What Is a Citizen?

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A citizen is a member of a community of people who owe loyalty to a government and, in turn, are entitled to its protection. The idea of citizenship, or the rights and duties of citizens, dates back more twenty-five hundred years to ancient Greece and Rome. Citizenship gave people legal rights and allowed them to take part in government. During those times citizenship was only for men who owned property. Citizens’ duties to the government included paying taxes and serving in the armed forces. Over the centuries, other ideas about citizenship replaced the Greek and Roman views. In the seventeen hundreds, though, revolutionary thinkers in America and France brought back the ancient ideas, with some changes to the old definition. First, they defined citizens in terms of belonging to a nation. Second, they said that the power of government comes from the people governed. This idea is known as the “consent of the governed.” Citizens give their consent, or agreement, by participating in government. This new idea had the chance to give much power to the people. Still, that power had limits. For many years, United States citizenship was limited largely to white men. Gradually, and with much struggle other groups gained the opportunity of full citizenship for the United States of America. African Americans gained the opportunity to become citizens through the 14th Amendment which was passed in 1868. Next, women gained the right to vote. That came as a result to the 19th amendment which was passed in the year of 1920. Members of a few Native American groups became citizens through treaties with the federal government. Not until 1924 did Congress pass the Indian Citizenship Act allowing all Native Americans to gain full citizenship. In the United States today citizenship is not based in wealth, gender, race, or religion. A person can become an American citizen in either of two ways. They are by birth or by going through particular process. Any person born in any of the 50...
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