The 14th Amendment states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."

Did cases ever arise in courts concerning any ex-slaves not born in the United States include arguments that the 14th Amendment did not apply to them?

  • 4
    Importation of slaves into the US was illegal from 1808, so the youngest people who could have been excluded from the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship on that ground would have been 60 years old at the time of its adoption. It's certainly possible that it could have come up, but unlikely.
    – phoog
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 12:52
  • 3
    Further research shows that there was of course illegal importation of slaves thereafter (e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clotilda_(slave_ship)) so there would have been younger people potentially affected.
    – phoog
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 12:58
  • 1
    A related question that might shed some light on this would be whether any former slaves who had been born abroad were ever naturalized.
    – phoog
    Commented May 7, 2023 at 14:04
  • Since posting this question I read about the case of Ah Yup. He was Chinese and apparently argued that he had been brought to the U.S. in involuntary servitude. The answers so far have been very interesting, but I think it would be interesting also to comment on the details of this case if it is relevant.
    – guero64
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 11:55
  • I don't know of that case. Perhaps you can edit the question to add some information about it or ask a new question. A quick scan of the Wikipedia article left me with the impression that it's not directly relevant to this question or indeed to the 14th amendment, but the Wikipedia article doesn't mention the argument concerning involuntary servitude.
    – phoog
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 12:19

2 Answers 2


At least one such person was naturalized, according to Wikipedia, in 1868, a time at which I believe naturalization was conferred by district court judges. Although this doesn't perhaps constitute a court case, as asked by the question, it does show that formerly enslaved people who has been born outside the United States were not automatically granted US citizenship. Wikipedia says:

Although native-born American former slaves became citizens upon the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in July 1868, this change in status did not apply to the members of the Clotilda group, who were foreign-born. Cudjo Kazoola Lewis became a naturalized American citizen on October 24, 1868.

The passage cites Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America by Sylviane A. Diouf


Did cases ever arise in courts concerning any ex-slaves not born in the United States include arguments that the 14th Amendment did not apply to them?

As the answer from phoog notes, this did happen. But, it was very rare because international slave trade was made illegal under U.S. law many decades before the 14th Amendment was adopted and many decades before the U.S. Civil War.

  • The link that phoog shared on the banning of slave imports suggests that there were many thousands of slaves imported after the practice was made illegal as late as the 1850s. I'm not sure what you mean by 'rare' but I'm not seeing any basis for that assertion.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 8, 2023 at 16:23
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    @JimmyJames: In order to treat the illegal imports as not US-born somebody would have to admit the crime took place and the admitting person has knowledge of who's who, so they probably got treated as US-born to cover it up.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 8, 2023 at 18:41
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    Import of slaves was illegal as of 1808, 60 years before the 14th amendment, but an estimated 50,000 slaves were imported/smuggled in during this period, so I don't know that I would quite call it rare.
    – Michael W.
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 18:31

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