The place was Connecticut; the year was 1886; the issue was money; the case: Town of New Hartford v. Town of Canaan, 5 A. 360 (Conn. 1886).
Lafayette Parrott was born in Massachusetts in 1836 to a resident alien father (the father later naturalized). Lafayette Parrott lived in various locations, ending up in in New Hartford, CT–where he fell on hard times. He claimed poverty and received financial support from the Town of New Hartford, but that town claimed that Mr. Parrott was really the responsibility of the Town of Canaan, and sued to recover its expenses.
Now it is not at all clear from the case description why the Town of Canaan was singled out as the “place of settlement” of Mr. Parrott, and that is not particularly relevant to our discussion here. What is relevant is that the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors held that Lafayette Parrott was a citizen of the United States from his birth (even though he was of an alien father). Further the court said that the election of citizenship when a child with dual citizenship reaches majority, “relates back to the time of his birth”. The court provides a wonderful legal survey of the law regarding citizenship in the United States.
There is just too much here to summarize in a few words, so sit back for some extensive citations. I will skip the citations from Lynch v. Clarke, as they deserve their own article.
In McKay v. Campbell 2 Sawy. 118 it is said: “By the common law a child born within the allegiance of the United States is born a subject thereof without reference to the political status or condition of its parents.” …
Note here that allegiance is not related to the citizenship of the parent.
The right of citizenship, as distinguished from alienage, is a national right, character, or condition, and does not pertain to the individual States considered. The question is of national and not individual sovereignty, and is governed by the of the common law which prevails in the United States and became under the Constitution, to a limited extent, a system of national jurisprudence. It was accordingly held in that case [Lynch v. Clarke] that the complainant, who was born in New York of alien parents during, their temporary sojourn there, and returned while an infant, being the first year of her birth, with her parents to their native country, and always resided there afterward, was a citizen of the United States by birth. This was the principle of the English common law in respect to all persons born within the king’s allegiance, and was the law of the colonies, and became the law of each and all of the States when the Declaration of Independence was made, and continued so until the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, when the whole exclusive jurisdiction of this subject of citizenship passed to the United States, and the same principle has there remained.
In Field’s International Code 132, it is said: “A legitimate child wherever born is a member of the nation of which its father at the time of its birth was a member.” Upon this Morse in his work on Citizenship, p. 17, thus comments: “This is the law in most European States (Westlake p. 16, Foelix p. 54) but not in England or in the United States.” However in Ludlam v. Ludlam, 26 N. Y. 371, the court says: ‘Citizenship of the father is that of the child so far as the laws of the country of the father are concerned.’ And it has been held in the United States that the national character of the parent is of no importance even in the case of a child born within the territory to a parent who has not been, and has not taken any steps toward becoming, naturalized here and who removes the child while an infant Lynch v. Clarke 1 Sandf . ch 585. But this decision seems not to be entirely approved (Munro v. Merchant, 26 Barb. 400) and probably would at the most be considered as authority only in regard to the right of succession to real property within that State. But in Munro v. Merchant supra the marginal note is as follows: “A child born in this State of alien parents during its mother’s temporary sojourn here is a native-born citizen. …
In Morse on Citizenship, p. 241 § 203, is the following citation from an opinion of the secretary of State to the president: “The child born of alien parents in the United States is held to be a citizen thereof, and to be subject to the duties with regard to this country which do not attach to the father. … Such children are born to a double character; the citizenship of the father is that of the child so far as the laws of the country of which the father is a citizen are concerned, and within the jurisdiction of that country; but the child from the circumstances of its birth may acquire rights and owe another fealty besides that which attaches to the father.”
Morse makes a very important distinction here. Dual citizenship is only considered from the point of view of the country granting the citizenship and within its jurisdiction (or territory). In the case of Barack Obama, his Kenyan citizenship only exists in regard to the laws of Kenya or if Obama resided within the jurisdiction of Kenya.
In Rawle’s View of the Constitution of the United States, p. 86, it is said: “Every person born within the United Slates, its territories, or districts whether the parents are citizens or aliens is a natural born citizen within the sense of the Constitution, and entitled to all the rights and privileges appertaining to that capacity.” …
Moreover, if as is suggested, he [LaFayette ] was born to the advantages of a double allegiance, upon attaining his majority he exercised the right which was his of electing the government to which he would give allegiance, and that election related back to the time of his birth. Upon these authorities LaFayette had by birth what his father did not then have, citizenship of the United States and of the State of Massachusetts. This privilege neither needed nor had any strengthening by reflection from the subsequent naturalization of his father; he held it to the fullest extent in his own, and that the highest right.
Here the court says that the election of citizenship relates back to the time of birth, essentially erasing the original condition of dual citizenship.