Teaching with Documents
Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization

Due to space limitations, the documents referenced in this article are not currently available online. Information in obtaining the documents is included in the article, or the printed version of this issue may be ordered from NCSS Publications.

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.1

Lee Ann Potter and Wynell Schamel

In fiscal year 1996, a record 1,044,689 individuals took the Oath of Allegiance and became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. This was more than twice the number naturalized in any previous year in U.S. history. Some took the oath in formal ceremonies presided over by a court judge; others promised allegiance in front of an official from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Prior to taking the oath and receiving a Certificate of Naturalization, however, the immigrants fulfilled certain requirements and submitted a formal Application for Naturalization to the U.S. Department of Justice. Each applicant for citizenship had to be at least 18 years of age, reside in the United States for at least five years, and show evidence that he or she has been a person of good moral character. The applicant was also required to read, write, and speak English; demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history; and show attachment to the values and principles of American constitutional government.

Although immigration laws have changed significantly since the founding of the United States, the legal requirements for naturalization have changed little. Various age, residency, and character requirements have always existed. Knowledge of U.S. history and attachment to the Constitution have long been expected of aspiring citizens, and knowledge of the English language has been a requirement since 1906. Legislation and executive decisions have, however, shifted the responsibility for naturalization among different government offices, and altered the required paperwork for potential citizens.

For nearly 120 years, naturalization was a function of the courts, and procedures varied. Finally in 1906, Congress created the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to administer and enforce U.S. immigration laws, to supervise the naturalization of aliens, and to keep naturalization records. The bureau resided in the Department of Commerce and Labor until 1913, when the agency was split. It then moved to the new Department of Labor, where the office of naturalization was separate from the office of immigration.

These two functions were recombined in 1933 by an executive order that formed the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), still within the Labor Department. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved INS again, this time to the Department of Justice, hoping the move would provide more effective control over aliens at a time of increasing global tensions. INS continues to reside in the Department of Justice.

Regardless of which department INS has been a part of, its naturalization functions have remained essentially the same. Between 1906 and 1996, more than 40 million immigrants were admitted to the United States for lawful permanent residence. Until the 1970s, the majority of immigrants were born in Europe. After passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) Amendments of 1965, which removed country quotas first established in the 1920s that favored western European immigration, Europeís share declined.

Between 1976 and 1995, the majority of immigrants to the United States came from Asia. And in 1996, for the first time, North America (including the Caribbean) was the leading region of birth among immigrants. Eighteen percent of all immigrants in 1996 were from Mexico. During the same 90-year span from 1906 to 1996, INS handled the naturalization process for more than 17 million permanent residents (15.3 million of whom eventually became citizens), from more than 100 countries, who petitioned for naturalization.

Before 1952, the first step of the naturalization process for a lawful permanent resident was filing a Declaration of Intention with INS. Immigrants could file this ěfirst paperî after living in the United States for two years. Using a standard INS form, actress Greta Garbo filed her declaration of intention to become a citizen in 1948. The reverse side of this document, which is featured in this article, informed her that ěnot less than 2 nor more than 7 years after the original date of this declaration was made, and after you have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years, and in the State for at least 6 months,î she could file a Petition for Naturalization, or ěsecond papers.î Garbo did file her petition, to become a citizen in 1951.

The second step toward becoming a citizen is recorded in the Petition for Naturalization filed by actor Cary Grant in 1942. This two-page document, which is also featured in this article, includes Grantís responses to 22 questions, a witness affidavit, and Grantís signature under the Oath of Allegiance.

Today, immigrants seeking naturalization are no longer required to file a Declaration of Intention, and the Petition has been renamed simply ěApplication for Naturalization.î This Standard INS Form N-400 is divided into 12 parts and asks an applicant for information similar to that asked of Cary Grant, with some notable additions. Part seven of the form asks 15 questions that are identified as Additional Eligibility Factors. Among these questions are whether the applicant has any connection to the Communist party, whether he or she was ever associated with the Nazi party, and whether he or she ever left the United States to avoid the draft. (A copy of the application form is available from the INS World Wide Web site at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/.)

INS predicts that the number of individuals filing for U.S. citizenship will continue to increase for a number of reasons. In 1992, INS initiated a ěGreen Card Replacement Programî that required long-term permanent residents to replace their permanent resident alien cards (Green Cards) with new, more counterfeit-resistant cards. Many aliens chose to naturalize rather than apply for a new card. Also, millions of immigrants who were granted legal permanent resident status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 are now eligible to naturalize. Furthermore, the ěCitizenship USAî initiative, designed to streamline the naturalization process, was implemented in August of 1995 and is adding greatly to the numbers of individuals naturalizing. Finally, legislative efforts to restrict public benefits for noncitizens at the state and national levels may also be contributing to the increase in naturalization numbers.

