The Acting Secretary of State to the German Ambassador.

No. 457.]

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 25th ultimo, from which it appears that Alexander Bohn, a German subject, came to America in 1881, and married Anna Maria Oeffler, apparently also a German subject, in 1882, at Jeffersonville, Ind.; that Jacob Bohn was born to them at Jeffersonville, February 16, 1885; that Alexander Bohn seems to have made declaration of his intention to become a citizen of the United States, but whether or not he ever took out his final papers does not appear; that he died in 1891, and his widow returned to Germany in 1892, taking her children with her; among them was Jacob Bohn, who was seven years old at the time, and that since that time Jacob Bohn has resided with his mother at Ludwigshafen in Germany.

Inquiry is made on behalf of the Bavarian government whether the Government of the United States claims and recognizes Jacob Bohn as an American citizen.

[Page 657]

While it would seem to be impossible to speak with certainty as to Mr. Jacob Bonn’s status without a more detailed showing of facts than is made in the above statement, it gives me pleasure to inclose the following memorandum of the law officer of the department covering the principles upon which this department has acted in similar cases.

Accept, excellency, etc.,

Robert Bacon.


Assuming that Alexander Bohn never became a citizen of the United States, Jacob Bohn was born of German parents in the United States. According to the Constitution and laws of the United States as interpreted by the courts, a child born to alien parents in the United States is an American citizen, although such child may also be a citizen of the country of his parents according to the law of that country.

Although there is no express provision in the law of the United States giving election of citizenship in such cases, this department has always held in such circumstances that if a child is born of foreign parents in the United States, and is taken during minority to the country of his parents, such child upon arriving of age, or within a reasonable time thereafter, must make election between the citizenship which is his by birth and the citizenship which is his by parentage. In case a person so circumstanced elects American citizenship he must, unless in extraordinary circumstances, in order to render his election effective, manifest an intention in good faith to return with all convenient speed to the United States and assume the duties of citizenship.

Inasmuch as it appears that Jacob Bohn was born on February 16, 1885, he became of age on February 16 of the present year. Whether he had made any election or done any act which amounts to an election of American citizenship, the department is not informed. Whether or not he intends in good faith to return within a reasonable time to the United States does not appear. The department can not say, in the absence of all information as to the circumstances of the case, that the mere lapse of time since February 16 of the present year, coupled with continued residence in Germany, is sufficient in its opinion to an election of German citizenship. In these circumstances, the department is unable to state whether or not Jacob Bohn is to be recognized as an American citizen.

In case it should appear that Alexander Bohn became an American citizen, the question of expatriation, rather than election of citizenship, would seem to arise. This Government has always recognized the right of expatriation on the part of both its natural-born and naturalized citizens. Expatriation was defined by Secretary Fish, perhaps as definitely as the nature of the subject admits, as “the quitting of one’s country, with an abandonment of allegiance and with the view of becoming permanently a resident and citizen of some other country, resulting in the loss of the party’s preexisting character of citizenship.”

Whether or not Jacob Bohn has expatriated himself within the above definition it would, of course, not be possible to say, inasmuch as no facts appear which in themselves would work on expatriation.

Note that according to the treaty of 1868 between the United States and Bavaria naturalization in the United States plus five years uninterrupted residence in the United States either before or after naturalization confers American citizenship on a Bavarian subject. This may be lost by a renewal of residence in Bavaria without intent to return to the United States. The absence of intent to return is presumed after two years’ residence (but this presumption is not conclusive).