The full unit slides are here as an editable Google Slides presentation.

Since 1790, the Naturalization Act had limited citizenship to “free white persons,” making Pacific Islanders & Asians as “aliens ineligible to citizenship”

But did you know that Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders fought in the Civil War?

The outcome of the Civil War, as expressed in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, established the principle of birthright citizenship. Yet Americans continued to struggle with and compromise on the principles of who can belong. The 14th Amendment recognized as citizens those persons native-born and naturalized, and the 15th Amendment specifically linked voting rights as a privilege of citizenship.

In practice however, women were not recognized as citizens and were denied the right to vote & Indigenous peoples were granted citizenship in piece-meal until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted blanket citizenship to Indigenous peoples whether they belonged to a federally recognized tribe or not (however this Act was not retroactive and did not cover citizens born before the effective date of the 1924 act and many states like Virginia enacted laws to limit and disenfranchise Indigenous voters). The question of who was a citizen was also incredibly complex for Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. 

Understanding citizenship for AANHPIs (Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander) requires close attention to exclusionary laws and practices, and to Supreme Court decisions that defined who had a right to “belong” as an American. The rights of citizenship for Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders were severely limited until 1952, when Japanese and Korean immigrants were the last Asians to receive naturalization rights.

This lesson briefly touches on AANHPIs in the Civil War, including AANHPI veterans who came through Virginia. It also touches on the idea of citizenship and exclusion, citing the example of the Supreme Court case of Wong Kim Ark and how it played out in practice in Virginia; the case of Takao Ozawa and how a Black Virginia newspaper responded; and the case of Bhagat Singh Thind, to spark conversation on who belongs and how social constructs of race and whiteness were manipulated to deny naturalization rights to AANHPIs.

This lesson builds upon students having already reviewed the Civil War overall. Hopefully students will already have a good understanding of the 14th and 15 Amendments and are then using this lesson to build on that knowledge. 

Before starting, please be aware and share with students that some of the images or text from primary sources they read may be offensive in our modern day society, in particular anti-Asian propaganda and microaggressions in the text/images. 

There are notes in the PowerPoint!

  • What role did Asian Americans, Asian immigrants, and Pacific Islanders play in the Civil War? 
  • Why do you think AANHPIs fought for citizenship?
  • How do you think their service affected the right to citizenship?
  • Learn about Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in the Civil War
  • Learn how the right to citizenship was interwoven with exclusion for AANHPIs in the United States
  • Review Primary Resources about Asian Americans

14th Amendment: noun

  • an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, defining national citizenship and forbidding the states to restrict the basic rights of citizens or other persons.

15th Amendment: noun

  • an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibiting the restriction of voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Immigrant: noun

  • a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.

Citizenship: noun

  • the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.
  • the character of an individual viewed as a member of society; behavior in terms of the duties, obligations, and functions of a citizen: an award for good citizenship.

Naturalization: 

  • The process by which a foreign citizen becomes a citizen of a new country. Millions of immigrants to the United States have become American citizens. Requirements for naturalization in the United States include residency for several years, ability to communicate in English, demonstrated knowledge of American history and government, and a dedication to American values that includes no membership in subversive organizations, such as the Communist party .

Chinese Exclusion Act: 

  • A federal law passed in response to complaints by workers on the West Coast that competition from Chinese immigrants was driving down their wages and threatening white “racial purity.” It suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization as American citizens. The law was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was permanently banned. Chinese immigrants did not become eligible for citizenship until 1943.

All vocabulary from dictionary.com

  • Opening Exercise/Dialogue: What words come to mind when you hear of the words Civil War?
  • Review the first half of PowerPoint (slides 1-14)
  • Activity Break: Slide 6:
    • The National Park Service (NPS) released a series of handbooks highlighting the stories and perspectives of people often missing in the war’s memory, interpretation, and historiography. The Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War handbook was published in 2015 to wide acclaim. Many were captivated by the cover—the dramatic, vivid image of Corporal Joseph Pierce—a US Army soldier of Asian descent who served heroically at the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863. Corporal Pierce’s youthful appearance and stoic pose has inspired many to inquire about other Asian and Pacific Islanders who served in the conflict.
    • Have students work in groups or individually to read about one of the following soldiers; (page numbers refer to the book page numbers, NOT the pdf page numbers)
      • John Tomney (pg 40), Dzau Tsz-Zeh (pg 48), Thomas Sylvanus (pg 52), Joseph Pierce (pg 59), Felix Balderry (pg 101), Conjee Rustumjee Cohoujee Bey (pg 107), J.R. Kealoha (pg 138), Prince Romerson (pg 141), Henry Hoolulu (pg 147)
  • Closing Exercise/Class Discussion: What have  we learned about Asian Americans, Asian immigrants, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders’ role in the Civil War? Why do you think they wanted citizenship? How do you think their service affected the right to citizenship? What else do you wonder?