The documents featured in this article come from the Records of the District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21, and are held by the National Archives and Records AdministrationóPacific Region in Laguna Niguel, CA. They are on display in the National Archives Rotunda in Washington, DC, as part of the American Originals Exhibit until December 1998. Similar records documenting the naturalization process for millions of citizens who were naturalized in federal courts are held in the National Archives regional facilities across the country. Information about these facilities and their holdings is available online at http://www.nara.gov/regional/nrmenu.html. Additional information about naturalization records and immigration records is also available at the National Archives Genealogy Page, http://www.nara.gov/genealogy/genindex.html.

Teaching Suggestions

1. Ask students to brainstorm a list of characteristics or behaviors associated with good citizenship.

Divide students into small groups and instruct them to write a list of what they think ought to be the requirements for naturalization. Ask student groups to share their lists and lead a class discussion using the following questions: Should requirements for citizenship and for immigration be similar or different? Should citizens born in the United States be required to meet certain criteria before participating in the benefits of citizenship?

2. Provide each student with a photocopy of each of the featured documents and with the following questions:

> What types of documents are they?

> What are the dates of the documents?

> Who created the documents?

> Who filled out the documents?

> What are the purposes of the documents?

> What information in the documents helps you understand why they were created?

> What information was required on both forms?

> How do the two forms differ?

> Why do you think INS decided that the Declaration of Intention form was not necessary?

> Why are these documents preserved by the federal government?

Ask one student to read the documents aloud as the others read silently. Lead the class in oral responses to the questions.

3. Instruct students to compare the oath signed by Cary Grant in 1942 with the oath taken by newly naturalized citizens in 1996 (at the beginning of this article). Ask students to describe the similarities and differences between the two and to hypothesize about reasons for the differences. Encourage them to write an oath of allegiance based on the criteria included in their lists from activity #1.

4. Ask students to research other famous naturalized Americans and write a paragraph about their contributions to American society. Some possibilities include: Albert Einstein, Anton Fokker, Joseph Pulitzer, Werner von Braun, Frank Capra, Errol Flynn, Alfred Hitchcock, Mother Cabrini, Sammy Sosa, Madeleine Albright, and Henry Kissinger.

5. Assign small groups of students to research different pieces of naturalization legislation passed by Congress throughout U.S. history. These could include the following: Naturalization Act of June 18, 1798; Naturalization Act of April 14, 1802; Naturalization Act of July 14, 1870; Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906; Cable Act (Married Womanís Act) of September 22, 1922. Ask them to determine how the naturalization process was affected by the law they chose, and what economic, political, and social factors contributed to passage of the law. Create a large chart with the various acts listed on one axis and, on the other axis, columns with the following headings: provisions of the act, economic factors, political factors, and social factors that contributed to the passage of the bill. Ask one student from each group to post his or her groupís findings on the chart. Appendix 1 of The 1996 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, available online from the INS website at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/ may be helpful for this activity.

6. Divide the class into two groups. Ask one group to determine how many immigrants came to the United States in each decade of this century and to create a bar graph with this data. Ask the second group to determine how many individuals became naturalized citizens in each decade of this century and to create a bar graph with this data. Pair members of each group, and allow time for them to compare the data each group gathered. Lead a class discussion using some of the following questions:

> What are the benefits of being a U.S. citizen?

> What are the responsibilities?

> Why do you think relatively few immigrants seek to become naturalized citizens?

> How do you think society would be affected if more immigrants became naturalized citizens?

> Should there be laws restricting public benefits for non-citizens?

> Whose responsibility is it to prepare immigrants for citizenship?

The INS website at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/ (particularly The 1996 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service), Historical Statistics of the United States, almanacs, and other library sources will be helpful for this activity.

7. Invite a court official, a newly naturalized citizen, or an INS official to talk to your class about the present-day naturalization process and immigration issues.

8. Ask students to investigate when and where naturalization ceremonies are held in your area. Encourage students to participate in or help organize a local ceremony. Details for student planners to consider are place, music, guest speakers, readings, and decorations. Each year on Constitution Day, the National Archives in Washington, DC, hosts a naturalization ceremony in the Rotunda in front of the Charters of Freedom.


1. In some cases, INS allows the oath to be taken without the clause ěthat I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law.î


Past Teaching with Documents features that have dealt with issues related to immigration and naturalization are available in the September issues of Social Education in 1991, 1992, and 1994. Four additional articles are available in the Teaching with Documents compilation available for $15 from the National Archives. Call 1-800-234-8861 and request item #200047.

Lee Ann Potter and Wynell Schamel are education specialists at the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Schamel serves as editor for ěTeaching with Documents,î a regular department of Social Education. You may reproduce the documents shown here in any quantity. For more information, write, call, or e-mail the Education Staff at NARA, NWE-E, Washington, D.C. 20408; (202) 501-6729 or 6172; education@arch1.nara.gov.