacob Riis went to Denmark they could be retined in the Danish forces. If the son of the great war correspondent McCahan whose mother was a Russian lady, went to Russia, he could be sent to serve in the Carpatians. President Andrew Jackson on this theory could have been impressed for military service in the English army against which he fought at New Orleans if he had ever happened to visit England; and President Arthur would have been in the same plight.

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14 Responses to Teddy Roosevelt on dual nationality

  1. avatar
    Dave October 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    Maybe I’m simultaneously stating the obvious and missing the point — but it sure seems to me that the State Dept. had this one right. If you place yourself under a foreign jurisdiction then it doesn’t matter what US law is — if the foreign jurisdiction says, for whatever reason, that you need to serve in the army, then that’s that.

  2. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy October 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Yes, and I think this has been the consistent view of the Department for a long time and I don’t disagree with the practicality of it.

    Dave: Maybe I’m simultaneously stating the obvious and missing the point — but it sure seems to me that the State Dept. had this one right.

  3. avatar
    G October 2, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Although we certainly won’t allow something we perceive as unfair conscription of our own citizens, claims of dual citizenship notwithstanding. Our declared War of 1812 was in response to that very issue, when England was forcibly conscripting our citizens (and impounding our ships and goods) on the high seas, in order to support their war against Napoleon.

    Dave:
    Maybe I’m simultaneously stating the obvious and missing the point — but it sure seems to me that the State Dept. had this one right. If you place yourself under a foreign jurisdiction then it doesn’t matter what US law is — if the foreign jurisdiction says, for whatever reason, that you need to serve in the army, then that’s that.

  4. avatar
    Greenfinches October 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    G: our own citizens

    yes, but the man was possibly also a French citizen and going to France.

    Nowadays surely we’d say that we will look after you as ‘one of us’ – except as regards the other nation of which you are a citizen. Joint US/France citizen? Then the State Department are not going to do very much for you as against the French.

  5. avatar
    Scientist October 2, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    G: Although we certainly won’t allow something we perceive as unfair conscription of our own citizens, claims of dual citizenship notwithstanding. Our declared War of 1812 was in response to that very issue, when England was forcibly conscripting our citizens (and impounding our ships and goods) on the high seas, in order to support their war against Napoleon.

    US passports warn dual natiionals that they can be subject to conscription when visiting the country of their other nationality. See page 5.

  6. avatar
    Paper October 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    I seem to recall that you could end the problem by renouncing your other citizenship?

    Scientist: US passports warn dual natiionals that they can be subject to conscription when visiting the country of their other nationality.See page 5.

  7. avatar
    Scientist October 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Paper: I seem to recall that you could end the problem by renouncing your other citizenship?

    Some people might be unaware that they are even citizens of a country they have never lived in. Also, many countries (the US is one) make it difficult to renounce citizenship, including high fees and many bureaucratic roadblocks.

  8. avatar
    Keith October 3, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    Misha will correct me no doubt, but I am under the impression that American Jewish kids that travel to Israel can be required to perform ‘their’ national service obligation.

  9. avatar
    Majority Will October 3, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    Keith:
    Misha will correct me no doubt, but I am under the impression that American Jewish kids that travel to Israel can be required to perform ‘their’ national service obligation.

    As an American Jewish kid, the Israelis let me carry an Uzi (with no ammo) when we toured the West Bank but I wouldn’t consider that performing a national service obligation.

  10. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny October 3, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    National service obligation has hit a number of West European tourists of Turkish origin, which did not know that the Turkish government still considers them Turkish citizens. Does not matter how many generations were born abroad, does not matter what your language or religion is, if your father is Turkish at your birth wherever in the world you are a Turkish citizen.

    You can actually officially renounce Turkish citizenship, but if you are a man, you will first have to do … your national service. Luckily, if you are resident abroad you can come over for a short stint and then pay a heavy tax to not do the full duration.

    Be careful: when you renounce Turkish citizenship, this renunciation does NOT take away Turkish ciizenship (and national service obligation) from any children already born (who may then pass it on unwittingly to their own children).

    Though Israel considers American Jews to be Israeli citizens, I do not think they would impose conscription on Jewish citizens who are official residents of another country. It would hurt the tourist industry too much and create unnecessary diplomatic tension with the other foreign country. Can you imagine them forcing Zhirinovsky into their army when he visits Israel?

    The problem in 1915 was that France was looking for cannon fodder all over the world. They were actively threatening everybody of French origin with forced mobilisation should they set foor on French soil during the war, and with criminal prosecution for desertion after the war. This is why the Argentinian tango singer Carlos Gardel, born as Charles Gardès in Toulouse in the Obama year of 1890, after world war one got himself an Argentinian passport claiming he was born in Uruguay – using a falsified baptism certificate from a willing priest. He did not want to be arrested for past desertion while touring France. The funny thing was that when he entered France, most people knew very well that he had been born in France. His father (who had fathered him in adultery and then paid for his mother’s emigration first to Peru and later to Argentinia) even came to a concert, but Gardel refused to meet him personally – however, there are pictures of him meeting his mother’s relatives. When Gardel died, his will brought about the truth (and a Uruguayan judge did grant Gardel’s mother property that Gardel had in Uruguay on the basis of the will) but even today most Uruguayans believe Gardel was born in Uruguay, so Argentinian tango should be renamed Uruguayan tango.

    In other words, Obama is not the only one whose birth certificate is claimed a forgery:
    http://www.carlosgardel.8m.com/nacimiento.htm

    In 1915, the man from New Orleans might even have been in trouble while visiting the United Kingdom or Italy. In a third country, you can ususually hide your second citizenship, but living in New orleans might have been too much of a hint. Better make sure you do not get arrested by the local coppers for drinking after closing time.

  11. avatar
    Scientist October 3, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Keith: Misha will correct me no doubt, but I am under the impression that American Jewish kids that travel to Israel can be required to perform ‘their’ national service obligation.

    No, Keith, that is not correct. Israel’s Law of Return allows any Jew to go to Israel and claim citizenship, but one must assert that claim. Someone who simply visits Israel and doesn’t claim that right is not a citizen and has no such obligations.

  12. avatar
    Scientist October 3, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Paul Pieniezny: Though Israel considers American Jews to be Israeli citizens,

    Not true. Jews have a right to go to Israel and immediately CLAIM citizenship. A Jew living outside Israel or one who goes to Israel for a visit and does not assert the claim is not a citizen.

  13. avatar
    Keith October 3, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Scientist: No, Keith, that is not correct. Israel’s Law of Return allows any Jew to go to Israel and claim citizenship, but one must assert that claim.Someone who simply visits Israel and doesn’t claim that right is not a citizen and has no such obligations.

    Thank you. I stand corrected (even if I am sitting down).

  14. avatar
    Paul Pieniezny October 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Keith: Scientist: No, Keith, that is not correct. Israel’s Law of Return allows any Jew to go to Israel and claim citizenship, but one must assert that claim.Someone who simply visits Israel and doesn’t claim that right is not a citizen and has no such obligations.

    Thank you. I stand corrected (even if I am sitting down).

    I have no standing either, but I believe you are right.