Image Citations: 

“Jos. Pierce, Veteran Soldier.” The Meriden Daily Journal. (Meriden, CT), 19 Sept. 1887. Googlenews. <https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ivVIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mAINAAAAIBAJ&pg=7060%2C2009892

The National tribune. (Washington, D.C.), 23 Oct. 1890. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1890-10-23/ed-1/seq-6/>

Augusta County Argus. (Staunton, VA), 23 Oct. 1888. Virginia Chronicle. Library of Virginia. <https://virginiachronicle.com/?a=d&d=ACA18881023

“United States Census, 1880”, , FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFCR-3K8 : Fri Mar 08 18:09:44 UTC 2024), Entry for Joseph Pearce and Martha Pearce, 1880. 

“Connecticut, Naturalization Records, 1795-1945”, , FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:ZZKM-3KW2 : Sun Mar 10 07:21:05 UTC 2024), Entry for Joseph Pierce, 27 Mar 1866.

Buffalo Courier. (Buffalo, NY), 30, April 1894. Newspapers.com <https://www.newspapers.com/image/354264624/?match=1

Image of Joseph Pierce: https://www.loc.gov/item/2021639498/ 

Recommended Resources: 

This lesson builds off of the understanding that Asian immigrants, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders had now long been in the United States and that there were even those who fought for the rights of democracy in the Civil War. 

However, this did not matter in the eyes of the Supreme Court, which enforced exclusionary laws for AANHPIs and barred citizenship for many. 

Before starting, please be aware and share with students that some of the images or text from primary sources they read may be offensive in our modern day society, in particular anti-Asian propaganda and microaggressions in the text/images. 

There are notes in the PowerPoint!

  • Why do people strive for citizenship in the United States?
  • How did the United States exclude AANHPIs?
  • How do you think the case of Wong Kim Ark affects our society today?
  • How were the social constructs of race and whiteness manipulated to deny naturalization rights to Asian immigrants?
  • Learn how the right to citizenship was interwoven with exclusion for AANHPIs in the United States
  • Review Primary Resources about Asian Americans

14th Amendment: noun

  • an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, defining national citizenship and forbidding the states to restrict the basic rights of citizens or other persons.

15th Amendment: noun

  • an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibiting the restriction of voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Immigrant: noun

  • a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.

Citizenship: noun

  • the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.
  • the character of an individual viewed as a member of society; behavior in terms of the duties, obligations, and functions of a citizen: an award for good citizenship.

Naturalization: 

  • The process by which a foreign citizen becomes a citizen of a new country. Millions of immigrants to the United States have become American citizens. Requirements for naturalization in the United States include residency for several years, ability to communicate in English, demonstrated knowledge of American history and government, and a dedication to American values that includes no membership in subversive organizations, such as the Communist party .

Chinese Exclusion Act: 

  • A federal law passed in response to complaints by workers on the West Coast that competition from Chinese immigrants was driving down their wages and threatening white “racial purity.” It suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization as American citizens. The law was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was permanently banned. Chinese immigrants did not become eligible for citizenship until 1943.

All vocabulary from dictionary.com

  • Discussion (Slide 26): How were the social constructs of race and whiteness manipulated to deny naturalization rights to Asian immigrants?
  • Summary/Closing Thoughts (Slide 27): What have we learned about AANHPIs when it comes to citizenship? Why do you think AANHPIs fought for citizenship? What do you still wonder?

Image Citations: 

“Jos. Pierce, Veteran Soldier.” The Meriden Daily Journal. (Meriden, CT), 19 Sept. 1887. Googlenews. <https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ivVIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mAINAAAAIBAJ&pg=7060%2C2009892

The National tribune. (Washington, D.C.), 23 Oct. 1890. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016187/1890-10-23/ed-1/seq-6/>

Augusta County Argus. (Staunton, VA), 23 Oct. 1888. Virginia Chronicle. Library of Virginia. <https://virginiachronicle.com/?a=d&d=ACA18881023

“United States Census, 1880”, , FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFCR-3K8 : Fri Mar 08 18:09:44 UTC 2024), Entry for Joseph Pearce and Martha Pearce, 1880. 

“Connecticut, Naturalization Records, 1795-1945”, , FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:ZZKM-3KW2 : Sun Mar 10 07:21:05 UTC 2024), Entry for Joseph Pierce, 27 Mar 1866.

Buffalo Courier. (Buffalo, NY), 30, April 1894. Newspapers.com <https://www.newspapers.com/image/354264624/?match=1

Recommended Resources: 

CLOSE