"I was for extending the rights of suffrage (or in other words the rights of a citizen) to all who had a permanent intention of living in the country…. whoever intends to live in a country must wish that country well, and has a natural right of assisting in the preservation of it…"

-Thomas Jefferson, 1776

Resources ... The Idea ... Making the Idea a Reality ... Legacy

Where did we come from?

A Closer Look

The Idea

“Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?"

Thomas Jefferson, 1801

Jefferson believed immigrants were a source of strength in contributing to the success of the American experiment in self-government and that America had an obligation as a place of refuge for those seeking to escape tyranny.

As a nation of immigrants, who we welcome to join the American experiment in self-government is an ongoing challenge.


Making the Idea a Reality

Overturning Federalist Alien Acts "I can not omit recommending a revisal of the laws on the subject of naturalization." - Thomas Jefferson, 1801
14th Amendment to the Constitution "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside..."


Forced Migration

Between 1619 and 1860, nearly 600,000 human beings of African descent were brought to America in bondage.

The Legacy

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- Emma Lazarus

No matter their country of origin, civic engagement is a hallmark of the immigrant experience. The path toward full citizenship often includes struggles to make sure their voices, contributions to their adopted home, and commitment to American ideals are recognized. 

Collage of Immigration History in America

Click image for a timeline about immigration and immigration policies in American history.


The Oath of Citizenship

"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."

Newly naturalized citizens share their stories and their reactions to becoming Americans at Monticello's annual naturalization ceremony.

Newly Naturalized Citizens from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello on Vimeo.

Moving Toward the Future

“Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.” John F. Kennedy, 1958

A Civic Engagement Initiative sponsored by and in collaboration with The New York Community Trust – The Peter G. Peterson FundPeterson Foundation Logo