2 U.S. 294 (1792)

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U.S. Supreme Court

COLLET v. COLLET, 2 U.S. 294 (1792)

2 U.S. 294 (F.Cas.) 2 Dall. 294


Circuit Court, Pennsylvania District

April Term, 1792

This was a bill in Equity, which stated the complainant to be a subject of his Britannic Majesty, and the Respondent to be a citizen of Pennsylvania. The Respondent in his plea averred, that the complainant was a citizen of Pennsylvania; and this plea, if true, deprived the Court of its jurisdiction, as the Federal Courts cannot (unless in some particularly specified cases) take cognizance of controversies between citizens of the same State. The question was argued on the 21st of April by Randolph and Serjeant, in support of the bill, and by M. Levy in support of the exception to the jurisdiction. It then appeared, that the complainant was born in the Isle of Man, part of the British dominions; but it was certified, by the Mayor of Philadelphia, that on the 30th of April 1790, he had taken the oath of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania, agreeably to an act of the General Assembly, passed the 13th of March 1789. 2 Vol. Dall. Edit. p. 677. founded on the 42 section of the old Constitution. 1 Vol. p. 60. in App. It was, likewise, shewn by a certificate from the Collector of the Customs of the port of Philadelphia, that on the 5th of November 1790, he was commander of the Pigou, an American ship; and the 6th section of the act of Congress, for registering and clearing vessels (Ch. 11, passed 1 September 1789.) provides, that no registry shall be made of any American ship, until it is sworn (among other things) that 'the present master is a citizen of the United States.'

Page 2 U.S. 294, 295

In support of the plea, it was contended, that the power given to the United States, was meant as a guard against the narrow regulations that might, at any future period, be adopted by the individual States, to check the admission of aliens; and not as a security against the too easy extension of the rights of citizenship. This object would, therefore, be most effectually attained, by leaving the authority of the individual States unimpaired; and as there is nothing exclusive in the nature of the power, so neither is their any thing exclusive in the manner of vesting it in the Federal Government. Though 'Congress shall have power to establish an uniform rule of naturalization,' Art. 1. s. 8. it does not necessarily follow, that each State of the confederacy may not, likewise, exercise the power of adopting aliens upon its own terms. That an opinion prevails here, in favor of the State jurisdiction, must be inferred from the various laws, which Pennsylvania, even subsequent to the naturalization act of Congress, ( passed 26th of March 1790) has enacted, respecting the right that aliens may enjoy within her territory. 3 Vol. Dall. Edit. 9 183. 653. Nor is there any force in the argument, that the jurisdiction in Maritime and Admiralty cases is exclusively vested in the Federal Government, without the use of exclusive words; for, those in their nature are exclusive, belong appropriately to the national character, and arise extra- territorially of any State; whereas naturalization is merely a municipal and domestic concern.

In opposition to the plea, it was urged, that contemplating the present situation of the United States, the birth of the complainant had made him an alien; and that in order to change the condition of alienage into that of citizenship, the interposition of a competent constitutional and legislative authority was indispensable. This authority, throughout the United States, resides in the Federal Government alone; for, the power of naturalization (which is given by the 8th sect. of the 1st Art. of the Constitution) does of itself import exclusion. That one member of the Union should be able to disturb all the rest, by the introduction of obnoxious characters, was an evil to be prevented, and no effectual mode could be adopted to obviate the inconveniences of different systems and regulations in different States, short of giving to Congress the exclusive power of establishing an uniform rule of naturalization. [295-Continued]

Exclusive words were not necessary in this case, any more than in the case of Admiralty and Maritime jurisdiction, which is, nevertheless, allowed to be exclusively vested in the General Government without the use of such words. If, therefore, Congress had the exclusive power to admit citizens, that power being exercised by the act of the 26th March 1790, the naturalization under an act of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, was a mere nullity, and the complainant remains a subject of the British crown. [2 U.S. 294, 296]

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