Overwhelming evidence against the interpretation of “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” or “not subject to any foreign power” as reaffirming the common law doctrine of citizenship by birth to aliens can be found following the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1867 George Helm Yeaman, United States Minister to Denmark, in his well received treatise on allegiance and citizenship, which was presented to Secretary of State William H. Seward, said: “But the idea of a double allegiance and citizenship united in the same person, and having reference to two separate, independent, and sovereign nations or governments, is simply an impossibility.”
In the year 1873 the United States Attorney General ruled the word “jurisdiction” under the Fourteenth Amendment to mean, which Justice Gray would recognize in Elk v.Wilkins years later:
The word “jurisdiction” must be understood to mean absolute and complete jurisdiction, such as the United States had over its citizens before the adoption of this amendment… Aliens, among whom are persons born here and naturalized abroad, dwelling or being in this country, are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States only to a limited extent. Political and military rights and duties do not pertain to them. (14 Op. Atty-Gen. 300.)
House Report No. 784, dated June 22, 1874, stated, “The United States have not recognized a double allegiance. By our law a citizen is bound to be ‘true and faithful’ alone to our government.” There is no way in the world anyone can claim “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” affirms the feudal common law doctrine of birth citizenship to aliens because such doctrine by operation creates a “double allegiance” between separate nations.
If there is one inescapable truth to the text and debates, it is this: When Congress decided to require potential citizens to first be subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States they by default excluded all citizens of other nations temporarily residing in the U.S. who had no intention of becoming citizens themselves or, disqualified of doing so under naturalization laws. This was no oversight because it was too simple to declare the common law rule of jus soli if indeed that was truly the desired goal by these very competent lawyers (both Howard and Trumbull were lawyers).
Aaron Sargent, a Representative from California during the Naturalization Act of 1870 debates said the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause was not a de-facto right for aliens to obtain citizenship. No one came forward to dispute this conclusion.
Perhaps because he was absolutely correct.