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How did 19th century Americans proof their citizenship?

marnix

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Imagine it is 1870. You are a citizen from the United Kingdom and on holiday in New York City. There happen to be federal elections during your time there. You go to the registration office to register for voting. Could that be done? How could they proof you are not a citizen? How could a citizen proof he was a citizen? Birth certificates are only common since early 20th century. How was that done back then? Looks to me it was extremely easy to pass as a US Citizen in the 19th century.

So how was it done? What ID did you need to show when registering for voting? Passports were not common, birth certificates were not common. Does anyone know how in real life this was done, proving you were a citizen when you showed up at the registration office?
 

Medusa

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Imagine it is 1870. You are a citizen from the United Kingdom and on holiday in New York City. There happen to be federal elections during your time there. You go to the registration office to register for voting. Could that be done? How could they proof you are not a citizen? How could a citizen proof he was a citizen? Birth certificates are only common since early 20th century. How was that done back then? Looks to me it was extremely easy to pass as a US Citizen in the 19th century.

So how was it done? What ID did you need to show when registering for voting? Passports were not common, birth certificates were not common. Does anyone know how in real life this was done, proving you were a citizen when you showed up at the registration office?

USA was a not worldpower in 19th century either ,does it give a clue ?
 

dimensionallava

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Imagine it is 1870. You are a citizen from the United Kingdom and on holiday in New York City. There happen to be federal elections during your time there. You go to the registration office to register for voting. Could that be done? How could they proof you are not a citizen? How could a citizen proof he was a citizen? Birth certificates are only common since early 20th century. How was that done back then? Looks to me it was extremely easy to pass as a US Citizen in the 19th century.

So how was it done? What ID did you need to show when registering for voting? Passports were not common, birth certificates were not common. Does anyone know how in real life this was done, proving you were a citizen when you showed up at the registration office?

none voter id laws were invented in south carolina in the 1950's as a way of preventing black and poor people from voting, and thats all they're used for today.
 

Crovax

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Imagine it is 1870. You are a citizen from the United Kingdom and on holiday in New York City. There happen to be federal elections during your time there. You go to the registration office to register for voting. Could that be done? How could they proof you are not a citizen? How could a citizen proof he was a citizen? Birth certificates are only common since early 20th century. How was that done back then? Looks to me it was extremely easy to pass as a US Citizen in the 19th century.

So how was it done? What ID did you need to show when registering for voting? Passports were not common, birth certificates were not common. Does anyone know how in real life this was done, proving you were a citizen when you showed up at the registration office?

Well since not all citizens could vote at that time I'm not sure what good proving you are a citizen would do for you.
 

Ahlevah

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Imagine it is 1870. You are a citizen from the United Kingdom and on holiday in New York City. There happen to be federal elections during your time there. You go to the registration office to register for voting. Could that be done? How could they proof you are not a citizen? How could a citizen proof he was a citizen? Birth certificates are only common since early 20th century. How was that done back then? Looks to me it was extremely easy to pass as a US Citizen in the 19th century.

Back then churches assumed a major role of keeping tabs on folks:

Many years ago, before governments were in the habit of providing live birth documentation and proof of identity, a baptismal certificate was valid proof of citizenship. Because people didn't move around, churches took upon themselves the responsibility to know the souls in their area, and kept register of the same. For the previous generation, where not everyone had identity documents, these could be could be used in lieu of a birth certificate - although usually now they are only accepted if the birth certificate cannot be located. Technically even today, the State Department will accept it as secondary evidence of citizenship, but it is rarely used.

baptism - How does a baptismal certificate work? - Christianity Stack Exchange
 

marnix

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Back then churches assumed a major role of keeping tabs on folks:

Thanks. First real answer so far. So if you registered to vote in 1870 you took with you a copy of the baptism certificate? Because I assume you did need to proof you were a US citizen, non-citizens couldn't (and still can't) vote in federal elections in 1870 (maybe with the exception of a very few states). I wonder if they could be fabricated easily. I am still inclined to think that it required virtually no effort to pass as a US citizen in 19th century America.
 

dimensionallava

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Thanks. First real answer so far. So if you registered to vote in 1870 you took with you a copy of the baptism certificate? Because I assume you did need to proof you were a US citizen, non-citizens couldn't (and still can't) vote in federal elections in 1870 (maybe with the exception of a very few states). I wonder if they could be fabricated easily. I am still inclined to think that it required virtually no effort to pass as a US citizen in 19th century America.

the real question is why would anyone in the 19th century want too fool anyone into thinking they were a citizen?
 

dimensionallava

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In order to stay legally.

im pretty sure hitler was the first and last person to require people to walk around with their "proof of citizenship" at all times or risk deportation. there wouldve been no need back then, as long as you were white you were alright....
 

RetiredNSmilin

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They took their birth certificate and put it in a shot glass, then put a match to it.

If it burned with a blue flame it was true. Hence the term...true blue.

no wait, that was how they "PROOFED" their whiskey.
 
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Ahlevah

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Thanks. First real answer so far. So if you registered to vote in 1870 you took with you a copy of the baptism certificate? Because I assume you did need to proof you were a US citizen, non-citizens couldn't (and still can't) vote in federal elections in 1870 (maybe with the exception of a very few states). I wonder if they could be fabricated easily. I am still inclined to think that it required virtually no effort to pass as a US citizen in 19th century America.

My understanding is there was a point at which non-citizens could vote, but it depended on where and when (In the 19th Century, Non-Citizens in the US Could Vote in 22 States and Territories). Notice from the article that so-called "declarant alien voting" occurred in states in the West whose biggest problem was they needed more voters, since they were just being settled. New York in 1870 was pretty well settled and people didn't move much, so I don't think it was a problem to determine who the fakers and posers were, especially in small towns where people knew each other.

As far as could the documents be faked? Yeah, I suppose so, but then even today a liar could get by collecting affidavits or depositions. My father-in-law was born in the Philippines, and he was offered the opportunity to become a naturalized U.S. citizen by virtue of having been a member of the Commonwealth Army and a guerrilla during WWII. He could document his wartime service, however, he was presented with a conundrum because he had no proof of birth due to the fact that the Japanese destroyed all of the vital records. The solution he found was to find some ancient Filipinos who knew of his birth and who signed sworn affidavits attesting to that fact. But the point is if a person is really determined to beat the system, it can be done, even today.
 
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