Plantation Act 1740

The Plantation Act 1740 (referring to colonies) or the Naturalization Act 1740[1] are common names[2][3] used for an act of the British Parliament (13 Geo. 2 c.7) that was officially titled An Act for Naturalizing such foreign Protestants and others therein mentioned, as are settled or shall settle in any of His Majesty's Colonies in America.

Naturalization Act 1740
Long titleAn Act for Naturalizing such foreign Protestants and others therein mentioned, as are settled or shall settle in any of His Majesty's Colonies in America.
Citation13 Geo. 2 c 7
Territorial extentBritish America
Commencement1 June 1740
Other legislation
Amended byExtended by, 20 Geo. 2, c. 44, Sec. 1.), Aliens Act 1746

The Act became effective on 1 June 1740 and allowed any Protestant alien residing in any of their American colonies for seven years, without being absent from that colony for more than two months, to be deemed "his Majesty’s natural-born subjects of this Kingdom."

The Act also required making specific declarations concerning royal allegiance and succession, profession of the Christian faith, and the payment of two shillings. Compared to other alternatives available at the time, the Act provided a cheap and easy method of imperial naturalization, and the length of residency was not unreasonable.[4]


Reflecting the situation in Britain,[5] the necessary profession of Christian faith was distinctly Protestant and specifically Anglican. The act was not intended for conscientious Roman Catholics, and they were referred to in the law as Papists. Exceptions however for non-conforming religious scruples and conscience were made, in the case of Quakers and Jews. Adherents of both faiths were allowed to dispense with the Sacramental test, with the former being allowed to affirm the oaths, and the latter being relieved of the obligation to repeat the words 'Upon the true faith of a Christian', at the end of the Oath of Abjuration required by the Act of Settlement since 1701.[6][7]


The Plantation Act was enacted to systematize naturalization procedures in all localities as well as to encourage immigration to the American colonies.[2] It provided a workable naturalization procedure by empowering colonial courts to administer the oath of allegiance to aliens.[8] The act endowed colonial courts with the responsibility of deciding when alien petitioners had fulfilled the statutory requirements for imperial citizenship.

The Secretaries of Colonies were required, under penalty, to send annual lists of such persons to the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations. In proprietary colonies, the judges were appointed by colonial governors and thus represented the royal or proprietary interest. However, by delegating authority to colonial officials, naturalization became subject to the pressure of the same local interest groups that increasingly defied the governor's efforts to implement royal and proprietary instructions on other issues.[9] Despite the penalties imposed under the act, only six Secretaries of the thirteen American Colonies and one in the West Indies submitted the mandated lists.[4]


In England during the 17th and 18th centuries, several basic statutes applied to naturalization,[4][10] but these statutes would not include many aliens in the colonies who were considered an integral part of the colonial communities. Over the same time period, the American provinces (except New Hampshire) passed their own naturalization laws, which granted citizenship to people living within their province. These laws were based more on local colonial interpretations of community citizenship than on stricter considerations in the mother-country. but they gave no rights beyond their borders. This situation was initially accepted as positive and workable in England, but proved to be too inconsistent with and broader imperial intentions as time passed.

Britain began withdrawing support to promote immigration to the colonies at the end of the Seven Years' War. Colonial implementation both before and after the Plantation Act tended to ignore, evade, and reshape English regulations, thus vitiating many policy decisions and generating a chaotic array of citizenship procedures.[9] The Navigation Acts were a particular target for evasion, since they were seen as acting more as restraint on both colonial naturalization and its peoples' ability to take part fully in the economy.[9][11] Colonial naturalization of aliens was outright forbidden in December 1773,[11] under any conditions.[12] A ban on royal land grants, initiated earlier in 1773, was made final in February 1774.[9]

The colonial naturalization laws and the Plantation Act, during its nearly 30-year utilization would define British North America as a refuge and land of opportunity,[9] The prohibition on naturalizing foreigners under the act was considered intolerable, and would be included, inter alia, in the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence,[9][11][13] though some consider that surprising.[4] Despite being a British law, the Plantation Act "was the model upon which the Naturalization Act of 1790, the first U.S. naturalization act, with respect to time, oath of allegiance, process of swearing before a judge, and the like, was clearly based."[2][3]


  1. ^ The act received Royal Assent in 1740. However, it was formally dated as 1739 in older official uses because acts passed before the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act 1793 came into force, acts were dated by the year in which the relevant parliamentary session began, which, in this case, was 1739.
  2. ^ a b c Michael Lemay, Elliott Robert Barkan, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History[dead link], pp 6-9. (1999)
  3. ^ a b Historical Timeline, History of Legal and Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1607-1799
  4. ^ a b c d Clive Parry, British Nationality Law and the History of Naturalisation, Milano, Giuffrè (1954)
  5. ^ See: English Civil War, Glorious Revolution, Restoration (England) and Nonconformists
  6. ^ Henriques, H. S. Q. (Jan 1907). "The Political Rights of English Jew". The Jewish Quarterly Review. University of Pennsylvania Press. 19 (2): 298–341. doi:10.2307/1451130. JSTOR 1451130.
  7. ^ Also see, Oath of Abjuration, Oath of Allegiance
  8. ^ Adams, Willi Paul (Autumn 1979). "Review of The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870 by James H. Kettner". The University of Chicago Law Review. 47 (1): 176–184. doi:10.2307/1599419. JSTOR 1599419.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Marilyn C. Baseler, "Asylum for Mankind": America, 1607-1800, p.63-69, 124-127. Cornell University Press (1998).
  10. ^ Hoyt, Naturalization p. 257-258 ff "The following are the basic statutes on naturalization which applied in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: 7 Jas. I, c. 2, [1609, Naturalization and restoration of blood]; 15 Carl. II, c. 15, Linen Cloth Act 1663; 6 Anne, c. 37, Duties on East India Goods Act 1707; 7 Anne, c. 5, Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act 1708; 13 Geo. II, c. 3, Supply of Seamen Act 1739; 22 Geo. II, c. 45, Whale Fishery Act 1748; 26 Geo. II, c. 26, Jewish Naturalization Act 1753."
  11. ^ a b c Hoyt, Edward A. (June 1952). "Naturalization Under the American Colonies: Signs of a New Community". Political Science Quarterly. Academy of Political Science. 67 (2): 248–266. doi:10.2307/2145724. JSTOR 2145724.
  12. ^ Baeler, Asylum, p. 125 "Each royal governor was instructed "that you do not upon any pretense whatsoever give your assent to any Bill or Bills that may have been or shall hereafter be passed by the Council and Assembly of the Province under your Government for the naturalization of Aliens...nor for establishing a Title in any Person to Lands, Tennements & real estates in your said Province originally granted to, or purchased by Aliens antecedent to Naturalization."
  13. ^ Wood, Gordon S. (Jan 1980). "Review of The Development of American Citizenship, 1608-1870 by James H. Kettner". American Journal of Legal History. Temple University. 24 (1): 81–84. doi:10.2307/844597. JSTOR 844597.