Peter Alter
Peter Alter
Archivist
Chicago History Museum

What does being a citizen mean to you?

With a presidential election coming up, there’s always a lot of discussion about what it means to be a citizen. The Constitution didn’t mention citizenship much until the 14th Amendment in 1868, which states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States. Other amendments have defined citizens’ rights based on race, gender, and age, but sometimes these have not offered full protection. Aspects of citizenship evolve over time and in our society and popular culture.

The Constitution did not even consider enslaved people full human beings, let alone citizens, until it abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment (1865).Japanese Americans, who were citizens and interned, lost their rights during their imprisonment in the 1940s.  They had no civil liberties. For example, they could not move around freely or work where they wanted to work. How would you feel if you couldn’t ever vote or live where you wanted to live or even be considered a human being? Would you still consider yourself a citizen of the United States? Many of you might not be able to vote yet, but think about some of the other aspects of being a U.S. citizen that are important. What do they mean to you? This should spark some interesting comments from you.

Discussion closed on March 12, 2012